Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The Cult of Death

In one of the major Swedish newspapers of today, Svenska Dagbladet (I won't bother to link to it since it is in Swedish), journalist Thomas Gür writes about the trait shared by all totalitarian ideologies -- the cult of death.

He refers to Paul Berman's book Terror and Liberalism, which declares islamism to be the third totalitarian movement of our time. The other two being of course Nazism/Fascism and Communism.

All these ideologies shared a belief in, and a perverse admiration, of death. As Mr Gür points out, the parole of the Spanish Fascists was Viva la muerte! (long live death!). The terrorist's who carried out the bombings of Madrid said "we love death, and you love life".

Mr Gür goes on to say:

"What through history unites Japanese Kamikaze-pilots, secular Tamil or Kurdish terrorists, Iranian suicide-battalions and islamistic suicide-bombers, is what you could call an ideologically formulated glorification of an individual's death for a nobler purpose."
[My translation]

Now, many people don't seem to realize that this is what the fundamentalist islamism of today is all about. It surprises me that many people don't seem to realize that Islamofascism is just that. Fascism. That the suicide- and homicide-bombings which kill civilians by their hundreds and even thousands is the greatest totalitarian threat in recent history.

The anti-semitism and anti-Americanism which follows in its keel, should be taken more seriously than it at present is. Some people seem to think this is being overtly sensitive or melodramatic. It is not.

I am quite surprised at how quickly many people seem to have forgotten the 9/11-atrocities, the bombs in Istanbul and the Madrid bombs. These are not haphazard events. They may or may not be centrally co-ordinated in some way or other. However, that's not the point. The point is that it is happening now and it will probably happen again, and that these acts of large-scale terrorism are a part of something bigger: the desire to create a religious-clerical fascist empire. No more, no less.

People who downplay or ridicule this fact simply do not understand the seriousness of the matter. And I don't have to mention the Looney Left. I'm fed up with them .

I for one am glad that both Tony Blair and George W. Bush have understood the seriousness of this terrorist threat and are trying to do something about it.

I would also wish that people around me would face the facts and read the situation more accurately.

The thing is many people still say "oh, it's such a complicated issue". No, it's not. Either you oppose death-loving religious Fascism or you support an open, free and equal democratic society.


At August 7, 2004 at 3:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of what you say is true. But the movement is definately not "otherworldly", Christian style. They have goals on earth. You clearly recognise this when you say they are shooting for an empire. It may be all about getting to heaven for some of them. But to do that, they have to contribute to the goal of making an empire on earth. And they pay attention to the issue of feasibility. It may seem that they are irrational. They are not. They may have made a mistake when they attacked America. But it was an honest mistake. Anything that they themselves, and their leaders, believe will not serve their earthly designs they will not do. Anything that serves it they will do, even if it means death as individuals. They are results oriented, at least in the leadership. The results they seek are in this world, not the next. But they will do anything to get it, even if they and their children will not live to see it. They are Inqisitors. They want this for their fellows, their loved ones, and for you and I. They will kill anyone, destroy any secular power, even risk their most precious aims, to achieve it. They will take a big bet, because they believe God is on their side. But they realise that God does not patronise fools. And they will act accordingly.

At August 8, 2004 at 3:30 AM, Blogger PurpleStater said...


As usual beautfully and succinctly stated! It is gratifying to pop open my browser and read the thoughts of a blogger in Sweden who sees the world as it is. Too many in Europe (and in the US) do not want to face what's happening.

I found out about Thought at the Meridian several weeks ago via Who Knew and find your commentary to be spot on. I have since linked to your posts on several occasions. I hope you are able to talk some sense into those on the left who are distracted by the antics of G.W. Bush while a terrifying fascist ideology makes headway in every corner of the world.

Wishing you a growing following, as you extend the area of sanity.

At August 9, 2004 at 10:19 AM, Blogger Frederick said...


I didn't mention "otherworldly". All I was trying to say is that these people have a sick and dangerous obsession with death.

At August 9, 2004 at 10:21 AM, Blogger Frederick said...


Thanks for your kind words and your support. It really is good to know there are more people on the same wavelength out there.

The struggle continues. No pasaran!

At August 9, 2004 at 3:33 PM, Blogger Michael Turner said...

"I am quite surprised at how quickly many people seem to have forgotten the 9/11-atrocities, the bombs in Istanbul and the Madrid bombs."

You forgot Bali yourself.

In fact, I don't know a single person who has forgotten about any of these incidents - though some may take some reminding about Istanbul.

Why do you have to paint your opponents as suffering from amnesia?

As for the Paul Berman "cult of death" thinking, this is assigning far too much weight to supposed free-standing attractions of an ideology and not nearly enough weight to the conditions in which such ideologies naturally fester. These conditions are pretty much as Eric Hoffer described in his classics like The True Believer, as he sought to understand the sources of far greater global cataclysms than our War on Terror.

It isn't surprising, for example, that 15 of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, a country that had a generations-long taste of affluence but which is now in a sour decline in its per capita income. As well, the lack of diversification of the Saudi economy has meant that individual in that society, facing the prospect of less unearned affluence than their parents enjoyed, will be prone to syndromes Hoffer described so well.

Hoffer: "Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some. We are less dissatisfied when we lack many things than when we seem to lack but one thing."

I.e., it is not absolute poverty that is the problem - Afghanistan, desperately poor and ridiculously fundamentalist, may have exported heroin but didn't export terror until a rich Saudi scion took up residence. Even then, the Arab interlocutors were looked down upon as spoiled and weak by the Afghans.

Hoffer: "Unless a man has the talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden. Of what avail is freedom to choose if the self be ineffectual?"

Saudi Arabia is a huge oil exporter, but how many brilliant petroleum engineers has it produced? No, it runs a welfare state financed by paying foreigners to turn the cranks; talent is worth far less than family connections.

Hoffer: "The ideal potential convert is the individual who stands alone, who has no collective body he can blend with and lose himself in and so mask the pettiness, meaninglessness, and shabbiness of his individual existence."

Gosh, that sure sounds like a lot of the Al Qaeda recruits who have since been scooped up. It's also the kind of person that a society like Saudi Arabia - which imports increasing technological expertise to produce decreasing amounts of oil for decreasing financial returns - will tend to produce more of over the long run. The non-oil Arab states already produced plenty of such jihadist cannon fodder.

Hoffer: "The discontent generated by backward countries by their contact with Western civilization is not primarily resentment against exploitation by domineering foreigners. It is rather the result of a crumbling or unmaking of tribal solidarity and communal life."

Yes, as we learned with Iran in 1979. That Hatred of the Infidel must be *manufactured*. The Saudi state has helped in this, but increasingly, Saudi subjects have seen through this manipulation, and seek to own that cultivated hatred on their own terms - or on the terms of energetic religious leaders if they can provide a source of community.

Hoffer: "A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrine and promises but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual existence. It cures the poignantly frustrated not by conferring on them an absolute truth or by remedying the difficulties and abuses which made their lives miserable, but by freeing them from their ineffectual selves - and it does this by enfolding them and absorbing them into a closely knit and exultant corporate whole."

And that 'corporate whole' can be a muslim extremist group.

Hoffer: "When people revolt in a totalitarian society, they rise not against the wickedness of the regime but it weakness."

The Saudi royal family is having increasing trouble buying acquiescence to its totalitarian state in recent years, with the fall-off in oil earnings.

Hoffer: "The differentiated individual is free of boredom only when he is engaged either in creative work or some absorbing occupation or when he is wholly engrossed in the struggle for existence."

Saudi rulers have created a more 'differentiated individual' subject. By not differentiating their economy, however, they have passed up the chance to provide creative work and absorbing occupations - in fact, they will soon be unable to even subsidize such activities. These 'prematurely-differentiated individuals' will look to collective struggles - experiences that provide something like a 'struggle for existence' even though existence still isn't that hard. To be a terrorist is exciting, it is to put one's life on precarious terms indeed - for the bored, the talentless, the frustrated, the alienated, the envious, and the lonely, engaging in Jihad (described by some terrorists as being like an addiction) may feel more like joining a life-cult, not a death-cult.

Hoffer: "When we ascribe the success of a movement to its faith, doctrine, propaganda, leadership, ruthlessness and so on, we are but referring to instruments of unification and to means used to incalculate a readiness of self-sacrifice."

I.e., these instruments cannot work without raw material. Only social conditions can supply that raw material. If it were otherwise, one would only need to enter any society with some version of a previously-successful mass-movement ideology, and turn that society upside down. This just doesn't happen in most places and at most times in history.

In places like Saudi Arabia, however, the social conditions have been created. These social conditions have been created by western civilization's deal with the devil: buying non-renewable natural resources from nations with value systems and governments that are incompatible with the values of western civilization, while doing little or nothing to change those systems.

I'm all in favor of open, free, democratic systems. I'd just prefer to live in a system that didn't feed the opposite sort of system just be a little richer as well.

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