Staring into the face of evil

I haven’t blogged about the appalling terrorist atrocity in Russia until now. The immensity, horror and pointlessness of the calculated slaughter of so many children is almost beyond comprehension let alone words.

Several bloggers, including Darp Hau, John Quiggin and Rob Schaap have had a respectable stab at analytical posts. But they all involved reflecting about “root causes”. You can almost feel the RWDBs warming up the scornful rhetoric: “root causes” is the hallmark of limp-wristed, communard surrender monkeys. But somehow or other we have to attempt to understand the origins of this depraved, evil behaviour. It certainly must lie partly in Chechnya’s long history of Russian occupation, humiliation and brutal almost genocidal repression.

But I can’t help thinking there must be more to it.

The RWDBs hate the lefties’ talk of “root causes”, but most lefties studiously avoid any mention of the “M” word. Professor Bunyip has no such compunction, gleefully quoting wholesale from some Muslim-Australian discussion board as if that was enough to condemn just about everyone of the Islamic faith as apologists or fellow travellers with the slaughterers of children. But you can find equally ignorant, hateful, narrow-minded, paranoid posts on most discussion boards. The sorts of people who inhabit them are hardly representative of an entire religion or nation.

Nevertheless, I think today’s editorial in The Australian made some important points in a more restrained way:

Whether there are direct linkages between al-Qa’ida and the Chechen militants or not and there is plenty of evidence to suggest there are the militants’ willingness to take out as many innocent people as possible, while rushing eagerly towards their own martyrdom, reflects again the utter clash of value between Islamism and liberal democracy. We, by our natures and cultural conditioning, embrace life, tolerance and the future. The Islamists embrace death, unrelenting cultural hatred and a frozen historical vision in which all progress is brought to a halt. While this attitude is a perverted offshoot of Islam, it is an offshoot nevertheless, and challenges all Muslim leaders to take the sternest measures against extremism, being careful not to send one set of messages out to the West, while broadcasting a different set within their own communities. The expressions of sympathy towards the Russian people that have flowed from countries such as Syria and Iran are encouraging, but need to be matched by deeds the kind of deeds that have seen the Pakistani Government round up an impressive array of al-Qa’ida’s leadership over the past few months.

I also can’t help pondering some wider questions that many on the left would regard as taboo. Given the appalling scale and inhumanity of this event, along with all the others that have preceded it in so many different regions of the world, is there something about the religion of Islam that generates such barbarity in so many different places?

You can certainly point to the history of Russian oppression in Chechnya, and of the Palestinians by the Jews. But what about the Saudi fanatics who seem to be behind so many of these terrorist atrocities? How have they been oppressed? They’re mostly wealthy spoiled middle class brats from a violent, feudal society that has acquired more money than it knows how to spend responsibly, because it’s sitting on a sea of oil. And what of Muklas and Hambali and their ilk in Indonesia, or the Islamic terrorists of the Philippines and Thailand? Who has oppressed them recently? Certainly not the “West”.

I can’t help wondering whether there’s some contagion of evil infecting the evolved Muslim faith, that causes violence and barbarity to be committed so readily by its adherents in so many different countries with so many different histories.

Many people on the left would be perfectly comfortable entertaining the possibility that the Catholic religion, with its priestly celibacy and “right to life” perspectives, might breed sick sexual attitudes that partly explain the apparent long-term prevalence of priestly pedophile activity and its endemic covering up by otherwise good men. Yet entertaining such thoughts about the Islamic faith is condemned as racism almost by definition (or some similarly politically correct epithet that declares the thought off-limits).

I might of course be completely wrong. It may just be the pernicious influence of wealthy Wahabbi agents of influence spreading the contagion of a virulent specifically Saudi strain of Islam via madrassa throughout the Islamic world, teaching young Muslims to hate, and then providing them with the practical training, weapons and money to turn that hate into the blood of innocent people. And muddling, arrogant Americans stoking the fires of youthful passion still further with their hasty, ill-considered military interventions and kneejerk assumption that everyone agrees grasping greed, Maccas and Eminem are the epitome of world civilisation to which all should aspire.

Or it may just be that however prosperous and “civilised” the world gets, there is an ineradicably evil aspect to human nature that will always find an outlet somewhere. The Muslim “Ummah” is just human culture’s current fault-line where that innate evil finds expression at this moment of history.

Buggered if I know. And it doesn’t really help in suggesting solutions anyway. But nor does the left’s piecemeal search for “root causes” in individual nations. On the other hand, pondering the possible deficiencies of the Islamic faith might conceivably further inflame religious hatred and intolerance. That road makes the worst aspects of Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations a self-fulfilling prophecy, and promotes the sort of Holy War that Osama and his insane crew are manifestly trying to generate. What scares me witless about the whole thing is that I can’t begin to understand the causes, let alone imagine any possible solutions. When I was young I thought I knew all the answers, but as I get older I realise I can’t even begin to formulate the questions. But it won’t stop me doubting and asking them, and irritating the hell out of blog readers in the process.

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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Peter Ransen
Peter Ransen
2022 years ago

Buggered if I know, too.

Factory
Factory
2022 years ago

“I also can’t help pondering some wider questions that many on the left would regard as taboo.”
Prolly because ‘the Right’ have ‘Islam is barbaric’ as a talking point. So the innate tribalism of the modern politics, will have the left play down that angle.

“Given the appalling scale and inhumanity of this event, along with all the others that have preceded it in so many different regions of the world, is there something about the religion of Islam that generates such barbarity in so many different places?”
As an atheist I would say that there is something about every religion that causes this type of barbarity to occur, focusing on one religion is missing the point.

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
2022 years ago

On Radio National (that supposed hotbed of leftism) I heard an interesting discussion from a female Islamic writer, who’d just written a book called The Trouble with Islam. She’s an American of Canadian Middle-East descent and she’s a lesbian – not an easy thing in the circs. She agrees with some of the points you’ve made. The Jihad against Salmon Rushdie was just one example of its failure in a pluralist society.

My own feeling is that we’re on dangerous ground if we conclude it’s only the religion. How then to explain our own region where Islam is pretty widely followed? Malaysia and Indonesia are secular. JI has a following, but it is quite often related to other issues such as poverty, education, representation, autonomy. Mindanao in the Philippines has resisted Christian domination since the Spaniards came.

There seem to be more clues in social injustice and poverty. A start on addressing these would make charlatanism much less attractive.

By way of contrast, look at the attempts by females in Afghanistan to get an education and equality. They have been as equally oppressed by the warlords as they were by the Taliban. It is not religion that is the problem. The women, as far as I know, have expressed no desire to give up their faith. It is the misuse of it by those with the power that is the problem.

yobbo
2022 years ago

“As an atheist I would say that there is something about every religion that causes this type of barbarity to occur, focusing on one religion is missing the point.”

It’s not missing the point at all. Christian teachings, while being at least as violent as Islam, are relegated into the background in modern western society.

The separation of Church and state is the issue here. I’m no koranic scholar, but the fact that no predominantly muslim country has been able to achieve such separation of church and state suggest either:

A:) There’s something specific to Islam which makes it impossible.

or

B:) The way apostates are treated by other muslims means that people who wish to undertake reform from within are silenced or killed before they can do any good. eg. Salman Rushdie.

The people throughout history who worked towards separation of state from the Christian church were themselves Christians – reform came from the inside rather than from outside forces.

It took hundreds of years for us to get to that stage and it could well take hundreds more years for Islamic countries to reach that stage. The problem is that we aren’t about to stand around as cannon fodder while they work their issues out.

There are still an assortment of fanatical Christian terrorists around – Abortion doctor killers, for example. The difference is that their (nominally Christian) governments don’t support them or encourage them in the way that Islamic governments encourage their zealots.

The reason there are so few of them is simple – Christianity has been marginalised in western society. There may be still be more Christians than muslims, but the vast majority of Christians don’t take their religion particularly seriously. They aren’t “moderate” so much as “lapsed”.

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

I tend to agree with Don that its at least as much ‘culture’. A lack of ‘civil society’?

Such an atrocity would not have troubled the Imperial Japanese Army a jot. And Hitler’s SS would have derided these terrorists as amatuers. Yet 60 years later, both Japan and Germany are exceptionally pacifistic societies with a great deal of respect for human life (except that Japan still has the death penalty). It might be profitable to ask what changed in these societies to effect such a transformation. (Although it might be really rather depressing too, given some of the methods used.)

Yobbo
Yobbo
2022 years ago

” It might be profitable to ask what changed in these societies to effect such a transformation. (Although it might be really rather depressing too, given some of the methods used.)”

I think you just answered your own question. They got the absolute shit bombed out of them and were offered the chance to reform or die. They chose reform.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

“there something about the religion of Islam that generates such barbarity in so many different places?”

Why stop there? Monotheastic bronze-age desert nomad sky god religions when they’re wipped along by sexually frustrated fundies just don’t have a good track record anyway.

At least it’s not as bad as the Thirty Years War…so far.

You can certainly point to the h

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

“there something about the religion of Islam that generates such barbarity in so many different places?”

Why stop there? Monotheastic bronze-age desert nomad sky god religions when they’re wipped along by sexually frustrated fundies just don’t have a good track record anyway.

At least it’s not as bad as the Thirty Years War…so far.

See, I can drunk type.

John quiggin
John quiggin
2022 years ago

Nabokov, you don’t even have to have monotheism. The Sri Lankan conflict is, at least in part, Hindu vs Buddhist. Most of the terrorist attacks have been committed by the Tamil (Hindu) side. Of course, this is because they are the rebels and the government has an army.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

the current faultline in human culture – quite possibly. And just what exactly are we to gain from it? I agree. What are the questions?
Who is asking?

And you are one humble lawyer/blogger/academic. Thankgod

We prayed for those children properly in my homeroom yesterday – and felt almost effete – Was it better than nothing thanking god for my beautiful life?

So many children!

Martin Pike
Martin Pike
2022 years ago

Quiggin draws a useful analogy with the Tamil conflict. The Tamils have openly and brutally targetted civilians, yet have nothing to do with Islam. When did their campaign kick off in earnest? When the Sinhalese majority passed laws actively and openly discriminating against Tamils in uni entry, public life, and in the use of their language.

The Chechens have been putting up with mass murder of their civilians for years, as well as widespread and systematic rape. Why this claptrap about clashes with our liberal civilisation- Russia’s conduct hasn’t stopped us going in and doing some tasty deals.

And in the same region the South Ossetians and Armenians have had a stab at some serious ethnic cleansing (6 figure movements of people) and collateral civilian slaughter without any help from Islam- Ossetians are a mix of religions if I’m not mistaken and Armenians are orthodox.

Jen, pray for the black widows of chechnya too, because when soldiers have killed their sons and husbands, and done unspeakable things to them as well, they need all the prayers they can get…

Martin Pike
Martin Pike
2022 years ago

From the centre left Economist:
http://www.economist.com/agenda/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3170269

Note this key quote:
“Though there is some evidence of links between al-Qaeda and Chechen rebels, the conflict in Chechnya is essentially a home-grown problem. Many of the terrorist attacks in Moscow and elsewhere have been carried out by “black widows”

Mork
Mork
2022 years ago

Yeah – interesting … I wonder how far you’d get with the theory that the psychological precondition for barbarity is a combination of perceived injustice and impotence.

The generation of Germans that became Nazis certainly fit that profile. I don’t know so much about pre-war Japan, but there was definitely perceived inferiority following the early contacts with the west, and a degree of exploitation until they decided that they had to modernise themselves.

If that’s the case, the place we should really be worried about is China, where people are fed a pretty steady diet of our wetern perfidy has robbed the racially and culturally superior Chinese of their birthright.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

‘I can’t help wondering whether there’s some contagion of evil infecting the evolved Muslim faith, that causes violence and barbarity to be committed so readily by its adherents in so many different countries with so many different histories.’
Maybe it has to do with perspectives regarding death and the influence and honor death bestows on the living.

Darp Hau
2022 years ago

Great article Ken.

I think I may revisit Huntington this afternoon.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

My gut feeling is that Jen might be correct. But so are others when they point to poverty and disadvantage, and even more so the sense of humiliation, inferiority and exploitation that Martin and Mork discuss.

And I think Sam is right to highlight the distinction between most Muslim countries and our own – namely that we mostly don’t take Christianity terribly seriously. At least we don’t accept the rigid, totalitarian doctrines of the clerics. Even most regular churchgoers don’t really accept catholic teachings about abortion, birth control, homosexuality or sex before marriage. They treat the clerics as a bunch of mostly honourable old chaps who are worthy of respect, but know little or nothing about actually living life in the real world. We simply ignore them (as they deserve).

But I think Jen’s got a critically important point when she reflects on “perspectives regarding death and the influence and honor death bestows on the living”. That is an aspect of Islam in many countries that doesn’t seem to be replicated in any sense in Christianity. “Honour” killings of women generally don’t happen in even strongly Christian countries, and no version of Christianity regards it as a devout religious act to slaughter innocent people in suicide bombings, mass hostage situations, or ritual beheadings. These may be perverted versions of “jihad” but they don’t seem to be utterly aberrant or abhorrent to mainstream Islam, because they appear to enjoy fairly wide (if varying) tacit support across large parts of the Muslim world.

It’s certainly true that there are some Muslim voices condemning such behaviour forthrightly and loudly. Salman Rushdie is an example, as is the woman Don Wigan refers to who wrote “The Trouble with Islam”. But they seem to be isolated voices crying in the wilderness.

Islam seems to be far more of a ‘warrior’ faith than Christianity. Only during a relatively short period of its 2000 year (the Crusades) has Christianity spawned warfare, murder and conquest directly in its name and for its purposes. It’s certainly true that European colonialists invoked God in support of their conquests, but it was hollow window-dressing for commercial, territorial and personal ambition.

The Old Testament is a book that emphasises vengeance, the wrath of God, and the role of men as His divine instrument of vengeance. But you really don’t find that in the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus on which christianity is based. Christ’s teachings are much more about love and forgiveness (although they’re evidently capable of being misread and perverted to malign purposes to a very considerable extent). I’m not sure whether one can say the same about the Koran, because I’m not very familiar with it.

Alan Green
2022 years ago

You’re right, knowing the right thing to do is nigh impossible. Given this complexity, surely war was a foolhardy first option.

By the way, the Australian’s highminded characterisation, “We, by our natures and cultural conditioning, embrace life, tolerance and the future” is elitist crap. Like all people we are by nature not wholly good, but part good and part bad. The fewer opportunities we have to do the wrong thing, and the less convenient it is to do the wrong thing, the better we behave.

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

Islam sure looks a scary and diabolical religion from outside, but 40 years ago so did Chinese communism. That changed when they, and we discovered that it was in our combined interests to commence a dialogue. Are we scared now? No!, although Mork may argue we are deluded.

Personally I think Islam’s best hope is greater influence on Islamic thinking, by those who live amongst us in the West. It is these Muslims, considered bit-players perhaps, by those in the traditional Muslim lands, who are best equipped to bring the enlightenment to Islam.

Of course what would I know?

bargarz
2022 years ago

Root causes. I think there are very few people indeed who are about to step up and claim that the Russians’ policies concerning Chechyna (and there have been several tried in the past few years alone) have been other than brutal and ham fisted. Grozny resembles 1945 Berlin more than any other city.

The number of the beast. Anyone interested in the slightest about the background history of this war, Chechen links with Al-Qaeda and its affiliates or their quite open goals for a greater Caucasus Caliphate should see Dan Darling’s thoughts on Beslan. It’s more informative than many of the puff pieces currently floating about in the papers.

Mike Jericho
2022 years ago

Several bloggers, including Darp Hau, John Quiggin and Rob Schaap have had a respectable stab at analytical posts. But they all involved reflecting about “root causes”. You can almost feel the RWDBs warming up the scornful rhetoric: “root causes” is the hallmark of limp-wristed, communard surrender monkeys.

Funny, my reaction (and keep in mind, to Ken I’m a right-wing “extremist”, not just your regular conservative fascist) to Darp’s post was something along the lines of “That was the most coherent post I’ve seen advanced on the subject by the Left”.

I’m forced to paraphrase, as Haloscan is down, as usual, but you get the drift.

But my point could be wrong, if you first decide that I’m not a right-wing extremist after all… but that would make Ken’s initial assessment wrong all along, and we can’t have that. Sacred history must never be revised.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Mike

I’m always willing to revise my assessment on anything if I get enough inconsistent information to require that conclusion. I guess like most people it takes a bit to shift me once I’ve made up my mind, but I try to be aware of that tendency and correct for it, because my fundamental position (or the position to which I aspire) is open-minded scepticism combined with good will and civility. Our dealings so far haven’t really been along those lines.

I have to confess I’d stopped reading your blog very often, because your reactions last time we had a run-in gave me the shits (to put it bluntly). But it speaks well of your own open-mindedness that you’re prepared to come back and give it another go. So I’ll do the same and start checking out your blog, and I won’t hesitate to re-evaluate (and even apologise) if I conclude I was wrong, hasty or ungenerous in my initial assessment. Unfortunately I won’t have time to start that process this evening, because I’m taking my daughter out to see the St Petersburg Ballet Company perform Swan Lake, and I’ve got to go and iron some clothes and have a shower . Greater love hath no father, because ballet usually bores me shitless (although I do admire their grace, discipline and athleticism).

trackback
2022 years ago

A bloody atrocity

Like Ken Parish, I’ve been late in posting about the bloody atrocity committed by Chechen terrorists over the last week or so. The last time Chechnya got major international attention was when the terrorists took hostages in a Moscow theatre…

trackback
2022 years ago

Islamism and terrorism

As Ken Parish observes, in my recent post about Chechnya, I discussed the issue of terrorism and its causes in generic terms and didn’t have anything specific to say about Islamism. So, I’ll start by observing that most of what…