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Terrorist Psyches, Individual Morality and Dilemmas

The prior history of humanity is replete with honest zealots who stood up to the tyrannies and wrongdoings of monarchs and dictators. Sinuhe in Egypt, Vidur and Vibhushana and recently Gandhi in Indian history, The prophets in old Israel and some saints in Christianity, Thomas Moore in England are outstanding examples of ethical persons rebelling against contemporary power structures with intentions to right grievous wrongs at the cost of sacrificing their own lives.

The founders of the Muslim brotherhood though blinded by religious bigotry and a misguided vision of Islam are other examples. Unfortunately there is now a paradigm shift in Islam, as Kuhn would put it. Never in the prior history of mankind has there been a rich individual who has opted to reject the benefits of wealth and use his resources to start a Jihad at the cost of loss of wealth and life. This new development presents a formidable challenge to the West, which has enriched itself at the cost of exploiting the ignorant as any group of people are likely to do under similar circumstances. In the past the tendency of the rebels was to be masochistic and suffer personal privations or annihilation for a just cause. The new paradigm is to inflict severe harm to any and all of the citizens of the dominating group as the recent murders of Americans in Afghanistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia demonstrate. The attacks against Chinese in Indonesia and Indians in Nepal are variations of the same theme.

The new paradigm derives from a modification of an old theme in one of Milton's sonnets. "They also serve who only stand and wait" and thus those who passively benefit from exploitation out of ignorance or acquiescence are deemed equally responsible and not exempt from the horrific consequences of the terrorists' new morality. This in the long run is likely to educate and enliven political awareness in the relatively ignorant masses and may even alter national policies in the long run, though causing reflex jingoism and hatred with resultant power projection and retaliatory atrocities in the short run.

One can argue whether this shift in outlook is unique to the nature of Islam or the relentless exploitation of the natural resources of regions where Islam is prevalent with the tacit collaboration of their corrupt rulers. Its all-inclusive prescriptions for every minutiae of life with blind subservience to ancient dogma, unmodified by time and knowledge is certainly an important contributory factor. The curse of all religions is blind dogma. Hinduism escaped that to some extent due to its relative open-mindedness.
Judaism has been remolded by the fire of a minority status and centuries of discrimination, to adapt and reject hampering tenets. Christianity in Western Europe has become modernized and pragmatic. Only in America, a so-called literate society are there, a significant number of stupid people who tout creationism and reject Darwin's theory of evolution.

Thus the clash of civilizations that Samuel Huntington wrote about is between two Neanderthal forces of Middle Eastern Islam and Christian America. From the point of view of the rest of the civilized world, it is not necessarily bad as it pits two destructive and harmful forces against each other resulting in trimming their sails to allow the rest to proceed on a more harmonious path. Unfortunately America fails to notice this and many of its good aspects and prior unintended virtues are destined for rejection. Just like the baby with the bathwater. I am not imputing virtue to American policies but its stance against fascism and communism has done inadvertent good to much of the world, despite its uncharitable intentions like Adam Smith's invisible hand.

The natural ignorance and prevalent apathy of the average American, overworked to make two ends meet and time and intellect constrained to be trapped in abysmal ignorance and fed lies by a biased and manipulating self-serving press leaves him or her bewildered at the hostility prevalent towards him or her in the rest of the world. Ultimately the exploitation by the privileged minority very soon will lead to dire consequences to jolt him ore her into a revolt and may even lead to understanding, though I do not have high hopes of that. This is not some condemnation of America but a reality of human nature everywhere in the world. Only Europeans seem to evolve intellectually in spite of their xenophobia and racism. The dilemma in America is that the guilt of past actions would lead to severe psychopathology and even worse a severe curtailment of living standards, both unacceptable. So like India and Hinduism with its philosophy of 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam' and renunciation, the average citizen is guided by short term self-interest oblivious to long-term consequences fulfilling the tenets of evolution and the Hobbesian statement that it is better that the whole world be destroyed rather than I lose my little finger.

It is convenient and easy to pontificate from the plinth of criticism and foolhardy to espouse liberal values in the face of dastardly terrorism. Let us however take a lesson from current history and Thucydide's thesis of evolution of government and realize that these transient perversions of Islamic theocracy are destined for the dust-heap of history, as Iran is proving. I am painfully aware of the risks of a nuclear Iran, but I still believe it will not be a serious threat to America and the economic failures of the hard- ine Iranian government will lead to its rejection. Iranian nukes are a greater threat to Russia, India and even Pakistan with its internecine warfare between Shias and Sunnis.

Israel is fully capable of taking care of its own survival. The greatest worry for America is the self-serving Saudi government and those of the monarchic Gulf States, which in an attempt to lend legitimacy to their corrupt status bribe its Imams to lend it legitimacy and promote radical Islam the world over. However crazy it may sound the evolution of populations and government is a process that cannot be managed by outside forces anywhere including Afghanistan and Iraq. Our resounding and ricocheting failures in Central and South America should have taught us this important lesson. The extremist Islamists must be permitted to rule and fail. That is not to say that we should not combat terrorism. Emmannuel Todd's book 'After the Empire' promotes a refreshingly new perspective on this knotty problem.

Not all problems can be solved by might. Those who try to do so are destined to hit the Lakshman Rekha of their limitations and the inevitable failure. Unfortunately despite the repeated lessons of history from the Peloponnesian War onwards nations because of their hubris never learn and history repeats itself from tragedy to farce.     


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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