Liberal Grace

Friday, December 01, 2006

Truths about terrorism from a fiction writer.

In a very short interview Martin Amis hits several profound truths, right on the head.



I had never heard of Martin Amis but I'm going to pay attention to him now. I overlooked his interview in Newsweek International but it's not at all out-of-date.

It is called Goading the Enemy

In my own preaching I've taken to story telling as a way to teach truth. I've found that the motif of story-telling is much better for grasping profundity than lecture, teaching or preaching. So maybe that's why Amis, a writer, seems to have a pretty good grasp on the larger issues of terrorism.

NEWSWEEK: In the story you describe jihad as the most charismatic idea of Atta's generation. Do you really believe this?

AMIS: It's self-evidently true. You're always onto a winner if you can persuade people they can be righteous and violent at the same time. Nothing beats that. Officially sanctioned violence is unimprovable. And with this paradise which they've stirred into the mix—whereby with an act of mass murder, you gain the keys—you've got a very attractive idea. Also, it gives the "nobody" a chance to play a decisive role in world history, and there are lots of people who are going to be drooling at the thought of that.


Cripes! I've read countless articles and books on jihad and I can't remember anyone describing the appeal of Jihad so well.

He puts it so succinctly that it sounds obvious but it's not. For example, when he says, You're always onto a winner if you can persuade people they can be righteous and violent at the same time. Nothing beats that. Officially sanctioned violence is unimprovable. do most Americans really want to believe this? If so, it means that we aren't that different from the jihadis, are we?

NEWSWEEK: So you think that's what motivates terrorists?

AMIS: I'm sure. I say in the story [that Atta] was in it for the killing, and I think that's another underestimated consideration: killing people is obviously terrific fun. It's a crude expression of power to kill people, and it's arousing.


What he says is disturbing but, alas, surely true.

Watch this video and then tell me that Amis isn't telling the truth when he says that killing is fun and arousing.



NEWSWEEK: Have the actions of the West led to increased terror?

AMIS: The great danger of terrorism is not what it inflicts. Even September 11 was absorbable. It's what it provokes. You goad the enemy into doing something against its interests.

Osama bin Laden always thought the West would tie itself down in an Islamic country, but he assumed that country would be Afghanistan. Now, with Iraq, we seem to have lost on both fronts. With incredible thoroughness, we're playing into their hands.



Amis nails it again. Two short sentences that you could fill two books!

The danger of terrorism is not what it inflicts but what it provokes. If the terrorists really hate us for our freedoms, then they must really be happy about the direction our country has taken regarding civil rights.

"Osama bin Laden always thought the West would tie itself down in an Islamic country, but he assumed that country would be Afghanistan." This is a reality so painful to admit that I think most Americans refuse to actually consider it: A guy in flip-flops has outsmarted the last remaining superpower. He could never beat us with weapons -- so he beat us by out playing us. Had we taken the bait and only gone into Afghanistan, he still might not have won -- but we stupidly led ourselves into an even bigger and deeper swamp.

Even though I was living next door to Afghanistan and -- literally -- in the same neighborhood as al Queda, it took me a while to figure out Osama's motivation for 911. Surely he knew the USA would come in with full guns blazing. Then I figured it out: he WANTED the USA to come in with full guns blazing. He declared war on us a few times and Clinton wisely didn't take the bait. So he attacked us and Bush went in.

You see, the Taliban think they can beat America in Afghanistan the way they beat the Soviet Union there -- certainly not in the first battles or even in the first decade -- but eventually.

The Taliban take credit for bringing down the Soviet Union and they aren't completely wrong about that. That war took them a decade and they would have fought much longer than that. Much much longer. That's how Osama plans to beat America, too.

NEWSWEEK: You've written that Western ideology is to blame for weakening the West in the war on terror. How?

AMIS: Everyone's casting about, saying, "Why are they doing this?" And gooey-eyed newscasters on CNN say, "Why? Why this anger?" Paul Berman, the author of "Terror and Liberalism," calls this tendency "rationalist naïveté." [Terrorists] rejected reason.

But the West goes on. I'm talking about a certain strata of opinion that is dying for American failure in Iraq because they hate George Bush. They're dying for failure, but they're also attributing reason to the enemy, saying, "What terrible historic wrongs have we committed to bring this down on ourselves?"


Finally, Amis hits on some points I disagree with -- at least in part. Osama and the radicals can tell you their motivation and it's not completely irrational. There are two books out giving the philosophy of bin Laden in his own words:






I haven't read either of these books but I've read a number of bin Laden excepts and I don't think he has totally rejected reason. Certainly, I don't agree with his reasoning and I can see that he comes to dead-ends or circles in his reasoning but no worse than even our own political leaders.

Asking the question "Why are they doing this?" is one of the first questions we should ask of the enemy. Knowing your enemy is one of the most powerful weapons we have but we don't want to know our enemy because it makes it harder to kill them. It is much easier to just attribute animal irrationality to them.

"I'm talking about a certain strata of opinion that is dying for American failure in Iraq because they hate George Bush. They're dying for failure,"


I keep hearing about these people from Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity but I have yet to meet one. There may be a few, here or there, but not enough to make a whole strata.

The liberals I know grieve and agonize over this horrible mess -- that's why we warned America off it in the first place.

There are a few other points I quibble with Amis about but he hits some larger truths so clearly that I enthusiastically recommend the article.

(I've reposed it here.)

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