Sunday, November 13, 2005

The London bombers' pedigree owes more to Western culture than the Koran

Homo sum; humani nil a me alienum puto

The Roman playwright Terence observed that nothing human was foreign to him. According to this principle, the actions of suicide bombers in London, however terrible, are nonetheless explicable in terms of our common humanity.

In the aftermath of the suicide bombings in London on 7 July 2005, many ascribed the actions of the perpetrators to an indecipherable alien culture which has taken root within the geographical boundaries of the UK while remaining foreign to the British way of life and to the human condition in general. Senior Tory Lord Tebbit, with his comments about alienated Muslims failing the 'cricket test', was only a case in point.

As the bells of St Paul's cathedral toll for the victims of 7/7, instead of Tebbit's cricket test, I will take the Terence test. I will attempt to show that underlying London's suicide bombers is a sensibility that is in substantial part patterned by Western culture - that it was rooted more in 'Creative Britain' and its domestic discontents than in the distant Arabian deserts of a foreign, Oriental past. Furthermore, even as their actions were exceptional and in all likelihood extremely isolated, the sensibility of London's suicide bombers is in accordance with the general characteristics of Western culture in its alienation from itself. Those elements in their thought and action with formal origins in the East, can only be accorded secondary status.

According to my reading, precedents for London's bombers were set by the likes of the Unabomber - the lone, American terrorist who sent mail bombs to prominent technologists in a deranged 'revolution' against both industry and politics. The London suicide bombings are further from nineteenth-century Russia or late twentieth-century Palestine than from the Columbine High School killings in the USA on 20 April 1999, when, after the bombs they had planted failed to explode, two teenagers shot dead 13 people before committing suicide.

The events of 7/7 are explicable in terms of a Western psyche which is informed as much by icons of self-alienation such as Joy Division's Ian Curtis, who hanged himself, and Kurt Cobain, who shot himself, as by the prophet Mohammed; or, rather, insofar as the prophet appears as a necessary element in the attempt to understand this horrific story, he does so as an icon within self-alienated popular culture, just as Marilyn Manson may have figured in the Goth subculture which informed the Columbine High School killings. By the same token, if I focus on what might be described as the 'soul' of the suicide bombers, in doing so I show that this 'soul' is not a spectral phenomenon but an attribute derived from the specific, historical conditions of Western capitalism early in the twenty-first century. Others have commented on the political economy of recent terrorism, locating it in 'the network society' and comparing it to the operations of a 'virtual corporation'. On spiked, Brendan O'Neill has established the social composition of those identified with al-Qaeda, identifying the privileged, metropolitan background which many experienced and only subsequently spurned (see British-born bombers: not so shocking).

UK prime minister Tony Blair, on the other hand, in describing suicide bombing as a product of 'evil ideology', has attempted to locate it in 'another country' of times past, alien to the post-ideological, anti-political, multicultural nation of Britain today. He wants us to distinguish between politics (bad) and culture, which is sometimes expressed as religious faith (good). But the London bombs of 7/7 were themselves anti-political; and, as in the ethos of Blair's own government, 'culture' is the key idea in the sensibility informing such actions. As with New Labour so in the terrorist mindset, the cultural becomes the only mode of thinking available. And if life is reducible to meaning, as in today's orthodoxy, then it is reasonable that for some - thankfully, only a few - it can only acquire meaning through death and destruction.

In my drawing of it, there is a line of cultural logic, though neither straight nor inevitable, linking the Absolute Beginners of Colin MacInnes eponymous novel (1959) of the emerging metropolitan teenager in his alienation from Western adulthood, with the Absolutist Beginners of 7/7 in their dual alienation both from 'Western civilisation' and the established - with 'Cool Britannia' it became establishment - teenage rejection of it.

The Outsiders

The essential connection between them is the status which both accord to 'the outsider': in Soho on the cusp of the 1960s, the sacred texts were Colin Wilson's The Outsider, and The Outsider by Albert Camus, which offered, respectively, biographical and fictional role models of alienation; half a century later, in the same sort of way the Koran is worn as a badge of alienation from, to paraphrase Blur, the rubbish that is modern life.

All these texts are articles of faithlessness in 'the modern world' and its associated values. Each offers a fantastic form of alienation, which is nonetheless rooted in real circumstances: among Islamists, the performance of reverence for the virtuous life and teachings of Mohammed offers a virtual reality comparable to that of coffee-bar 'existentialism' nearly 50 years ago.

The cult status of the outsider is common to both. There are also differences between them, however, and some of these are prompted by the growing difficulty of achieving the nirvana of alienation. Half a century ago, gyrating Elvis Presley was hip enough to alienate Mum and Dad and thereby identify his fans as 'alienated youth'. Nowadays, when even the prime minister identifies himself as 'of the rock'n'roll generation', in this role rock and all related music is dead.

Then and now, the mistake is to take protestations of alienation at face value. Here, theorists of youth culture have made the same kind of error as Norman Tebbit. Of course, if someone says they are rebelling against 'waddya got?', as Marlon Brando said in The Wild One and as is being said by young Britons in their adoption of Islam, then they clearly see themselves as being outside the society in which we all necessarily participate. What remains unclear both to 'rebellious youth', whether in leather jackets or religious garb, and to most of those observing them, is that the desire to be an outsider is not itself external to society but immanent within contradictory social relations. Moreover, this contradiction and the increasing difficulty of managing it, has been discernible not only in domestic teenage culture throughout the second half of the twentieth century but, well before that, in the culture of the Western elite since the First World War.

Much more here

The Homosexual Propaganda Machine

In a blatant violation of journalistic ethics, Time magazine assigned a homosexual reporter, John Cloud, to write the recent Time cover story on homosexual teenagers but did not disclose his conflict of interest to its readers. The story, The Battle Over Gay Teens, was the cover story in the October 10 issue.

The National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality has denounced Cloud for having "a long history of promoting the gay political agenda while disguised as a mainstream reporter." It says that he used to work for the Washington City Paper, an alternative newsweekly, and authored a sympathetic look at gay bathhouses, where homosexuals have anonymous sex. Cloud has been given awards by the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

It's no surprise, therefore, that the 2004 GLAAD annual report reveals that the organization's corporate sponsors include Time, Inc. and Time Magazine, in addition to Time Warner, People Magazine, ABC News, Fox Entertainment Group, HBO, and MTV Networks.

Meanwhile, Peter LaBarbera, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, has brought to our attention the fact that last February the NewsHour on PBS featured essayist Richard Rodriguez favorably commenting on a book by C.A. Tripp that argued that "Lincoln was predominantly homosexual."

LaBarbera responded: "The sad truth is that homosexual historians like C.A. Tripp are now applying Alfred Kinsey's shoddy research methods to history-against heroes and national figures who cannot defend themselves from the grave. Every reputable Lincoln scholar dismisses the 'gay Lincoln' thesis as baseless; much of it arises from the application of decadent present-day values to a past age when homosexual behavior was universally regarded as taboo and an egregious sin. For example, every Lincoln historian without a "gay" agenda dismisses the notion that just because Lincoln bunked with his friend Joshua Speed (as many men did, due to a shortage of beds), it is evidence he was homosexual.

"Now, homosexual activists are routinely asserting as fact that 'Lincoln was gay,' just as they once lied about the 'fact' that 10 percent of the population was 'gay.' It is the duty of all reputable Lincoln historians to aggressively repudiate this lie and not to give in to current political correctness by treating it seriously. What a pity it will be if schoolchildren across the country are to be taught this falsehood-or even that Lincoln 'might have been gay'-in their studies of the 16th President."


Censored snacks

Panic: 'What's on your plate?' asks the British Heart Foundation (BHF) in a new campaign to encourage children to eat heathily. The campaign is accompanied by gruesome pictures, emblazoned with 'CENSORED', of what really goes into burgers, hot dogs and chicken nuggets. (Those children fascinated to know what got censored can easily view the pictures on the BHF website, clearly appealing to those kids who enjoy being grossed out.)

The BHF argues that obesity levels in children are rising, and it quotes figures suggesting that a further 440,000 children will be overweight or obese within two years. Children can't eat well, say the BHF, if they don't know what goes into their food, noting that a third of the children they asked didn't know what chips were made of.

Don't panic: While there is evidence that the very overweight have an increased relative risk of heart disease, the precise causes of both heart disease and obesity remain elusive. Simplistic campaigns like this one only increase anxiety while doing little to improve health outcomes.

While the BHF feverishly campaigns against 'junk' food, it is worth noting the BHF's own report on cardiovascular disease (CVD), which notes that 'Death rates from CVD have been falling in the UK since the early 1970's. For people under 75 years, they have fallen by 36 per cent in the last 10 years'. Heart disease is the main cause of death in the UK but it overwhelmingly kills in old age.

As for our diets, there is no such thing as 'junk' food. All the foods mentioned by the BHF are perfectly nutritious. It is not healthy to eat one kind of food to the exclusion of others, but as long as there is some variety in the diet, children will generally thrive perfectly well on what some might consider 'crap'.

While many of the ingredients in 'junk food' may not look particularly appetising in their unprocessed state, this does not mean that they aren't nutritious. In a country not blessed historically with a wide range of foodstuffs, the imaginative use of the 'unattractive bits' has been central to British cooking. Much of what the BHF turns its nose up at, is served as haute cuisine at restaurants like St John in London.


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