I was at a Thanksgiving dinner at my sister's house in Orange County, sitting next to a woman who couldn't take her eyes off her BlackBerry. The woman wasn't being rude; she was texting back and forth with her friend Peggi Sturm, who was holed up in one of the hotels under siege in Mumbai.
The woman showed me one of Sturm's nervous texts -- the word "scary" was in all caps (Sturm eventually made it out alive) -- and she seemed dumbfounded. Here we were in the middle of a warm and joyous Thanksgiving celebration, even as she was in such close contact with the human carnage unfolding in Mumbai, and she simply couldn't fathom where all this evil was coming from, or what anyone could do about it.
The notion of this pleasant and polite Orange County mother confronted by the ugly face of cold-blooded terrorism halfway around the world left me speechless, too. What could I tell her? That I'm from Morocco, so I understand this kind of stuff? That I felt like strangling the murderers?
So I suggested she read a recent essay from the Shalem Center in Jerusalem written by its senior fellow, Martin Kramer, the world-renowned historian, author and biographer of Sir Winston Churchill. Although the essay isn't connected to the Mumbai massacre, it touches on the broader issue of dealing with Islamic fundamentalism.
Kramer's essay, titled, "What Do the Present Financial Crisis and U.S. Middle East Policy Have in Common?" draws an analogy between the headlong rush toward disaster in our financial markets and what he sees as a similar fate for our foreign policy. Behind both, he explains, is "a well-practiced mechanism for concealing risk."
"The risk was there," he writes of the financial crisis, "and it was constantly growing, but it could be disguised, repackaged and renamed, so that in the end it seemed to have disappeared. Much of the debate about foreign policy in the United States is conducted in the same manner: Policymakers and pundits, to get what they want, conceal the risks."
By far the biggest danger Kramer sees today lies in how we conceal the risks associated with Islamic fundamentalism (or radical Islam, or jihadism, or Islamism, take your pick), which the West does in two ways:
First, it ignores the "deep-down dimension of Islamism," which he describes as follows: "The enemies of Islam enjoy much more power than the believing Muslims do. But if we Muslims return to the faith, we can restore to ourselves the vast power we exercised in the past, when Islam dominated the world as the West dominates today."
The second concealment relates to concessions: "We are told that the demands of Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran are finite. If we give them a concession here, or a foothold there, we will have somehow diminished their demands for more concessions and footholds. But if their purpose is the reversal of history, then our gestures of accommodation, far from enticing them to give up their grand vision, only persuade them to press on."
He explains that no amount of "engagement" can change that dynamic. In the Middle East, Kramer says, "there is harm in talking, if your talking legitimates your enemies, and persuades them and those on the sidelines that you have done so from weakness."
He concludes that the least risky path for the United States is to "show the resolve and grit to wear and grind down adversaries, with soft power, hard power and will power."
What Kramer is saying, in essence, is that it's very risky to negotiate with evil forces that have a destructive and religious agenda, because they're not motivated by grievances that can be accommodated.
Just like the moderate David Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, wrote after the Mumbai attacks: "Much of the international community clings to the self-evidently risible notion that there are specific, legitimate grievances motivating the murders, and that these grievances can be sated and normal service resumed."
In discussing the premeditated nature of the attacks, Horovitz added: "This is only the latest bloody declaration of war by the death-cult Islamists, seeking now to destabilize India, but ultimately threatening all of our freedoms."
To our sophisticated Western minds, these are bitter and inconvenient truths that must be concealed. We much prefer making loud and grand gestures to create the illusion of forward movement. So we set up toothless U.N. commissions, or orchestrate fanciful peace-seeking spectacles like the one at Annapolis, and then we wonder why the only things that really move forward are violence and cynicism.
And when violence does strike, we get angry and bang on the table and make all this noise about our "Global War on Terror," which only feeds into the jihadists' pathology and apocalyptic visions -- and helps them recruit even more jihadists.
Maybe it's time we take a deep breath.
As we mourn and pray silently for the victims of Mumbai, maybe we ought to consider a quieter, more lethal approach to fighting the multi-headed serpent of Islamic terrorism, one that doesn't play to the movement's craving for high drama and worldwide media exposure.
Our goal should be to starve the murderers -- of money, attention and prestige. We should fight them with every tool and weapon at our disposal and with maximum worldwide collaboration -- but do it without fanfare, without honoring them with a loud war. We should target their training camps and "take them out" with commando raids -- but do it without telling CNN. As we freeze their assets, we should also freeze their egos.
The only loud noise we should insist on is for moderate practitioners of Islam and their religious leaders to rise up in anger against their violent brethren who are desecrating the name of their God and their religion.
In short, we should treat Islamic terrorists like the losers and cowards that they are, and do everything we can to diminish their unearned status and prestige.
This is what I wanted to say to that mom from Orange County on Thanksgiving Day, but there were too many kids around.