Monday, July 18, 2005

On the matter of nuking Mecca 

Suddenly, the world is full of loose talk about the casual use of nuclear weapons. Surprisingly, sometimes a little craziness can be stabilizing, insofar as it reminds fundamentally conservative governments that brinksmanship can be very dangerous. Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo's speculation that we might use nuclear weapons against Mecca if Islamists used nuclear weapons against the United States is not one of those situations. Hugh Hewitt nailed it:
Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo's speculation about using nukes on Mecca following an act of nuclear terrorism in the United States is the most irresponsible statement any American official can make. It will be on al-Jazeera within the hour, and it will be used by jihadists against us. Such speculations send the message that we are at war with all of Islam. We are not. We are at war with a slice of Islam that is radical and violent. Statements like Tancredo's invite all of Islam to think they are our enemy.

Agreed. Tancredo's eruption serves no geopolitical purpose, and it should be denounced in the strongest possible terms. It was a profoundly asinine thing to say. Does Tancredo believe that the threat of retaliation against Mecca would either deter al Qaeda or coerce Arab regimes more effectively than countless other tactics? If so, he should be expelled from the House International Relations Committee, on which -- tragically -- he sits. Or was he just expressing the hope that we would retaliate by destroying the seat of one of the world's great religions?


By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Mon Jul 18, 04:24:00 PM:

Thanks for coming out with this comment, Hawk. Irresponsible comments like this ought to be condemned on all sides, and we ought to instead talk about how best to protect ourselves while maintaining the integrity of our democracy.  

By Blogger The Apologist, at Mon Jul 18, 06:59:00 PM:

I heard a portion of this interview on the radio and it was my impression that Tancredo was talking about how you disuade Al Qaeda from using the weapons if they have them. A kind of M.A.D. for jihadis. I don't think he was talking about simple revenge. Also he was very carful to couch it explicitely in hypothetical terms.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Mon Jul 18, 08:24:00 PM:

Well I agree with TH that this was a stupid comment to make...not least of which because if for some reason you wanted to flatten Mecca, you wouldn't require nuclear weapons. But that's a throwaway comment really...

But SH, something tells me if Mecca and Jerusalem and maybe Rome didn't exist, wouldn't the world be a more peaceful place? Dontcha think?  

By Blogger Saije, at Mon Jul 18, 09:44:00 PM:

I'm not sure how getting rid of sites of religious significance would make the world more peaceful. The Communists tried doing away with religion and kind of succeeded (although it's back in full swing in the former Communist countries) but only after killing several million people...in the real gulags that is.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Mon Jul 18, 10:28:00 PM:

Sorry - a tacky quip is all.  

By Blogger pedro, at Tue Jul 19, 08:52:00 AM:

"... one of the world's great religions."
What's great about it?
And aside from blowing up Jews, what else is there that the jihadis universally care about? And if the alleged moderate muslims had to really worry about saving Mecca then maybe they'd get their thumbs out and purge the crazies from their midst.
MAD for Mecca is a great idea.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Jul 19, 04:33:00 PM:


I love you like a brother, but it makes no sense to threaten to destroy Mecca. Does anybody think it will deter the jihadis? I certainly don't -- they would love the idea, because it would bring down the House of Saud and probably every other apostate regime in the Arab world. Since it won't deter them, what is the purpose? There is none, other than revenge, which might be satisfying but certainly isn't smart. In any case, one does not need to make the threat in order to retain the option of striking Mecca.

There is no question that Islam is one of the world's great religions. It may be apostasy where you sit, but that does not make it any less great. Somehow, it managed to sweep out of western Arabia in the mid 7th century and reach central France by the mid 8th century. It substantially sustained its geopolitical restraint for close to a thousand years, more than four times the time that has elapsed since July 4, 1776. Today, it has more than a billion followers, who are clearly on average more committed to their religion than Christians are to theirs. That's a pretty damn great religion, even if you don't like its practices or beliefs and even if you recognize that it has been in at least geopolitical decline for around 500 years (do you date it to the fall of Granada in 1492, or the battle of Lepanto in 1571, or the gates of Vienna in 1683?).  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Jul 19, 04:35:00 PM:

I meant "sustained its geopolitical position for close to a position years,"  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 19, 06:45:00 PM:

Dear Mr. Tigerhawk,

In response to your response to Pedro, I have the following observation:

I agree that the 0.01 percent of Muslims worldwide (or whatever the true figure is) that are violent jihadist are beyond deterring. But everyone now seems to agree that the only way to win the War on Terror is to gain the cooperation of Muslims in rooting out the violent jihadist philosophy in their midst. Some of the 99.99 percent will actively help with this task, some will not want to get involved, and a small remaining fraction will, non-violently, support the jihadists.

For that portion of the 99.99 percent of Muslims that needs additional persuasion to get active in rooting out the evil around them, the additional hypothetical sanction of generalized or specific (i.e. Mecca) destruction will be useful.

Having said this, I agree that an Administration spokesman should sharply chastise Mr. Tancredo.


By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Jul 19, 09:10:00 PM:


I think it is fine if Arabs or other Muslims have a generalized concern about American retaliation. That was one of the collateral benefits of invading Afghanistan and Iraq -- we have washed away the humiliation of Tehran, Lebanon, Mogadishu, and Yemen, each of which shattered our credibility with the bad guys.

But threatening to retaliate against a religious symbol is an entirely different matter. If al Qaeda declared its intention to blow up the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the Vatican would that deter Christians or enrage them? The latter, I think.

By the way, the morality of the issue is not at stake. Muslims have gratuitously destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (in the 11th century, I believe), and they sacked Constantinople in the 15th century, destroying the lion's share of the great relics of the Chrstian faith. If you do not believe that there is a statute of limitations in such things, then Christians are due some payback.

But that, of course, does not tell us whether such a threat would be productive, or counterproductive, from a geopolitical standpoint. To me, it is an obvious loser.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jul 20, 10:50:00 AM:

I'd just like to correct something Cardinalpark said: a nuke would not "flatten" Mecca.

At ground zero, a 1 megaton weapon creates a crater 300 feet deep and 1,200 feet in diameter.

Within one second, the atmosphere itself ignites into a fireball more than a half-mile in diameter.

The surface of the fireball radiates nearly three times the light and heat of a comparable area of the surface of the sun, extinguishing in seconds all life below and radiating outward at the speed of light, causing instantaneous severe burns to people within one to three miles.

A blast wave of compressed air reaches a distance of three miles in about 12 seconds, flattening factories and commercial buildings.

Debris carried by winds of 250 mph inflicts lethal injuries throughout the area.

At least 50 percent of people in the area die immediately, prior to any injuries from radiation or the developing firestorm.

- Robert S. McNamara, "Apocalypse Soon," in Foreign Policy, May/June 2005.


By Blogger DWPittelli, at Fri Jul 22, 10:11:00 PM:

It's unreasonable to expect MAD deterrence of al-Qaeda when al-Qaeda doesn't control Mecca. Maybe this threat would make sense if (or when) Saudi Arabia falls to an openly pro-al-Qaeda government, if the same nation then becomes the prime source of spending on nukes or other WMD. But if we can't even openly oppose the Saudis as the bigots they are now (and I understand why we really can't do so) it makes little more sense to blow up Mecca than it would to blow up Jerusalem (apparently Islam's 3rd holiest city).

Al Qaeda's members, if they thought about it, would expect that God would likely protect Mecca, and that if he did not then that would have to be part of his grand (perhaps apocalyptic) plan. It's not as if Muslims (or jihadists) would give up their faith due to the destruction of Mecca, any more than Jews did when booted out of a (largely destroyed) Jerusalem, or Christians did when Jesus (by his own metaphor, their "temple") was killed.  

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