“Suicide-mass murder is astonishingly alien, so alien, in fact, that Western opinion has been unable to formulate a rational response to it. A rational response would be something like an unvarying factory siren of unanimous disgust. But we haven’t managed that. What we have managed, on the whole, is a murmur of dissonant evasion… Contemplating intense violence, you very rationally ask yourself, what are the reasons for this? And compassionately frowning newscasters are still asking that same question. It is time to move on. We are not dealing in reasons because we are not dealing in reason…
Our ideology, which is sometimes called Westernism, weakens us in two ways. It weakens our powers of perception, and it weakens our moral unity and will. As [Sam] Harris puts it:
‘Sayyid Qutb, Osama bin Laden’s favorite philosopher, felt that pragmatism would spell the death of American civilization… Pragmatism, when civilizations come clashing, does not appear likely to be very pragmatic. To lose the conviction that you can actually be right – about anything – seems a recipe for the End of Days chaos envisioned by Yeats: when “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”.’…
In July 2005 I flew from Montevideo to New York – and from winter to summer – with my six-year-old daughter and her eight-year-old sister. I drank a beer as I stood in the check-in queue, a practice not frowned on at Carrasco (though it would certainly raise eyebrows at, say, the dedicated Hajj terminal in Tehran’s Mehrabad); then we proceeded to Security. Now I know some six-year-old girls can look pretty suspicious; but my youngest daughter isn’t like that. She is a slight little blonde with big brown eyes and a quavery voice. Nevertheless, I stood for half an hour at the counter while the official methodically and solemnly searched her carry-on rucksack – staring shrewdly at each story-tape and crayon, palpating the length of all four limbs of her fluffy duck.
There ought to be a better word than boredom for the trance of inanition that weaved its way through me. I wanted to say something like, ‘Even Islamists have not yet started to blow up their own families on airplanes. So please desist until they do. Oh yeah: and stick to people who look like they’re from the Middle East.’…
My daughters and I arrived safely in New York. In New York, at certain subway stations, the police were searching all the passengers, to thwart terrorism – thus obliging any terrorist to walk the couple of blocks to a subway station where the police weren’t searching all the passengers. And I couldn’t defend myself from a vision of the future; in this future, riding a city bus will be like flying El Al. In the guilty safety of Long Island I watched the TV coverage from my home town, where my other three children live, where I will soon again be living with all five. There were the Londoners, on 8 July, going to work on foot, looking stiff and watchful, and taking no pleasure in anything they saw. Eric Hobsbawm got it right in the mid-Nineties, when he said that terrorism was part of the atmospheric ‘pollution’ of Western cities. It is a cost-efficient program. Bomb New York and you pollute Madrid; bomb Madrid and you pollute London; bomb London and you pollute Paris and Rome, and repollute New York…
The age of terror, I suspect, will also be remembered as the age of boredom. Not the kind of boredom that afflicts the blasé and the effete, but a superboredom, rounding out and complementing the superterror of suicide-mass murder. And although we will eventually prevail in the war against terror, or will reduce it, as Mailer says, to ‘a tolerable level’ (this phrase will stick, and will be used by politicians, with quiet pride), we haven’t got a chance in the war against boredom. Because boredom is something that the enemy doesn’t feel.
One way of ending the war on terror would be to capitulate and convert. The transitional period would be an unsmiling one, no doubt, with much stern work to be completed in the city squares, the town centers, and the village greens. Nevertheless, as the Caliphate is restored in Baghdad, to much joy, the surviving neophytes would soon get used to the voluminous penal code enforced by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice. It would be a world of perfect terror and perfect boredom, and of nothing else – a world with no games, no arts, and no women, a world where the only entertainment is the public execution. My middle daughter, now aged nine, still believes in imaginary beings (Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy); so she would have that in common, at least, with her new husband…
Islam is totalist. That is to say, it makes a total claim on the individual. Indeed, there is no individual; there is only the umma – the community of believers. Ayatollah Khomeini, in his copious writings, often returns to this theme. He unindulgently notes that believers in most religions appear to think that, so long as they observe all the formal pieties, then for the rest of the time they can do more or less as they please. ‘Islam’, as he frequently reminds us, ‘isn’t like that.’ Islam follows you everywhere, into the kitchen, into the bedroom, into the bathroom, and beyond death into eternity. Islam means ‘submission’ – the surrender of independence of mind. That surrender now bears the weight of well over 60 generations, and 14 centuries.
The stout self-sufficiency or, if you prefer, the extreme incuriosity of Islamic culture has been much remarked. Present-day Spain translates as many books into Spanish, annually, as the Arab world has translated into Arabic in the past 1,100 years. And the late-medieval Islamic powers barely noticed the existence of the West until it started losing battles to it. The tradition of intellectual autarky was so robust that Islam remained indifferent even to readily available and obviously useful innovations, including, incredibly, the wheel. The wheel, as we know, makes things easier to roll; Bernard Lewis, in What Went Wrong?, sagely notes that it also makes things easier to steal.”
Selections from Martin Amis’s book The Second Plane.
It has just been released that the younger Boston-Marathon-mass-murderer, Dzhokhar Tsarnev, went to the gym and then a house party with his intramural soccer buddies two days after the marathon bombing. He also tweeted this,
“I don’t argue with fools who say islam is terrorism it’s not worth a thing, let an idiot remain an idiot”
on January 15th of this year (three months to the day before the bombing). Even if that sentiment were true at the time (which is dubious), or was remotely sensible in its construction (which it’s not), it has since been disproved, self-discredited, by the acts of its author.
The liberal West needs to absorb one truth down to the soles of our feet: We are not dealing in reasons because we are not dealing in reason.
To note: I have just spent part of the afternoon hanging out at the office of the captivating scholar of terrorism, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, and threw a slew of questions related to this topic her way. She had some fascinating thoughts on the issue of whether we can apply — or how we should apply — reason to an ideology which is so counter-intuitive, so hideously irrational. I will hopefully write some about this very pleasant and surprisingly funny hang out session later in the week.