Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The WHY not asked

(Arab News March 8th)

"These people are thugs", we've heard Donald Rumsfeld say at press conferences, when talking about terrorists in the Middle East. And it is correct that the terrorists do not use nice means, especially when they kidnap innocent people and torture them. Of course, terror is not justifiable, no matter who uses it. What Rumsfeld and other men in power in the West seldom ask, however, is: Why do we have terrorism? And who defines who is a terrorist?

The concept is defined by those in power. When they use terrorist methods it is rarely called that. If the "why" was asked, perhaps some action would have been undertaken to redress some of the wrongs that may have caused terrorism, for instance the Palestinian problem, the waging war in Iraq on the basis of lies about WMDs.

Is this "terror" or justifiable "reason of state":

Five Palestinians, including two members of Islamic Jihad and an eight-year-old child, have been killed in an Israeli air attack on a vehicle in Gaza City.
Seven bystanders, most of them children, were wounded in the attack.An Israeli army spokeswoman confirmed that the military carried out the attack on a wanted member of the Islamic Jihad.Witnesses and Palestinian security sources said the two activists, whose names were not immediately known, were travelling in the car when it exploded into a ball of flames on Monday.Witnesses said the eight-year-old boy was killed while standing close to the car. Two others, boys aged 14 and 15, also died, a hospital official said.
Sources said at least one rocket was fired from an Israeli occupation army aircraft into the car as it drove down Salah al-Din Street in the Gaza City centre
. (Aljazeera.net, March 7)

If we call it state terror, and we try to answer the WHY, what can we say? I do not accept the explanation that the Israelis are evil people. They're under a lot of pressure, - they're participating in a spiral of violence, where two sides in the conflict try to pressure each other. But they are also the stronger part of this conflict. They're the ones that should start showing some restraint in order to make negotiations possible, so the spiral can start moving the other way. For that to happen, we probably have to wait for the big power broker behind the Isralis, the USA. State terror is part of a big international power game.

The individual terror can be explained in a number of ways. Ian Buruma had a very interesting article in the Guardian February 25th, where he writes about the psychological factors and uses the van Gogh murder as an example:

German writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger recently wrote a brilliant essay about "the radical loser", the kind of person, usually a young man, who feels victimised by the entire world, and hates himself as much as the forces that oppress him. These men are walking time bombs. Anything can set them off, a social snub, the loss of a job. And the explosion will usually kill the bomber as well as his enemies. Circumstances dictate to some extent who the enemies are, but the categories tend to be limited. As Enzensberger says, the "usual suspects are foreigners, secret services, communists, Americans, big corporations, politicians, unbelievers. And, almost always, the Jews."
The only thing missing in Enzensberger's analysis is the sexual factor, the psychology of the great masturbator, the murderous gay thug, the drooping despot. Perhaps this element is best explained by recalling a very recent story: the murder in Amsterdam of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. His killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, was born in Holland, though his parents were from Morocco. As a teenager he tried to conform to the culture of his native city. He got drunk, smoked dope, and tried to seduce Dutch girls. After all, everything in the culture, from pop music to TV commercials, promises sex. This is a world away from home, where the saintly mother and virginal sisters must be protected from lustful eyes.
But things began to go wrong for Mohammed. The Dutch girls were not as easy as he thought. He lost interest in his studies. Subsidies for this and that failed to materialise. There were nasty brushes with the police. And his sister got a boyfriend. This enraged Mohammed. He felt dishonoured, useless, excluded. He was, in short, a radical loser, and Islamism promised righteous murder, martyrdom, and the feeling, however fleeting, of total power.
The reason Van Gogh became Mohammed's target was a short film he made with the Somali-born politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote the script. The film, Submission, showed Koranic texts projected on to the half-naked bodies of veiled women who had been abused by men. Hirsi Ali blames Islam for the sexual subjugation of women and the misguided and frustrated machismo of men. Her take on secular European society is the exact opposite of Mohammed's. Where she sees liberation - above all, sexual liberation - he sees dishonour, decadence, filth and confusion. The freedom of living in Holland allowed her to flourish, while it made him feel small and hateful. And that is why he wanted to destroy her, and with her the civilisation that made him feel like a radical loser

The "radical loser" is an obvious explanation of terror. Terror then is an attempt to compensate for losing.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is perhaps not a loser, but she is in some ways a marginalised person. She's finding a new identity in Western secularism. That makes her to some extent overreact to the wrongs done to muslim women by islamic faith. With the zeal of the convert she rushes into a film project that is antagonizing muslims. But it is interesting to the Western public for much the same reason that muslims are antagonized. That makes her a cherished object of media interest. It was probably not only the "freedom of living in Holland" that "allowed her to flourish", but also recognition that came from a privileged position in the public eye and in Dutch politics. For the estranged Mohammed it is different.

Reasons for terror can be found in the estranged, marginalised, and narcissistic individuals in affluent Western society. Narcissism is the strange mixture of personal dispositions where the person feels moments of superiority and high self-esteem being followed by moments of low self-esteem, indeed outright self-loathing. In the depressed state of mind the individual looks for redress, for instance by inflicting violence on others that the individual feels has snubbed him or her.

When we want to explain why the general level of violence and terror is much higher in some countries than others, for instance Colombia and Iraq post-Saddam on one hand and for instance comparatively peaceful Western European welfare societies on the other, these psychological factors do not offer much explanation. Then the explanation has to be found in overall societal factors, like poverty, ethnic strife and foreign interference.


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