July 21, 2005

The Case for Nuking Mecca as a MAD Strategy

I understand that Rep. Tom Tancredo recently said that in the case of a WMD attack against the US by al Qaeda forces we should respond by nuking mecca. Since I have not been watching much TV or reading any blogs on my vacation, let me just respond to a couple of things Hugh Hewitt said on his show today and which I just did not have time to tell him on the air. He points us to this screed by one of my heroes, Lileks, on his blog today.

He also mentioned this post by DafyDD over at Captain's Quarters. It's really a silly post. Seriously. What his post really comes down to is he thinks the case for nuking Mecca is based on hatred of Muslims, what he calls "Moslem Derangement Syndrome."

I guess those that called for nuking Moscow in case they nuked us were really victims of "Russian Derangement Syndrome"??

He makes a good point that there are many who want to see Muslims dead. This is sick, just as he suggests. But trying to argue against the MAD strategy by trying to associate it with a bunch of racists is a straw man--something I see was noticed by Pierre LeGrand. It's like arguing that the war in Iraq is wrong because it is motivated by racism. Sure, there are some racists cheering for us in Iraq, but so what? Do not ascribe others sick motives to those wishing to deter the unthinkable from happening on our soil.

The second part of his post is equally silly. Nuking Mecca would not kill 1 billion Muslims. Last time I checked Mecca was little more than a medium sized tourist town. It would kill a lot of people. But so would taking out Moscow. Yes, very vary bad thing.

Nobody advocating the MAD strategy wishes to see any one dead. That's kinda the whole point of Mutual Assured Destruction. It deters.

The case for nuking Mecca, then, is very similar to the case for nuking Moscow. It is based on the notion that rational people would not dare start a nuclear Armageddon.

The only potential flaw in the case for nuking Mecca is the underlying premise of rationality. If Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda are rational, threatening to nuke Mecca would deter them from using WMD against the United States. If Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda are not rational, then the threat would have no deterrent effect.

That is a very debatable point, and one on which honest discussions are made.

As I pointed out in my original post on nuking mecca:

Let me make a couple of points first. One: I do not advocate using nuclear weapons. Two: I do not advocate killing Muslims or any other follower of any religion. Three: I do not imagine in any way possible the US government actually doing this--or even thinking it. Four: These are rudimentary thoughts. This post is used as a sounding board only. Much of what I say may be wrong and all is subject to revision. The purpose of this post is to start a conversation.

First point: Bill's major argument about deterring terrorists is well taken and mostly on the money. I think he's right, for the most part: you cannot deter these guys, only defeat them. And if incinerating Damascus were the only threat we could use to deter terrorists then certainly a MAD scheme would not work in this new Cold War we find ourselves in.

However, Mecca is not Damascus. It plays a central role in Muslim worship. Five times a day Muslims pray toward it. All Muslims who have the means are expected to make the Hajj--a pilgrimage to Mecca which revolves around the Kaaba stone. The Kaaba stone is really the reason Mecca is considered holy. Muslims believe the site was used for worship as far back as Adam and that the shrine around the stone was first placed there by Abraham (Ibrahim). There is a 12 mile zone around the stone that infidels are restricted from entering. It's that holy. No non-Muslims near it. In fact, without Mecca and the Kaaba stone, Islam would be very different.

Mecca, then, is quite unlike any other place in the world for Muslims. It is an entire city dedicated to Muslim worship. A place set apart. A holy place. It is an entire city that is thought to be the Temple of God.

Islamist terrorists also consider Mecca the holiest place in the world. It is central to their mode of worship. They face it when they pray. They too believe they must make the hajj. If we take them at their word, then the reason they commit terrorist acts is because they take their religious convictions so seriously. When they kill us, it is because they believe that this is what their God wants them to do.

So, ask yourself the question again: Can terrorists be deterred from using WMD against American targets?

Maybe they can. If Islamic extremists really love their religious institutions in the way that they claim they do, then pointing an ICBM at Mecca may not be the most irrational thing to do. They may not care if the rest of the world goes up in a nuclear mushroom cloud, as Bill points out, but Mecca is not the rest of the world. Would they really risk blowing up New York City if they believed the consequences of such an action would be a 30 kiloton nuclear explosion over the Kaaba stone? After all, the nuclear destruction of Mecca would end Islamic forms of worship as they presently exist.

If I might misquote Sting for a moment, "Is it such a crazy thing to do, if the Terrorists love their Mecca too?"

I usually read Froggy's blog, he's on my RSS feed, but thanks to Hugh again for pointing this post out from Matt Heidt. Heidt makes many of the same points that David Atkins did last year in an editorial at WND. Here is how I responded to Atkins and I think many of the same points are valid criticisms of Heidt's post:
have numerous problems with the specifics of Atkins proposal--starting with the inhumanity of killing millions of innocent people because a handful of states support Islamic terrorists--but agree that MAD could be used to deter Islamic terrorism. It seems to me that a much more reasonable form of MAD would be to limit the target list to one city, Mecca. The terrorists really don't care if we nuke the capitals of Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Syria.
I see Juliette makes many of the same points. I'm very late to this one, but it also looks like Michelle Malkin has a pretty good roundup. Ok, back to lounging around the pool.

UPDATE: Rob at Say Anything responds here. Let me just make a couple of observations.

Is al Qaeda full of a bunch of madmen? No. No more than, say, the Kremlin was. The ideology of the Kremlin was mad, and the worldview shaped by that ideology was mad, but it was not irrational. It had a coherent internal logic. The MAD logic does not need sanity to work, what it needs is rationality.


Al Qaeda does not want to kill Americans because they hate us. They want to kill Americans and Brittons because we stand in the way of their political goals. Terrorism is a method used by them because they believe it is effective. They do terrorism because they believe it works in furthering their goals.

This is a sure sign of rationality if I have ever seen one.

As for Lileks' screed, the same thing could be said---and was said by the peace movement over and over again during the Cold War---about any MAD deterent. It's not the Russians fault that the Kremlin just nuked Washington! Why kill millions of innocent Russians for what the Communists are doing?!!

Further, members of al Qaeda do believe that they are part of a nation. The nation of Islam--the umma. One of the reasons the Islamist movement is so dangerous is because it challenges the nation-state system. Islamists reject national identity as currently constructed in favor of nationalism based on religion. It is a supra-state nationalism of a type that few in the West are even vaguely aware exists.

The Salafists', of which al Qaeda are only a small branch, demands are clear, concise, and a logical outgrowth of a mainstream interpretation of Islam in the same way that Bolshevism was the inevetable extension of Karl Marx. Our enemies are not only al Qaeda, but with all Muslims who wish to see the restoration of the Caliphate and the imposition of Islamic Law.

Since we cannot possibly police the entire Muslim world, maybe we should give them an incentive to police themselves? Threatening the destruction of nation-state regimes has given them some incentive to cooperate. Witnessing the Pakistani regime's 180 shows that such regimes can be induced to cooperate when threatened with annhialation.

But the recent attacks on London show that we need more than the cooperation of despotic regimes, we need the cooperation of the cultures that produce murderous suicide-bombers and who praise them in martyrdom. Very few people in Pakistan would be sad if Musharraf were to be removed, but I have a feeling quite a bit of them would be saddened to learn that one of the Five Pillars of Islam was removed.

We do not need the friendship of the Muslim people. Nations do not need friends at all. In fact, nations do not have friends. Instead, nations have allies. Allies are built on mutual interests.

Could the threat of destroying Mecca induce Islamists to see that it is in their own interests to give up the dream that is the Caliphate-state? Possibly. So far, I've heard few if any good arguments against the MAD-Mecca proposition. That does not mean that my position is right or that there aren't any good arguments against it, I just haven't heard any articulated very well.

Indeed, most of the arguments against MAD are so emotionally filled that there seems to be little coherence to them. I'm thinking of several good arguments right now. I'd tell you them, but that wouldn't be any fun. Would it?

Anyway, this is one of those positions that I'm not 100% sure of. A part of me screams that the MAD-Mecca policy could not work under present conditions of denial that we are in a much larger battle against not only extremist Islam but also the mainstream of Islam as well (granting that there is a sizable plurality of practicing liberal Muslims who are secularist in orientation). Unfortunately, the part of me that believes the MAD-Mecca policy could work is also the part of me that has constructed the most logical arguments.

So, go ahead and show me why I'm wrong. The part of me that's on your side is just waiting for the right argument to come along.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 08:37 PM | Comments |