The Romance of Terrorism and War

Richard Fernandez has a very good post exploring the reasons why a person would choose to join something like an Islamist militia in Libya.  Read the whole thing.

His post reminded me of something that Virginia Postrel posted on 9/11/2008:

Glamour can sell religious devotion or military glory as surely as it can pitch lipstick or island vacations. All promise a way to transcend our everyday circumstances, to experience more and become better than ordinary life allows.  All invite us to imagine escape and transformation…The question for this September 11 is, How do we puncture the glamour of Jihadi terrorism? The first step is recognizing that such glamour exists.

I was also reminded of a passage from Erich Maria Remarque’s neglected novel ‘The Road Back,’ which follows a group of former German soldiers in the aftermath of WWI. One member of the group, George Rahe, explains his inability to come to terms with peacetime: Comradeship and idealism are perishing in “this pig’s wash of order, duty, women, routine, punctuality and the rest of it what they call life here”…he sees an ordinary city street as “All one long fire trench” and the houses as “Dugouts, every one–the war still goes on–but a dirty, low-down war–every man against his fellow–”  These feelings drive him to join up again–most likely one of the Freikorps units which sprang up during the postwar chaos.

Also,  Arthur Koestler wrote about what he called the  Tragic and the Trivial planes of life. His friend, the writer and fighter pilot Richard Hillary, explained the concept thusly:

K has a theory for this. He believes there are two planes of existence which he calls vie tragique and vie triviale. Usually we move on the trivial plane, but occasionally in moments of elation or danger, we find ourselves transferred to the plane of the vie tragique, with its non-commonsense, cosmic perspective. When we are on the trivial plane, the realities of the other appear as nonsense–as overstrung nerves and so on. When we live on the tragic plane, the realities of the other are shallow, frivolous, frivolous, trifling. But in exceptional circumstances, for instance if someone has to live through a long stretch of time in physical danger, one is placed, as it were, on the intersection line of the two planes; a curious situation which is a kind of tightrope-walking on one’s nerves…I think he is right.

The desire to move to the emotional intensity of the Tragic plane explains part of the attraction of war; I think it also explains to a considerable degree the revolutionary attitudes of many “progressives,” especially those who spend their actual days in pretty Trivial-plane ways.

5 thoughts on “The Romance of Terrorism and War”

  1. It’s certainly true that most of ISIL’s recruits are disadvantaged poor men with little prospect of becoming successful in the place they live. The recruitment strategy is based on this and they are promised an exiting and meaningful life if they come to Allah.

    It’s as much a failure of the societies they live in, as any prospect of glory and fame is very unlikely where they live, in often, foreign to them, countries.

    The stream of refugees from the various conflicts that have been started for political reasons, in the middle east, feed this chain with many people willing to leave very poor conditions for glory and fame.

    Blowback! The conflicts that feed this are many and we have to start with the dismissal of the Iraqi army when the US took Iraq. That’s where the leadership and a lot of the logistical strategy ISIL uses comes from. It’s a real fighting force largely because of this. As well removing Sadam, your boy for as long time, let lose the Shiite majority, which now controls Iraq. The army which was largely Sunni, is now ISIL. This rather well organized army has used the Wahhabi doctrine as the religious arm that promises a Caliphate to believing Muslims. This to some, is a call that they have to answer.

    A solid and powerful organization using standard western practices to recruit and maintain it’s forces.

    Vladimir Putin has decided this impacts Russia enough to enter the fray. As well there may be some payback built in here. ;) He has said when asked about ISIL and nuclear weapons that he hopes it does not come to that. He is prepared to remove the problem, but so many have hands in ISIS, that they will throw up all kinds of things to prevent this happening.

    The players are the Saudis who have a lot invested and are supplying ISIL with weapons and political cover. Turkey who is actively trading with, and supporting ISIL in many ways, see’s it as perhaps Erdogan’s way to form his new Ottoman Empire, the Caliphate with him at the head. Both the Saudis and Turkey have certifiable lunatics in charge. The US is certainly another, much deeper backer, of ISIL as a useful force to remove Assad, and satisfy their Qatari clients who badly want Assad gone. As they want to build a gas pipeline through Syria to Turkey to perhaps supply Europe, it’s worth a lot of pain to screw the Russians, among others, so the Americans are not going to bow out gracefully.

    Putin is winning the chess game mainly because the rest are playing some form of Tic Tac Toe, which works until a chess player come along. I’m not at all sure he can pull this off, but he does appear to be one of the few adults in the room, so one can only hope.

  2. “It’s certainly true that most of ISIL’s recruits are disadvantaged poor men with little prospect of becoming successful in the place they live. The recruitment strategy is based on this and they are promised an exiting and meaningful life if they come to Allah.”

    Yet many terrorists, and especially terrorist leaders, are far from poor and far from disadvantaged.

    “US wants to build a gas pipeline through Syrian to Turkey to perhaps supply Europe”…I don’t think Obama gives a hoot in hell about gas pipelines in Europe; he is actively hostile to such things here. In any event, the practical way of disconnecting Europe from nat gas dependence on Russia is LNG…it’s expensive, but is also reliably executable in a finite time frame, and is starting to happen.

  3. The Qataris are the ones pushing LNG ships and have started to develop a fleet, for worldwide distribution. They cannot compete with Russia as a supplier of heating gas to Europe that way. It has been the purpose from the beginning to remove Assad and route through Syria.

    The US needs to separate Russia from Europe as that relationship is far too fruitful to leave alone. As the main thrust of US foreign policy is to retain preeminence at nearly all costs, this is a direct threat.

    The Ukraine was the first really overt move and really defined the game being played now. As Russia feels it is at war with the US, after having been attacked many times, it is reacting in a warlike manner.

    It’s the glamour, the ‘being in a movie’ thing attracts hordes of societies losers to fight for ISIS. They are promised a part in conquering the world, don’t forget.

  4. If the theory that Europe became civilized by executing its men who were violent and incapable of self-restraint, by evolutionarily selecting ‘better’ men, then millions, maybe tens of millions of Muslim men must die over the next few hundred years before Islam can have its reformation, before Islam can be civilized by Enlightenment definitions.

    Or more simply, several generations must have a belly full of war until they decide that repairing the local water sump is more valuable than carrying a rifle.

    Whether anyone prefers the political, psychological, sociological, or evolutionary explanation as to why the deaths of millions changes society is irrelevant: the deaths must occur just the same.

  5. “we have to start with the dismissal of the Iraqi army when the US took Iraq. That’s where the leadership and a lot of the logistical strategy ISIL uses comes from.”

    I agree with this and Bremer was the one who made this catastrophic mistake.

    The ISIS recruits are coming from a system that will never be successful in an economic way because it is Islam and Islam was devised by a caravan raider.

    The Ottomans had an empire based on war that was run, in peacetime, by Greeks and other involuntary “converts” at a time when most systems of government left people pretty much alone as the means of communication were poor. The Feudal systems, in West and East, were mostly economic because peasants needed protection from robbers and anarchy. Life was harsh but no one knew how to make things easier.

    A few things began to improve in the Middle Ages such as the moldboard plow which could turn over clay soil. That allowed farming of the soil of northern Europe. The horse collar was the other great invention of medieval Europe and led to considerable improvement in rural life. Windmills were invented in both Europe and the Ottoman Empire and had different principles. The European windmill could rotate with the wind and was more efficient. There were horizontal windmills in Persia.

    By 1100, Europe was pulling ahead of Islamic society and the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon was a shock to the Ottomans that they never got over.

    Islam is not compatible with modern life but it will probably be a violent era before that works its way through that society. The discovery and exploitation fracking will finally rid us of our dependence on such unstable places form energy, inspire of the lunatic left.

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