Friday, July 15, 2005

The Soma on Terror

While it’s nice to see the Toronto Star is one of the few papers concerned enough to still be bunging away at the issue of the bombings in London—now, as it were, septuagenarian and fading fast into memory—they don’t seem to be making much headway. Quite the opposite, as far as I can tell. Between the maternally inspired admonitions of Raheel Raza, the casual evasions quoted from an interview with Aga Khan, and the oddly rhetorical proclamations of Gwynne Dyer, one gets the impression that, far from being able to contribute anything further to an understanding of the attack, they’re all a little bit niggled that it should ever have had the ego to happen in the first place.

Ms. Raza’s column (existentially styled; living, quite literally, from sentence to sentence) begins tellingly. It is perhaps a mere semantic quibble, but: for a tone-setter, she makes a fascinating distinction between the quality of secular and religious mindsets as she knows them to be. Boasting of her sons’ ability to balance their faith within a multicultural (so: multi-faith) context, she says “my sons are secular in public and knowledgeable and religious in private.” Knowledgeable, you notice, as though it fell exclusively under the purview of religion.[1] Which, I hasten to add by the shades of Anselm and Aquinas, I personally would be only too reluctant to take issue with, as it’s a reasonably (qua Reason) sound, though debatable, argument. But it does seem rather odd to me that the Toronto Star should be providing a forum for this sort of patently theistic—that is to say: a patently conservative religious—outlook.

But I guess it’s that she had already paid her homage to the Star’s own gods of Multiculturalism and (by inference) Tolerance, and its ascetic discipline of middle-class self-loathing. And, indeed, the fact that Ms. Raza's homage is clearly little more than lip-service—derived from a half-baked notion of what either of those terms actually means—probably didn’t trouble the paper’s editorial staff too much given that she goes on to contradict almost every point she makes only to end at exactly the contention with which she begins.

(Amongst other things, she suggests that “the cause-and-effect theories trotted out extensively by commentators” are mistaken, or at least misguided, and that the problem “can be solved only within the community that allowed it to grow.” Okay, fine. Unfortunately she continues: “that community is not necessarily a religious one, but a multicultural community like the one we have here in Canada.” Now, this is at once beside the point—for it is, after all, only the one culture and its particular religion amongst the horde that would seem rather clearly to be the problem here—and an appalling dodge when one considers the rather obvious fact that a multicultural community does not, as Ms. Raza seems to be implying, exist in a void; but variously depends on the cultures from which it comes to maintain its multiple integrities. The second we stop looking to the sources is the second we stop looking at ourselves (which is precisely the sort of nauseatingly clichéd sentiment one expects the Toronto Star would be much more likely to put its heft behind).)

The Star also prints an excerpt from an interview with Aga Khan (“the hereditary imam of Shiite Ismaili Muslims”) which, to be fair, is mostly sound if a little gassy stuff.[2] But they headline it “Politics, not religion, drives terrorism.” Well, yes—in most cases that is quite true. But not satisfactory as a distillation of mainstream Islam’s position by contrast with radical Islam’s. The Muslim faith remains to be the single world religion that incorporates, at a fundamental level, a political element in its religious practice—indeed, it is its temporal endgame. So, while “politics, not religion, drives terrorism,” politics, being integral to the religion of Islam, does drive Islam! … Why does the Star feel it has to dumb this stuff down to obscurity? The number of people who spout—unthinkingly even—this ‘we’re all alright’ line outnumber, by dungloads, the number who don’t. So why do we have to take this apologetic so far that it, itself, becomes riddled with errors of omission? The majority of Canadians are fully capable of appreciating the difference between a radical and a moderate. And the knowledge of the specific character of a given radical (as Islamic say, as opposed to the various other types of radical (yes, Mr. Star … including Christians)—each presenting their own unique set of problems) is, at the very least, useful …

Then Gwynne Dyer weighs in with a fire and brimstone rant to the effect that those countries in the West that are participating in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have only themselves to blame … But there is one of those (once again:) telling concatenations of words in his piece that gives one pause. He says, “Many Arabs, however, did share the grievances that had radicalized the terrorists, and even felt a fleeting, guilty satisfaction at seeing Americans suffer as so many Arabs have suffered.”

Do you think that if Mr. Dyer were asked to continue on in this vein of “the grievances that radicalized the terrorists” he might find himself at a bit of a loss? I do. Because it is an absurd, an illogical, a ridiculous statement! How does one radicalize a terrorist, for God’s sake?! … But this is hardly the point. In spite of myself, I am willing to make room for the notion that there are one or two people who see the forced end of Saddam Hussein’s terrifying reign as a bid for control of oil interests in Iraq by the Americans. But to dismiss altogether the evidence that radical (or I guess I should say radicalized) Islam wishes to destroy the infidel West simply because it is the infidel West is not so much “to drown in lies,” as Mr. Dyer puts it, as to drown in willing ignorance.

And so all of this amounts to rather a lot of fluff, I think. Raheel Raza--to get back to her--ends her column, by taking it upon herself to speak on behalf of Islam, saying, “our loss is greater. We mourn not only the dead and wounded, we also mourn the living who have lost their souls.” A more than tactless thing to be saying when so many of the murdered remain unaccounted for and, as of yet, unmoved since their deaths. But there’s something more benignly sinister about this statement, that captures rather well the tone of the other two pieces as well. Something to the effect that: whoever has it worse has more of a right to leniency of judgement and of popular opinion.

[1] At least, anyway, this would seem to suggest that knowledge exists to the complete exclusion of the secular behaviour her sons reserve for the public.

[2] With the notable exception of his final pronouncement (as it is quoted). He says—suggestively, I think, but I might be wrong—“the situation in the Middle East was not created by Islamic belief. The situation in Kashmir was not created by Islamic belief. The situation in Afghanistan was not created by Islamic beliefs … when we know the real causes of what drives people to desperation, then we can get a grasp on it.”