Sunday, November 8, 2009
Taliban Dreams (3): The Jihadist in Our Midst
There was an amusing cartoon in The New Yorker several weeks ago of a male customer in a shoe store, examining the athletic shoes arrayed in rows along a wall. The shoe groups were sectioned off with labels above them, such as "Running" and "Hiking." The man was studying the final group, which was labeled "Blogging."
If there really were such a thing as blogging shoes, I'd head out and buy myself a pair, because being a blogger definitely makes you feel like you are always racing, away from the last blog and towards the next one, with no end in sight and no one handing out bottles of Gatorade along the way. Unless you decide to give it up and stop blogging altogether, or you happen to die, you will always have to keep slogging on, relentlessly, even when you have no idea what you are going to write about next, which is always the case with me. I'm forever hanging off the side of cliff when it comes to subject matter. Blogging, I can now say from acute personal experience, is a perfect fit for what Ken Wilber (the integral theory guy) calls "Mind Module Practice."
Mind Module practices include any activity (reading, studying, writing, etc.) that expands your ability to take more adequate perspectives. I read an interview in EnlightenmentNext magazine with Terry Patten, a co-author with Wilber of a new book called "Integral Life Practice: A 21st-Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening," in which Patten says: "You have to be able to take very complex, nuanced perspectives. Sometimes you have to be able to relax and let go of those perspectives. You need the flexibility to meet a moment without any preconceptions, and to be able to generate a framework for understanding and seeing it in a way that's appropriate to the context. Our ability to be that flexible is the fruit of the practice of the Mind Module. Someone who's not actively practicing that process of taking and releasing perspectives misses something core in their whole life."
As mission statement for a blogger like me, this works. I've definitely tried, in the (most recent) case of Afghanistan for instance, to "take and release perspectives," when exploring a very complex situation. I didn't really have another "Taliban Dreams" "Mind-Module" in mind for this week, however, until that lone gunman tragically opened fire inside a medical building at Texas Army Base, Fort Hood, killing thirteen people and wounding thirty. Now everyone is busy searching for a motive.
What would have caused Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a devout Muslim and long-time counselor of soldiers suffering PTSD, to commit such an atrocity, randomly killing men and women preparing to deploy to Afghanistan? NB: it's the same question every American asked after 9/11: "Why do they hate us?" We didn't know the answer back then, and apparently we still haven't figured it out, even now.
Hasan, it seems, had been ordered to deploy in the Middle East, and was allegedly very stressed about it, having developed some sympathy along the way for suicide-bombers. It isn't rocket science to understand that being a devout Muslim and living comfortably in the U.S. while working for the military is one thing. But being mandated by your employer to go out and kill other Muslims--well, that is something that could become nervous-breakdown material. If you are a really devout Muslim, there is no way to cultivate a readiness for that. In fact, Hasan had asked to be discharged.
"Joe Public had no idea of the existence of an angry Mohammed Atta and a determined but patient Ziad Jarrah, both of them products of Jihadism," writes Walid Phares in "The War of Ideas." "In fact, average citizens in the West, including the United States, knew nothing about Jihadism at all." Eight years later, Americans still remain largely ignorant about the motives, intentions, and full reach of Jihadism to spread the word of Allah--not just within the Muslim world, but beyond. The massacre at Fort Hood last week, in terms of people's response, was not perceptibly different from the one immediately after 9/11. Once again, the hunt is on for "a possible motive."
I can remember being absolutely baffled, myself, the day it was reported that Taliban had blown up several huge, ancient, Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. Statues aren't dangerous, I thought; they can't fight. Why would anybody want to attack them? Anyway they're Buddhist, not Christian. I really could not fathom the destructiveness.
What we in the West have so far failed to understand is the total, relentless, and irreversible attitude of Islamic fundamentalism. It is not another ideological vision that can be accommodated under the democratic umbrella of freedom and pluralism. Jihadism, pure and simple, opposes all other viewpoints, worldwide. It wants to dominate the entire planet, destroy the "democratic state" and its political institutions, replacing the Western system of international laws with dar el Islam (house of Islam). Symbols of other religions must be destroyed. Jihadists are willing to kill and die for the idea of reinstating the caliphate as the hub of civilization everywhere.
The way I see it, last week's atrocity brings into sharp focus the pressing need to educate the American public about the true nature of Jihadism. We still cannot fathom, as a people, how a fanatical religious ideology could be more compelling to someone than a life lived in freedom and prosperity. Given this limitation, we have been unable to take the full measure of our enemy. To get to that place will require a massive effort of education and attention. Otherwise all our responses will continue to be shaped, and ultimately doomed, by the same implacable incomprehension of what we are really up against.