Sunday, July 15, 2007

A fluke of history

David Warren on Lee Harris's new book, The Suicide of Reason.

Islam is not unique in creating a social order in which zealotry or "fanaticism" is a glue, rather than a solvent. For this has generally been true of non-Western societies, and was universally true of all tribal arrangements that preceded the development of urban culture. We are not dealing with an anomaly, as our use of that word "fanatic" would suggest, but with an alien social order that is perfectly viable on its own turf, and within its own terms, whose premises are entirely non-Western.

We in the West, and especially we in such places as North America and Australia, have lived so long and so comfortably with the contrary premises, that we cannot look at the enemy without translating his behaviour into what is familiar to us. We imagine him to be playing by our rules, even when he is obviously not. We dream about "negotiating." We suffer hallucinations in which we describe the means and ends of the Jihadists in our own political vocabulary of give-and-take. We have been made myopic by the very success and endurance of our own social order, forgetting that it is itself a fluke of history.

That last line is very true. In fact, a measure of its success is our complacency, an unquestioned certainty that this was how things were meant to be and that this social order does not need defending. We even tell ourselves stories about other times complacency was punished and pretend that it never really happened.

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