Since I speak and write about this a good deal, I am often asked at public meetings, in what sometimes seems to me a rather prurient way, whether I myself or my family have 'ever been threatened' by jihadists. My answer is that yes, I have, and so has everyone else in the audience, if they have paid enough attention to the relevant bin-Ladenist broadcasts to notice the fact.
It was sometimes feebly argued, as the political and military war against this enemy ran into difficulties, that it was 'a war without end.' I never saw the point of this plaintive objection. The war against superstition and the totalitarian mentality is an endless war. In protean forms, it is fought and refought in every country and every generation. In bin Ladenism we confront again the awful combination of the highly authoritarian personality with the chaotically nihilist and anarchic one. Temporary victories can be registered against this, but not permanent ones. As Bertold Brecht's character says over the corpse of the terrible Arturo Ui, the bitch that bore him is always in heat. But it is in this struggle that we develop the muscles and sinews that enable us to defend civilization, and the moral courage to name it as something worth fighting for.
Remaining for a moment with the question of legality and illegality: United Nations Security Council Resolution 1368, unanimously passed, explicitly recognized the right of the United States to self-defense and further called upon all member states 'to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of the terrorist attacks. It added that 'those responsible for aiding, supporting or harboring the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of those acts will be held accountable.' In a speech the following month, the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan publicly acknowledged the right of self-defense as a legitimate basis for military action. The SEAL unit dispatched by President Obama to Abbottabad was large enough to allow for the contingency of bin-Laden's capture and detention. The naÃ¯ve statement that he was 'unarmed' when shot is only loosely compatible with the fact that he was housed in a military garrison town, had a loaded automatic weapon in the room with him, could well have been wearing a suicide vest, had stated repeatedly that he would never be taken alive, was the commander of one of the most violent organizations in history, and had declared himself at war with the United States. It perhaps says something that not even the most casuistic apologist for al-Qaeda has ever even attempted to justify any of its 'operations' in terms that could be covered by any known law, with the possible exception of some sanguinary verses of the Koran.
Half the published articles on Gaza contain a standard reference to its resemblance to a vast open-air prison (and when I last saw it under Israeli occupation it certainly did deserve this metaphor). The problem is that, given its ideology and its allies, Hamas qualifies rather too well in the capacity of guard and warder.
Now is as good a time as ever to revisit the history of the Crusades, or the sorry history of partition in Kashmir, or the woes of the Chechens and Kosovars. But the bombers of Manhattan represent fascism with an Islamic face, and there's no point in any euphemism about it. What they abominate about 'the West,' to put it in a phrase, is not what Western liberals don't like and can't defend about their own system, but what they like about it and must defend: its emancipated women, its scientific inquiry, its separation of religion from the state. Loose talk about chickens coming home to roost is the moral equivalent of the hateful garbage emitted by Falwell and Robertson, and exhibits about the same intellectual content.