A terrorist attack has struck at yet another aspect of France that the French value most. ISIS is the threat to civilisation, because of who they are and because of who we are.
I say this because partly we don’t comprehend the nature of ISIS, many of the people who claim to be providing this information are misleading us and because we seem not to believe in our own right to exist. With informers and philosophers like this, who needs nihilists or misinformants?
A friend of mine sent me the image below and asked me to write about this topic. It was taken, on scene, by someone he knew.
An image from right there brings it home somewhat, doesn’t it? I can’t quite force the reality into my mind: those sheets cover people, dead, wiped out during a party, no opportunity to make peace or to come to terms with existence. Plans, objectives: gone.
What Are We Dealing With?
In my estimation, ISIS (and Islamic extremist terrorism in its modern iteration) is possibly the most terrifying actor today. Some readers might find this unbelievable, given that ISIS is a marginalized power holding disputed pockets of land in the Middle East. For me, the ideology and presentation makes ISIS – which today claimed responsibility for the Nice attack – scarier and more dangerous than other richer and more well-armed threats.
Sam Harris, speaking during the inaugural episode of the newly revamped and crowd-funded Rubin Report, observed just how brazen ISIS is compared to other of our favourite tyrannies. As Harris observed, those that perpetrated the holocaust hid what they were doing from other Nazis. As I told to a friend recently, they gassed Jews, Roma, homosexuals and other undesirables partly because they didn’t have the stomach to shoot them all. This is to say that certain Nazis were afraid of other Nazis finding out what they were up to and, when they knew they were losing the war, they blew up the gas chambers in an attempt to hide them from the Allies.
See below a fascinating interview below with Soviet propaganda operative Yuri Bezmenov, who recounts the falsehoods that he and others fed to Western media. The best example was a picture which a Canadian magazine printed, claiming to be of a Soviet children’s playground which was, in fact, of the playground in a children’s prison for the progeny of political unpersons.
The point being that the Soviets were constantly, energetically seeking to deceive people about what they were doing.
Then there’s ISIS. ISIS produces and distributes videos of beheading, of their enforcers removing the limbs of criminals and of child soldiers executing enemy fighters. This would be the equivalent of the SS producing propaganda films of undesirables filing into the gas chambers, or the Soviets creating a comedy about the guy who is sent to the secret police station to be killed, but finds that the officer who’s supposed to kill him was, himself, killed.
Rather, ISIS are showing us the worst aspects of what they are doing, and this is how they recruit. It’s not like when Christopher Hitchens went to see the promising new revolution in Cuba, only to find the same small-minded authoritarianism; these people are broadcasting the smallness of their minds, and the barely-limited nature of their brutality, and this is what is attracting French, British, Russian, American recruits and recruits from many, many other nations.
As I observed earlier, ISIS is a ragtag, barely-extant and marginal power – if it fizzles out, we can all pat ourselves on the back and relax a little. However, in the unlikely timeline that ISIS endures or even grows, it will become the most powerful and visible threat freedom and safety.
This seems to be a good opportunity to discuss the USA. People often describe this nation as a rogue power, a global tyranny. I’m almost an expert on the crimes of the USA but say that, given the choice of living under the hegemony of any superpower, I would choose the USA. This is accepting the stupid wars, domestic brutality, shady human experiments (all at enormous human cost), the international surveillance and subversion.
Put it this way, when the Red Army marched into Western Europe and Germany, they raped the local women on a terrifying scale, to the extent that ‘Rape During the Occupation of Germany‘ warrants its own Wikipedia page with 70 citations. To this horror, Stalin responded: “…understand it if a soldier who has crossed thousands of kilometres through blood and fire and death has fun with a woman or takes some trifle.” Of course, this isn’t to impune the Red Army in totality: the Guardian reports how one heroic officer personally shot a lieutenant who instructed his men to queue in front of a brutalised woman.
For around 25 years, the USA has been the only superpower, the world’s most significant culture, military and economy – what are its crimes? You’re familiar with them, I’m sure. Imagine if the USSR had won the cold war, or if any other empire or powerful ideology from history were in possession of current or past American power, what would that look like? This is why I say that the USA is the best country in history. It is so because of the nature of America: the Constitution, the bill of Rights, Americans; when you look at the nature of Nazi Germany, the USSR, the British Empire, one can see why they turned out the way they did.
The corollary of this is why ISIS is so scary. In essence, they have the inverse of the Bill of Rights and, rather than attracting people seeking the freedom to pursue their own happiness, ISIS recruits can only be happy when freedom is extinguished. We’ve seen what ISIS can do with what it has, reaching into the capitals of major nations to recruit and destroy: what would it be like if it took over the machinery of an actual state, or several? In this respect, we have Blair to thank for having Ghadaffi give up his doomsday arsenal, because we can be sure that ISIS would use them.
This is what we’re dealing with.
What Do We Do?
The first thing to note, under this heading and given the above, is that around 800 Britons have left to fight for this terror, according to the BBC. Meanwhile, Majiid Nawaz, a talented anti-extremist campaigner notes that the UK is a net exporter of terrorism. This is to say that we are failing, as a society, to present a muscular and compelling image of the United Kingdom, its place in Western civilisation and the power of freedom to the extent that our own people want to fight our nemesis.
I took this picture from Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn; you can see the Manhattan skyline in the centre there. When I was looking, an American couple came up to me and said hello. The husband looked at the skyline, noting:
Say, from here, the gravestones are bigger than the skyscrapers. It’s almost like… the skyscrapers are gravestones.
Poetry. In some sense, they are; skyscrapers are monuments that mark lives: you can see, in the middle of the image above, Freedom Tower, the tallest building in NYC. The terrorists knocked down the World Trade Center and, in its place, civilization built and is building 6 colossal structures in their place, among them Freedom Tower – 1776 feet tall – matching the date of America’s Declaration of Independence. This is how you respond. The forces of barbarism can knock things down, restrict, stifle – the best response is to create, to build, even bigger than before. This is the more impressive given how much easier it is to destroy than to create.
In whatever way, this is how civilization must respond to Nice. We must create, celebrate France, build, make money, get rich, have fun. In a few seconds you can knock down a building that took years to build – a human being wiped out by single gunshot required all the years before they were murdered in order to become whom they were. Despite the ease of destruction compared to creation, we can still out-live, out-fun and out-create these monsters.
As I mentioned earlier, my country, the UK, is a net exporter of terrorism. I get the feeling that the country, particularly England, its largest nation, is ill at ease with itself; flying the St George Cross is cause for mockery and derision. What about this self-hating setup would convince someone flirting with ISIS to turn back to the mother country? ISIS believes in its right to exist and is proud to, it often feels like the UK is embarrassed to exist. I’m not calling for nationalism, I’m calling for a more fairer view of the UK, and one which celebrates British liberty and philosophy and our great figures (Mill, Churchill, Burke, Shakespeare).
We must also support the efforts of savvy reformers within Islam, in particular people like Maajid Nawaz. Nawaz, whose organisation Quilliam works to counter extremism in the UK, wrote in the Telegraph to urge people to stop saying that the Nice attack had nothing to do with Islam.
To those who say that terrorist attacks like this have nothing to do with Islam, try my ideologies as car manufacturers analogy. Just as a mechanic presented with a car with a given fault or strength would understand that not all cars of the same make would fail or excel in exactly the same way, and that cars of different manufacture can perform similarly, but that the way in which a car wears is dependent upon it’s make and model – inasmuch as a car without electric windows, for example, cannot develop an electric window fault.
To apply this to religion, radical Muslims behave as they do, in part, because of the doctrines of intolerance and violence found in the Quran, just as Renault is very unlikely to develop a fault in its turbo if it doesn’t feature this component; there is, of course, nothing to stop someone putting a engine that features a turbo in a Renault that didn’t have one to begin with, or, as in Burma, the doctrinally peaceful religion of Buddhism to be perverted by militaristic ideology; it’s just less likely.
Just as the Renault, when driven harshly, will be more likely to develop a fault in its turbo, Muslims who are mistreated (such as the Palestinians) will be more likely to become radical; this, however, does not stop wealthy, comfortable people from becoming extremists or a well-driven and serviced turbo from failing for no reason – it’s just less likely. To fear all Muslims would be like expecting every single car of a given make or model to wear in exactly the same way.
People like Nawaz are out there, with intimate knowledge of the issue, working to make extremism seem like the awful choice that it is.
Ignore Useful Idiots and Deceivers like Resa Aslan
‘Nuance’, ‘subtlety’ and ‘sophistication’ are debased words now that people like Aslan have their hands on them. So far as I can tell, nuance refers to the act of observing an Islamic society in which women are second-class citizens and calling it ‘an open society for women’. I wonder how Aslan would feel if one of the women whom he cares about were planning to live in Indonesia, where, according to Vice, the government recently legalized female genital mutilation, and where, according to Human Rights Watch, female soldiers are subject to virginity tests (Google that if you have a strong stomach).
To put it bluntly, too many people are being celebrated, particularly by people of my age, when all they offer is distorted facts and outright lies, and Aslan is chief among them. For reasons unknown, they are deceiving listeners and readers as to the relationship between religion and behaviour.
The attack in Nice happened because of a particular interpretation of a particular set of ideas: radical Islam. The way to beat this ideology is to outperform it comprehensively, as the West did the USSR, to target extremist preachers and negate their arguments while counselling potential ISIS recruits, while, in France, the UK and elsewhere, to live and speak a proud but realistic exposition of our countries, the achievements of their past and the triumphs of their philosophies; this is the best rebuttal to those who wish to present Europe as a nursing home for guilty ex-colonialists and ISIS as its dynamic successor.