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The Age of Anger
Posted on Jun 11, 2017
By Chris Hedges
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution in Iran, for example, borrowed liberally from Western ideas, including representation through elections, egalitarianism and Vladimir Lenin’s revolutionary vanguard, which was adapted for a Muslim world. Nishida Kitaro and Watsuji Tetsuro of Japan’s Kyoto School, steeped in the romantic nationalism of German philosophers such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte, transformed the glorification of the German nation into a glorification of imperial Japan. They “provided the intellectual justification for Japan’s brutal assault on China in the 1930s, and then the sudden attack on its biggest trading partner in December 1941—at Pearl Harbor.” South Asia’s most important writer and scholar, Muhammad Iqbal, provided a “Nietzschean vision of Islam revivified by strong self-creating Muslims.” And the Chinese scholar Lu Xun called for Chinese to exhibit the “indomitable will exemplified by Zarathustra.” These bastard ideologies cloaked themselves in the veneer of indigenous religious traditions and beliefs. But they were new creations, born out of the schöpferische Zerstörung, or the “gale of creative destruction,” of global capitalism.
Nowhere is this more true than with the modern calls for jihad by self-styled Islamic radicals, most of whom have no religious training and who often come out of the secularized criminal underworld. The jihadist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, nicknamed “the sheikh of slaughterers” in Iraq, had, as Mishra writes, “a long past of pimping, drug-dealing and heavy drinking.” The Afghan-American Omar Mateen reportedly was a frequenter of the nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where he massacred 49 people and had been seen there drunk. Anwar al-Awlaki, who preached jihad and was eventually assassinated by the United States, had a penchant for prostitutes. Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, a senior leader of Islamic State before he was killed, called on Muslims in the West to kill any non-Muslim they encountered. “Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison,” al-Adnani told followers.
The idea of Mikhail Bakunin’s “propaganda by deed” is, Mishra writes, “now manifest universally in video-taped, live-streamed and Facebooked massacres.” It grew, he writes, “naturally from the suspicion that only acts of extreme violence could reveal to the world a desperate social situation and the moral integrity of those determined to challenge it.” These imported ideas filled the void left by the destruction of indigenous beliefs, traditions and rituals. As Mishra says, these jihadists “represent the death of traditional Islam rather than its resurrection.”
“As it turned out,” he writes, “the autocratic modernizers failed to usher a majority of their wards into the modern world, and their abortive revolutions from above paved the way for more radical ones from below, followed, as we have seen in recent years, by anarchy.”
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Mishra writes, “Malignant zealots have emerged in the very heart of the democratic West after a decade of political and economic tumult; the simple explanatory paradigm set in stone soon after the attacks of 9/11—Islam-inspired terrorism versus modernity—lies in ruins.” The United States, aside from suffering periodic mass killings in schools, malls and movie theaters, has seen homegrown terrorists strike the Boston Marathon, a South Carolina church, Tennessee military facilities, a Texas Army base and elsewhere.
“The modern West can no longer be distinguished from its apparent enemies,” Mishra notes. The hagiography of the U.S. Navy sniper Chris Kyle—who had a tattoo of a red Crusader cross and called the Iraq War a battle against “savage, desperate evil”—in Clint Eastwood’s movie “American Sniper” celebrates the binary worldview adopted by jihadists who deify their suicide bombers.
“The xenophobic frenzy unleashed by Clint Eastwood’s film of Kyle’s book suggested the most vehement partisans of holy war flourish not only in the ravaged landscape of South and West Asia,” Mishra writes. “Such fanatics, who can be atheists as well as crusaders and jihadists, also lurk among America’s best and brightest, emboldened by an endless support of money, arms, and even ‘ideas’ supplied by terrorism experts and clash-of-civilization theorists.”
Donald Trump, given the political, economic and cultural destruction carried out by neoliberalism, is not an aberration. He is the result of a market society and capitalist democracy that has ceased to function. An angry and alienated underclass, now making up as much as half the population of the United States, is entranced by electronic hallucinations that take the place of literacy. These Americans take a perverse and almost diabolical delight in demagogues such as Trump that express contempt for and openly flout the traditional rules and rituals of a power structure that preys upon them.
Mishra finds a similar situation in his own country, India. “In their indifference to the common good, single-minded pursuit of private happiness, and narcissistic identification with an apparently ruthless strongman and uninhibited loudmouth, [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi’s angry voters mirror many electorates around the world—people gratified rather than appalled by trash-talk and the slaughter of old conventions,” he writes. “The new horizons of individual desire and fear opened up by the neoliberal world economy do not favour democracy or human rights.”
Mishra excoriates the West’s idealized and sanitized version of history, “the simple-minded and dangerously misleading ideas and assumptions, drawn from a triumphant history of Anglo-American achievements that has long shaped the speeches of statesmen, think-tank reports, technocratic surveys, newspaper editorials, while supplying fuel to countless columnists, TV pundits and so-called terrorism experts.” The mandarins who spew this self-serving narrative are, as American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called them and their ilk, the “bland fanatics of Western civilization” “who regard the highly contingent achievements of our culture as the final form and norm of human existence.”
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