Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Postmodern Jihad: What Osama bin Laden learned from the Left.
The Weekly Standard ^ | 11/26/2001 | Waller R. Newell

Posted on 11/17/2001 11:34:38 AM PST by Pokey78

MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN about Osama bin Laden's Islamic fundamentalism; less about the contribution of European Marxist postmodernism to bin Laden's thinking. In fact, the ideology by which al Qaeda justifies its acts of terror owes as much to baleful trends in Western thought as it does to a perversion of Muslim beliefs. Osama's doctrine of terror is partly a Western export.

To see this, it is necessary to revisit the intellectual brew that produced the ideology of Third World socialism in the 1960s. A key figure here is the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), who not only helped shape several generations of European leftists and founded postmodernism, but also was a leading supporter of the Nazis. Heidegger argued for the primacy of "peoples" in contrast with the alienating individualism of "modernity." In order to escape the yoke of Western capitalism and the "idle chatter" of constitutional democracy, the "people" would have to return to its primordial destiny through an act of violent revolutionary "resolve."

Heidegger saw in the Nazis just this return to the blood-and-soil heritage of the authentic German people. Paradoxically, the Nazis embraced technology at its most advanced to shatter the iron cage of modernity and bring back the purity of the distant past. And they embraced terror and violence to push beyond the modern present--hence the term "postmodern"--and vault the people back before modernity, with its individual liberties and market economy, to the imagined collective austerity of the feudal age.

This vision of the postmodernist revolution went straight from Heidegger into the French postwar Left, especially the works of Jean-Paul Sartre, eager apologist for Stalinism and the Cultural Revolution in China. Sartre's prot g , the Algerian writer Frantz Fanon, crystallized the Third World variant of postmodernist revolution in "The Wretched of the Earth" (1961). From there, it entered the world of Middle Eastern radicals. Many of the leaders of the Shiite revolution in Iran that deposed the modernizing shah and brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to power in 1979 had studied Fanon's brand of Marxism. Ali Shari'at, the Sorbonne-educated Iranian sociologist of religion considered by many the intellectual father of the Shiite revolution, translated "The Wretched of the Earth" and Sartre's "Being and Nothingness into Persian." The Iranian revolution was a synthesis of Islamic fundamentalism and European Third World socialism.

In the postmodernist leftism of these revolutionaries, the "people" supplanted Marx's proletariat as the agent of revolution. Following Heidegger and Fanon, leaders like Lin Piao, ideologist of the Red Guards in China, and Pol Pot, student of leftist philosophy in France before becoming a founder of the Khmer Rouge, justified revolution as a therapeutic act by which non-Western peoples would regain the dignity they had lost to colonial oppressors and to American-style materialism, selfishness, and immorality. A purifying violence would purge the people of egoism and hedonism and draw them back into a primitive collective of self-sacrifice.

MANY ELEMENTS in the ideology of al Qaeda--set forth most clearly in Osama bin Laden's 1996 "Declaration of War Against America"--derive from this same mix. Indeed, in Arab intellectual circles today, bin Laden is already being likened to an earlier icon of Third World revolution who renounced a life of privilege to head for the mountains and fight the American oppressor, Che Guevara. According to Cairo journalist Issandr Elamsani, Arab leftist intellectuals still see the world very much in 1960s terms. "They are all ex-Sorbonne, old Marxists," he says, "who look at everything through a postcolonial prism."

Just as Heidegger wanted the German people to return to a foggy, medieval, blood-and-soil collectivism purged of the corruptions of modernity, and just as Pol Pot wanted Cambodia to return to the Year Zero, so does Osama dream of returning his world to the imagined purity of seventh-century Islam. And just as Fanon argued that revolution can never accomplish its goals through negotiation or peaceful reform, so does Osama regard terror as good in itself, a therapeutic act, quite apart from any concrete aim. The willingness to kill is proof of one's purity.

According to journalist Robert Worth, writing in the New York Times on the intellectual roots of Islamic terror, bin Laden is poorly educated in Islamic theology. A wealthy playboy in his youth, he fell under the influence of radical Arab intellectuals of the 1960s who blended calls for Marxist revolution with calls for a pure Islamic state.

Many of these men were imprisoned and executed for their attacks on Arab regimes; Sayyid Qutb, for example, a major figure in the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, was executed in Egypt in 1965. But their ideas lived on. Qutb's intellectual progeny included Fathi Yakan, who likened the coming Islamic revolution to the French and Russian revolutions, Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian activist killed in a car bombing in 1989, and Safar Al-Hawali, a Saudi fundamentalist frequently jailed by the Saudi government. As such men dreamed of a pure Islamic state, European revolutionary ideology was seldom far from their minds. Wrote Fathi Yakan, "The groundwork for the French Revolution was laid by Rousseau, Voltaire and Montesquieu; the Communist Revolution realized plans set by Marx, Engels and Lenin....The same holds true for us as well."

The influence of Qutb's "Signposts on the Road" (1964) is clearly traceable in pronouncements by Islamic Jihad, the group that would justify its assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981 as a step toward ending American domination of Egypt and ushering in a pure Islamic order. In the 1990s, Islamic Jihad would merge with al Qaeda, and Osama's "Declaration of War Against America" in turn would show an obvious debt to the Islamic Jihad manifesto "The Neglected Duty."

It can be argued, then, that the birthplace of Osama's brand of terrorism was Paris 1968, when, amid the student riots and radical teach-ins, the influence of Sartre, Fanon, and the new postmodernist Marxist champions of the "people's destiny" was at its peak. By the mid '70s, according to Claire Sterling's "The Terror Network," "practically every terrorist and guerrilla force to speak of was represented in Paris. . . . The Palestinians especially were there in force." This was the heyday of Yasser Arafat's terrorist organization Al Fatah, whose 1968 tract "The Revolution and Violence" has been called "a selective precis of 'The Wretched of the Earth.'"

While Al Fatah occasionally still used the old-fashioned Leninist language of class struggle, the increasingly radical groups that succeeded it perfected the melding of Islamism and Third World socialism. Their tracts blended Heidegger and Fanon with calls to revive a strict Islamic social order. "We declare," says the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah in its "Open Letter to the Downtrodden in Lebanon and the World" (1985), "that we are a nation that fears only God" and will not accept "humiliation from America and its allies and the Zionist entity that has usurped the sacred Islamic land." The aim of violent struggle is "giving all our people the opportunity to determine their fate." But that fate must follow the prescribed course: "We do not hide our commitment to the rule of Islam, . . . which alone guarantees justice and dignity for all and prevents any new imperialist attempt to infiltrate our country. . . . This Islamic resistance must . . . with God's help receive from all Muslims in all parts of the world utter support."

These 1980s calls to revolution could have been uttered last week by Osama bin Laden. Indeed, the chief doctrinal difference between the radicals of several decades ago and Osama only confirms the influence of postmodernist socialism on the latter: Whereas Qutb and other early Islamists looked mainly inward, concentrating on revolution in Muslim countries, Osama directs his struggle primarily outward, against American hegemony. While for the early revolutionaries, toppling their own tainted regimes was the principal path to the purified Islamic state, for Osama, the chief goal is bringing America to its knees.

THE RELATIONSHIP between postmodernist European leftism and Islamic radicalism is a two-way street: Not only have Islamists drawn on the legacy of the European Left, but European Marxists have taken heart from Islamic terrorists who seemed close to achieving the longed-for revolution against American hegemony. Consider Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, two leading avatars of postmodernism. Foucault was sent by the Italian daily Corriere della Sera to observe the Iranian revolution and the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Like Sartre, who had rhapsodized over the Algerian revolution, Foucault was enthralled, pronouncing Khomeini "a kind of mystic saint." The Frenchman welcomed "Islamic government" as a new form of "political spirituality" that could inspire Western radicals to combat capitalist hegemony.

Heavily influenced by Heidegger and Sartre, Foucault was typical of postmodernist socialists in having neither concrete political aims nor the slightest interest in tangible economic grievances as motives for revolution. To him, the appeal of revolution was aesthetic and voyeuristic: "a violence, an intensity, an utterly remarkable passion." For Foucault as for Fanon, Hezbollah, and the rest down to Osama, the purpose of violence is not to relieve poverty or adjust borders. Violence is an end in itself. Foucault exalts it as "the craving, the taste, the capacity, the possibility of an absolute sacrifice." In this, he is at one with Osama's followers, who claim to love death while the Americans "love Coca-Cola."

Derrida, meanwhile, reacted to the collapse of the Soviet Union by calling for a "new international." Whereas the old international was made up of the economically oppressed, the new one would be a grab bag of the culturally alienated, "the dispossessed and the marginalized": students, feminists, environmentalists, gays, aboriginals, all uniting to combat American-led globalization. Islamic fundamentalists were obvious candidates for inclusion.

And so it is that in the latest leftist potboiler, "Empire," Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri depict the American-dominated global order as today's version of the bourgeoisie. Rising up against it is Derrida's "new international." Hardt and Negri identify Islamist terrorism as a spearhead of "the postmodern revolution" against "the new imperial order." Why? Because of "its refusal of modernity as a weapon of Euro-American hegemony."

"Empire" is currently flavor of the month among American postmodernists. It is almost eerily appropriate that the book should be the joint production of an actual terrorist, currently in jail, and a professor of literature at Duke, the university that led postmodernism's conquest of American academia. In professorial hands, postmodernism is reduced to a parlor game in which we "deconstruct" great works of the past and impose our own meaning on them without regard for the authors' intentions or the truth or falsity of our interpretations. This has damaged liberal education in America. Still, it doesn't kill people--unlike the deadly postmodernism out there in the world. Heirs to Heidegger and his leftist devotees, the terrorists don't limit themselves to deconstructing texts. They want to deconstruct the West, through acts like those we witnessed on September 11.

What the terrorists have in common with our armchair nihilists is a belief in the primacy of the radical will, unrestrained by traditional moral teachings such as the requirements of prudence, fairness, and reason. The terrorists seek to put this belief into action, shattering tradition through acts of violent revolutionary resolve. That is how al Qaeda can ignore mainstream Islam, which prohibits the deliberate killing of noncombatants, and slaughter innocents in the name of creating a new world, the latest in a long line of grimly punitive collectivist utopias.

Waller R. Newell is professor of political science and philosophy at Carleton University in Ottawa.

TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; Front Page News; News/Current Events; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: binladen; lessons; redjihad; theleft; unholyalliance
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-4041-6061-78 last
To: Brian Allen
Sho 'nuff!
61 posted on 11/18/2001 6:21:40 PM PST by dennisw
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 45 | View Replies]

To: dennisw
Thanks Dennis.
62 posted on 11/18/2001 6:29:46 PM PST by Victoria Delsoul
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 60 | View Replies]

To: Victoria Delsoul

This how Osama Bin Laden will look soon. Che Guevara was Argentinian.

63 posted on 11/18/2001 7:02:36 PM PST by dennisw
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 62 | View Replies]

To: dennisw
Yes. Thank you, Dennis. Good job.
64 posted on 11/18/2001 7:08:26 PM PST by Victoria Delsoul
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 63 | View Replies]

To: denydenydeny
The Left has always valued "authenticity" and passion far more than it values human life, or even any specific political program.

That's because for them ideas are the only thing that matter, people are only there to put the ideas into practice.

65 posted on 11/18/2001 7:10:26 PM PST by Valin
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 50 | View Replies]

To: dennisw
Just as Heidegger wanted the German people to return to a foggy, medieval, blood-and-soil collectivism purged of the corruptions of modernity, and just as Pol Pot wanted Cambodia to return to the Year Zero, so does Osama dream of returning his world to the imagined purity of seventh-century Islam.

Just as I feared. And with the destruction of Israel, arabs hope to turn the clock back 6000 years before God gave the Tohra to the Jews. There is an angle where these people are extortioners by nature (they should not be called communists or Nazists but extortionists) , so that they want to turn the clock back to barbarity while keeping the technology or improving it (the Hitlerian model). Hence the blessings earned by goodness will be claimed by evil.

While I believe we face great dangers and Jiang's 1000 year of extortion reign, I do also believe that miracles do exist. Still, I am not going to be the one ready to try to extort heaven from God.

See you in the other life... maybe.

66 posted on 11/19/2001 1:16:34 AM PST by lavaroise
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 37 | View Replies]

To: dennisw
Thanks for the heads up on this. My only hope is that once through with the Islamic Terrorists we can then get to it with the academic terrorists in our Universities.

Stay well - Stay armed - Stay safe - Yorktown

67 posted on 11/19/2001 6:41:12 AM PST by harpseal
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 37 | View Replies]

Comment #68 Removed by Moderator

To: Pokey78
69 posted on 11/19/2001 7:14:13 AM PST by Valin
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: dennisw
Bump. One can never see too many pictures of dead Communists. ;^)
70 posted on 11/19/2001 8:20:07 AM PST by headsonpikes
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 63 | View Replies]

To: dennisw
bump for later; thanks, d.
71 posted on 11/19/2001 9:30:10 PM PST by Semaphore Heathcliffe
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 37 | View Replies]

To: Semaphore Heathcliffe
How goes it? You are one busy guy. I can tell by the way you cannot get to threads right away.

Have a good Thanksgiving and all.

72 posted on 11/19/2001 9:38:29 PM PST by dennisw
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 71 | View Replies]

To: dennisw
LOL. I've actually been slave to Age of Empires lately, only get around to FR when I'm not cutting great swaths through the Hittites.

And a Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

73 posted on 11/19/2001 9:47:17 PM PST by Semaphore Heathcliffe
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 72 | View Replies]

To: The Right Stuff
In part yes the machine collapses (the notion of entropy fits here), but another way to look at it.....If a crop fails in South Carolina, what is there to stop North Carolina from raising tarriffs....(The states cannot be soveriegn).

If a crop fails in Nicaragua what is there to stop Guatemala from raising tarriffs? (thus capitalizing on their misfortune) Central American Union would work.

If an Egalitarian system of economic policies is going to work, wether Capitalist, or Socialist, it must regard its neighbors as business partners, and political allies.

The anti-globalists are not protesting against a world state, they are protesting against corporations who profit in the absence of international peace. These corporations are the "warmakers", who make it their business to smash the machine in other states, so that their company can get richer.

Free trade and big business aren't bad things, but there is no political body capable of regulating what they do internationally. The situation is so bad in some places....WalMart employees in Burma make $.06/hour, Nike sweatshops in Vietnam are equally bad. OPEC is responsible for more international policy than any war party is, and so on and so forth.

Marx describes suicide as failure on the part of civilization as a whole. John Locke was also of the belief that crime is a byproduct of an unjust society, as opposed to just a Mad individual.

The investigator played the tape backward, starting from the time of death (of the suicide victim), searching for the actual cause of death, who or what caused the victims maddness. In conclusion he discovered that no one person or event could have prevented the suicide, but the entire civilization itself was responsible.

74 posted on 11/20/2001 4:33:57 PM PST by ramdalesh
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 46 | View Replies]

To: XBob

Pol Pot and his pals spent 20 years in the jungle trying to take power thru violence. Osama Bin Laden's doing the same in caves.

Open letter to the world. These creeps can not and will not bring America to her knees. Ain't gonna happen. There's a bigger possibility of Arabia becoming a glass coated parking lot than this happening.

75 posted on 07/10/2004 8:44:51 AM PDT by Jabba the Nutt
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: Pokey78

I think this article is fundamentally wrong.

Islamists have not completely distorted the religion of Islam as we'd like to imagine (that would certainly make ourselves feel more PC and more armed to fight this threat), but are actually traditionalists in nature.

The assertion that Osama bin Laden primarily wants to bring America to its knees is false.

Osama writes and speaks from the same fundamental viewpoint as Mawdudi, Taymiyyah and ultimately Qutb. It is an internal, domestic struggle.

They want to first bring the Middle East under their control in order to establish a one world Ummah or Islamic state which is ruled by a "rightly-guided" Calipha (much like the Pope) with strict adherence to Sharia (Islamic law).

In order to achieve this vast plan of one world worshipping Allah, they feel the must first conquer the regimes of the Middle East that are apostates.

In this calculation, they see the West as the foremost supporter of these regimes. So in order to bring down the Middle Easter governments, the Islamists targeted the United States in an attempt to bring instability to these regimes.

Osama bin Laden calculated that the US was really a "paper tiger" in nature. He felt the US would violently lash back after 9-11 and create what Huntington would call "A Clash of Civilizations." He thought we would immediately invade Arab countries releasing a pandora's box and that, because our society is extremely casualty-averse (as seen currently in the war in Iraq), we'd fold after we had some losses. And after we folded in the Middle East, they could set up shop.

He calculated wrong.

The idea of socialism sparks some Islamists to action, but the gather their ideas more so from the Quran rather than the West.

The Quran squelches individualism and glorifies building a hudud (wall) around their society to keep everyone in as a collective body.

I would hardly attribute so much of their rational calculations as a result of postmodernism. That's letting them off the hook too easily.

76 posted on 07/10/2004 7:03:37 PM PDT by AthenaUNC (
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Pokey78
Bump for an article that receives an interesting analysis here at blog
77 posted on 07/11/2004 1:09:35 AM PDT by beckett
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Calpernia

..... the leader was found to be a Spaniard who had converted
to Islam. His pre-Muslim background? Active in HB, the
political wing of the Marxist Basque-separatist terrorist group
ETA. That same day, I read about Hugo Chavez, the left wing
dictator of Venezuela, praising bin Laden.

The doors between Marxism and Islam, in other words, open
both ways .....

All of the world's terrorists are first and foremost, psychotic marxist
gangsters -- and _____________________ ... fill in the blank [Irish
"republican," for example] distant second.

Most, like the self-styled "i r a" have become so addicted to their
criminally-murderous ways -- robbing banks, trafficking drugs,
kneecapping, blowing the arms and legs off babies, little girls and
boys and little old ladies -- stuff like that -- that they probably don't
even remember about half of the time what they were supposed to be
about in the first place! And don't care!
44 posted on 11/18/2001 1:20:27 PM PST by Brian Allen
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies | Report Abuse

78 posted on 09/18/2004 7:04:11 AM PDT by nw_arizona_granny (On this day your Prayers are needed!!!!!!!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 44 | View Replies]

Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-4041-6061-78 last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson