Friday Ephemera
History

Root Causes, Again

In today’s Comment is Free, Jason Burke ponders various reactions to his Observer article on suicide bombing and attempts to fathom it.

Being called both a propaganda mouthpiece of “the war on terror” establishment and a hand-wringing liberal sympathiser with suicide bombers and evil Muslims suits me fine.

Why this should suit Burke, or anyone, isn’t made entirely clear, and to dismiss the writer as either of the above would be faintly ridiculous. Burke is often quite good on the political and social dynamics of extremism. What has very often been missing – conspicuously – is adequate reference to the role of theology as a key motive and the way Islam is taught and conceived by a great many people. As I argued at length here, the size of an extremist “fringe” and how it relates to mainstream conceptions of the faith, and its history, is a matter of some importance and has to be considered as it actually is, not as one might wish. And, as Tawfik Hamid, Tanveer Ahmed, Hassan Butt, Tahir Aslam Gora and others have explained, omitting the role of Islamic theology, whether for reasons of ignorance, ideology or embarrassment, leads one to inaccurate or simply perverse evaluations of what we are faced with and how it might be stopped.

Burke registers this omission:

What my piece in the Observer does lack, and it is something I was very aware of, is a section dealing with the role of Islamic theology in the process of radicalisation I was exploring.

But offers a less than satisfying explanation:

A longer version of the article - and here, no doubt, some will see evidence of either the politically correct Guardian-Observer liberal complex or the imperialist-capitalist state’s censorship or similar - did include a substantial section discussing this issue. But space in Sunday newspapers is, sadly, not unlimited, and my editors felt that most readers, in between Ikea and a post-lunch walk, would not be riveted by a long discussion of the concept of Dar ul-Harb Takfir, the argument over whether the Sword verses cancel out other, earlier Qur’anic verses, or concepts of nationalism in modern Islamic political thought. I do not think they were necessarily wrong.

But here’s the thing. If Islamic theology is deemed unlikely to rivet readers of the Guardian and Observer, then those same readers are necessarily ill-equipped to fathom Islamic radicalism, its ambitions and associated atrocities. If the subject is ignored and omitted as dry, somewhat esoteric and ever so slightly bonkers - as indeed it is – then those doing the ignoring and omitting are in a poor position, perhaps no position at all, to hold opinions of any seriousness on the phenomenon’s “root causes”.

Comments

Mary Jackson

Very true. As I said in my post at New English Review writers seem to feel able to talk about Muslims without knowing anything about Islam,and claiming to find its minutiae just too dull to bother with. Yet with Islam, the devil is surely in the detail.

David

Mary,

It’s a strange thing to behold. I’ve known people who regarded the Project for the New American Century as essential reading and a supposed explanation of global jihadism and Islamist fervour in general. Presumably this is based on a belief that jihadism is – somehow - purely reactive, and reactive only to U.S. foreign policy, or Israel, or whatever suits the argument. The idea of researching the stated motives of jihadists and their cheerleaders, and the theological and historical lineage to which they appeal, does not, on the whole, meet with similar enthusiasm. And if the religious imperative is omitted – whether for ideological reasons or for fear of inducing boredom – it’s hard to see how any meaningful understanding of the phenomenon can be arrived at.

Hence the witless blatherings of Milne, Armstrong, Bunting et al.

georges

I think Burke does a fairly good job of assessing the various push and pull factors that drive would-be suicide bombers.

I've attempted to "join the debate" at CIF and it's pretty depressing. I'd say most Guardianistas think Burke's wasting his time, because there's nothing to discuss:

1. The "moderate" Guardianistas say blowing up tube trains in London is morally superior to the actions of US/UK troops in Iraq/Afghanistan. They think the Old Bill shouldn't even bother trying to apprehend the next Shezad Tanweer before the next bomb explodes, but should arrest Tony Blair instead. If you find yourself next to one of these guys at Heathrow when something happens, don't expect any Todd Beamer -style heroics. As long as they get time to say "Neocon" before their body parts get scattered around the terminal, they'll die happy. They think Burke's missing the point.

2. Many of these "moderates" use the word "blowback". They insist tube bombings are the automatic result of Iraq / Afghanistan, and will stop automatically when UK troops leave the Middle East. So, again, Burke's missing the point.

3. A minority insist that 9/11, Madrid, Beslan, 7/7, and all the other terror attacks were carried out by the CIA , MI5, Mossad etc. For them there is no Islamic terrorism, just western government terrorism against their own populations. So yet again, Burke's missing the point.

Some posters do try and challenge this nihilistic self-loathing fatalism, but little real constructive argument takes place.

David

Georges,

“I’ve attempted to ‘join the debate’ at CIF and it’s pretty depressing.”

I think that’s partly the legacy of Comrade Milne, whose dishonesty and dogmatism took the Guardian’s comment pages to new lows. Though his successor doesn’t exactly impress. And it’s also a reflection of where much of the left is at these days. With a handful of exceptions, the content of CiF is pretentious, reactionary or hilariously wrongheaded. The “discussion” threads are even more stupid, and quite revolting. I marvel at just how quickly CiF has become a home for the most deranged, paranoid and overtly racist outpourings. It’s possible to scan the content and feel ever so slightly sick.

Incidentally, see Martin in the Margins on “blowback theory” and the Milne / Guardian kneejerk:

http://martininthemargins.blogspot.com/2008/01/on-reading-looming-tower.html

http://martininthemargins.blogspot.com/2007/07/tackling-blowback-theory-head-on.html

http://martininthemargins.blogspot.com/2007/07/delusions-of-seumas-milne.html

georges

David

Thank you very much for those links.

It's bizarre how lefties of long standing now find themselves under attack from an infantile new left which owes more to David Icke than Aneurin Bevan.

Noam Chomsky doesn't believe that George Bush orchestrated the 9/11 attacks. He explains why here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoDqDvbgeXM&feature=user

He's often attacked by the Icke-left for this. On blog posts it's common for such Icke-lefties to bring up Chomsky's Jewish ethnicity. It's distasteful, but also bizarre, because Chomsky has a long-standing record of criticizing Israeli policies, at least since the 1970s.

George Monbiot also doesn't believe that George Bush orchestrated the 9/11 attacks. When he wrote a CIF blog about it, several Icke-lefties claimed - on no evidence - that Monbiot was on the payroll of the CIA.

Nick Cohen used to be considered a lefty. Then he came out in support of the Iraq war. Now, whenever he blogs at CIF, regardless of the issue he raises, however unrelated to Iraq, a hard core of Icke-lefties post in to rubbish his post. Today he's blogging about the rise of the BNP in West Sussex. It seems the Icke-lefties prefer Nick Griffin to Nick Cohen. They have more in common with him, I guess.

I'm not a uncritical admirer of Chomsky, Monbiot or Cohen. But the attacks on them are infantile and vile.

David

Georges,

I wouldn’t mention Nick Cohen in the same breath as Chomsky or Monbiot. I sometimes agree with Nick, which I can’t say of the others. And, as you can imagine, I wasn’t exactly a fan of the “old” left. (See below for some of the reasons why.)

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2007/06/lefties.html

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2007/08/time-capsule.html

But the latest strand of CiF leftism - also found on the Daily Kos - is even more reactionary and illiberal, prone to nihilism and fantasy, and, on the whole, revolting. Many of its features are hard to account for in rational terms. It’s really not the place to attempt a meaningful discussion.

steveaz

The reactionary, delusional nature of Icke's fellow-travelers suggests that Icke's media enterprise is a foreign-funded propaganda-mill devoted to stunting America's exceptional standing in the world.

It can't be home-spun. Even NYC's and Chicago's underground free-rags aren't as inane.

Hey, Russian oligarchs and spoiled Saudi princes, if your goal is to knee-cap America's challenge to the Middle East's autocratic regimes, and to bring the proud American stallion to heel before your UN, then looks like this ex-Clinton cabinet member and his merry trolls are THE guys to hire.

Vitruvius

Steyn on Icke & Warman:

http://www.steynonline.com/content/view/924/128/

David

Vitruvius,

Yes, the word “allow” is positively heaving with assumptions, none of which seem flattering. And, as Steyn says, laughing at absurdity is generally a more effective response.

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