Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Cult of Death

Today Brooks is in his Big Tautological Pronouncements mode: nothing is as it was, all is now as it never was then, they are they and we are we, and so forth. Let's take a look.

"We've been forced to witness the massacre of innocents. In New York, Madrid, Moscow, Tel Aviv, Baghdad and Bali, we have seen thousands of people destroyed while going about the daily activities of life."

Hello, David, and welcome to Planet Earth, where various events sometimes cause large numbers of innocent people to be killed, almost always while going about the daily activities of life. (Seldom are people killed while not going about the daily activities of life, since such people tend to be already dead.) These events include earthquakes, aerial bombardments, epidemics, terrorist attacks, ships striking icebergs, famines, genocides and political purges, and the formation of the Black Sea in the early neolithic period as a result of rising sea levels. You may be surprised to learn that these events did not commence on Sept. 11, 2001 - indeed, some took place even before you were born!

"We should by now have become used to the death cult that is thriving at the fringes of the Muslim world. This is the cult of people who are proud to declare, "You love life, but we love death." This is the cult that sent waves of defenseless children to be mowed down on the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq war, that trains kindergartners to become bombs, that fetishizes death, that sends people off joyfully to commit mass murder."

Which death cult was the one that sent waves of teenagers to be mowed down on the battlefields of the Somme, again? Well, okay, it's a quibble - the rest is fair enough so far.

"This cult attaches itself to a political cause but parasitically strangles it. The death cult has strangled the dream of a Palestinian state. The suicide bombers have not brought peace to Palestine; they've brought reprisals. The car bombers are not pushing the U.S. out of Iraq; they're forcing us to stay longer. The death cult is now strangling the Chechen cause, and will bring not independence but blood. "

Again, fair enough. But here comes the fun part...

"But that's the idea. Because the death cult is not really about the cause it purports to serve. It's about the sheer pleasure of killing and dying."

Ahhh - the sheer pleasure of killing and dying! Man, you just gotta love the refreshing flavor of killing and dying. Can't get enough of it! God knows I've had a hard time keeping my toddler from killing and dying. I try offering her favorite breakfast cereals, a trip to the zoo, a horseback ride, but she just keeps going on about killing and dying! "Daddy, can't I please kill someone? Can't I please die?" I guess it's just a natural human urge. Some people think killing and dying are gruesome and repulsive activities which humans aren't naturally prone to, that only complex organizations with strong political roots and broadly shared aims or grievances have the capacity to train people to overcome their natural aversion to killing and dying, in order to carry out acts of political violence. But that's just ignorance of human nature! Why, there's nothin' folks love better than gettin' them some good killing and dying.

"It's about massacring people while in a state of spiritual loftiness. It's about experiencing the total freedom of barbarism - freedom even from human nature, which says, Love children, and Love life. It's about the joy of sadism and suicide."

Aha, the plot thickens. It looks like human nature is actually against the joy of killing and dying...which means the urge to kill and die actually stems from...uh...something. Hm. The urge to freedom! Oh, that's a terrible thing, that freedom. Oh no, wait. Isn't that what we invaded Iraq to bring people? Okay, not freedom...What about the joy of sadism and suicide? Not that I personally enjoy either one, you understand...Note to self: will have to work on this point further.

"We should be used to this pathological mass movement by now. We should be able to talk about such things. Yet when you look at the Western reaction to the Beslan massacres, you see people quick to divert their attention away from the core horror of this act, as if to say: We don't want to stare into this abyss. We don't want to acknowledge those parts of human nature that were on display in Beslan."

Wait -- now the urges to kill and die ARE "parts of human nature"? I can't keep this straight. On, off, on, off - very flip-floppy on this issue.

"Something here, if thought about too deeply, undermines the categories we use to live our lives, undermines our faith in the essential goodness of human beings. "

Note to self: do not think about it too deeply, as may undermine faith. In fact, better not think about anything too deeply.

"Three years after Sept. 11, too many people have become experts at averting their eyes. If you look at the editorials and public pronouncements made in response to Beslan, you see that they glide over the perpetrators of this act and search for more conventional, more easily comprehensible targets for their rage."

Like the authorities not having any ambulances present at a days-old hostage crisis. As if ambulances could have saved anyone! Wait, maybe they would have saved someone. But not more than, you know, a few dozen people. A hundred, tops.

"The Boston Globe editorial, which was typical of the American journalistic response, made two quick references to the barbarity of the terrorists, but then quickly veered off with long passages condemning Putin and various Russian policy errors.
The Dutch foreign minister, Bernard Bot, speaking on behalf of the European Union, declared: "All countries in the world need to work together to prevent tragedies like this. But we also would like to know from the Russian authorities how this tragedy could have happened.""

Damn those Dutch, always wanting to know how things actually happened. Can't they see it's WAR ON TERROR WAR ON TERROR WAR ON TERROR

"It wasn't a tragedy. It was a carefully planned mass murder operation. "

See you could tell it was a pure mass murder operation because, instead of taking the kids hostage and holding them for a few days, which is what they would've done if they had some political demands, they just immediately massacred them all. Oh, no, actually they held them for several days. Well, whatever.

"And it wasn't Russian authorities who stuffed basketball nets with explosives and shot children in the back as they tried to run away."

Though in Grozny, they did bomb entire apartment blocks flat while the residents were still in them, actions which I denounced at the time as "state-sponsored terrorism". Not.

"Whatever horrors the Russians have perpetrated upon the Chechens, whatever their ineptitude in responding to the attack, the essential nature of this act was in the act itself. It was the fact that a team of human beings could go into a school, live with hundreds of children for a few days, look them in the eyes and hear their cries, and then blow them up. "

And thus we know that the people who committed this act were very, very bad! And the further conclusion which this leads to They were very bad people! And any attempt to draw any political conclusion whatsoever, either about the Chechnya conflict or the nature of the Putin administration or the nature of other conflicts involving terrorism, is totally illegitimate, because the real point is - they were baaaaad!!!

"Dissertations will be written about the euphemisms the media used to describe these murderers. They were called "separatists" and "hostage-takers." Three years after Sept. 11, many are still apparently unable to talk about this evil. They still try to rationalize terror. What drives the terrorists to do this? What are they trying to achieve? "

They weren't 'separatists' - they didn't want Chechnya to become independent! Or actually, they did, but you know, whatever. And "hostage-takers" - how dare the press apply such a positive, complimentary term to them! Just because they took lots of hostages? Doesn't the media understand that these people have no goals - they're just mad killers, bent on the joy of pure destruction? That's why they just massacred those kids immediately, instead of holding them as hostages and making demands, which...oh yeah, that's what they did, but like we said before, whatever.

"They're still victims of the delusion that Paul Berman diagnosed after Sept. 11: "It was the belief that, in the modern world, even the enemies of reason cannot be the enemies of reason. Even the unreasonable must be, in some fashion, reasonable.""

Okay, here we drop the cutesy tone and instead address a basic failure of language and reasoning, both on Berman's and Brooks's parts. The words "reason" and "reasonable" are being bandied about in a confused fashion here. First, because something is unreasonable does not mean that it cannot be reasoned about. A bowling ball is not reasonable, but we can use the faculty of reason to think about what kind of force might have driven it to roll down the alley. Second, the phrase "the enemies of reason" is an ellipsis for a whole pile of ideas about European and Mideastern intellectual history. Berman uses "reason" here to stand for "Reason", or the European Enlightenment commitment to secular rationalism. The contention is that Islamicist terrorists are "enemies of reason" because they are enemies of secular rationalism. Now, nobody knows whether the terrorists in Beslan were in fact Islamic fundamentalists or Chechen nationalists. But more importantly, Berman is being slippery with words when he implies that the "enemies of reason", in the sense of enemies of Enlightenment-style secular rationalism, cannot be "reasonable". All human beings are "reasonable", in the sense of using reason to achieve goals. This, indeed, is one of the fundamental principles of the Enlightenment. If enemies of secular rationalism are impervious to reason, then ... well, that certainly helps us to understand a lot about President Bush. Anyway, Brooks is trying to use Berman's line to take things a step further - to claim that the terrorists in Beslan and terrorists in general are simply insane, that they are beyond human comprehension. This is just stupid.

"This death cult has no reason and is beyond negotiation. This is what makes it so frightening. This is what causes so many to engage in a sort of mental diversion. They don't want to confront this horror. So they rush off in search of more comprehensible things to hate. "

This is beneath commentary or contempt, and I think I've made the points already above. Let me just add that the return of the McCarthyite "they" in political speech heralds a new dawn for fascism in American discourse.

Onwards and upwards, Brooksie!


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