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When The Enemy Makes Nice By: David Solway
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, May 21, 2009


As many commentators and analysts have noted, the West is now suffering a crisis of disaffection. It is as if increasing numbers of people, led by the intellectual and political classes, have given up on the civilizing imperative implicit in Western history, adopting a favorable attitude toward Islam and in many cases embracing it wholly.

There are several explanations for this drift into the arms of an alien culture and civilization, but one in particular merits consideration. Might it be that we are reacting to the feeling of being at a loss, the sense of fragmentation and narcissism and hollowness, and especially the paucity of communal feeling in our personal and social lives by admiring a people who enjoy the benefits of group solidarity? Do we esteem the other side so much for the sense of conviction and unity and assurance we know we do not possess that we are eager to emulate and even truckle before it? As converted journalist Yvonne Ridley said on BBC News online, “I have joined what I consider the biggest and best family in the world. When we stick together we are absolutely invincible.”

We now find ourselves envying a culture which, in its family and tribal life, enjoys the benefits of asabiyah (Arabic: group feeling) and the communal solidarity that we have forfeited to the hedonistic and centrifugal effects of modernity. Despite the enteric violence between doctrinal camps in the Muslim world, the interior dynamic at the level of the social group is one of homogeneity and consensus identity. As Islam’s greatest philosopher Ibn Khaldun prescribed in the Muqaddimah (Prolegomenon, or Introduction to History), “All religious laws and practices and everything that the masses are expected to do requires group feeling…Group feeling is necessary to the Muslim community, which enables it to fulfill what God expects of it.”

We, however, live in an ideological world that has turned the personal relations in which actual life is experienced into soulless and formulaic abstractions, whether on the intellectual battlefied, in social legislation, in the cultural mosh pit or in the iridescent bubble of the university seminar. That a sense of deep insecurity should become the paramount emotional factor in our lives is in no way remarkable. For this reason, we prize the enemy for possessing what we ourselves are missing. His surplus of energy, conviction and asabiyah may replenish us by osmosis.

It is tempting to speculate that the Muslim congregant, the eloquent Imam, the jihadist, even the Palestinian gunman are only the latest incarnation of the anthropological romance with the “pure primitive” who redeems us from our own evolved complexities and etiolated belief-systems. The new aborigine, as the contemporary embodiment of the Noble Savage invented by European exploration, thus acts as the counterfoil to our own repressed and guilt-ridden civilization. The enemy who commands our sympathies becomes the heroicizing projection of our own bad conscience. Because he possesses what we lack and desire, we are willing to live in a state of contradiction and rush to pardon his atrocities.

Thus feminists will wink at the monstrous usage of genital mutilation. Advocates of human rights will by their silence rubber stamp honour killings and repressive theocratic legislation. Journalists will massage the news to the advantage of an avowed antagonist. Intellectuals will justify the carnage that is visited upon us as legitimate retribution for our manifold sins. The enemy has become our redeemer as we have become his accomplice. We forgive his violence—indeed, we covet it—since it fills the void of our own debility, supplying that which we condemn in ourselves and yet secretly wish we had the virility to glorify and enact. An asymmetric metaphor suggests itself: suffering the affective variant of erectile dysfunction, we patronize the Islamic pharmacy for antidotes.

Yet another factor that might partly explain our tendency to abase ourselves before and even to identify with the Muslim hijacker, the hostage-taker, the hardline cleric, the terror master, the genocidal tyrant, the suicide bomber may be, quite simply, a displaced form of the Stockholm Syndrome, in which the victim bonds with his captor, developing an erotic or filial attachment to the source of perceived power. The Western political imagination, for example, has certainly become a captive to the Palestinian epos, as attested by almost every major newspaper and the catering policies of Western governments.

This is no doubt a kind of unconscious survival strategy but in the sequel it will expose us to ever greater peril. We are Patty Hearst; Islam is the new Symbionese Liberation Army. Like those who suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome, we have come to believe that a good heart beats within a bad breast.

There is an interesting and highly infectious variant to the Stockholm Syndrome which I am tempted to call the Jalalabad Syndrome, with reference to the aforementioned Yvonne Ridley. Captured by the Taliban near Jalalabad in 2001—a “respectful detention,” as she describes it—and released eleven days later on condition that she study the Koran, Ms. Ridley subsequently converted to the faith and has now become one of its most vociferous Western apostles. She has worked as a senior editor for Al-Jazeera, run for the Respect Party in the U.K., defended the Taliban who have, according to this expert, been “demonised beyond recognition,” and lauded terrorists such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Shamil Basayev and Abu Hamza al-Masri.

Jalalabadians make the best proselytes and Ms. Ridley is no exception. She has taken her show on the road with the energy and dedication of the passionate convert. She has even graced poor benighted Canada with a September 2007 appearance at the Centre Islamique Libanais in Montreal and will be reprising her visit later this month in Toronto at a fundraiser for the Islamist online magazine The Canadian Charger. Using her opportunities not so much to impart select or verifiable information as to conduct a travelling love-in, Ms. Ridley will once again be lavishing adoration and tribute on her contollers in a kind of matrimonial swoon of maidenly credulity. Jalalabadians are more than merely propaganda mules. They are like intellectually penniless waifs who are determined to marry into money.

The Jalalabad Syndrome turns upon two conditions: the pyschological weakness of the captive and gentle or preferential treatment meted out by the captor, which will often eventuate in a feeling of gratitude and a desire to reciprocate, to return the favor, as it were. There are many ways in which the spirit can be suborned, and misdirected requital for misconstrued benevolence is one of the most powerful.

Nor can Jalalabadians be expected to ever rethink their conversion experience for softmindedness is notoriously impenetrable. Jalalabadians evince a mentality that is incapable of distinguishing shinola from a lookalike substance or of even beginning to articulate the grounds of dissent. I suspect this form of political and religious procurement will become increasingly prominent in the coming years as the number of Islamophiliac catechumens multiplies exponentially.

Jalalabad is, in this sense, a thriving suburb of Stockholm; and Stockholm, let us not forget, is now vying to become the capital of the Western world.

David Solway is the award-winning author of over twenty-five books of poetry, criticism, educational theory, and travel. He is a contributor to magazines as varied as the Atlantic, the Sewanee Review, Books in Canada, and the Partisan Review. He is the author of The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity. A new book on Jewish and Israeli themes, Hear, O Israel!, will be released by CanadianValuesPress this fall.


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