For them, it's a Holy War using sacred violence. Crash a plane into a Manhattan skyscraper or blow yourself to bits in an Israeli pizza shop and the God of Islam will provide heavenly rewards.
A month before the Sept. 11 attacks, Hamas activist Muhammad Abu Wardeh explained on CBS-TV how he recruited terrorists for suicide bombings in Israel: "I describe to them how God would compensate the martyr for sacrificing his life. If you become a martyr, God will give you 70 virgins."
In fact, Wardeh may have been undercounting. London's Guardian newspaper writes, "It is in the Islamic Traditions (Hadith in Arabic, the collected sayings and doings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad) that we find 72 virgins in heaven specified."
Plus some no-headache wine and Hollywood furniture, reports The Guardian, quoting the Penguin translation of the Koran: "They shall recline on jeweled couches face to face, and there shall wait on them immortal youths with bowls and ewers and a cup of purest wine that will neither pain their heads nor take away their reason, with fruits of their own choice and flesh of fowls that they relish."
I'm no theologian but this whole thing looks like something out of Al Capone's mob days in Chicago. Make a hit, show the boss you're not afraid to kill for the gang and the big guy comes across with an endless supply of booze and girls.
More than that, it looks like a god made in the image of man, created in this case by decidedly sexist and violent males in the Arab culture.
For the 19 hijackers who killed close to 3,000 Americans in their Sept. 11 attack, the heavenly bonus for each is 72 highly obedient virgins, a total of some 1,368 second-class and dutiful servants.
In short, men kill and get a free pass to a chauvinistic paradise. A woman in the same religion, in contrast, can get stoned to death in the public square if she strays one night from a husband who treats her worse than his camel.
Sameera Kadhim, a 53-year-old Iraqi housewife was quoted in Saddam's state-owned newspapers explaining why she still gets a kick out of watching films of the two planes crashing into the World Trade Center. "If they enjoy seeing us suffer under sanctions for 12 years, we should enjoy seeing them suffer," she explains. "My children never stopped asking me at night, 'When is America going to bomb us?'"
Mrs. Kadhim is not alone in the joy she feels as she watches the films. Louis Rene Beres, a Professor in the Department of Political Science at Purdue University, writes that "the roots of September 11th lie deeply embedded in civilizational hostility," in an "almost primal Arab/Islamic hatred for Western modernity."
And still more menacing, Muhammad Atta is hardly alone. "Several millions are manifestly prepared to enter 'paradise' at a moment's notice by becoming 'martyrs,'" Beres contends.
The bottom line is that America is in the midst of a struggle between modernity and what Beres calls "resurgent medievalism," a failed culture, increasingly armed with weapons of mass destruction, that seeks the death of "unbelievers," a holocaust to please Allah.
The threat, warns Professor Beres, is worse than we think: "We face suicidal mass killings with unconventional weapons in the future not because there exists a small number of pathological terrorist murderers, but because we are embroiled --- however unwittingly --- in an authentic clash of civilizations. While we all wish it weren't so, wishing will get us nowhere."
--Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise at Robert Morris University and a Pittsburgh restaurateur. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
-- "Outside View" commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in a variety of important global issues.