Monday, April 20, 2009

Humiliation and Terrorism

Recently, I have been reading Chris Hedges book I Don't Believe in Atheists. Hedges has already distinguished himself by writing several brilliant books. He is especially adept at taking on fundamentalism (see esp. American Fascists). Hedges has produced an insightful look at the craziness and scariness of Christian fundamentalism. Now he sets his sights on atheist fundamentalism. This short series will take a chapter by chapter look and offer some commentary on I Don't Believe in Atheism.

Chapter 6: "Humiliation and Revenge"

Hedges begins Chapter Six with a discussion of Harris' The End of Faith. Harris does not see Islam as being legitimate or peaceful in any reasonable manner. He does not view Islam as a large faith that is being hijacked by a minority of extremists. He believes that Islamic terrorism is the only logical conclusion to Islam as a whole. It is the logical conclusion of the Koran and the literature of the hadith.

Of course, as Hedges points out, none of the "new atheists" are students of Islam, neither Harris nor Dawkins; Dennett nor Hitchens. From the perspective of Hedges (one time middle east bureau chief for the New York Times), they write out of their ignorance, but there is more.

In their confident assertions concerning Islam, they completely ignore the role that humiliation and historical forces (much bound up with US policy and hubris) have had in fermenting anger. Humiliation is a strong force in extracting revenge. The Serbs justified ethic cleansing of Muslim populations on former humiliations. Israel justifies repression of the Palestinian populations as it recalls the Holocaust-- an atrocity with which no connection can be claimed. Yet, Arabs are equated with Nazis. Americans, at least under the Bush administration, were taught to equate Iraqis with al-Qaeda, yet no credible connection was ever established. In each case, national humiliation has been used to justify revenge.

We now have ( I hope this will decrease) a situation, where many Americans were taught an apocalyptic view, as were many Islamists. Both believe they are morally right and beyond the possibility of error. It has become a battle, for both sides, of good vs. evil, God vs. Satan. The new atheists, being overwhelmingly right-wing neo-cons offer a secular version of all of this-- but the same old absolutist story.

Yet, the longer the US maintains an occupational war on and in Islamic nations, the more the humiliation will grow. As it grows, more terrorists will be recruited to the cause. Bush announced a war without limits. I hope Obama is not so foolish. An endless war is every bit as apocalyptic and crazy as any idea that al-Qaeda's leaders have suggested. Isolation and containment of extremists within their own societies and nations has been judged by many strategists as much more effective than occupations and further marginalization of whole populations and associated humiliation: The breeding ground for more terrorists.

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