spiked | An explosion of pity

spiked | An explosion of pity
Brendan O’Neill has an interesting article on Devji’s book Landscapes of Jihad; in my opinion a must read (so when will I start reading it…)

Devji cuts through the two most common perceptions about al-Qaeda: that it is political or religious. In fact, he says, it cannot be understood as a political movement in any traditional sense; indeed, it has dispensed with ‘an old-fashioned politics tied to states and citizenship’ (1). It is not traditionally religious, either, he argues, in the sense that it does not follow any recognisable Islamic hierarchy and chops and changes the religious justifications for its actions.

Devji argues that al-Qaeda is better understood as a new global movement more interested in making ‘ethical’ gestures than winning territory or building a state. The contemporary jihad, he argues, ‘is more a product of the media than it is of any local tradition or situation and school or lineage of Muslim authority…. [T]he jihad itself can be seen as an offspring of the media, composed as it is almost completely of pre-existing media themes, images and stereotypes.’ (2)

Most of the London bombers’ acts of bonding occurred in public – not in mosques but on rafting expeditions and at ink-ball shooting games, in clubs and gyms. There is nothing traditionally religious, or private, about that.

‘These men do not cut themselves off from British society; instead their politics and their bonding are conducted in the full glare of public scrutiny. They are made by the world we live in.’

Devji says the London bombers, and other al-Qaeda-style terrorists, appear to be driven more by pity than political conviction or ambition – and that this, too, is a common trend today. ‘Pity can be dangerous, precisely because one is not personally involved in the suffering. One is acting, apparently, on behalf of others. You see this among leftist groups today, as well. It’s vicarious, it’s luxurious in a way, and luxuriant; it is also narcissistic. It is a very dangerous and bitter passion.

‘It is so impersonal, this kind of pity, that the terrorists seem to exhibit no hatred even towards their victims. Actually they blend in with them; they are like them. The London bombers didn’t have any history of exhibiting dislike or hatred, or removing themselves from British society. They got along fine with Britons and were exactly like them. It is precisely because the hatred and the pity is so abstract – so removed from traditional political or religious structures – that they seem not to be killing real people, in a sense. It is more abstract than that. These bombers really could say, “It’s nothing personal.”’

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