David Brooks, the New York Times’s supposed “compassionate conservative” columnist has written yet another dubious, twisted and misleading column, Cult of Death, about the supposed Islamic cult worship of death. Let’s call this type of trash what it really is: anti-Muslim propaganda. The theory, which Brooks’ is merely recycling from scores of other Muslim haters before him, is that Muslims make a fetish of death. They value death far over life, hence their religion itself is debased and far inferior to other world religions, especially western religions like ours. The worst aspect of Brooks supposed analysis is his claim that Muslims who engage in terror do so not to advance a political cause, but merely to tear down those they hate. In other words, they practice death for death’s sake. What is so pernicious about this view is that it denies all humanity to Muslims. This, in turn, makes it that much easier for us to make war against them as Bush is doing in Iraq. It makes it that much easier to violate their civil liberties as the Bush Administration is doing wholesale in this country. A people that is less than human is one we can trample upon with a clear conscience. They don’t share our values, therefore we are entitled to hate them full throttle.
Let’s allow Brooks to lay out his argument:
…[A] death cult…is thriving at the fringes of the Muslim world. This is the cult of people who are proud to declare, “You love life, but we love death.” This is the cult that sent waves of defenseless children to be mowed down on the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq war, that trains kindergartners to become bombs, that fetishizes death, that sends people off joyfully to commit mass murder.
This cult attaches itself to a political cause but parasitically strangles it. The death cult has strangled the dream of a Palestinian state. The suicide bombers have not brought peace to Palestine; they’ve brought reprisals. The car bombers are not pushing the U.S. out of Iraq; they’re forcing us to stay longer. The death cult is now strangling the Chechen cause, and will bring not independence but blood.
But that’s the idea. Because the death cult is not really about the cause it purports to serve. It’s about the sheer pleasure of killing and dying.
It’s about massacring people while in a state of spiritual loftiness. It’s about experiencing the total freedom of barbarism – freedom even from human nature, which says, Love children, and Love life. It’s about the joy of sadism and suicide.
Here Brooks completely misunderstands the nature of this terror. He completely misunderstands the nature of the national and religious struggles engaged in by Muslim terrorists. Note Brooks almost fetishizes the word “joy” here. While Arabs (also note that Brooks claims this phenomenon is “Muslim,” which neglects the fact that Palestinians of a variety of religions respond similarly to their terrorist martyrs) and Muslims may celebrate their martyred “heroes,” this is not joy in the sense we know it. It is steely determination, it is resistance to perceived injustice, it is finding solace in some terribly twisted and perverse way–but it is certainly not joy. And I find Brooks’ use of the word, as so much else in this column, to be objectionable and offensive.
Brooks compounds his offense by taking to task the news media and European political entities which have denounced equally both the Chechen terrorists and the Russian government (for its enormous security lapses, corruption and general ineptitude). This he claims equals “averting one’s eyes” from the real nature of the problem. This is out and out idiocy. Of course, the Boston Globe and the European Union are right when they note that while the terrorists are culpable, the Russians are also culpaable because they have made an object failure of their effort to protect their own people from terror. Anyone in their right mind can see that these terrorists lately are striking regularly and almost effortlessly at Russian targets. Where are the police? Where is the army? Nowhere to be seen until after a catastrophe occurs, and then they come in guns ablazing killing terrorists and hostages alike. I note that we have no proof that Russians killed any of the Beslan hostages. But part of the reason for this is that the Kremlin has refused to let either its own media of western media properly investigate the massacre. I’d say there are lots of skeletons in the closets of Beslan that might come out if Putin gave the media some reign.
Brooks’ concluding thought contains yet another egregious statement that betrays the utter futility and failure of his point of view: “This death cult has no reason and is beyond negotiation.” You’ll note that this sentiment jibes totally with Putin’s comment of a few days ago that “we have no choice” but to fight to the bitter end against the Chechen militants. I wrote in my post, Putin & the Chechen Debacle: a Case of Failed National Leadership, that comments like Putin’s (and Brooks’) betray an utter failure of leadership and understanding. Negotation is, of course, the only way out of this and similar conflicts. Putin’s refusal to heed warnings by other nations that Russia’s current scorched earth policy in Chechnya is an abject failure will lead Russia even deeper into a quagmire than they already are.
I am not claiming that Putin can negotiate with the type of terrorists who killed the Beslan schoolchildren. But I am claiming that he can negotiate with legitimate Chechen leaders who are interested in negotiation if it will lead to Chechen independence or perhaps a strong autonomous relationship with Russia. The fact that Brooks utterly rejects this option shows that he either knows nothing about terrorist movements or that he completely misunderstands their goals and interests. We have plenty of Brookses running the State and Defense Departments in the current administrations. Look where it’s got us in Iraq, Iran and the Mideast in general so far.
What you said.
And yet… the line about killing “in a state of spiritual loftiness” struck a chord with me, because it reminded me of the books of two far better authors than Brooks: Karen Armstrong’s “The Battle For God” and Mark Juergensmeyer’s “Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence”. It’s been a while since I read them, so my recollections are a bit fuzzy, but I remember some discussion about how some people see the world as at war, in a battle between good and evil, and how, when you see things that way, it makes things very black-and-white and can justify all kinds of actions.
And frankly, it reminds me of some champions of this “war on terrorism.” Perhaps there IS some kind of righteous joy in killing (or making decisions that cause people to be killed) when you KNOW you’re right.
And sadly, it’s a contagious disease, and it does seem to crowd out rational thought and productive actions. (Again, see our own “war on terrorism.”)
Finally, on a musical note, have you heard Richard Thompson’s “Outside of the Inside”? It captures this mindset really well, I think.
Richard Silverstein says
You’ll note in my post I wrote that I don’t advocate attempts at rational dialogue with monsters like bin Laden or those who murdered children in Beslan. But there are always representatives within societies like Chechnya, Palestine, Iraq, etc. who advocate some of the views of the terrorists (nationalism, religious fervor, etc.) but who reject senseless murder & truly want a solution to their particular conflict. Countries like the U.S., Russia & Israel are only too ready to ignore these indigenous, representative voices & say there’s no possible hope for negotiation or compromise. This constitutes the bankruptcy & failure of leadership I talked about.
I totally got that point — you made it very well, and I agree. (I thought it was interesting that even our government was urging Putin to talk to the Chechens yesterday. Let’s hope someday cooler heads prevail!)