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  • Radical Islamic Terrorism in Context, pt II

    Posted by T. Greer on 1st November 2013 (All posts by )

    How to make sense of radical Islamic terrorism? This violence is barbaric – but it is not senseless. When you understand the society from which savagery has sprung, the cold logic behind these attacks becomes all too apparent. Part II of a series originally posted at the Scholar’s Stage; Part I is here.   


    How do you save a civilization from implosion?

    Modernization has never been pretty. It destroyed Christendom before the growth revolution picked up steam and left the European subcontinent in disorder for two centuries more. The collapse of the Chinese imperial order and the traditional family that supported it was a cataclysmic string of tragedies that left tens of millions dead. Now it is the Ummah‘s turn to walk through the threshing ground of modernity.

    Traditional Islamic civilization does not need to fear spectacular cultural or political collapse. These are the after shocks of a more mundane type of destruction. Explains social anthropologist extraordinaire Emmanuel Todd:

    SPIEGEL: Monsieur Todd, in the middle of the Cold War, in the days of Leonid Brezhnev, you predicted the collapse of the Soviet system. In 2002, you described the economic and imperial erosion of the United States, a global superpower. And, four years ago, you and your colleague Youssef Courbage predicted the unavoidable revolution in the Arab world. Are you clairvoyant?

    Todd: The academic as fortune-teller — a tempting idea. But Courbage and I merely analyzed the reasons for a possible — or let’s say likely — revolution in the Arab world, an inexorable change, which could also have unfolded as a gradual evolution. Our work was like that of geologists who compile the signs of an imminent earthquake or volcanic eruption. But when exactly the eruption takes place, and its form and severity — these things cannot be predicted in an exact way.

    SPIEGEL: On what indicators do you base your probability calculation?

    Source: “Rising Literacy and a Shrinking Birth Rate:
    A Look at the Root Causes of the Arab Revolution
    .”

    Der Spiegel English. 20 May 2011.

    Todd: Mainly on three factors: the rapid increase in literacy, particularly among women, a falling birthrate and a significant decline in the widespread custom of endogamy, or marriage between first cousins. This shows that the Arab societies were on a path toward cultural and mental modernization, in the course of which the individual becomes much more important as an autonomous entity.

    SPIEGEL: And what is the consequence?

    Todd: That this development ends with the transformation of the political system, a spreading wave of democratization and the conversion of subjects into citizens. Although this follows a global trend, it can take some time. (emphasis added). [11]

     Monsieur Todd explains the fall of the old order from the heights of the ivory tower. He can collect data dispassionately and pronounce revolutions from afar. Those closer to the upheaval are not granted such liberties. For them the death of civilization is an intensely personal affair. To understand their view–and how it can lead to radical terrorism–we must see the disintegration of their society as they do. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    Radical Islamic Terrorism in Context, pt. 1

    Posted by T. Greer on 28th October 2013 (All posts by )

    How to make sense of radical Islamic terrorism? This violence is barbaric – but it is not senseless. When you understand the society from which savagery has sprung, the cold logic behind these attacks becomes all too apparent.

    Image: Smoke rises from the Westgate Mall


    Brendon O’Niell says it is time to recognize the sheer barbarity of 21st century Islamic terror attacks:

    In Western news-making and opinion-forming circles, there’s a palpable reluctance to talk about the most noteworthy thing about modern Islamist violence: its barbarism, its graphic lack of moral restraint. This goes beyond the BBC’s yellow reluctance to deploy the T-word – terrorism – in relation to the bloody assault on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya at the weekend. Across the commentating board, people are sheepish about pointing out the historically unique lunacy of Islamist violence and its utter detachment from any recognisable moral universe or human values. We have to talk about this barbarism; we have to appreciate how new and unusual it is, how different it is even from the terrorism of the 1970s or of the early twentieth century. We owe it to the victims of these assaults, and to the principle of honest and frank political debate, to face up to the unhinged, morally unanchored nature of Islamist violence in the 21st century.” [1]

    I applaud Mr. O’Niell’s frankness. Islamic terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab are savage, barbaric, and evil. Period. They should be seen by all and denounced by all as the monstrous brutes that they have become. Civilization has a pale; this lies beyond it.

    But stating this is not enough. We cannot simply name a man a monster — we must try to understand why so many men want to be monsters in the first place. O’Niell is less helpful here:

    Time and again, one reads about Islamist attacks that seem to defy not only the most basic of humanity’s moral strictures but also political and even guerrilla logic…. consider the attack on Westgate in Kenya, where both the old and the young, black and white, male and female were targeted. With no clear stated aims from the people who carried the attack out, and no logic to their strange and brutal behaviour, Westgate had more in common with those mass mall and school shootings that are occasionally carried out by disturbed people in the West than it did with the political violence of yesteryear.[2]

    There are problems with this line of thought. In his zeal to denounce Islamic terrorism O’Niell makes two errors: 1) He assumes that indiscriminate slaughter of ‘the young and old, black and white, male and female’ is a ‘new and unusual’ development in human history and 2) that the sheer barbarity of these acts ‘defy logic.’

    Perhaps the Khwarazmians also thought the slaughter they witnessed was something new under the sun:

    The Mongols now entered the town and drove all the inhabitants, nobles and commoners, out on to the plain. For four days and nights the people continued to come out of the town; the Mongols detained them all, separating the women fiom the men. Alas! How many peri-like ones did they drag from the bosom: of their husbands! How many sisters did they separate from their brothers! How many parents were distraught at the ravishment of their virgin daughters!

    The Mongols ordered that, apart from four hundred artisans whom they specified and selected from amongst the men and some children, girls and boys, whom they bore into captivity, the whole population, including the women and children, should be killed, and no one, whether woman or man, be spared. The people of Merv were then distributed among the soldiers and levies, and, in short, to each man was allotted the execution of three or four hundred persons.[3]

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in History, War and Peace | 15 Comments »

    Emmanuel Todd’s Theory of Modernity

    Posted by T. Greer on 14th July 2013 (All posts by )

    In my review of Michael Lotus and James Bennett’s America 3.0 I stated that French anthropologist Emmanuel Todd (whose work is cited extensively in said work) “is the most under-rated “big idea” thinker in the field of world history.”


    Craig Willy’s most recent blog post explains why:

    Emmanuel Todd’s L’invention de l’Europe: A critical summary
    Craig Willy. craigjwilly.info 7 July 2013.

    Mr. Willy’s post is not something one skims through. It is 9,000 words long and chock full of all sorts of data, tables, and maps. Because L’invention de l’Europe has not been translated into English I am grateful for this level of detail.

    What is this book about?

    I came, last, to his L’invention de l’Europe, which is in principle not a polemic, but rather a dispassionate book of historical anthropology and demography which is Todd’s academic magnum opus.

    I say “in principle” because one is tempted to ask: What the hell is this book anyway? Over 650 pages of text, statistics, graphs, maps and bibliography on the history of Western Europe? A comprehensive look at the correlations between family structures, modernization and ideology in Western Europe? An “Introductory Illustrated Atlas of Western European Socio-Political History”? I’ve already lost you. Who cares? 

    No, L’invention de l’Europe is actually about what is almost undoubtedly the most important historical development of all time: the rise of modernity since 1500, also known as the “Great Divergence” or the “European miracle.” It was European civilization, and its various extra-European and notably North American offshoots, which invented “modernity,” which sparked that fire of science and “rationality” which now dominates virtually the entire globe. Europe, as Todd notes on the first page, was “the midwife simultaneously of modernity and death.” (p.13) 
    We have modernity: science, mass production, mass destruction, mass consumption, mass literacy, mass and instant telecommunication, long-life (sanitation, health, contraception), godlessness, ideology (including “totalitarianism,” “democracy,” “rule of law,” and “freedom of thought”…), and so on.


    So how does Todd approach this bug-bear that haunts all aspiring world historians, the rise of the West? Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, History | 13 Comments »