Saturday, March 23, 2002

AT THE HEART OF ISLAMO-FASCISM lies this basic contradiction:
"In the emotions of their ... religion ... they will rediscover their self-esteem and wholeness, and be inviolate. They will no longer simply have to follow after others, not knowing where the rails are taking them. They will no longer have to be last, or even second. And life will go on. Other people in spiritually barren lands will continue to produce the equipment the doctor is proud of possessing and the medical journals he is proud of reading. That expecation -- of others continuing to create, of the alien, necessary civilization going on -- is implicit in the act of renunciation, and is its great flaw.
That's from the first chapter of V.S. Naipaul's Among the Believers. Never heard of the man until after September 11 (my ignorance, not his lack of fame). He just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Reading this book, written in 1982, I understand why. Referring to the Ayatollah Khomeini, he writes:
He required only faith. But he knew the value of Iran's oil to countries that lived by machines, and he could sent Phantoms and the tanks against the Kurds. Interpreter of God's will, leader of the faithful, he expressed all the confusion of his people and made it appear like glory, like the familiar faith: the confusion of a people of high medieval culture awakening to oil and money, a sense of power and violation, and a knowledge of a great new encircling civilization. That civilization couldn't be mastered. It was to be rejected; at the same time it was to be depended on.
This incoherence -- this flaw -- in the "renunciation" of the West explains both the initial strength and the fatal weakness of Islamic fascism. The only thing that pumps more adrenaline than hatred is liberation. Imagine how it would feel to identify as your oppressor the world's most powerful nation, and then emancipate yourself. Not just by defacing its symbols -- embassy, office towers, hotels -- not just by killing its citizens and soldiers -- but by renouncing it's entire culture. But it's a sham, because you still need that alien culture to build your cars, produce your medicine, churn out the tanks, guns, jets, and bombs you use to keep the rabble down. It's a sham because that alien culture never oppressed you in the first place. You were oppressed by a home-grown, domestic despotism, which you just traded in for another. Despotism of the Shah, Despotism of the Ayatollah, both Made in Iran. It's a sham because you knew you couldn't just renounce your own oppressive culture -- you knew it'd take more than ideology and sloganeering to untie the knots of superstition, sectarianism, and tribalism it's twisted itself into. But you were too lazy, or crazy, or -- most likely -- greedy and power-hungry to reform your own culture. So you took the easy way out, and the easy route to power, and conjured up a Great Satan. But now you're in trouble. The kids who stormed the American embassy in 1979, they're getting old and disillusioned. And their kids don't remember that revolutionary high. They just live with the rubble, the unemployment, the corruption. They see through your sham. Maybe they'll rise up and reform their society; maybe they'll just trade in for the newest model of despotism. (Either way, your head will be on a pike -- a comforting thought to me.) For us, these competing choices are the difference between temporary and permanent victory, Germany in 1918 and Germany in 1945. We can gamble that this generation will make the right choice, like eastern Europeans did in 1989, or maybe we can force them to, like we did to the Japanese and Germans in 1945. Either way, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Pray we don't blow it.

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