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« Social Security Reform Thursday: Week Fifty-Eight -- Private Accounts and Presidential Proposals | WILLisms.com | Saudi Sheik Issues Fatwa Against Hezbollah »

Defeating The Modern-Day Hydra

The other day, while discussing Israel's current fighting with Hamas and Hezbollah, I referred to them as "two heads of the Hydra" of terrorism.

The metaphor of the Lernaean Hydra is an apt metaphor for Islamic terrorism. The terrorists all have different names, different tactics, and different priorities, but their core beliefs are pretty much the same:

1) The removal of Western influence from the Middle East.

1A) The elimination of Israel as an outpost of Western beliefs, carefully overlooking the Israelis' presence in Israel for several millenia before Mohammed was born.

2) The elimination of secular Islamic governments, to be replaced with theocracies.

3) The restoration of all lands once held by Islam.

4) The "re-establishment" of the Caliphate, the fictional Islamic government that unites all Muslims.

5) The expansion of the Caliphate from the Dar al-Islam ("The House of Islam" -- the portion of the world that is Islamic) to envelop all of the Dar al-Harb ("House of War" - the portion of the world that is not part of Dar al-Islam).

With all these groups -- Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Jemaa Islamayah, Al Qaeda -- all working (mostly) independently towards a common goal, the metaphor of the Hydra with its many heads seems appropriate.

Further, with a closer examination the Hydra of myth, the metaphor seems to fit even better.

Whenever one of the Hydra's heads was cut off, two more would grow back from the stump. Heracles (Hercules in the Roman version of the Greek myth) only defeated the Hydra by having his nephew, Iolaus, cauterize each neck with a firebrand as it was severed. Then, when the final, immortal head was severed, Heracles buried it under a great rock. Thus was the Hydra slain.

With terrorism, we have seen that when we do cut off the head, oftimes two more do grow back. When terrorist organizations are defeated, but not crushed, they do come back with a vengeance. We saw this especially well in the 1990s with Al Qaeda, when we would lop off a head or two after each attack, only to see them come back and hit us harder than before. The doctrine of "measured and proportional response" and "using the legal system" culminated in nearly 3,000 dead Americans on September 11, 2001.

What Israel is doing right now in Lebanon has the hallmarks of a firebranding. They have decided that the fiction of Hezbollah's "political" and "militant" wings cannot stand, and are systematically destroying every trace of Hezbollah they can reach. Furthermore, their attacks on airports, highways, and naval blockade are aimed at giving Hezbollah no ready way to retreat. The Israelis intend to have a toe-to-toe fight with Hezbollah, and are not going to let them try the "he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day" tactic that has served so many so well in the past.

Israel is simply expanding on the concepts we first applied in Afghanistan: if you harbor and shelter and support terrorists within your borders, you have forfeited your national sovereignty. And if you welcome active terrorist organizations into your government, then you bear a portion of the onus for their deeds.

That principle is not a time-honored and traditional one. In fact, it flies in the face of much of what we considered civilized intercourse between nations. But it is a necessary adaption to the changing times .

Yes, ultimately, terrorism might prove to have that one immortal head and be unkillable. But severing all the mortal heads, searing the stumps, and burying that final head under a great rock will greatly diminish the threats it poses.

(Update: Correction made, as per plasmapal's observation. Thanks for the correction.)

Posted by Jay Tea · 20 July 2006 06:00 AM


I hope Israel wipes Hezbollah off the face of the earth! Someone needs to. Terrorist, mafia, jihadist tactics deserve to be treated to An Israeli cocktail bomb or two.

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at July 20, 2006 09:20 AM


In the analogy of Islamic terrorism to the Hydra myth, exactly what is represented by the immortal head that heracles places under the rock?

In fairness, watch out! That's a 'trick' question.

The answer may lie beyond the obvious. If you say Syria, what about Iran? If you say Iran, what about whabbism?...Hamas? Al Sadr in Iraq? Pakistani madrasses? Ah, but now I've given the answer away.

Posted by: d_Brit at July 20, 2006 12:13 PM

Don't you think that it is really the Iranian leader, What's his name? AND, not so much the Iranian people???

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at July 20, 2006 12:24 PM

I think you meant to say replacement of secular Islamic governments with theocracies. To continue your analogy, I would say the regeneration is accomplished as d_Brit alludes to by poisoning the minds of their children with the standard mantra that all non-believers (which can include even other muslim sects) are inherently worth less, or are less human, just as other extremists through the ages have done. GW is right again, this will take a generation to solve, but that clock won't start ticking until they choose to stop this kind of indoctrination.

Posted by: plasmapal at July 20, 2006 01:13 PM

What I think makes for the hydra effect is close to or another way of looking at what plamapal said.

Basically their attacks are considered justified or at least forgivable. Therefore when we retaliate, we are not justified. We have wronged them for just not standing their and taking a beating or submitting. This fuels a sense of outrage or revenge. This idea is propogated to the other believers and/or children.

In a sense, by just existing as we do, we are criminals. And like criminals, when we resist arrest (or our punishments) we further add to our crimes.

Its a strange reversal of the terrorists as soldier or criminal debates.

You expect a soldier to fight back and when they do, you don't consciously change your goals, objectives or treatment of the soldiers. You shot at them, you expect to get shot back at.

With a criminal, you can anticipate they may fight back. But when they do, they get roughly treatment and tougher sentences. Because in resisting, they've added to their crimes.

In their eyes, we're like criminals.

Posted by: jpm100 at July 20, 2006 03:19 PM

Israel did not have any existence before or after muhammed was born. Not as a "jewish state". It has been mostly arab for 180o years and there were always arabs there before that.

Posted by: lester at July 20, 2006 03:59 PM

We're doing the same thing with radical Islam as we did with Communism: we tend to view it as monolithic. In reality there are many divisions within Islam (we see two, the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq). They hate each other and we should exploit these differences.

Posted by: Gregdn at July 20, 2006 04:26 PM

gregdn- yeah that's going great in Iraq

Posted by: lester at July 20, 2006 04:31 PM

Geeesh...someone actually not only get it, but put it down so many "others" may read and maybe, maybe understand.

Jay, join Digg so we can digg this. Important. Or, digg it yourself.

Posted by: Sue at July 20, 2006 04:47 PM

So confronting terorism is like confronting a modern day hydra or as Gore Vidal says waging war on terrorism is like waging a war against dandruff. It is an abstract noun and practically meaningless.

Posted by: Steve Crickmore at July 20, 2006 06:40 PM

Don't you think that it is really the Iranian leader, ... not ... the Iranian people???: Zsa Zsa
Think about it Zsa Zsa, Ahmadinejad is the 'puppet' of the Iranian Mullah's. The Mullah's are the head cheerleaders for Radical Islam. Radical Islam is made up of those who accept at face value the hundreds of verses in the Koran that call for Jihad, hate and violence against the 'infidel'.

Posted by: d_Brit at July 20, 2006 08:00 PM

In their eyes, we're like criminals.: jpm

As is, by definition anyone who is not Muslim.

Posted by: d_Brit at July 20, 2006 08:02 PM

"Israel did not have any existence before or after muhammed was born. Not as a "jewish state". It has been mostly arab for 180 years and there were always arabs there before that.": lester

So, not to hold you to logic and reason but please explain how, if Jewish ancestral claims are invalid (as you imply) due to losing the land by Roman retaliation for Jewish revolt, that Muslim loss of the land to Israel through war is less valid?

Hint: we don't expect an answer...we know you just want to have your cake and eat it to. AND you can have it your way. Right over at the DU where delusion and illusions rule reality.

Posted by: d_Brit at July 20, 2006 08:09 PM

confronting terorism is ... waging a war against dandruff. It is an abstract noun and practically meaningless.: Steve Crickmore

"Still, if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival.

[Yet] There may even be a [still] worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish, than live as slaves." - Winston Churchill, "The Gathering Storm."

Of course some prefer slavery to the alternative.

Posted by: d_Brit at July 20, 2006 08:14 PM

d brit- that's an insane anaolgy. This is 2006, not 100 ad.

Posted by: lester at July 21, 2006 12:35 PM