Hitchens: reactionary character of "Bin Ladism"

John Cox hazel_motes52 at hotmail.com
Fri Sep 21 07:48:07 MDT 2001

from the current The Nation:

October 8, 2001

Against Rationalization
by Christopher Hitchens

It was in Peshawar, on the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier, as the Red
Army was falling apart and falling back. I badly needed a guide to get
me to the Khyber Pass, and I decided that what I required was the most
farouche-looking guy with the best command of English and the toughest
modern automobile. Such a combination was obtainable, for a price. My
new friend rather wolfishly offered me a tour of the nearby British
military cemetery (a well-filled site from the Victorian era) before
we began. Then he slammed a cassette into the dashboard. I braced
myself for the ululations of some mullah but received instead a dose
of "So Far Away."  From under the turban and behind the beard came the
gruff observation, "I thought you might like Dire Straits."

This was my induction into the now-familiar symbiosis of tribal piety
and high-tech; a symbiosis consummated on September 11 with the
conversion of the southern tip of the capital of the modern world into
a charred and suppurating mass grave. Not that it necessarily has to
be a symbol of modernism and innovation that is targeted for
immolation. As recently as this year, the same ideology employed heavy
artillery to destroy the Buddha statues at Bamiyan, and the
co-thinkers of bin Laden in Egypt have been heard to express the view
that the Pyramids and the Sphinx should be turned into shards as
punishment for their profanely un-Islamic character.

Since my moment in Peshawar I have met this faction again. In one form
or another, the people who leveled the World Trade Center are the same
people who threw acid in the faces of unveiled women in Kabul and
Karachi, who maimed and eviscerated two of the translators of The
Satanic Verses and who machine-gunned architectural tourists at
Luxor. Even as we worry what they may intend for our society, we can
see very plainly what they have in mind for their own: a bleak and
sterile theocracy enforced by advanced techniques. Just a few months
ago Bosnia surrendered to the international court at The Hague the
only accused war criminals detained on Muslim-Croat federation
territory. The butchers had almost all been unwanted "volunteers" from
the Chechen, Afghan and Kashmiri fronts; it is as an unapologetic
defender of the Muslims of Bosnia (whose cause was generally unstained
by the sort of atrocity committed by Catholic and Orthodox Christians)
that one can and must say that bin Lade!  nism poisons everything that
it touches.

I was apprehensive from the first moment about the sort of masochistic
e-mail traffic that might start circulating from the
Chomsky-Zinn-Finkelstein quarter, and I was not to be
disappointed. With all due thanks to these worthy comrades, I know
already that the people of Palestine and Iraq are victims of a
depraved and callous Western statecraft. And I think I can claim to
have been among the first to point out that Clinton's rocketing of
Khartoum--supported by most liberals--was a gross war crime, which
would certainly have entitled the Sudanese government to mount
reprisals under international law. (Indeed, the sight of Clintonoids
on TV, applauding the "bounce in the polls" achieved by their man that
day, was even more repulsive than the sight of destitute refugee
children making a wretched holiday over the nightmare on Chambers
Street.) But there is no sense in which the events of September 11 can
be held to constitute such a reprisal, either legally or morally.

It is worse than idle to propose the very trade-offs that may have
been lodged somewhere in the closed-off minds of the mass
murderers. The people of Gaza live under curfew and humiliation and
expropriation. This is notorious. Very well: Does anyone suppose that
an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza would have forestalled the slaughter
in Manhattan? It would take a moral cretin to suggest anything of the
sort; the cadres of the new jihad make it very apparent that their
quarrel is with Judaism and secularism on principle, not with (or not
just with) Zionism. They regard the Saudi regime not as the extreme
authoritarian theocracy that it is, but as something too soft and
lenient. The Taliban forces viciously persecute the Shiite minority in
Afghanistan. The Muslim fanatics in Indonesia try to extirpate the
infidel minorities there; civil society in Algeria is barely breathing
after the fundamentalist assault.

Now is as good a time as ever to revisit the history of the Crusades,
or the sorry history of partition in Kashmir, or the woes of the
Chechens and Kosovars. But the bombers of Manhattan represent fascism
with an Islamic face, and there's no point in any euphemism about
it. What they abominate about "the West," to put it in a phrase, is
not what Western liberals don't like and can't defend about their own
system, but what they do like about it and must defend: its
emancipated women, its scientific inquiry, its separation of religion
from the state. Loose talk about chickens coming home to roost is the
moral equivalent of the hateful garbage emitted by Falwell and
Robertson, and exhibits about the same intellectual content.
Indiscriminate murder is not a judgment, even obliquely, on the
victims or their way of life, or ours. Any decent and concerned reader
of this magazine could have been on one of those planes, or in one of
those buildings--yes, even in the Pentagon.

The new talk is all of "human intelligence": the very faculty in which
our ruling class is most deficient. A few months ago, the Bush
Administration handed the Taliban a subsidy of $43 million in abject
gratitude for the assistance of fundamentalism in the"war on drugs."
Next up is the renewed "missile defense" fantasy recently endorsed by
even more craven Democrats who seek to occupy the void "behind the
President." There is sure to be further opportunity to emphasize the
failings of our supposed leaders, whose costly mantra is "national
security" and who could not protect us.  And yes indeed, my guide in
Peshawar was a shadow thrown by William Casey's CIA, which first
connected the unstoppable Stinger missile to the infallible Koran. But
that's only one way of stating the obvious, which is that this is an
enemy for life, as well as an enemy of life.

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