Educated about Al Qaeda

Just now I followed the Trackback link at the bottom of my Political Pooftah Bashing post immediately below, and found myself at Tim Dunlop’s place. It was a fortuitous visit because, as well as kindly linking my post, Tim has just published a fantastic and fairly extended analysis on aspects of the nature of Al Qaeda, or at least the Islamic fundamentalist thinking that underpins it.

One quote from Islamic fundamentalist thinker Sayyid Qutb has a quite scary resonance with aspects of my own thinking:

To attain the leadership of mankind, we must have something to offer besides material progress, and this other quality can only be a faith and a way of life which on the one hand conserves the benefits of modern science and technology, and on the other fulfills the basic human needs on the same level of excellence as technology has fulfilled them in the sphere of material comfort.

Not long after I first started blogging a couple of years ago, I published an extended post about Adam Smith and morality, where I mused:

Although in general terms I accept the logic and evidence for at least part of the neo-liberal project (“market fundamentalist” or “economic rationalist” are alternative terms for the same belief system): namely that reasonably free markets are the most effective means so far found to maximize human production of food, material goods and indeed wealth however created. However, it has always seemed to me that there was a moral and spiritual hollowness at the core of market capitalism, the result of which is that a society organized in accordance with neo-liberal prescriptions may be a lot wealthier than a socialist or feudal economy, but is also a profoundly unsatisfying society in which to live: a moral and spiritual wasteland. In part, that is what Muslim fundamentalists are reacting against.

Tim’s post should be prescribed reading for anyone wanting an understanding of this ubiquitous issue that’s deeper than the daily shock-horror tabloid headlines and superficial discussion that passes for analysis even in broadsheet media in Australia.

Although I frequently disagree with Tim, his pre-eminence among “serious” Australian political bloggers is really beyond question (at least now that Don Arthur seems to have gone into permanent retirement). Tim has not only read most of the scholarly works on terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism and the like (something I have neither the time nor inclination to emulate on that level), but he has the rare gift of being able to render them accessibly to a general audience without condescension or over-simplification.

Moreover, the dialectic maintained by comment box facilities, not to mention inter-blog discussions facilitated by MT’s Trackback feature, ensures that much of the inevitable bias and selectivity inherent in any individual’s coverage of an issue (not just Tim’s) will usually be exposed and dissected. It’s one of the main reasons why I continue to see blogging as a uniquely powerful medium for civic dialogue, despite occasional periods of disillusionment.

Unfortunately, the increasing tendency for left and right-leaning readers and bloggers respectively to remain within their own comfort zones and only rarely venture into the comment boxes of their ideological opponents, rather undermines that priceless “informal peer review” aspect of blogging. Despite the evident propensity of many of us (including myself) to shout past each other instead of engaging in a mutually respectful thoughtful dialogue, I can’t help wishing for a partial return to greater willingness to discuss issues on opposing ideological turf. You’ll probably get slagged by some of the idiot element inhabiting both sides of the divide, but you’ll be contributing to an organic peer review process that the mainstream media simply doesn’t possess. It’s one of numerous attributes that make blogging such a compulsively, addictively readable medium.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2024 years ago


On your vague discomfort against “the neo-liberal project”, I would heartily disagree. I don’t think that any age or social system has delivered more for the spiritual seeker.

I don’t look on Islamist nutsos as reacting to some kind of spiritual hollowness; this is just a tag invented by western lefties which the islamists find useful and easy to flog. No, they are demagogues, doing what demagogues have always done – finding the losers and selling them sweetened poison that it was “the capitalists”, “the jews”, or lately, “the great satan”.

The defining characteristic of societies which have had a greater resistance to demagogues is that one and all they have bought into the neo-liberal project. Marxism has been wiped out because now the working class has nothing to lose but their chains, their cars, their TVs, their PC, their PlayStation 2, their cheap food, their homes, their DVD players, their cheap flights to see relatives, their comfortable beds, their airconditioning, their cafe lattes … I could go on and on. Where it is allowed to, capitalism practises a sort of infanticide on revolutions by killing material discontent before it can be processed into violence.

The cause of Islamist discontent, therefore, is not deeply rooted in wishy-washy notions of spiritual questing. It is rooted in material want, and the awareness that others have what one doesn’t. Into this rude state of awareness, demagogues of an Islamic pursuasion have poured their lust for power. It is no different to the demagogues of the early christian period, to Lenin, to Hitler or any of their ilk.

The answer is for the Islamic world to reclaim its heritage as one of the great trading civilisations. That is the way out of want, and out of the snare of false desires.

2024 years ago

Perhaps Islamist and a whole range of other ‘discontents” have always been there, but they have greater ability to express themselves now? One factor is access to far more effective methods, another is the less firm approaches of dominant forces when it comes to using fully, the power at their disposal.
I’m not talking about the right or wrong of the various groupings involved, simply the effects of changing technology and attitudes to using that technology.

John Watt
2024 years ago

I had a strange dream last night. In my dream, the Village Idiot lost the election for President to a very capable, steady man named Al Gore. But the Courts overruled the will of the people, and so the Idiot somehow ended up in the White House. Once in place, the Village Idiot then proceeded to undo just about everything good the previous President had done by turning massive surpluses into deficits as far as the eye could see, thus throwing millions of people out of work.

Furthermore, when our country was attacked by a a bunch of religious zealots, the Idiot deceived the public into invading a secular country that had nothing to do with the terrorists that had attacked us, and squandered most of the good will that our country had built over the years with the rest of the world.

Thankfully, I woke up from my nightmare this morning to realize that I still have a job, Al Gore is President of the United States, and there are still surpluses of money and of good will as far as the eye can see.

And Bin Laden and his gang of murderers are now sitting on death row after being captured by the troops diverted by the village idiot to secular Iraq.