Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Doubts, credence and bloody certainty

A young woman of Malcolm's acquaintance spent the summer of 2001 working on a seconded project. She was based in downtown Manhattan, just across the street from what was then the World Trade Centre. Anyone reading this (Anyone reading this?) already knows where we are going: but, wait!

So, on the morning of that fateful Tuesday, she was preparing to leave her young child into daycare, and catch the train from her New Jersey hometown into Manhattan. Her husband was out of town on business. She was running late. At the last moment, the baby needed its nappy changed. She was even later.

She missed not only her regular train, but the next two. As a result, she travelled into Hoboken, where she could change onto the PATH to take her across the river. It was now some time after nine o'clock. The commuters were all held at the barrier. They were told that all services into New York were suspended: they should all return home. By that time, both buildings in the WTC were burning.

This young woman has other recollections of that day. One was the impossibility of telephoning her husband: in the end messages were passed through her parents in London and his sister in California. Another was her growing concern for her team in Manhattan: what had happened to them? And then there was the memory of the two children, still uncollected from the daycare center at the end of the day. Such things are hard to trivialise. Even so, ...

Every media-outlet has had to do its bit reprising that day. This has involved some desperate efforts to find new angles. The New Statesman, continuing to masquerade as a
political, cultural and current affairs magazine, in Malcolm's view surpassed its usual irrelevance with an article by Brendan O'Neill: They believe there weren't any planes on 9/11, just missiles wrapped in holograms ... Meet the No Planers. And O'Neill then proceeds to parade the post-adolescent fantasies of ... David Shayler.

It is one of the few things to be said in favour of The Sunday Times that it gave Shayler short-shrift six months after employing him. It merely confirms Malcolm's opinion of "military intelligence" that MI5 didn't. And interviewing Shayler allows O'Neill to recycle the usual conspiracist twaddle about 9/11 and 7/7, including, inevitably, "the New World Order". O'Neill then opines:
The thought of behind-the-scenes suits being cajoled by their evil paymasters to create an image of four rucksack-wearing terroristsm in order to cover up their own bombing of London is just too ludicrous. These 9/11 truth campaigners merely add a supposedly scientific gloss to already existing conspiracy theories, trying to make the ridiculous seem respectable. In the process, they actually do a disservice to "historical truth". History gets reduced to a mysterious force beyond our control, and politics - real politics - is imagined to be the preserve of unknown, faceless puppet-masters whom we can never hope to influence.
Such profundity ... though from which fundament Malcolm hesitates to suggest.

Away from such drivel and dross, Malcolm found enlightenment in the 12,000 word essay, The Age of Horrorism, by Martin Amis in Sunday's Observer. Amis is not Malcolm's favourite novelist, but he found this work is worth the effort. It is a major piece.

Malcolm feels it is unfair to dissect Amis's arguments, but they seem to derive from premises:
  1. The tensions between Islam and Islamism: "And Islamism won ...".
  2. The gynophobia and phallocracy of Islam.
  3. Donald Rumsfeld's cryptic language: "knowns ... known unknowns ... unknown unknowns".
  4. Amis's own attempt to develop a novella about a terrorist plot.
  5. The life of Sayyib Qutb, author of "Milestones, the Mein Kampf of Islamism" and, quoting Sam Harris, "Osama bin Laden's favourite philosopher"
Along the way, Amis takes time to aim for many butts as possible, from the significant (example: the ineptitude of US plans for occupied Iraq) to the nugatory (yet another unfortunate pensée by the Mayor of London). Amis's boot, to Malcolm's mind, does make contact with real bums:
  1. Islam is totalist ... means 'submission' - the surrender of independence of mind. That surrender now bears the weight of well over 60 generations and 14 centuries.
  2. Islam, in the end, proved responsive to European influence; the influence of Hitler and Stalin.
  3. ... the past five years ... is a death agony: the death agony of imperial Islam. Islamism is the last wave - the last convulsion. But there are some sound reasons for thinking that the confrontation with Islamism will be testingly prolonged.
The second of those points should not go unremarked. Why should we deny the debt that, in particular, the Ba'athists owe to the inspiration and model of Nazism? The Ba'athist model for a political party is closely based on that of the NSDAP.

Amis next takes time out
to trace what went wrong, psychologically, with the Iraq War:
  • It was not the issue of weapons of mass destruction: the intelligence agencies of every country on earth, Iraq included, believed [Saddam] had them. An obvious point, perhaps, but one that needs repetition: the WMD-issue was not, as so frequently claimed, a "lie".
  • It was the American President's all too palpable submission to the intoxicant of power. And, yes, this was an event where the "checks-and-balances" of politics failed to click into place, because - in a unique moment - the religious Right had captured all branches of the American government.
Then Amis identifies "three intrinsic historical realities":
First the Middle East is clearly unable, for now, to sustain democratic rule - for the simple reason its people will vote against it...
Second, Iraq is not a real country ... it consists of three separate (Ottoman) provinces, Sunni, Shia, Kurd - a disposition which looks set to resume...
Third, only the sack of Mecca or Medina would have caused more pain to the Islamic heart than the taking, and befouling, of the Iraqi capital, the seat of the Caliphate.
And he concludes with two main thrusts:
  • the Islamic states lag behind the West, and the Far East, in every index of industrial and manufacturing output, job creation, technology, literacy, life-expectancy, human development and intellectual vitality ... Then, too, there is the matter of tyranny, corruption, and the absence of civil rights and civil societies ... The connection between manifest failure and the suppression of women is unignorable...
  • All religions are violent; and all ideologies are violent ... Millenial Islamism is an ideology superimposed upon a religion - illusion upon illusion.
Malcolm recommends all and sundry to take the time to read, digest and applaud the essential humanity and liberalism that Amis expounds. Above all, it is a stylish and elegant piece, far removed in quality of content and presentation from most of the prevalent clap-trap.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the young woman of whom Malcolm first thought continues with her life. Her children will grow up capable of thinking for themselves. She has the right to drive her own car, succeed in her own career, and form her own opinions independent of her husband's views.
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