Eyes of the Fleet

Eyes of the Fleet

Monday, June 26, 2006

An interesting take on Somalia and other soon to be fundamentalist states

Found here, an editorial on why secularism seems to be fading before fundamentalist advances:
What we are witnessing is not the triumph of religious fundamentalism, but the crisis of secularism. Those of us who consider ourselves secularists, the fellows who believe in the separation of religion and state, bear the blame for letting the cause crumble in disgrace.

Where secularists have risen to power in Africa and other parts of the Third World promising great change, many have ended up being maniacal butchers and thieves. We have let cherished freedoms degenerate into a bottomless pit of immorality and excess. Which is fine, except that we also don't expect to pay a price for it.

We allow a hedonistic life, but when our footsoldiers return home wrecked by booze, drugs, and other excesses, we shut the doors of our homes in their faces. We don't even admonish them.

Meanwhile, the fundamentalist mosques and churches take them in, chastise and even flog some, then get them to publicly renounce their waywardness and reward them for abandoning "sin". The Islamist are popular because, among other things, they came down hard on Somalia's criminal gangs, chopping off the hands of robbers, and publicly executing rapists.

Latter 20th century secularism's abhorrence of the hangman, on the other hand, has gradually led it to underestimate how much the victims of violent robbery, rape, and the relatives of murder victims crave retribution.

So you have a corrupt and incompetent Fatah in Palestine, and the world is surprised that it lost the elections to the Hamas hardliners who had a record of a more caring and honest organisation, murderous though it might be. In 1992, the Islamic front FIS won the elections in Algeria, but the army cancelled the results and seized power, setting off an orgy of violence.

Yet the FIS victory wasn't a fluke. In the municipalities they ran, garbage was collected and buses ran on time. The future belongs to organisations like the Islamic Courts Union, unless secularism responds with more than guns and deployment of global power.
The worst sin of secularists, therefore, is laziness. We don't recruit new warriors, while the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists stay up all night swelling their ranks. We don't have leadership factories, while the religious fundamentalists have their churches (many under trees and on street corners), synagogues, temples, and mosques.
Freedom is hard, becoming a "true believer" is easy - at first. But true believers exact a price for the stability they proffer- mandating compliance with each rule or exacting punishment of the worst kind. Why do these fundamentalists prosper? Eric Hoffer laid it out in The True Believer, a book that is timely and timeless, as set out by Thomas Sowell:
Among Hoffer's insights about mass movements was that they are an outlet for people whose individual significance is meager in the eyes of the world and -- more important -- in their own eyes. He pointed out that the leaders of the Nazi movement were men whose artistic and intellectual aspirations were wholly frustrated.

Hoffer said: "The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause."

People who are fulfilled in their own lives and careers are not the ones attracted to mass movements: "A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding," Hoffer said. "When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business."

What Hoffer was describing was the political busybody, the zealot for a cause -- the "true believer," who filled the ranks of ideological movements that created the totalitarian tyrannies of the 20th century.
Hoffer actually covered more than just busybodies, describing the environment in which mass movements are most likely to succeed:
The milieu most favorable for the rise and propagation of mass movements is one in which a once compact corporate structure is, for one reason or another, in a state of disintegration."
Pretty much describes Somalia. As a reviewer
(Eugene A. Jewett) at Amazon lays it out:
Hoffer's beginning notion is that "people with a sense of fulfillment think the world is good while the frustrated blame the world for their failures. Therefore a mass movement's appeal is not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self. He continues by saying that the true believer "cannot be convinced, only converted". This basic tenet of the story is about human nature and its susceptibility to totalitarianism both secular and sectarian. To wit, he writes that "all mass movements strive to impose a fact proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. And, that that faith becomes the things the fanatic declines to see. He avers how startling it is to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible, and that faith manifests itself not in moving mountains, but in not seeing mountains move. He say's that in the context of mass movement's faith should not be judged by its profundity, sublimity, or truth but by how thoroughly it insulates the individual from himself and the world as it is."
A faith which has leaders that lay the blame for all the ills of the world on "others" (especially the on non-believers or other forces of "evil") is particularly attractive to those who view their own lot in life as hopeless and stagnant.

The author of the editorial (the title of which is "Somalia: The Secularists Sleep, the Zealots Are Full of a Passionate Intensity") plays off of W. B. Yeat's lines from "The Second Coming"-
...Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
As Hoffer sets out, it logically should be the case that the fanatics are full of passionate intensity:
One of the rules that emerges from a consideration of the factors that promote self-sacrifice is that we are less ready to die for what we have or are than for what we wish to have and to be. It is a perplexing and unpleasant truth that when men already have "something worth fighting for," they do not feel like fighting...Craving, not having is the mother of reckless giving of oneself.
Frustrated people will blow themselves up in a quest to attain the vision of paradise. While suicide bombers make little sense to Americans, who have much to live for, they are perfectly sensible to those who see no fulfillment on earth, but only in the next world where such sacrifice will be rewarded.

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