Monday, March 24, 2003

TODAY'S FRESH LIVE GNOME BAIT: From the Salon interview with Paul Berman:

I'm sure this one line in your book will infuriate some and surprise others -- especially Europeans. You wrote: "In this country, we are all Noam Chomsky." What do you mean by that?

Chomsky is a man who thinks the entire world operates on simple and rational principles. The reason he's able to crank out these thousands of pages a year on all subjects is because he has an extremely simple analysis: Evil American corporations are acting in their own self-interest and trying to increase and spread their exploitation around the world. The American government is in their hands and is acting to expand its nefarious control over the world. The press has been corrupted by the wealth and power of corporations and spreads the propaganda messages required by the corporations. American claims to ever do any good around the world are merely hypocritical mendacities uttered for the purpose of advancing the larger cause of exploitation and oppression. And the response of other people in the world is that of resistance as inspired by an instinct for human freedom, even if the resistance sometimes takes a perverse and unfortunate form. Therefore, from Chomsky's point of view, all events are rationally explicable according to one or two tiny little factors: the self-interest of American corporations and the urge to resist the American corporations.

It's a very simpleminded view in which nothing inexplicable ever occurs. And yet although Chomsky is regarded by some people as the great anti-American, this kind of thought is entirely typical of America itself, of people across the political spectrum in America. People tend to think that everybody around the world is acting on some rational calculation, that the mad and pathological movements I describe that have emerged from the First World War really can't exist, that surely everybody is acting in some way in their own self-interest in a fashion that could be calculated and addressed. Finally, even the FBI and the CIA have obviously thought along these lines because it never crossed these people's minds -- not seriously anyway -- that somebody was going to be so mad to attack the United States directly. Sept. 11 revealed many shocking things and the most shocking was that the Pentagon had no plan to defend the Pentagon. In that sense, everybody in the United States, even the Joint Chiefs of Staff, everybody is a simpleminded fool.

Berman being the author of that New York Times article on Sayyid Qutb everyone and their mother has linked to. And with good reason--it explains the Islamist point of view I found myself yearning for a universal order. But all my favorite porno movies starting playing in my head and drew me back into modern living. Meanwhile while I was tiptoeing through the cybertulips I came across this book, which seems like Berman's, and this review, which made this point:

Islamic fundamentalism is not an indigenous growth. It is an exotic hybrid, bred from the encounter of sections of the Islamic intelligentsia with radical western ideologies. In A Fury for God, Malise Ruthven shows that Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian executed after imprisonment in 1966 and arguably the most influential ideologue of radical Islam, incorporated many elements derived from European ideology into his thinking. For example, the idea of a revolutionary vanguard of militant believers does not have an Islamic pedigree. It is "a concept imported from Europe, through a lineage that stretches back to the Jacobins, through the Bolsheviks and latter-day Marxist guerrillas such as the Baader-Meinhof gang".

In a brilliantly illuminating and arrestingly readable analysis, Ruthven demonstrates the close affinities between radical Islamist thought and the vanguard of modernist and postmodern thinking in the West. The inspiration for Qutb's thought is not so much the Koran, but the current of western philosophy embodied in thinkers such as Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Heidegger. Qutb's thought -- the blueprint for all subsequent radical Islamist political theology -- is as much a response to 20th-century Europe's experience of "the death of God" as to anything in the Islamic tradition. Qutbism is in no way traditional. Like all fundamentalist ideology, it is unmistakeably modern.

I know Nietzsche is a major figure in philosophy, and wasn't actually anti-Semitic, but when you end up inspiring the Nazis and Al Qaeda, I mean--daang.

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