Posts about Terrorism

The Pope wimps out

It is high time that religious and political leaders call out Islamic leaders for not calling out Islamisits for their use of violence in the name of religion. The Pope did so last week but then promptly wimped out, apologizing for hurting anyone’s feelings. Didn’t know the Pope was from California. Feelings? Since when did the Pope turn PC?

Media have not helped. They have quoted one line the Pope quoted and put that forward as an insult to Islam. Well, far be it from me to defend the Pope who does not defend himself, but read that line — from Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus in 1391 — in context and it is an important statement about both violence and rationality and religion:

The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion”. According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”.

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent.

Transcending law, even reason.

I think it’s ironic that the Pope then goes on to try to expand the definition of reason beyond that accepted in the West because he wants to portray religion as reasonable.

We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

And he seems to be arguing that there — under a larger umbrella of reason — there is a meeting point for the religions to meet. I would say that defines optimism in our age.

So the Pope’s point was not to attack Islamic jihad but to use that as an illustration of fundamental differences. Still, he did attack violence in the name of religion. And I believe he should have stood by that firmly, for that is the discussion we must have. But instead, he wimped. And I believe that Islamic leaders should be standing firmly in the same spot, condemning violence — political violence, let’s be honest — in the name of their religion. But instead, they whine.

Where the hell are the moral leaders for our age?

: LATER: We should dread the aftermath. A Turkish paper reports that a church in the West Bank was attacked. Make that two churches. The Guardian has a picture of angry Muslims in India burning the Pope in effigy. Is this the sequel to the Danish cartoons? Let’s hope not. There are a lot more Catholics and Christians in the world to fight than there are Danes. But do note the terribly irony: The response to words condemning violence is violence.

: The Times writes a simplistic editorial calling for the Pope’s apology. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel defends her Landsman:

“What Benedict XVI emphasized was a decisive and uncompromising renunciation of all forms of violence in the name of religion,” she said.

Yes, and it is tragic that others do not join in that renunciation.

: MEANWHILE: In Australia:

The Howard government yesterday challenged the spiritual leaders of the nation’s Muslim community to reject terrorism.

In a firm address, Andrew Robb, Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, told a conference of Australian imams in Sydney that they had a responsibility to “quarantine Australia from the extremist elements who are tormenting the world, masquerading in the name of Islam”.

: Says the Sunday Times of London, God bless them:

The clash of civilisations is not between Christianity and Islam, it is between nations that encourage religious diversity and those which practise religious intolerance. It is between those who favour open debate and those who think free speech is anathema. The Pope may or may not have known what a hornets’ nest he was stirring up. Even if he did, there was nothing inappropriate, within context, in what he said.

The Vatican has said he is very sorry his speech caused such offence to Muslims. That is fine but it should not go further than that. He should certainly not be pushed into withdrawing his remarks. As in the case of the Danish cartoons, Muslim zealots are trying to impose their restrictions of free expression on the West. Mindful as we should be of religious sensitivities, that cannot be allowed to happen.

: And meanwhile in Iraq:

As security was beefed up around Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday night, the Mujahideen’s Army movement in Iraq threatened to carry out a suicide attack against the Pope in revenge for his comments about Islam and jihad.

On a website used by rebel movements in Iraq, a message posted by the Mujahideen’s Army said members of the organization would “smash the crosses in the house of the dog from Rome.”

As the Pope was saying….

: LATER STILL: Glenn Reynolds has a major roundup of opinion on the Pope.

Five years on: Tragic proportions

My wife, among others, wonders why I go to the World Trade Center on September 11th. To me, I’m visiting the grave that could have been mine. That is why I want to be there each 9/11 as the bells are rung and each name is read: to give thanks; to remember the thousands of heroes and innocents of the day, including those who surely saved me; and to give silent, unseen support to those who suffered most.

Note that “most.” Note also the number: “thousands.” We measure tragedy as media does: en masse. That is media’s narrative, media’s worldview. Cue Jay Rosen quoting Raymond Williams: “There are no masses, there are only ways of seeing people as masses. ” To media, tragedy — like war — is proportional. It is numeric: The bigger the number, the worse the tragedy. By this offensive math, of course, just one death — note the “just” — is less tragic than thousands because it merits less attention, less coverage, less time and space devoted to special reports, dramas, docudramas, tributes and looping replays. And we buy into it. We shake our heads and cry and talk about the bigger numbers, the bigger tragedies. We watch the shows and movies and buy the magazines and papers. Tragedy is big (if it’s big).

I am guilty myself of following the media math of tragedy. I react differently to 9/11 because of its weight. This morning in my church choir, we missed a soprano with an incredibly generous soul, because she lost her husband to a heart attack on Friday. And I hugged the wife of the bass soloist who sits next to me and who makes sure I find and stay on the right notes, because he had heart surgery and it’s not going well. But I haven’t yet made it a point to visit them the way I visit the World Trade Center every year.

My visits to the World Trade Center on 9/11s are self-indulgent: I go because I need to, because 9/11 is personal. I go to take stock, for I don’t yet know the impact of the day on our lives and world. I don’t think any of us does. It’s still not history yet.

But even on a personal level, I find myself looking at this proportionally. I was one of the lucky ones. We now know that other supposedly lucky ones are suffering horrendous ailments now (making me feel lucky once more with mine). We know others whose loss is unimaginable. We know others who are haunted with pain and even guilt for being so damned lucky. I sat last week with my friend Zeyad the day after he’d arrived from Baghdad. Among many other things, we compared notes on our commutes. I complained about a car ride and two trains that can take me an hour and a half. Zeyad said his commute to his last job in Baghdad could take two hours through 15 checkpoints with no idea who’s running each of them and what the peril could be; his commute could have killed him. We in New York had war for one day. He in Baghdad had war everyday. I was embarrassed to be whining.

So there I go again, thinking proportionally. This is the thinking we hear from those people who statistically stack up our fear of terrorism against the odds of dying from a car crash, heart attack, or just Western sloth. I hate that logic, that glib calculation of fate. It says that we shouldn’t worry about terrorism because it’s small and we pay attention to big. There is the media’s worldview infecting our hearts and minds.

But tragedy is personal and if it doesn’t touch us, we do care less about it. We even admit this to anonymous pollsters who call us: Two-thirds of New Yorkers are still concerned about terrorist attacks against only a fifth of the rest of America, who likely think we New Yorkers are being self-indulgent or silly or merely not as tough as we act. Time does not heal wounds. Distance prevents them. The rest of the nation watched tragedy on the other side of a flat screen. We heard it and smelled it and felt it.

That is why I carry a camera with me every day now. In 2001, I said that the rest of the world watched 9/11 from rooftops miles away; it looked so big. I experienced it at ground level. I heard the sounds of people falling. I felt the heat of the second jet hitting the second tower. I smelled the dust of destruction all the way into my lungs. I came to think that if we witnesses could have shared more of this with others, they might understand better.

But perhaps that is expecting too much of mere media. By my logic, the more we see about 9/11, the wiser we will become about it; I’m thinking big again. Well, clearly, that is not the case as we suffer another annual overdose of tragedy TV. Some of it is very good — the Naudet brothers try to do nothing more than take us there (if the damned FCC will let them) — but some of it is very bad; based on what I have seen of the ABC docudrama, I am appalled by the quality — the fake reality — and by the transparent efforts to cause controversy for the sake of ratings. It is rank exploitation.

Simon Jenkins in The Guardian opposes the onslaught of 9/11 media, arguing that it only does bin Laden’s work for him.

The weekend is to be wall-to-wall 9/11. Not glorifying terrorism? You must be joking. . . .

Terrorism is 10% bang and 90% an echo effect composed of media hysteria, political overkill and kneejerk executive action, usually retribution against some wider group treated as collectively responsible. This response has become 24-hour, seven-day-a-week amplification by the new politico-media complex, especially shrill where the dead are white people. It is this that puts global terror into the bang. While we take ever more extravagant steps to ward off the bangs, we do the opposite with the terrorist aftershock. We turn up its volume. We seem to wallow in fear. . . .

The gruelling re-enactment of the London bombings in July and this weekend’s 9/11 horror-fest are not news. They exploit grief and horror, and in doing so give gratuitous publicity to Bin Laden and al-Qaida. Those personally affected by these outrages may have their own private memorials. But to hallow the events with repetitious publicity turns a squalid crime into a constantly revitalised political act. It grants the jihadists what they most crave, warrior status. It more than validates terrorism as a weapon of war, it glorifies it.

The best way to commemorate 9/11 is with silence.

That is, of course, a commonly held view: that our wallowing in fear leads us give up too many freedoms and make too many mistakes. James Fallows declares victory in the war on terror in The Atlantic. But I sense proportionalism in this — odds-making: Is terrorism big enough to warrant not just this overdose of coverage but also the consequent political reaction? To which I believe we must answer: Is the death of one person at a terrorist’s hands big enoughh to warrant our concern, our vigilance, our action? We don’t need to lose thousands to make this worthwhile.

Now most of the media overload is just that: an overload, repeating the same scenes and same words and same sentimentality over and over — more this year than last because five is a big number. But that doesn’t mean we should not be remembering.

My fear is that silence will lead to complacency and complacency will lead to death. If we had not been watchful and had not caught those would-be plane bombers in London, would we have thousands more dead now? Would there be more dead than on 9/11? Would that be big enough to care?

How can we lose sight of the individual? It is the other side that does that. Says Martin Amis in his Observer essay on the Islamists: “Like fundamentalist Judaism and medieval Christianity, Islam is totalist. That is to say, it makes a total claim on the individual. Indeed, there is no individual; there is only the umma – the community of believers.”

If there is a fundamental difference between us and the fundamentalists who want to kill is, that is it. We must value and protect the individual as they do not. We count.

* * *

As for myself, I suppose I am looking at this anniversary with more cold distance than in the past. When I started this weblog shortly after 9/11 — believing that I would do it for a few weeks, until I had nothing more to say — I wrote even then about the tragedy through the lens of media:

Now that we know what real heroes look like, it’s real hard to take seriously all the heroes we in the media and America created before the terror: that is, celebrities. This struck me first yesterday when I looked at The National Enquirer (hey, it’s all media), where we are asked to give a damn that Daniel Day-Lewis walked to a New York hospital with donated ice (the gift that stops giving real fast) and that temporary lesbian Anne Heche was in the same airport as terrorists on the 11th. OK, that’s the Enquirer. But I couldn’t shake this feeling of misplaced fame and adoration during last night’s all-star TV benefit for the attacks heroes and victims. Yes, every star there was there for a good cause and with a good heart; it’s not their fault we put them on pedestals. But there’s no room on those pedestals today. Rudy Guiliani is up there with hundreds of firemen and policeman and too many thousands of innocent victims.

Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter just declared irony dead. I beg to disagree that that is the cultural pulse of the moment. No, one meaning of the terror to us in the media and entertainment is that celebrity is almost as devalued as the Dow.

Already, we’re hearing TV anchors talking about how we are starting to “return to normal.” Stop! This is not — this better not be — normal. The day when we know a new normal — when we look up and realize we’re not about to cry or be afraid — is a long way off. Let’s all just agree that America is in a period of mourning at least through the end of the year and what is bound to be a very sad Christmas.

On the six month anniversary, I wrote a sermon struggling with the meaning. On the first anniversary, the jahrzeit, I wrote another sermon about memory and soaked in the details of the day. I was, of course, more emotional about it then. In 2003, I was sorrowful. In 2004, angry. Last year, when I could not be there, I was uncharacteristically quiet. And this year? I will see how I feel after the bell rings and the names are read and then I rush up to work and then to a train (note: not a plane, not on 9/11, even is that is more a decision of superstition than fear) to Boston.

My life has changed more this year than in those years, I suppose. One thinks that a major event — a big event — will cause big change though it usually doesn’t, at least not quickly; as long as life goes on, it just goes on. But I’m teaching now and 9/11 is a reason: I wanted to find a way to do something more meaningful, to contribute something more. It took me five years to get here but here I am. And indeed, 9/11 was the reason I started blogging and that certainly did change my life. I remain angry; that will never change. I remain fearful; I think we must. My wife still does not forgive me for staying there that day to report. But my children still will not let me leave the house without telling me they love me and making sure I say I love them.

The age of horrorism

Martin Amis writes an incredible piece in the Observer on the rise and status of Islamism (distinct from Islam). The piece is also incredibly long and though I recommend it, I will do you the service of snipping a few of the good bits. Do let this tempt you to read it all:

So, to repeat, we respect Islam – the donor of countless benefits to mankind, and the possessor of a thrilling history. But Islamism? No, we can hardly be asked to respect a creedal wave that calls for our own elimination. More, we regard the Great Leap Backwards as a tragic development in Islam’s story, and now in ours. Naturally we respect Islam. But we do not respect Islamism, just as we respect Muhammad and do not respect Muhammad Atta. . . . . . .

The most extreme Islamists want to kill everyone on earth except the most extreme Islamists; but every jihadi sees the need for eliminating all non-Muslims, either by conversion or by execution. And we now know what happens when Islamism gets its hands on an army (Algeria) or on something resembling a nation state (Sudan). In the first case, the result was fratricide, with 100,000 dead; in the second, following the Islamist coup in 1989, the result has been a kind of rolling genocide, and the figure is perhaps two million. . . .

[On the world view of Sayyid Qutb, founder of Islamism, whose story Amis tells:] The emptiness, the mere iteration, at the heart of his philosophy is steadily colonised by a vast entanglement of bitternesses; and here, too, we detect the presence of that peculiarly Islamist triumvirate (codified early on by Christopher Hitchens) of self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-hatred – the self-righteousness dating from the seventh century, the self-pity from the 13th (when the ‘last’ Caliph was kicked to death in Baghdad by the Mongol warlord Hulagu), and the self-hatred from the 20th. And most astounding of all, in Qutb, is the level of self-awareness, which is less than zero. It is as if the very act of self-examination were something unmanly or profane: something unrighteous, in a word.

Still, one way or the other, Qutb is the father of Islamism. Here are the chief tenets he inspired: that America, and its clients, are jahiliyya (the word classically applied to pre-Muhammadan Arabia – barbarous and benighted); that America is controlled by Jews; that Americans are infidels, that they are animals, and, worse, arrogant animals, and are unworthy of life; that America promotes pride and promiscuity in the service of human degradation; that America seeks to ‘exterminate’ Islam – and that it will accomplish this not by conquest, not by colonial annexation, but by example. . . .

[And then on the use of suicide and murder as Islamism’s weapon of choice:] Suicide-mass murder is more than terrorism: it is horrorism. It is a maximum malevolence. . . .

By the summer of 2005, suicide-mass murder had evolved. In Iraq, foreign jihadis, pilgrims of war, were filing across the borders to be strapped up with explosives and nails and nuts and bolts, often by godless Baathists with entirely secular aims – to be primed like pieces of ordnance and then sent out the same day to slaughter their fellow Muslims. Suicide-mass murder, in other words, had passed through a phase of decadence and was now on the point of debauchery. In a single month (May), there were more human bombings in Iraq than during the entire intifada. And this, on 25 July, was the considered response of the Mayor of London to the events of 7 July:

‘Given that they don’t have jet planes, don’t have tanks, they only have their bodies to use as weapons. In an unfair balance, that’s what people use.’

I remember a miserable little drip of a poem, c2002, that made exactly the same case. No, they don’t have F-16s. Question: would the Mayor like them to have F-16s? And, no, their bodies are not what ‘people’ use. They are what Islamists use. And we should weigh, too, the spiritual paltriness of such martyrdoms. ‘Martyr’ means witness. The suicide-mass murderer witnesses nothing – and sacrifices nothing. He dies for vulgar and delusive gain. And on another level, too, the rationale for ‘martyrdom operations’ is a theological sophistry of the blackest cynicism. Its aim is simply the procurement of delivery systems. . . .

[On Islamism against other isms:] Like fundamentalist Judaism and medieval Christianity, Islam is totalist. That is to say, it makes a total claim on the individual. Indeed, there is no individual; there is only the umma – the community of believers. . . .

So Islam, in the end, proved responsive to European influence: the influence of Hitler and Stalin. And one hardly needs to labour the similarities between Islamism and the totalitarian cults of the last century. Anti-semitic, anti-liberal, anti-individualist, anti-democratic, and, most crucially, anti-rational, they too were cults of death, death-driven and death-fuelled. The main distinction is that the paradise which the Nazis (pagan) and the Bolsheviks (atheist) sought to bring about was an earthly one, raised from the mulch of millions of corpses. For them, death was creative, right enough, but death was still death. For the Islamists, death is a consummation and a sacrament; death is a beginning. . . .

There is no momentum, in Islam, for a reformation. And there is no time, now, for a leisurely, slow-lob enlightenment. The necessary upheaval is a revolution – the liberation of women. . . .

Millennial Islamism is an ideology superimposed upon a religion – illusion upon illusion. It is not merely violent in tendency. Violence is all that is there. . . .

Turncoat traitor American nutjob

The latest podcast from Al Qaeda features a doughy, hairy, gullible, alleged American formerly named plain Adam urging us all to convert to Islam. Some losers end up working at Burger King. This loser ends up plotting against his country.

Good news

The Fox journalists are free.

“We were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint,” Centanni told FOX News. “Don’t get me wrong here. I have the highest respect for Islam, and I learned a lot of good things about it, but it was something we felt we had to do because they had the guns, and we didn’t know what the hell was going on.”

I’d say that given the circumstances, he could have been excused if he’d left off the PC postlude.