In a postmortem (literally) of the Red Mosque incident in Pakistan, Lee Harris expounds on the importance of referring to fanatics and their followers by their rightful names.
After a week-long attempt to reach a compromise, Pakistani troops attacked the Red Mosque in Islamabad, where the radical cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi and his followers had barricaded themselves in, armed with machine guns, rocket launchers, and gasoline bombs. The assault by the government of President Pervez Musharraf was clearly an act of desperation. Early in the crisis, Musharraf had promised that he would not storm the mosque so long as women and children were inside. It is possible that Musharraf may have had a genuine humanitarian concern to spare innocent lives, but it is far more likely that his promise was based on his well-grounded fear that a massive blood-letting at the Red Mosque would create a situation that would further endanger the survival of his already very shaky government.
Meanwhile we in the West stand by and watch. Again, we are baffled and perplexed by events in the Muslim world to which it is very difficult for us to comprehend, or even to relate to. Our perplexity is expressed even in the very names we use to refer to Abdul Rashid Ghazi and his followers.Harris goes on to illustrate the difference between a ‘supporter’ and ‘follower’; between a ‘militant’ and a ‘fanatic,’ noting that most Big Media agencies are loath to use ‘follower’ and ‘fanatic’ when describing the actions of persons like Ghazi and his followers. He calls it political correctness, of course, but sees something more in the practice of using less incendiary words to describe those who have incendiary agendas.
When we use words like supporter in place of follower, and militant in place of fanatic, we are engaging in verbal apotropaism—a rare, but helpful word that is defined as "the performance of magic ritual or incantatory formulas to avert evil." When people who really believe in the Devil call him by an affectionate term like Old Nick, they are using an apotropaic device. Instead of running the risk of calling the Devil by his right name, and having him suddenly appear with horns and tail, they refer to him by a less threatening title, one that sounds positively endearing. In short, human beings have always used apotropaic rituals and formulas to ward off that which we fear the most; and we in the West are still doing it today.
In The Suicide of Reason, I write that in the contemporary West fanatics like Abdul Rashid like Ghazi and his followers have become "incomprehensibly alien to us. They do not conform to our expectation of normal human behavior; indeed, they shatter all such expectations. They fill us with panic and anxiety....To relieve this panic and anxiety we must either ignore them or else force them to fit into a category of human action with which we do feel comfortable—all in an effort to make their uncanniness less threatening to our comfortable vision of the world."Fear, itself.
Harris goes further, expressing his ominous outlook for Pakistan and for the larger Islamic world and makes the case that fanaticism is an endemic part of Islam.
Few in the West would be willing to see Pakistan plunged into civil war and/or anarchy. Yet the same cannot be said of the Pakistanis themselves. Abdul Ghazi, his followers, and those who sympathize with his cause throughout Pakistan would no doubt like to impose a Taliban-like government for their nation, as their record makes clear. [SNIP]
They know that by creating enough turmoil, by forcing the government to respond brutally, by amassing the bodies of martyrdom inside the Red Mosque, they will succeed, though to us in the West their "success" will strike us demented, insane, pointless, and utterly irrational. Like the "militants" who bomb mosques and crowds in Iraq, they are not seeking an objective that we in the West can understand. For them, the disruption of society is not a means to an end; it is an end in itself. Hence the futility of the attempt to reach a settlement with fanatics—they can hardly be expected to compromise for the sake of the very status quo that they are prepared to die to tear asunder. [SNIP]
Islamic fanaticism has a historical depth in Muslim culture; it was present at the creation of these cultures, and that makes it radically distinct from the threats posed in the last century by Italian fascism, Nazism, or Soviet Communism, all of which, by their own claims, represented a new departure, a revolutionary transformation of both society and culture. [SNIP]
[Islamic fanaticism] is not an innovation, but a restoration.Can we all admit that many of Islam’s adherents are bent on conversion or destruction—even for nominal members of their own religion? I think that we can. However, I don’t think that many of us want to entertain the notion that, because of the very notions which existed in the founding of the religion, the Islamic world is incapable of changing. After all, the collective West has committed countless atrocities, often perpetrated in the name of the philosophies on which its various societies were founded.
But when those societies and cultures began to remember and review those philosophies—those which hold reason, liberty, free inquiry, etc. in the highest esteem--they, too, began to revert to the principles contained therein. (Exhibit A: the Civil Rights Movement.) And now, since those philosophies are parts of our collective mindset, many of us cannot even comprehend that there is a whole society out there which subscribes to other existential notions--hence, the creation of the euphemism "Religion of Peace" (yes, him too).
Peace for whom?
If what Harris says is true, the enmity between the Islamic world and everyone else will only get worse, in spite of the existence of many Muslims who aren’t fanatics. If Islam is founded in radicalism, then no amount of wishing can change that. We can only wait and see.
And remember, it’s no sin to be afraid. It’s what one does in the face of fear that makes the difference.
UPDATE: Musharraf plays into the fanatics' hands--but what choice did he have?
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Thousands of soldiers rolled across northwestern Pakistan on Friday, a day after President Gen. Pervez Musharraf vowed to follow the storming of Islamabad's Red Mosque by eliminating extremism from "every corner" of the country. [SNIP]
Officials said thousands of soldiers were deploying to various parts of North West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan and where militant groups are increasingly active.