The murder of nine Americans by an Afghan veteran air force pilot comes in the same week that Palestinian Authority police opened fire on Jewish religious worshipers headed to Joseph's Tomb. Events like this don't happen that often, but they happen often enough to remind us that how many of the men wearing police or military uniforms are straining at the leashes to kill us. When that leash snaps and they see an opportunity, the bullets begin to fly.
According to his mother, "My son did a heroic deed and has pleased Allah and his own conscience. My son lifts my head and the head of the entire Arab and Islamic nation." And Jordan's new Justice Minister, appointed in response to the "Arab Spring" democracy protests reflects that attitude at the top. Hussein Mjali, the new reformist Justice Minister says, "He's a hero. He does not deserve prison. If a Jewish person killed Arabs, his country would have built a statue for him instead of imprisonment". This is what democracy and reform look like in the Arab world. This is what the attitudes of ordinary Muslims translated into political power look like. It's also what happens when they find themselves within firing range of non-Muslims.
It's possible go on listing cases like this all day. There's nothing too unique about any of them. What they get at is the underlying mentality of the ordinary Muslim that is at odds with Western notions of war. Their armies may be trained by American, British and French advisers, but the troops themselves are still Muslims. You can train them in Western tactics, but not in the morality of Western armies. And when you operate alongside them, you put yourself on the wrong side of a 21st century weapon wielded by a 7th century mind.
1. Muslims see themselves as being in a permanent state of war with anyone who has ever insulted their honor in any way
Honor is defined so loosely and broadly that just about anyone can be a target. Regardless of what treaties are signed or agreements are reached, avenging that lost honor takes precedence over everything else. The shooting doesn't stop when a piece of paper is signed. Only the official shooting does. A Muslim who seizes the chance to kill a Christian or a Jew is a hero. The government that signs a treaty with a Christian or Jewish state is branded despicable for selling out Arab and Muslim honor.
2. Muslim soldiers and officers are not bound by any common code of arms or esprit de corps
The modern Muslim army is the creation of Western colonialism. It is an institution with no moral weight. Muslim armies fight as individuals, feeling little responsibility to one another. Officers despise soldiers. Soldiers expect to be used as cannon fodder. There are exceptions, but they are rare. There is very little mutual trust and less professionalism. There is a love of formalities, of uniforms and parades, but it's no more than skin deep. A Muslim soldier or officer cannot be expected to refrain from an act because it will reflect badly on his fellows or injure their position. And he is not bound by any code of arms, only by practical necessities and his own sense of heroism.
3. Muslims contextualize actions by the group identities of the killer and his victims
Which is a fancy way of saying that Muslims place less value on the lives of non-Muslims. The lives of Muslim men are worth more than those of Muslim women. The lives of Muslims are worth more than those of non-Muslims. A Muslim who opens fire on a group of Muslims is a monster. A Muslim who opens fire on a group of non-Muslims is at worst behaving badly, and at best a hero of the nation. The higher the relative value of the shooter and the lower the relative value of his victims, the more excuses there are.
They may use some of the same words that we do, but their meanings are contextualized not by the nature of the act, but by the people involved. 'Murder' doesn't mean the act of taking a life, but someone you dislike taking the life of someone you do like. Murder can be classified as self-defense even when the victim was unarmed or a child. A father honor killing his daughter can be described as self-defense. Running airplanes into the twin towers can be described as acts of self-defense, while US drones strikes against Al-Qaeda are acts of terror.
So long as the life of the perpetrator is worth more than those of his victims, he is likely to get a partial or full pass for his actions. Self-defense applies when the perpetrator was defended some 'right' that is an aspect of his superiority. Whether it's the superiority of the father to the daughter, or the Muslim to the Christian and the Jew.
4. Group identity is the defining identity
Western liberals often imagine that they can travel safely to Muslim countries if they explain how much they disagree with their governments. But Muslims still view them as Americans, Canadians or Italians. Emotionally the group identity still defines the individual. And the individual is expected to assume responsibility for the group. Muslims frequently disagree and hate their own governments, but they do not process the cosmopolitan mindset of the Western liberal. The American liberal is still a representative of his system. An envoy from the enemy camp who can be employed for anything from propaganda to a beheading on video.
5. Group identity supplants personal relationships
Westerners fancy that they form one-on-one connections with Muslims. That is possible. But it still happens through the matrix of group identity. The extent to which the awareness of group identity dominates the interaction depends on context. But it is always there. The Westerner may think of himself as an individual, but the Muslim thinks of himself as a member of a group. His first loyalty is to that group, not to any personal bonds formed with an individual outside that group. In such a mindset, trust has virtually no useful meaning and all politics is personal.
6. Every member of a target group is fair game
Men, women, children. It doesn't matter. They're all members of the group. Even if they personally disagree with the group. It won't always go down this way. Sometimes a personal relationship may save a life. But it's not something you can count on. The imperative is genocidal. There is no distinction between soldiers and civilians. Women and children have no special privileges. Less if anything.
7. The Muslim way of war is the raid
The army is still an overlay for a tribal culture. Muslims can function within it, but most of them are more comfortable fighting as guerrillas and terrorists. The unexpected raid, a brief massacre and then a quick escape. Opening fire on a crowd feels more natural, than marching off to a war.
Combine all these elements together and what happened and what will keep happening over and over again is inevitable. A Muslim army carries these cultural and religious codes in its head. And its soldiers and officers will act on them. Western militaries may often be fooled by the facade of the professional army, but scratch the surface and what is revealed underneath has not changed much in a thousand years.