July 28, 2005
Terror & Ideology - A Resume
We've been talking quite abit about this, naturally given London, Sharm esh-Sheikh and the like. I think a small wrap up, as well as a compare and contrast, especially with some recent reports and editorials, may be useful. So, below the fold I think the expression goes, a longish commentary and perhaps a slight Lounsbury-ish rant:
First, our dear Maitress eerie had this finely written and useful post:
Her main question:
So why has this sort of thinking been adopted more recently by a segment of young European Muslims? What is the source of their disenchantment and frustration and how can European (and North American) governments address this issue without compromising ideals such as tolerance and multiculturalism?
A good question I may add, and not one easily answered. eerie is right in regards to her statement, following on The Economist's observation that a fuller, freer discussion has to be held among Muslims, that in her experience,
reasonable discourse is often impeded by strongly-held prejudices and information gaps. Mideast leaders have purposefully exacerbated existing anger and resentment felt by Muslims over various political/social issues, including Western intervention in the region over the last century or so. Controlling the flow of ideas (e.g. school curricula, newspapers and broadcast media) to spin events and build support for a given political agenda (including misdirection) is a practice common to all authoritarian governments. It may even lead to complete dismissal of any Western perspective simply because it is Western (and therefore biased against Islam), an approach that was advocated by Qutb in a number of his works.
I would only add that in my opinion presently far more important than authoritarian governments - which in the main in terms of literate populations in the Muslim world I think have lost control of their "control of ideas" due to internet, easy repro of docs, tapes etc. - is the lack of convincing voices against "ghettoization" as one commentator put it.
In that context, eerie rightly notes the much touted Irshad Manji and similar writers are not signs (as superficial twittish commentators on this subject often have it) of some new move in Islam or whatnot, but merely marginal figures in a long line of highly secularised, Westernised writers of Muslim origin. Manji's columns (I have not read the book) give little sense she has a terribly decent grip on her ostensible religion (no that is a criticism of her as a person, but it does make her commentary pretty empty and hollow in addressing real believers of even a moderate bent); she's essentially a cut out as it were.
If one wants to have influence, one has to be able to talk the right talk, get heard. Were we speaking of Xian extremists, to step away from Islam for a moment, we might well expect that the most useful persons to marginalise them would not be the outre secularists etc, but fellow believers of a moderate sort.
However getting this to happen strikes one as non-trivial, above all when one has self deceiving fools (or lying scum) as "leaders" in the community engaging in the same-old, same-old state of denial. I refer to this Financial Times article of 27 July:
‘Nothing to link Muslims with attacks’
By Jonathan Guthrie
Wherein some Birmingham "leaders" say such things as:
Mohammed Naseem, Birmingham's most prominent Muslim leader, claimed yesterday there was nothing to prove Muslims carried out bomb attacks in London on July 7 and 21.
The comments of the chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque are surprising given the wealth of evidence, including DNA matches and CCTV images, linking at least eight young Muslim men to the outrages.
However, his views are held by a significant number of British Muslims. Some blame the US and Israel for terrorist attacks such as September 11, revealing a deep distrust of the British authorities.
Mr Naseem denied there was any convincing evidence the September 11 attacks on New York had been carried out by the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation. He said: “Muslims across the world know of no organisation called al-Qaeda. That information comes from the CIA.”
Both statements are bloody claptrap of the worst, most self-destructive kind that end up making Muslims look like lying fools or worse, treacherous collabos. And of course, in private few people deny there is an al-Qaeda nor that there is a problem among the radicals. Those that do, in my experience, fall into two camps - self deceiving fools who can't stand up to the facts and collabos or fellow travellers with the nihilistic extreme Salafine.
The statements cited, of course, merely feed into the problem. Self deception, largely willful, infantile circle of wagons helps feed the overdone sense of discrimination (note I say overdone, not baseless), and unproductive responses to it.
Now, our other contributor, Eva Luna, posted this interesting item on the "Why" question.
Bringing up Fareed Zakaria and Olivier Roy, the question on the table is why:
At first blush, it seems odd that people living in, or even born into, relative privilege would feel strongly enough about the suffering of people to whom they have such a tenuous connection to kill, or even to die, in the pursuit of an ill-defined something that tends to cause greater suffering in the short term for those the terrorists purport to be trying to help (but then maybe that’s just my US-born, hippie pacifist/activist side talking
She also says
But my question has been: what is it about these particular sociocultural/theological subsets that induces their members to murder innocent people, sometimes their own countrymen, rather than do anything constructive? Many other people(s) have suffered just as badly, or even worse, at the hands (and guns) of Western countries (Latin American indigenous peoples spring to mind) and yet they do not turn to violence:
Respectfully, I should think it is not actually very puzzling at all, once one steps back (and forget one's assumptions about what is "right" - that is meaningless), and loosens up the categories a bit. The Left radicals of the 1960s come to mind. Tenuous connexions or not, if felt, and highly motivated, move people. I note as I said in comments the Latin American indigene issue is not relevant, different historical situ. However, I also strongly note there is a real problem of selection bias among all authors in re the characterisation of 'privilege' in regards to the actors.
Let me cite to an interesting if moderately flawed Op Ed by Ignatius of The Washington Post and a New York Times article on the background of the most recent set of bombers for contrast:
Revolt of Privilege, Muslim Style
By David Ignatius - July 26, 2005
When you read reports that the Muslim terrorists who bombed the London Underground may have gotten together for a pre-attack whitewater rafting trip in Wales, you realize that this is a very particular enemy -- and one that is recognizable to students of history.
This is the revolt of the privileged, Islamic version. They have risen so far, so fast in the dizzying culture of the West that they have become enraged, disoriented and vulnerable to manipulation. Their spiritual leader is a Saudi billionaire's son who grew up with big ideas and too much money. He created a new identity for himself as a jihad leader, carrying the banner of a pristine Islam from the days of the Prophet Muhammad. The zenith of his warped amalgam of ancient and modern was having holy warriors fly airplanes into skyscrapers.
Reading some of the London bombers' biographies, you realize the depth of their cultural confusion: "Shahzad Tanweer, 23, came from one of Beeston's most respected families," wrote the London Independent about one of the July 7 bombers. And according to The Post, he had just received a red Mercedes from his dad.
This is not Patty Hearst or the Weather Underground -- it's a far more deadly revolt of privilege. But people who were students in the 1960s will remember the phenomenon: the idealistic kids from elite public and private schools who went to college, felt guilty about their comfort amid a brutal world and joined the Progressive Labor Party to ally with oppressed Third World workers. There is a cult aspect to this jihad -- an extreme version of the logic that has always drawn disaffected kids to self-destructive behavior.
The Islamic extremists are often described as "Salafists," and it's interesting to explore just what this says about their spiritual moorings. The Arabic word salaf means "past," and the Salafists are often said to be trying to re-create the pure values of the ancient ones who were the prophet's companions.
Well, Salaf is not exactly past, but we'll let that slide. Now the main issue is Ignatius correctly identifies a commonality with the priviledged revolt aspect. Where I would insert a note of caution is not to overread the fact there are members of the cult/movement who have priviledge and derive from this that there will be a Poor-Rich divide. Here Ignatius is mistaken, the basic value code being used by these nihilist neo-Salafine is quite salable to the poor (in a way the arch and too special leftism of 60s Uni Leftism was not really to much of the working class), it in my mind bears far more ressemblance to the late 19th century brew of violent reactive Left and anarchist terror, that also drew in privildeged discontents, but as well, far less priviledged ones. I point to the bombings in Casablanca, and I suspect it will be likely, the bombers of Sharm esh-Sheikh will not be so priviledged. Further, this arty from The New York Times makes clear, our latest set of bombers in London were from the lower end of life:
The Suspects In Britain, Migrants Took a New Path: To Terrorism
By Sarah Lyall - July 28, 2005
Criminal records, public assistance, alienation, irreligiousity followed by being "saved" - exactely what one would expect on the lower end of the socio-econ scale in re recruitment.
My final comment, too many authors are framing this in a narrow context based on data that has selection bias - e.g. overseas attacks by non-local recruits will definately skew the actors toward the priviledged end of the scale - they are the ones who will have the means, skills, etc. to do international scale events. Local attacks will likely show a mix.
In the end, the core issues are simple, yet difficult:
(i) A large seed of lack of self confidence in the Muslim world, based on a sensation of being inferior to a culture that historically one learns one was superior to. (the historical narrative can of course support that to an extent)
(ii) The (overall) weakness of productive responses within the Muslim to its own (long term) decadence, and the strength of often dishonest, and generally hostile responsive movements with few productive answers (be they corrupt pseudo-secular Arab Socialism/Nationalism, al-Qaedesque nihilistic Salfism - or millenarian Mahdism)
(iii) Serious economic weaknesses and a sense of lack of opportunities that feed into ongoing sense of generalised humiliation.
(iv) Lack of honest discourse, largely based on a "circle your wagons" response.
In this context, I do not find recent events surprising. They are not hard to understand or explain. What is hard is to map out effective responses to a multi-pronged problem where short and medium term needs are in real tension.
Where to go from here then? Eerie raised the question, I raise it again.
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Part of it (unfortunately) is that cultural shifts take time. I think there is some movement on (iv), partly based on the Arabs-killing-Arabs element of the current Iraq war, and partly because of the accumulated effect of the instant "we heartily condemn this crime or atrocity" messages that always stream out from mainstream Islamic clergy when these kinds of attacks occur.
(Naseem's comments ARE bizarre. They aren't much like what I've heard here, though I haven't been taking extensive surveys or anything.)
Posted by: Tom Scudder at July 28, 2005 08:23 AM
Re: that Birmingham leader, my first criticism is that the British Muslim community has no control over its own communications/issues management. There should be some sort of governance in place to keep idiots like this quiet while community leaders try to manage the situation. It's in the best interests of all Muslims not to incite reprisals by saying stupid things. Could be a complete misunderstanding of how Western governments operate (much higher degree of transparency/accountability) to suggest such a bizarre conspiracy.
However, it's not something I haven't heard before. An Iranian cabdriver told me that Blair is behind London. Less than a year ago, had another Muslim gave me the old "you know there were no Jews killed in 9/11" story. Anecdotal...and not politically correct to say so, but my feeling is that this thinking is not actively discouraged.
Perhaps there should be some effort made towards having leading clerics "delegitimize" others in plain sight, i.e. by name.
BTW Aardvark mentioned this event a while back, hosted by King Abdullah:
A potential step in the right direction, having many different schools come together and reach consensus on an issue.
Posted by: eerie at July 28, 2005 09:20 AM
However, another article in today's NY Times suggests the London bombers may not have intended to be suicide bombers after all...
"Police Debate if London Plotters Were Suicide Bombers, or Dupes"
More later - this is a lunch-hour quickie post.
Posted by: Eva Luna at July 28, 2005 02:36 PM
Re Irshad Manji: I was looking for this article earlier, just found it now:
A Canadian Muslim acknowledged in her book wrote an Op-Ed asking that his name be withdrawn from future editions (sorry, using a Google link to avoid registration prompts).
Posted by: eerie at July 29, 2005 01:02 AM
Interesting that link, and in re the author spot on. She uses that term, Muslim complicity....
An ill informed idiot.
Bears some front page commentary. I note the writer focused on the Anglophone experience - one might easily note as well that a vast majority of Free French troops were "colonials" and Muslim. Senegalese, Malians, Guineans, Cameroun (although the Central Africans were prob. majority Xian or 'other'), Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians....
I suppose the Emir al-Muminine, Sultan of Morocco doesn't counterweigh one whack job of a Qodsi Imam in his blocking Vichy attempts to deport Moroccan jews to the Nazis either, eh?
Of course, one shouldn't go too far either - Moroccans had their issues with Jews, just didn't like the concept of genocide....
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 29, 2005 06:39 AM
Further thought re intentionality of suicide bombers.
I note that there have been reports from Iraq that not all the foreign "suicide" bombers have known they were suicide bomber - in particular there is one high profile report of a "survived" suicide bomber who indicated he had not known he was "the" bomber, thought he was a transporter.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 29, 2005 06:55 AM
Thanks Eerie for that link to the Aardwark article. I had read about this on BBC, I think just before the bombings, but was unable to track down who exactly were the 8 schools of Islamic thought. Even the King's religious think tank that sponsored the event was useless in this regard.
I would also note that they declared only properly educated clerics can issue fatwas, thus excluding the two-bit street preachers. Of course, it's unlikely the two-bit street preachers will recognize the declaration of that conference.
Posted by: Anonymous at July 30, 2005 03:21 PM