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November 25, 2001

Resentment as a religion

Marian Kester Coombs

     The questions of the hour are "Is Islam the problem?" and "If so, then what is Islam?" The West had been waiting for the formidable Salman Rushdie — a man who has been living under a "fatwa" a few years longer than the rest of us — to weigh in, and he did so in early November, answering the question "Is it Islam?" with a resounding yes.
     Islam, he noted, unlike Christianity, is a petrified belief structure that has never undergone any sort of Reformation since its inception in the seventh century; its most modern self-critique consists of 18th-century Wahhabism, a fundamentalist, puritanical, theocratic reaction to the "corruption of the true faith" which has now found its most perfect incarnation in the Taliban.
     Another man who should know, expatriate Iranian author and journalist Amir Taheri, also begs us to blame Islam. "The refusal to subject Islam to rational analysis" — anathema to believers — "is a recipe for further fanaticism," wrote Mr. Taheri in the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 27.
     "All but one of the world's remaining military regimes are in Muslim countries. With the exception of Turkey and Bangladesh, there are no real elections in any Muslim country. Of the current 30 active conflicts in the world no fewer than 28 concern Muslim governments and/or communities. Two-thirds of the world's political prisoners are held in Muslim countries, which also carry out 80 percent of all executions each year."
     Islam should be critiqued not as a belief system but as "an existential reality," argues Mr. Taheri, one that prevents Muslim nations "from developing a modern political culture, without which they cannot reform their societies and rebuild their economies."
     Nick Griffin is a British National Party politician who just shocked the U.K. establishment by winning 16.4 percent of the general election vote in Oldham, a town in the north of England where Muslim riots and attacks on white Britons have become epidemic. He was in the States the other day to warn Americans what is in store for us as the "clash of civilizations" gets up-close and personal.
     Mr. Griffin has made a study of Islam and finds it to be not a religion, in the sense of requiring some sort of moral response from the believer, but rather a tendency, in the political sense of a faction contesting for power. The Koran, which he likens to "the Talmud on angel dust," instructs believers living in "infidel" nations to lay low until they reach about 10 percent of the population; then they may attack and disrupt the sinful host society with a better chance of ultimate takeover.
     With a birthrate of six children per woman in contrast to the native British rate of 1.7, Muslims are massing to hit that critical percentage in Britain very soon. In France they are already there, and Muslim unrest, from gangs assaulting French girls to machine-gun attacks on police stations, has been steadily increasing. Mr. Griffin warns that the European experience has destroyed any illusions about Muslim assimilation of the West. Official protestations to the contrary, they are here not to assimilate, but to conquer.
     What is the wellspring of this implacable enmity? We know its history: briefly, the repulsion of the Mohammedan armies by Charles the Hammer near Tours in 732 A.D., the attack on Jerusalem by the First Crusade in 1099 and the Crusades that followed, the Cid's exploits in the 12th century, Ferdinand and Isabella's expulsion of the Moors from most of Spain in 1492, Phillip III's reconquest of Granada and the remaining Moor-held Spanish provinces in 1609, the halt of the Ottoman Empire's forces at the gates of Vienna in 1683, the Ottoman collapse after World War I.
     But what keeps Islam's appetite for conflict with "Christendom" ever whetted? After all, Spain no longer simmers vengefully over England's rude reception of the Armada, nor are the Dutch still spoiling for a rematch over the East Indies. Islam does not move on because for some reason it cannot.
     Shelby Steele wrote "War of the Worlds" for the Wall Street Journal of Sept. 17 a stirring ode to Western civilization in which he declared, "It has always astounded me how much white Americans take for granted the rich and utterly decisive heritage of Western culture," and warned that "White guilt morally and culturally disarms the West [and] only inflames the narcissism of the ineffectual" Third World. Later, one Sajid Ali Khan opined from London that "Greek civilization was fortunately translated into Arabic and thence percolated into 'the West.' And so on so forth. For instance do his heroic paler-skinned not all use Arabic numerals? The Arab al-gibr gives rise to algebra in the most recent spelling, and also to the sort of gibberish with which Mr. Steele is haunted."
     Preferring not to dwell on the peculiarities of Mr. Khan's opinion, Jed Skillman opined back from Brookfield, Ill., that he had missed the point: "It's true the West has adopted the use of Arabic numerals. It happened some time ago and it's not news. I think the point is that no one thinks of himself as 'acting Arabic' for doing so." In other words, algebra was a long time ago — what have you done for us lately?
     Explaining why the Arab world, once a center of learning and scientific inquiry, had lost momentum to the West by around 1500, Pakistani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy noted mildly in the New York Times on Oct. 30: "The notion that all knowledge is in the Great Text [Koran] is a great disincentive to learning." Arab scholars may have preserved and translated the treasures of Greek science, keeping them alive to be passed later to Europeans, and collaborated on the invention of zero and the decimal system, but they could not sustain the social conditions necessary to the search for scientific truth.
     Because Islamic states are theocratic, they dare not encourage theoretical inquiries and technological innovations that would tend to produce strains in what should be a perfect and immutable God-ordained system. And because the Islamic motivation to do science is only religious, the kind of disinterested, open-ended "pure" science that has so benefited the world is rarely pursued.
     One also need not be a Friedan feminist to see how the lowly status of Muslim women permits an unhealthy psychic base of unearned male supremacism. Chivalry, another innovation unique to the West, was a deliberate drive by European men to reform masculinity and to honor women qua women. Muslim polygamy, likewise, creates a large pool of "undomesticated" and disenfranchised men ripe for recruitment to fanaticism, while Western monogamy has worked to offer each man a peaceful democratic stake in society (cf. the writings of Kevin MacDonald).
     One of the nastier features of globalization is how every culture is now forced to compare itself to every other. No more do the veiling effects of time and distance mercifully render "mysterious" the brutish everyday realities of more backward peoples. For those who once were great and now are way behind, the glare of global invidious comparison is particularly unbearable.
     Not a contemporary but nonetheless a highly modern voice is that of Friedrich Nietzsche, the "posthumous" man who inhabited a world post-God and beyond Good and Evil. His critique of ressentiment — the "self-poisoned mind" of resentment — fits Islam like a glove. For Nietzsche, the repressed emotion of ressentiment leads at length to an entire falsified worldview, a whole revalued code of values, a complete morality based upon sour grapes, vindictiveness, delusions of grandeur and an embittered sense of helpless inferiority. The envied enemy is hated for his superior virtues, which are transformed by the alchemy of ressentiment into objects of loathing.
     Sociologists also distinguish between two types of juvenile deviant behavior: criminality which aims at direct personal gain, and delinquency which targets symbols such as schools and churches. This distinction accounts for the strong element of vandalism — sheer malicious joy in destroying — that is so striking in the current terrorist campaign; Islam is collective, ethnic ressentiment expressing itself in the attempted wholesale vandalization of Western society.
     The "Son of Sam" defense ("My dog made me do it") has now been joined by the "Son of Islam" defense ("My god made me do it"). Gods, dogs — as long as you can relocate the will to kill and maim outside yourself in some higher power, you're righteous. Right?
     Before September 11, Americans who reacted against the many hate-filled threats and insults directed at our country were labeled "paranoid" and instructed to blithely ignore such provocations. Now the media squeak in wonderment at "how naive we all were," and scold us to hurry up and worry about everything under the sun.
     Meanwhile, London's Sunday Telegraph reports that our close trading partners, the Chinese, by the thousands are snapping up garish videos of the September attack with narration like "This is the America the whole world has wanted to see," and "Look at the panic in their faces as they wipe off the dust and crawl out of their strong buildings — now just a heap of rubble. We will never fear these people again, they have been shown to be soft-bellied paper tigers."
     Please let us know when it's no longer "paranoid" to react to these little digs, OK?

Marian Kester Coombs is a free-lance writer.

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