Tuesday, April 04, 2006

"[A] small man casting a large shadow"

Terrorism, that is, as described by Amba in reaction to this Dan Simmons essay/fiction piece.

In part, Amba writes:

Can they hurt us? Sure, and they surely will. Can they reestablish the Caliphate? Raucous laughter. The only way they'd have a glimmer of a chance of that would be if the West allows itself to be as bluffed and intimidated as Simmons. Terrorism is a small man casting a large shadow. We mustn't be so intimidated by the harm we have suffered and wall still suffer that we, cringing, hand over the keys. We must be vigilant and proactive, and we must be brave. We will suffer wounds, but they won't be fatal unless we succumb to hypochondria.

... We need security and tough precautions, but what we need most of all is utterly low-tech, has a zero dollar cost, and can be summed up in one word: COURAGE. We must not foolishly risk lives out of greed and shortsightedness, but at least as importantly, we must be ready to take casualties and not lose heart. ...

That goes to the heart of the challenge we face, and, more important, the moral imperative and bounden duty that, like it or not, those of us living in this time carry on behalf of future generations. Yes, these are complex times involving balancing acts on several fronts, but it still comes down to that.

Amba is also reacting to an interview from last week with Ali Eteraz, a Muslim and moderate who blogs here.

In re-reading that interview, I was struck anew by this:

Clearly, Islam is a source of conflict for you. That said, you wear that conflict as badge of honor. Why?

On one hand I can look at Islam and see a great violent monster. But that would be unfair to the Muslims who are genuinely oppressed around the world, whether from poverty, ignorance, remnants of neo-colonialism/hyper-capitalism. So, I end up having a lot of pity for Muslims as well. Obviously I don't have pity for the monsters. So, whatever conflict you see in me, is due to the fact that Islam itself has two faces: the bully face and the suffering face. In one of my first piece of writings I made a dichotomy between one of my aggressive cousins and one of my subordinate aunts. The reason I am conflicted is because they are both in my family.

But why do I consider such schizophrenia a badge of honor? Honestly, that's the question I have long wanted to answer. It's very simple: those that are actively engaged in manipulating Islam to their destructive ends, whether it be tyrants, or terrorists, subjectively believe themselves to be figures of grand-historical proportion; saviors of some kind. They are egomaniacs who think that their mission in the world, their destiny, is to do precisely the kind of tyranny and terror they are engaged in. For too long the Muslim response to such men has been to concede and submit in the face of their assertion. Me? I don't live on my knees. Me? I think *myself* to have my own grand-historical purpose in the world. Me? I think that if Muslims are going to do away with tyranny, they have to *build* their subjective egos so that they might be able to put the force of their personalities against the people who manipulate their faith. You know that Islam has an embedded tradition of spirituality. It's called tassawwuf. It means: self-purification. For the longest time, self-purification has meant: emptying yourself of everything so that nothing remains. The problem is, 'nothing' cannot combat tyrants and terror. Nothing cannot write. Nothing is silence. ...

His answer to that question continues, and there is so much more to ponder in the whole interview.

And at Amba’s place, an interesting conversation is developing in the comments thread. Historians, in particular, might want to dip in.