There’s a scene in the classic 1956 Western, The Searchers, that counterterrorism experts should study closely.
John 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 Indians’ killing of his family–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–although the mutilation is not depicted onscreen.
John Wayne as Ethan Edwards in The Searchers
The leader of the Rangers, a part-time minister, asks: ”What good did that do?”
“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 titillates the media and public: The commandos were accompanied by a bomb-sniffing dog, a Belgian Malinois.
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 armored 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 armor 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-sniffing 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. This would make 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:
- Only timely tactical intelligence will reveal Al Qaeda’s latest plans for destruction.
- But no matter how adept Islamic terrorists prove at concealing their momentary aims, they cannot conceal the attributes 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, Islamic history and islamic culture into weapons against the terrorists we face?”
These institutions must become intimately knowledgeable about the mindset of our Islamic enemies, just as the best frontier Army scouts and officers became knowledgeable about the mindset of the Indians they fought.
And then they must ruthlessly apply that knowledge against the weaknesses of those sworn enemies.