Peter Preston wrote a piece for The Guardian that appeared on September 6, entitled Writing the script for terror. He is incredulous of the idea that the Beslan Massacre was the work of international terrorism. He is also patronizing toward Tom Clancy, which is easy to do, but ill-informed: Clancy's novel, Rainbow Six, described a school hostage taking and the sort of force needed to deal with it, a point worthy of attention. Chiefly, though, he implies that the best way to deal with incidents like Beslan is not to report them, or at least not to report them so prominently:
For the difficult, inescapable thing, watching those pictures, is an eery feeling of manipulation. Somebody planned this and reckoned the cameras would be there....Two bleak things follow. One is that - whether or not it exists on any organised level - we shall gradually come to identify a force called international terrorism, a force defined not by the coordination of its strikes or creeds but by the orchestration of its inhuman propaganda. I manipulate, therefore I exist...The other thing is self-knowledge for media-makers and media-watchers.
Certainly the Islamofascist strategy is based on creating spectacles. However, I don't think that "we shall gradually come to identify a force" behind this propaganda. I think the force has done a pretty good job of identifying itself.
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The strangely ubiquitous David Brooks writes in The New York Times (September 7) about this force:
We should by now have become used to the death cult that is thriving at the fringes of the Muslim world. This is the cult of people who are proud to declare, "You love life, but we love death." This is the cult that sent waves of defenseless children to be mowed down on the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq war, that trains kindergartners to become bombs, that fetishizes death, that sends people off joyfully to commit mass murder.
This cult attaches itself to a political cause but parasitically strangles it. The death cult has strangled the dream of a Palestinian state. The suicide bombers have not brought peace to Palestine; they've brought reprisals. The car bombers are not pushing the U.S. out of Iraq; they're forcing us to stay longer. The death cult is now strangling the Chechen cause, and will bring not independence but blood.
This new phenomenon is just as nightmarish as Brooks suggests. However, if it's a cult, it's a cult without an essential theology. The massacres are apocalyptic, both in the popular sense of indiscriminately destructive, and in the scholarly sense of revealing the insubstantiality of the ordinary world. However, the death cult seems to be only incidentally related to eschatological belief systems. It's a mime, a ritual.
Nonetheless, I think I have some notion of what's going on here. In an e-book, I suggested that the final phase in the life of a great culture is a tendency toward pure destructiveness. I called that "The Terminal Apocalypse," to distinguish it from earlier versions of millenarianism, which are revolutionary and often creative. Of course, this tells us nothing about the subjective state of the people who experience this terminal mood. Brooks suggests this:
It's about massacring people while in a state of spiritual loftiness. It's about experiencing the total freedom of barbarism - freedom even from human nature, which says, Love children, and Love life. It's about the joy of sadism and suicide.
Maybe, but I would remind readers that people do the worst things for what they imagine to be the best reasons. The terminal apocalypse seems to have something to do with the spiritual autonomy sought by esoteric fascists: neither life nor death, nor the failure of all one's historical hopes, can deflect the adept from his course. He can be killed, but not defeated.
This brings us to the question of how to manage these people. Brooks says:
This death cult has no reason and is beyond negotiation. This is what makes it so frightening. This is what causes so many to engage in a sort of mental diversion. They don't want to confront this horror. So they rush off in search of more comprehensible things to hate.
It is not true that the followers of the death cult make no demands and cannot be negotiated with. As Anonymous tells us, al-Qaeda fundamentally wants the United States out of the Arabian Peninsula. That could be negotiated. The people who did Beslan want the Russians out of Chechnya. That could be negotiated, too. The problem is that the death cult is what its followers do, not what they want or believe.
Surrender doesn't help. The Russians actually tried that, after Yeltsin's first attempt to subdue Chechnya by force failed. They withdrew, in the expectation that a provisional government would form with which they could do business. What actually happened was that the state in Chechnya disappeared, and the chaos began to spill over into the neighboring areas of the Russian Federation. The state similarly disintegrated in Afghanistan, in Lebanon, in Somalia. The same would be true in Palestine, were it not for subventions from Europe.
The rubble produced by the death cult is contagious. Perhaps it, too, cannot be defeated, but only killed.
Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly