Friday, September 08, 2006

21st Century Revolutionary

Theodore Dalrymple concluding a consideration of John Updike's Terrorist.

All in all, then, Updike has produced a more convincing and subtle, and, in my view, accurate portrait of a young Islamist terrorist than he has generally received credit for — even for all his book’s literary faults. He rightly sees Islamism in the West as culturally hybrid, rather than as a pure product of Islam: a reaction, albeit one consonant with certain Islamic traditions, to a very severe and, indeed, overwhelming cultural challenge from without rather than as something arising purely or spontaneously from within Islam itself. He understands the deeply human, but also deeply destructive, desire for a simple solution to all existential and practical problems at once. He is sufficiently imaginative to understand that our imperfect societies have more than enough within them to appall sensitive outsiders and marginals (as surely all conservatives should appreciate). He also realizes that violent repulsion can be the consequence of illicit attraction. And all this without for a moment suggesting that Islamic terrorism is other than a terrible scourge.
Theodore Dalrymple can at times be a little trying, can seem the old codger at the village well who is unable to see value in anything that has happpened since he got over his first adolescent crush a few years before the deluge. But it is precisely his disenchantment with the world we live in that affords him a view of terrorism, and of the home-grown terrorist in particular, that is nuanced and credible. After all, so much of the modern world that enrages the conservative, especially if he has religious convictions, is fuel as well to the new revolutionary that is the modern Islamist. Both look with disgust on the tawdriness of lives lived without means of ennoblement by art or belief, of a public life that has no room for honour and repels any soul that can feel a higher calling, of a daily life in which sex is degraded and work merely time spent earning money. Obviously, Dalrymple has intellectual and psychological means at his disposal that are unimagined by most of those whose minds he seeks to examine and explain. More importantly, he has what conservatives imbibe with their natal milk: low expectations. Or rather, he has not illusions of goodness, truth or justice coming soon to any place you can go to without dying. He has been immunised against 'the deeply human desire for a simple solution' by that most useful myth: Original Sin.

That is why he is able to write a paragraph like the one above. I think it is politically important to recognise that the Jihadists are not merely primitives, 7th Century ideologues with Western weaponry and the Internet. Without in any way minimising the perculiarly Islamic traits in their revolt, it is nonetheless one that both 'all too human' (ie born of needs that all of us have) and ideologically grafted with the revolutionary creeds of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Inasmuch as those creeds twisted religious ideas of salvation into political goals, so too do these modern variants of the anarchists and Trotskyists of yore renew the old dictum 'Everything is politics' with their 'Islam is all'. They, too, will be grown out of.

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