TOPICS: Understanding terrorists’ concept of time

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,” says the poet William Butler Yeats, “and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” Today, this “tide” stands as a convenient metaphor for terrorism. Whether it can be stemmed in time, America’s war on terror should certainly be conducted with a greater awareness and understanding of time.

True chronology in counterterrorism must embrace more than the uniform intervals of clocks. For America’s determined Islamist terrorist enemies, time means something very personal. For these jihadists, real time has more to do with the subjective idea of felt time than it does with any standard measures of duration. Were it otherwise, the US would already have been hit with substantial and potentially deadly follow-on strikes to 9/11.

An improved understanding of “terrorist time” would have special benefits in our dealings with the “suicide bomber.” This type of terrorist is uniquely afraid of death, so afraid that he is actually willing to kill himself as a means of becoming immortal. This paradoxical attempt to conquer death by dying in a homicidal way is a tactic to unstop time. Truth, here, lies buried in paradox, and America can benefit from disinterring an apparent oxymoron. We must understand a core Islamist terrorist idea that real time does not have a “stop.” For our time-centered terrorist enemies, who seek to soar above the mortal limits imposed by clocks, such real time is clearly sacred.

The most obvious way to combat the Islamist suicide bomber’s deadly notion of time is to disabuse him of such a notion. This would entail our prior realisation that the suicide bomber sees himself as a religious sacrificer, who in full ceremonial action, seeks an escape from time.

Abandoning the profane time of ordinary mortals — a chronology linked to personal death — the Islamist suicide bomber prepares to transport himself into the divinely protected world of immortalised martyrs. It shouldn’t surprise us that the temptation to sacrifice “infidels” at the purifying altar of jihad can be irresistible.

Clearly, by itself, America’s narrow military war against terrorist infrastructures can never be the total solution. Rather, the immediate and corollary task must be to convince prospective suicide bombers, either directly or indirectly, that their intended “sacrifice” of “infidels” can never elevate them above the immutable limits of time.

Before we can win the war on terror, the jihadist terrorists will first need to be convinced that they are not now living in profane time, and that every intended act of sacrificial killing would represent an authentic betrayal of Islam. The great majority of Islamic clergy all over the world may already accept this salutary view, however silently. We must now urge them to speak up — to call extremists back from the brink.

America’s essential struggle against terrorism in time can be improved only when the particular Islamist vision of time is first recognised, then challenged and transformed. — The Christian Science Monitor