is the first of the three essays I promised yesterday.
On Monday, under the heading 'An Oldie But Goodie', Pejman Yousefzadeh ('PejmanPundit') praised a piece by David Pryce-Jones from last November and quoted a paragraph on the unIslamic sinfulness of the 9/11 terrorists:
To judge by their reported conduct, the recent suicide bombers were living in an atmosphere that had nothing to do with Islam. According to Islamic teaching, whoever commits suicide is condemned to hell. Their central purpose, then, was contrary to their religion. They had shaved off their beards, they spent time in bars, they became drunk, they frequented strip clubs. They carried rolls of hundred dollar bills and spent them ostentatiously. We may suppose that at some level, consciously or unconsciously, they were enjoying the America they were planning to destroy. For it is here, in a most complex relationship of attraction and repulsion, that we must begin to understand the motivations of the terrorists, and so frame our responses.
I share Pejman's admiration for the piece, and the paragraph quoted. (The New Criterion is my favorite journal. Well, except for Classical Quarterly, but they compete in different leagues.)
However, I also have a hypothesis that I think will go far towards explaining the contradiction. Unfortunately, it would take a Mediaeval historian (and perhaps an abnormal psychologist) to prove it.
It seems to me that the best recruit for a suicide bombing mission would be someone who (a) believes in Heaven and Hell (or their Muslim equivalents), (b) knows that he has been too wicked to have much chance of getting into Heaven without special dispensation, and (c) is bold and willing to gamble. All you need then is to provide the special dispensation, the 'Get Out of Hell Free' card, to convince him that even a life of beer and bacon, lapdances and MTV, even being the worst Muslim in the world, will not keep him out of Heaven, as long as he takes some infidels with him -- to death, I mean, not Heaven.
The very enormity of the method proposed makes it more plausible. If the Mullah, or whoever recruited him, were to say that any sinner can get into Heaven by chanting some special prayer 5000 times, he wouldn't believe it. But airplane hijacking, suicide bombing, and mass murder: those are tasks for the special few.
Boldness, risk-taking, and hell-raising do tend to go together, so I imagine it's the faith that needs the most work. Even that might not be too difficult. For a weak-willed but devout Muslim who can't keep his hands off the hookers and gin but suffers intense feelings of guilt and extreme desperation afterwards, any way out would begin to look attractive. Even if he suspected in his heart that he was just heading off to oblivion, suicide bombing might well be an attractive choice. All the more so, in that he would be taking with him dozens of beer-drinking, porkchop-eating, not-even-close-to-virgins-when-they-married infidels, who are not even ashamed of their depravity, but wallow in it like, well, hogs. (Sorry, I'm getting a little carried away with the empathy for depravity here. Side-effect of a Catholic upbringing?)
The last-minute (or rather night-before) drinking and whoring is unsurprising, too, at least in retrospect, for a combination of reasons. It would help to close off the alternatives, as they steeled themselves not to turn back. It would provide a fresh and vivid reminder of what they hate (but can't resist) about the Western culture they aim to destroy. (There's nothing like a hangover to make one feel more homicidal.) Not least, it would give them a last chance to have some cheap, sleazy fun before heading for Heaven or oblivion, as the case may be.
Is there any evidence for my theory? It's been a very long time, but I think I have read that some Mediaeval Christians went on crusades for similar reasons. If you killed your brother, married his widow, and took his kingdom, like Claudius in Hamlet, and later suffered feelings of guilt and anxiety about your soul's fate, you might well think death at the hands of Saladin and his merry men an appropriate and desirable end, as long as it came with a plenary indulgence attached. (Come to think of it, Macbeth is a good example of the criminal with a conscience longing for death, though he expects no reward for dying bravely.)
My theory needs further development, with specific historical examples and psychological analysis, but I think it is sound overall.Posted by Dr. Weevil at March 13, 2002 10:20 PM