Friday Ephemera
Context is for Weaklings

Resentful Beings

Theodore Dalrymple ponders terrorism, its apologists, and those most readily drawn to it:

Although I am not an historian, it has long seemed to me that some acquaintance with the history of Nineteenth Century Russia is absolutely crucial to understanding the modern world, for it was there that the various forms of modern revolutionary terrorism, and politics as the pursuit of an ideological end, first developed. And the first terrorists were certainly not downtrodden peasants brainwashed by religious or other leaders: they were either aristocrats suffering angst at their own privilege in the midst of poverty, or members of the newly-emerged middle classes, angry that their education had not resulted in the influence in society to which they thought themselves entitled by virtue of their intelligence, idealism and knowledge.

This pattern has been repeated over and over again. Latin America is a very good example. Castro was the spoilt son of a self-made millionaire who had a personal grudge against society because he was illegitimate and sometimes humiliated for it; in other words, he was both highly privileged, with a sense of entitlement, and deeply resentful, always a dreadful combination. Ernesto Guevara was of partially aristocratic descent, whose upbringing was that of a bohemian bourgeois, who was too egotistical and lacking in compassion for individual human beings to accept the humdrum discipline of medical practice.

The leaders of the guerrilla movement in Guatemala (a country, oddly, with many parallels to Nineteenth Century Russia) were of bourgeois and educated origin; one of them was the son of a Nobel-prize winner, not exactly a true social representative of the population. The leader and founder of Sendero Luminoso of Peru, a movement of the Pol Pot tendency (and Pol Pot himself, of course, studied in Paris), was a professor of philosophy, and his followers were the first educated generation of the peasantry, not the peasants themselves. Peasants are capable of uprisings, no doubt, even very bloody ones, but they do not elaborate ideologies or undergo training for attacks on distant targets.

The rest.



The Baader Meinhof gang were middle class attention-seekers too.


Indeed. There’s a certain kind of personality that will search out grievance, however remote, vicarious and/or implausible, in order to justify doing damage and hurting people. The ostensible cause for which this is done often makes more sense when viewed as a pretext to do violence and enact some personal drama. The Times recently interviewed Astrid Proll, a founder member of the Red Army Faction. Her self-justifying narcissism was undiminished:

“I hate the fact that we are all under pressure to repent… Those who died in Stammheim (the prison where the RAF leaders were held) were people who committed inhuman acts not because they were criminals, evil or monstrous, but because they could not endure the unfairness and oppression of this world.”

What’s the word I’m looking for? Ah, yes. Psychodrama.


It's why it's best to conduct the WoT largely in secrecy.

Grunt level terrorists must disappear is a blaze of insignificance. to
a) make the higher ups narcissists feel that they too will be insignificant.
b) put off narcissists from joining.


Well, it’s true that a desire for “significance” is a very common motive – a “root cause,” if you will - one that’s oddly neglected by those who use the term. And people who look for significance in this way can use almost any kind of attention to reinforce their fantasy, including major setbacks. Though pointing out the role of resentful narcissism and the desire to “be a player” doesn’t agree with those who insist on more Marxist explanations.

carbon based lifeform

"They could not argue that in attacking the Taj Hotel and other such targets they were striking at those responsible for the policies and actions that supposedly infuriate them, simply because they were the resort sometimes of rich citizens of the countries that they hated. To argue like this would be to make every Moslem convenience store owner in the north of England guilty of Osama bin Laden's acts, which is both absurd and morally repugnant…

Therefore, making the justified assumption that the terrorists were not actually deficient in raw intelligence, it was not the target that was important to the young killers, it was the act of killing itself. And their manipulators probably knew that there are always fools enough, at least among intellectuals in the west, to assume that if you go to extreme lengths, you must have some 'cause' - which is to say some good cause - that impels you to go to them."

And the Guardian is always ready to oblige:


The best Guardian article is this

wherein we learn that attacking a Jewish community centre with no links to Israel isn't "necessarily antisemitic". Much like attacking random Asians isn't racist, merely anti-Pakistan.


There’s something pathological about the rush to blame “the Bush administration,” Israel and “the wider disaster of Western policy,” while studiously ignoring all contrary evidence and the internal contradictions of the proposed “explanation”. Yet this “anti-imperialist” formulation is still, even now, a standard Guardian argument, one that’s dutifully regurgitated by large swathes of leftist opinion.

Those most eager to offer “explanations” of this kind are in some ways not too dissimilar from those with whom they sympathise. I mean in terms of a capacity for delusion and the grandiose projection of personal issues. The Guardian’s most persistent apologists for atrocity are, almost to a man and woman, children of “privilege” with hang-ups and resentments of their own and a belief that they’re uniquely equipped to speak for those deemed put-upon and thus, supposedly, entitled to revenge. Shoehorning quasi-Marxist explanations into the mouths of the perpetrators, regardless of moral logic and the terrorists’ stated motives, is for some a matter of routine. And, perhaps, of personal validation.

This conviction is unaffected by the glaring mismatch with the values of others on whose behalf they also presume to speak. Working class readers of the Mirror or Daily Mail generally take a very different view of terrorism and how one should deal with it. And the same can be said of any number of issues. (Those grumbling loudest about “hyper-consumerism” and the evils of shopping also tend to be middle-class Guardianistas. The oppressed proletariat doesn’t seem anywhere near as upset. Presumably, tabloid readers will be steered towards the light by their egalitarian betters.)


David, have you seen this?

"In frustration, the angry often kill the wrong people in the wrong places. But to argue that Palestine fuelled the massacre at Mumbai, that the Hindu waiter shot in the forehead after serving water to a terrorist was paying for the inequities of Gaza, that he wasn't already, in the eyes of that terrorist, expendable enough as an unbeliever, as one who had stolen Kashmir, or simply as a spot of target practice en route to a mad and misguided martyrdom, is not only preposterous, it is irresponsible.

I don't doubt that the terrorists' moral education included lessons about the vileness of Jews, along with lessons about the vileness of everyone else in the west, but we cannot be responsible for the lies people tell about us. Vileness of the Jews, note, not vileness of the Israelis. However carefully Caroline Lucas distinguishes between Jews and Israelis in her frequent newsletters and platform speeches on these and other "Green" issues; whatever her hurt at being accused of anti-Semitism when it is only a Jewish country, for God's sake, and not Jews themselves she abominates – it would appear she has not succeeded in communicating this nice distinction to the Mumbai terrorists."



Thanks. Best line:

“…those acts of ‘understanding’ which in fact understand nothing but give the speaker the opportunity to inveigh piously against our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Israel’s presence anywhere.”

Sounds about right. And the morally frivolous Caroline Lucas is but one of many to perform this opportunist manoeuvre, apparently oblivious to what it implies.


The Jacobson article in the Independent is terrific, but the comments section is very dismaying... It seems to be overrun by antisemites who routinely compare Jews to Nazis. Also, can anybody answer why does the comment section of an article about the Mumbai massacre become a not-so-civil discussion of Israel/Palestine?


Strictly speaking the Fenians are probably the first organisation to use terrorism as we understand it in a modern context. Nonetheless Dalyrmple has a point. I hate to be 'that' guy who recommends a book but I'm slogging through Burleigh's 'Blood and Rage' and its fantastic.

@liamalpha: because that is what they understand. Israel/Palestine is easier than trying to explain away Mumbai, I/P is a safety blanket issue. Its interesting that of all the papers its the Indie and the Grauniad that have by far the worst comments posted on their sites.


"Castro was the spoilt son of a self-made millionaire who had a personal grudge against society because he was illegitimate and sometimes humiliated for it..."

And Mohammed Atta was the weird son of a prominent Cairo attorney and, reading some background of the relationship, had definite "father issues".

"The leaders of the guerrilla movement in Guatemala (a country, oddly, with many parallels to Nineteenth Century Russia) were of bourgeois and educated origin..."

I met one of those guys in a (then) very remote Tikal in 1972. He was a well spoken, highly educated guy (complete with automatic weapon and about 10 comrades) who argued Guatemalen villagers really needed to be educated into wanting the material goods of which they'd been deprived, like automatic washing machines and automobiles. Never mind that their villages didn't have gas stations or even much electricity and were managing quite well without them. The Communists were attempting to "re-educate" them as to their deprived status (actually trying to make the villagers become fodder for the revolution)

I learned then and there it was all about the ego, the ego of this guy who had adopted "Communist" ideas as a vehicle to personal self-aggrandizement and who was definitely getting off on leading his own personal merry band of agitators.

V.S. Naipaul has written of similar guerilla movements in India, "Magic Seeds" ?

As for the latest attacks in Mumbai, I'm sure "human rights abuses in Kashmir" were used by their handlers and taught to the recruits as a justification for carrying out the slaughter. Just as Israeli transgression has been pumped into the heads of potential jihadists from Indonesia to Dearborn, Michigan.

"It is highly likely, of course, that the young men's immature or adolescent angst was manipulated by older men..."

It's sad how malleable (and exploited) are the recruits to jihad, from the "muscle guys" who carried out 911 to the Palestinians who are conditioned to carry out suicide missions so as to bring honoUr to themselves and their families.

(love reading Dalrymple, would that such common sense were more common)

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