In September 1990, an article appeared in The Atlantic entitled ‘The Roots of Muslim Rage’. Written by the leading scholar and influential academic, Bernard Lewis, in relatively close proximity to the Rushdie fatwa affair, the article was an eloquent (if too concessionary) attempt to decipher the nature of Islamic grievance towards the West.
Twenty five years later, these grievances remain, and events such as yesterday’s terror attack on Charlie Hebdo recall the need to try and understand them.
Apologists in both the press and the pub alike would, and no doubt will, blame post-imperial or colonial grievances. Others will perform the ‘not all Muslims’ trick; some will even stretch that as far as making the fatuous remark, ‘no true Muslim would commit these acts’.
Some will throw around the literally meaningless phrase, ‘Islamophobia’, perhaps pointing to the supposed rise of this vacuous term, to cull debate.
The problem is, these excuses are never really used by Islamic terrorists themselves. Outside of the bubble of columnists and gaggles of lefty moralists, these excuses never come up. You might hear the odd Islamist or confused liberal Muslim (is this a contradiction in terms?) babbling something about the “foreign policy” of that supposed supra-national and omnimalevolent entity, ‘the West’.
But even the arguments of this stripe boil down to painting all actions on an international level as falling within the remit of Christian “crusaders” invading or pillaging Muslim lands.
The grievances for which Charlie Hebdo was attacked were not invocations of Tony Blair, or ‘the neo-cons’, or WMD, or (contra the tawdry Chomskyite analysis of the Muslim world) the regnant inequalities of global capital. The grievances were that an integral component of a violent Islamic ideology was opposed, by representing Muhammad in the form of a cartoon.
As such, because somebody did something which most Muslims didn’t like, a particularly violent pair (or trio? At the time of typing, it still isn’t clear) of Muslims decided that the best response to this opposition would be to commit mass murder.
To recognize the real roots of Muslim grievance is to recognize the deep-set masochism of the masses of the Muslim world, owing to a lack of innovation, stultification of progress as a result of the demands of their religion, and the feeling of both individual and collective powerlessness which manifests itself as a response to this. The last time there was a genuinely innovative epoch in the Muslim world was during the Dark Ages of Europe.
This masochism is in turn propped up by the support of Western commentators in the guise of the narrative of victimhood. History, on the line peddled by morally confused supposed ‘liberals’, is reducible to the obvious fact that the Devil does exist, and he is a white, affluent male, It is his fault that the world is like it is. This narrative both absolves the Muslim world of all responsibility for itself and its present situation, while making vast allowances and concessions to it in light of this.
Instilled in this self-abjection is, ironically, a perverse sentiment for the tyrannical, stemming from a false, if religiously mandated, sense of entitlement. As well as being the unfortunate and blameless victims of every historical situation, Muslims not only see themselves as undeserving of the ‘oppression’ which they have largely created themselves, but also possess the warrant to try and oppress (and, in this case, suppress) others if something runs counter to the unbelievable claims and commands of the Koran.
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche characterized this curious amalgamation of drives, the internalizing of self-pity and victimhood combined with the lust for absolute control, as ressentiment. He argued that this mind-set could be (and indeed, is) capable of undermining and thereby overthrowing hitherto accepted socio-cultural norms.
While his discussion of the ‘revolt’ in moral customs was framed within the context of the Judeo-Christian worldview and its opposition to the Roman Empire, the exact same capacity could well be possible today, with the Muslim worldview in perhaps irreconcilable opposition to the secular, pluralistic, liberal and democratic Western world.
The severe manifestation of this grievance shows itself in events like the Charlie Hebdo killings yesterday. But it is not exclusive to its most extreme manifestations. Every time someone complains about the religious offensiveness caused by a cartoon, cries ‘racist’ when one points out the disproportionately high percentages of rapes committed by Muslim men in Europe, or any other such example (you can think of your own, no doubt), these are expressions of the same grievance, albeit far less extreme.
The Muslim world that Bernard Lewis’s original article described nearly twenty five years ago would look largely identical to the Muslim world today. Perhaps it is worth seriously asking why that is.