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View Diary: UBL, 9/11, Iraq, and Michael Barone: Understanding Terrorism (32 comments)

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  •  Yeah... (3+ / 0-)
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    bronte17, weasel, HoundDog

    ...I don't think either you or Barone gets it.

    Islamist terrorism is most analagous, in my opinion, to North Vietnamese communism, in which Islamic fundamentalism is simply the cover for a revolutionary movement.  It is neither as rational as you would believe, or as extroverted as Barone claims.

    The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

    by Jay Elias on Mon Jun 26, 2006 at 11:01:14 AM PDT

    •  Rational? (1+ / 0-)
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      Jay Elias

      Jay, I think your analysis is dead on, but I'm curious why you suggest that this is not "rational" as such.  I may not agree with much of the movement's political agenda (though I'm pretty much in favor of the overthrowing corrupt dictatorships part of it), but I don't see it as particularly irrational.

      •  Ok (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        weasel, oldskooldem, Pumpkinlove

        This is going to be a bit complicated to explain.

        First of all, it is important to recognize that Islamic fundamentalist groups are generally middle class movements.  The Taliban were college students.  Al-Qaeda is founded by lower-rung members of the royalty caste in Saudi Arabia.  So what is driving those who generally have comfortable lives to extremist philosophies and violence?

        Well, we can look at it through the prism of the Bolsheviks, for example.  In that case, as in this one, a privledged class with valid reasons for economic panic and empathy for their nation's vast underclass led violent uprisings based on fundamentalist and absolutist principles.  In Tsarist Russia, those at the periphery of power were the ones most likely to lose it as the Russian empire collapsed and floundered.  The same is true, for example, of Bin Laden; as a later son of a rich family, it is his influence that is likely to be eclipsed as the corrupt Saudi regime falls further into decay.

        So what we are looking at is a revolutionary movement based in part on his empathy for his people but more so on his own need to preserve or even increase his status, based on a rational fear of deprivation that manifests as an irrational need to take violent action to preserve.

        What makes it irrational is that the perceived threat exists far in excess of the actual threat.  Yes, there are actual provocations, such as the emergence of Israel or the quartering of American troops in Saudi Arabia.  But the irrational fears, the sense of encroaching change, are the overwhelming ones.  Women's rights drive the fundamentalist movement equally if not more so than any American policy; the emasculating fear of lost status can be felt by every fundamentalist male.  You can see a limited example of this in the reaction of American anti-immigration extremists; their position is predicated foremost on an irrational fear that Mexicans and Latinos present some abstract threat to their preeminence.

        The trouble with the diary is that it suggests a rational progression; the United States does X, and this upsets Bin Laden, and Y is the reaction.  The problem is that equally if not more so the concern of Bin Laden is the forces of globalization and telecommunications.  His nation has fallen behind, and he is all the more aware of it as every citizen with a sattelite dish can look into the living rooms of the rest of the world.  Meanwhile, the reaction to our freedom is not a concern of the freedoms we enjoy here in the United States, but a fear of the inevitable progress of those freedoms to the rest of the world.  Indeed, the Salafites believe that in order to combat modernity, they need to be even more strict in their practices than Muslims in the time of the Prophet.

        So in other words, it is irrational because like most violent uprisings, it is founded in class pressures.

        The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

        by Jay Elias on Mon Jun 26, 2006 at 12:44:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Don't know if I agree... (0+ / 0-)

          Never even though about it before--but clearly you have--great post.

          •  heh (0+ / 0-)

            Thanks - I could have written about it for quite a bit longer.

            What you'll find really interesting is that the root causes of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and Palestinian terrorism are largely unrelated.

            The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

            by Jay Elias on Mon Jun 26, 2006 at 04:09:26 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Does your analysis fit bin Laden? (1+ / 0-)
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          Aside from the historical comparisons, I think you're making a lot of assumptions about his intrapsychic functioning that I don't think you have a lot of evidence for. Not that such issues can't play an important role but bin Laden is bright, well-educated, and comes from an extremely wealthy family. I suspect he could have kept his powder dry and lived a very comfortable life.

          And focusing on the threat of modern progress seems a tad of a stretch when his success (and evasion of capture) is so heavily dependent on modern technology. I also wonder about his religiosity. Is it really the issue or is he using it cynically as a tool in much the same way as our current administration does to whip up his base, gain recruits, and put a patina of righteousness on egregious behavior? I'm not at all sure how irrational he is. Given our aggressive imperialism, the threats from this country to the middle east are very real and he certainly predicted our agenda accurately.

          I'm afraid that there are frightening parallels between his operation and ours. He seems to be an adept politician who thrives on power and who is skillful at getting the less privileged sheeple to follow him into a bloodbath. They haven't forgotten the crusades over there nor have they forgotten that they were used to get rid of the Russians and then abandoned.

          The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts. Bertrand Russell

          by Psyche on Mon Jun 26, 2006 at 10:10:40 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Well... (0+ / 0-)

            ...first off, it is essential when considering Bin Laden in particular to remember that his status as a revolutionary predates his antipathy towards the United States by over a decade.  He was originally drawn to the mujaheddin resisting the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan and may in fact have been trained by CIA personel.

            He could have lived a comfortable life, but Salafism, the extremist branch of Islam to which he adheres, is a retrograde, revolutionary ideology.  That is highlighted by some of the contrasts you point out; as a Salafi, he believes that life attained perfection in the time of the Prophet, yet he undergoes dialysis, uses technology, and behaves in other modern ways.

            The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

            by Jay Elias on Tue Jun 27, 2006 at 12:14:12 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Right. (0+ / 0-)

              That's what I was referring to when I said that we used them (to get rid of the Soviets) and then abandoned them. The US history in the Gulf region is not a pretty one.

              The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts. Bertrand Russell

              by Psyche on Wed Jun 28, 2006 at 11:19:06 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  Interesting (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          sofia, callmecassandra

          Thank you for the thoughtful response.  My only quibbles would be that I tend to believe you focus too much on Bin Laden and the other Al Qeada leadership as individuals.  Yes, Bin Laden and many (though not all, I believe) of the leadership are wealthly, and thus can seem an odd leadership for a political revolution.  But I don't think that is all that unusual.  Those with the most resources, education, and so forth often rise to the top in any revolution.  Castro was a lawyer, Gueverra was a doctor.  

          The fact that the leaders could have been confortable in the old order can be used to suggest the revolution or movement they try to lead is somehow phony or irrational.  I would disagree with any such perception.  While I accept your point that some of the fears are irrational (such as fears of women's rights, as you point out), I think by and large the fears and worries are rational, and they are very widespread.  In much of the Arab world, I think there is a real fear of the old world falling away.  The new world offers them very little: almost no political representation; terrible education (generally) and little chance for economic advance.  The jobs that exist are often working for terrible wages for American contractors or Kuwaiti royalty.

          The old ways at least provided some structure, some place in the world.  They also provided a life, a family, children, respect, and support in old age.  Now, with poor economies and health care, it is harder to start or maintain a family.  It is harder to keep them safe as crime gets worse.  The West offers cable TV, which throws a much better life in thier faces daily, but that life isn't attainable for most.  The fear and rage I actually find quite rational, though the ways it rebounds can be irrational as you say (worry over the modern difficulties in supporting a family rebounds as hostility towards women's right).

          I tend to see people who cling to old ways as a bit silly, but I can't honestly call them irrational.  A sense of place in the world in a very important part of life.  Important enough that it might even drive a semi-royal playboy like Bin Laden to extremes.  The movement Bin Laden tries to lead is very real, I believe, and the fears are very widespread.  

          Finally, I wonder at your belief that the roots of extremism are so different in Palestine and the rest of the Muslim world.  Islamic radicalism didn't take off in Palestine until two major events: 1) the incredible physical and psychic blow to Pan-Arabism in 1967.  Its prestige never recovered.  2) Sharon's forcing the PLO out of Lebanon in 1984.  This again undermined the secular resistance and simultaneously forced the Palestinians in Palestine to look inward, rather than waiting for rescue by the exiles.  

          It was only after the secular revolutions failed that Islamism became so powerful in Palestine.  The roots of revolution were the same as in the rest of the Muslim world: a desire for political freedom and economic advancement allowing a new social order.  The pattern was the same, as well.  Islamism took off in Iran after the secular revolution was crushed in 1953.  It took off in Egypt after the secular revolution "succeeded," but brought little benefit to the people.  

          I see Palestinian radicalism and other Islamic radicalism as having almost exactly the same sources.

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