Friday, October 22, 2004

Reframing Al-Quaida

Indigo Jo shares two outstanding links that reframe Al-Quaida as an ideological creation not of Islam but of the West.
  • Abdul-Hakim Murad on the origins of suicide-bombing in non-Islamic culture.

  • The Guardian on The Power of Nightmares, a BBC series about the links between Islamic extremism and neo-conservatism, from their foundation in the 1950s to their collaboration in the 1980s, to their enmity today.
  • 1. Murad's article is a long, challenging, and wide-ranging--well worth the effort to read. Here are some samples:
    "Traditional Sunnis intuit that al-Qaida is a Western invention, but one which cannot be defeated in a battleground where the logic is Western. This was one of the messages that emerged from the 2003 summit meeting of eight hundred Muslim scholars at Putrajaya.[21] Al-Qaida is inauthentic: it rejects the classical canons of Islamic law and theology, and issues fatwas that are neither formally nor in their habit of mind deducible from medieval exegesis."
    "...Here predictions about Islamism may not be so different from predictions about a certain kind of exhibitionist postmodernism. Take Foucault, for instance. On his death, he had been praised by Le Monde as ‘the most important event of thought in our century.’ He was an iconic Western iconoclast, but more honest about the consequences of modernity than most liberal seekers after virtue. He had been strongly pro-Khomeini, and had also praised the Baader-Meinhof terrorists. Like many Islamists, he was a lapsed Marxist, concerned with making a statement, with angering the middle-class West, with disruption. A second Bakunin, he was concerned not with advancing a detailed and realistic agenda, but with a passionate desire to shock. And like his hero Nietzsche, he died of a venereal disease, his immensely careless sexual habits indicating the powerful allure of suicide for the sake of making a statement. We need to ask: is this too close for comfort to radical Islamism, with its penchant for épater les blancs by whatever means? For how long can the West portray the Islamists as its own polar opposite? Will it be harder to forget the zealots than to forget Foucault?
    Please don't shortchange yourself by attempting to draw conclusions based on these two snippets from the much longer work; I encourage you to read Murad's essay yourself.

    2. The Power of Nightmares series producer Adam Curtis explains to The Guardian how an investigation of the rise of American Neo-Conservatism under Leo Strass led to the series on Neo-Con's common ground Islamists, including the 80's collaboration in Afghanistan that created Osama bin Laden, and how this relates to Al-Quaida and the American "War on Terror."
    ...The Power of Nightmares began as an investigation of something else, the rise of modern American conservatism. Curtis was interested in Leo Strauss, a political philosopher at the university of Chicago in the 50s who rejected the liberalism of postwar America as amoral and who thought that the country could be rescued by a revived belief in America's unique role to battle evil in the world. Strauss's certainty and his emphasis on the use of grand myths as a higher form of political propaganda created a group of influential disciples such as Paul Wolfowitz, now the US deputy defence secretary. They came to prominence by talking up the Russian threat during the cold war and have applied a similar strategy in the war on terror.

    As Curtis traced the rise of the "Straussians", he came to a conclusion that would form the basis for The Power of Nightmares. Straussian conservatism had a previously unsuspected amount in common with Islamism: from origins in the 50s, to a formative belief that liberalism was the enemy, to an actual period of Islamist-Straussian collaboration against the Soviet Union during the war in Afghanistan in the 80s (both movements have proved adept at finding new foes to keep them going). Although the Islamists and the Straussians have fallen out since then, as the attacks on America in 2001 graphically demonstrated, they are in another way, Curtis concludes, collaborating still: in sustaining the "fantasy" of the war on terror."

    (...)Almost no one questions this myth about al-Qaida because so many people have got an interest in keeping it alive," says Curtis. He cites the suspiciously circular relationship between the security services and much of the media since September 2001: the way in which official briefings about terrorism, often unverified or unverifiable by journalists, have become dramatic press stories which - in a jittery media-driven democracy - have prompted further briefings and further stories. Few of these ominous announcements are retracted if they turn out to be baseless: "There is no fact-checking about al-Qaida."
    There is a wealth of information contained in this (much shorter) article and I encourage you to read it in full.

    I recognize that both articles radically challenge the official Neo-Con narrative and I am braced for the trolls to come out in their full trolly glory. I am nonetheless optimistically looking forward to a civil discussion on the disruptive ideas presented.

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