There’s a scene in the classic John Wayne Western, The Searchers, that counterterror experts should study closely.
Wayne–in the role of Indian-hating Ethan Edwards–and a party of Texas Rangers discover the corpse of a Comanche killed during a raid on a nearby farmhouse.
One of the Rangers–a teenager enraged by the carnage has seen–picks up a rock and bashes in the head of the dead Indian.
Wayne, sitting astride his horse, asks: “Why don’t you finish the job?” He draws his revolver and fires two shots, taking out the eyes of the dead Comanche–althugh the mutilation is not depicted onscreen.
The leader of the Rangers, a part-time minister, asks: ” What good did that do you?”
“By what you preach, none,” says Wayne/Edwards. “But what that Comanche believes–ain’t got no eyes, he can’t enter the Spirit land. Has to wander forever between the winds. You get it, Reverend.”
Now, fast forward to May 1, 2011: U.S. Navy SEALS descend on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and kill Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda chieftain.
Among the details of the raid that most titilates the media and public: The commandos were accompanied by a bomb-sniffing dog.
The canine was strapped to a member of the SEAL team as he lowered himself and the dog to the ground from a hovering helicopter near the compound.
Heavily armoured dogs–equipped with infrared night-sight cameras –have been used in the past by the top-secret unit. The cameras on their heads beam live TV pictures back to the troops, providing them with critical information and warning of ambushes.
The war dogs wear ballistic body armour that is said to withstand damage from single and double-edged knives, as well as protective gear which shields them from shrapnel and gunfire.
Some dogs are trained to silently locate booby traps and concealed enemies such as snipers. The dog’s keen senses of smell and hearing makes him far more effective at detecting these dangers than humans.
The animals will attack anyone carrying a weapon and have become a pivotal part of special operations as they crawl unnoticed into tunnels or rooms to hunt for enemy combatants.
Which brings us to the ultimate of ironies: Osama bin Laden may have been killed through the aid of an animal Muslims fear and despise.
Muslims generally cast dogs in a negative light because of their ritual impurity. Muhammad did not like dogs according to Sunni tradition, and most practicing Muslims do not have dogs as pets.
It is said that angels do not enter a house which contains a dog. Though dogs are not allowed for pets, they are allowed to be kept if used for work, such as guarding the house or farm, or when used for hunting.
Because Islam considers dogs in general to be unclean, many Muslim taxi drivers and store owners have refused to accommodate customers who have guide dogs. In 2003, the Islamic Sharia Council, based in the United Kingdom, ruled that the ban on dogs does not apply to those used for guide work.
But many Muslims continue to refuse access, and see the pressure to allow the dogs as an attack upon their religious beliefs.
Counterterror specialists have learned that Muslims’ dread of dogs can be turned into a potent weapon against Islamic suicide bombers.
In Israel, use of bomb-siniffing dogs has proven highly effective–but not simply because of the dogs’ ability to detect explosives through their highly-developed sense of smell.
Muslim suicide-bombers fear that if they blow themselves up near a dog, they might kill the animal–and its unclean blood might be mingled with their own, thus making them unworthy to ascend to Heaven and claim those 72 willing virgins.
Similarly, news in 2009 that bomb-sniffing dogs might soon be patrolling Metro Vancouver’s buses and SkyTrains as a prelude to the 2010 Olympics touched off Muslims’ alarms.
“If I am going to the mosque and pray, and I have this saliva on my body, I have to go and change or clean,” said Shawket Hassan, vice president of the British Columbia Muslim Association.
What are the lessons to be learned from all this? They are two-fold:
l. Only timely tactical intelligence will reveal Al Qaeda’s latest plans for destruction.
2. No matter how adept Islamic terrorists prove at concealing their momentary aims, they cannot conceal the insights and long-term objectives of the religion, history and culture which have scarred and molded them.
American police, Intelligence and military operatives must constantly ask themselves: “How can we turn Islamic religion, history and culture into weapons against the terrorists we face?”
These institutions must become as intimately familiar with the mindset of our Islamic enemies as the best frontier Army officers became with the mindset of the Indians they fought.
General George A. Custer once freed several white female captives by threatening to hang the chiefs of the tribes responsible. The Indians scorned death by knife or gunshot. But they feared that the spirit of a hanged man remained forever trapped within his body, thus preventing him from reaching the Happy Hunting Ground.
And Custer, knowing this, put this intelligence to effective, life-saving use.
American Intelligence agencies must learn what our Islamic enemies most seek, most prize, and—above all—most hate and fear. Then these agencies must ruthlessly apply that knowledge in defense of America’s survival.