Friday, March 19, 2004

Nobody Doesn't Like Osama

In which Lee Smith makes a number of excellent observations

The Arabs conquered the Berbers, a general term encompassing numerous tribes throughout western North Africa, whose warrior ethos they put to good use....The Berbers were, by and large, enthusiastic converts to Islam, perhaps a little too fervent for some of the ruling Arab elite. Unlike the Arabs, who fought just for plunder, the Berbers believed that they waged war to glorify Islam.

These kinds of issues about authenticity and identity—who's a real Muslim, who's a real Arab or a real Berber—are often present in colonial and post-colonial societies....The question is: After 1,200 years, how can you tell exactly who's got what blood? Also: Why is a recent colonial incursion more harmful to a native population than an older one that has had that much more time to play havoc on a people's psyche?
A damn good question and one that can't be asked often enough with regard to the Islamic world. See Paganism, Yay! below for more. Or better yet, read V.S. Naipaul's Among the Believers or Beyond Belief.

After the Madrid attacks, a number of journalists, academics, and other experts picked up on the idea, perhaps most fully expressed in Jason Burke's book Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror, that al-Qaida may not be what many people think it is. It's not one vast organization with tentacles everywhere; it's a kind of franchise that helps with cash here, logistics there. Most important, it is the brand name of an umbrella ideology that all the jihadists subscribe to, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat and Salafia Jihadia, among others. Bin Laden is just the public face.
Burke describes al-Qaida as not unlike, well, Sara Lee. Yes, that Sara Lee, purveyor of pound cakes and Wonderbras, which, since 1997, has outsourced all of its manufacturing operations in order to devote all of its resources to brand-building and marketing.
Looking at the Almohad and Almoravids, one might make the further point that jihadism is not just international, it's also a deeply ambitious ideological movement that feeds on its own thousand-plus-year history of extreme violence and revulsion for anything that is not itself.
Thank heaven someone addresses the xenophobia at the heart of Islamic fundamentalism as well as its long history, demonstrating that its origins do not lie in a response to imperialism, but reach further back, through Aurangzeb and Mahmud of Ghazni, past the Almohads and Almoravids to the very heart of monotheism itself. Whatever his other virtues, Edward Said's legacy has been the muzzling of those who dare acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Muslim apologists like to highlight the similarities between Islam and Christianity. I would agree and argue that the similarities between Islam and Christianity are precisely the problem.

Exclusivity and proselytism are the twin heads of an insatiable, bloodthirsty beast. The mass murder that follows when these two ideas are taken to their logical conclusion is the dark side of Islamic and Christian claims to universality. The West learned its lesson from the century and a half of religious violence that followed Luther's nailing of his 95 theses to the doors of Wittenberg cathedral. In the West, the Peace of Westphalia bound the two-headed beast; the separation of church and state, freedom of religion and religious tolerance tamed it, not that it doesn't still champ at the bit from time to time. In the Islamic world, only Malaysia and Turkey have successfully bound this beast to any extent.


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