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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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Five Years Later: The Roots Of 9/11

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

The roots of 9/11 lie deeply embedded in civilizational hostility – in its distinctly partial – but nonetheless – primal Islamic hatred for western modernity. This fixed and growing hatred extends to other major religions, especially Judaism, but also to certain elements of Christianity. And although it is true that the greatest portion of Muslims rejects terror violence as a means of fulfilling presumed Islamic expectations, the remaining portion is not statistically insignificant. This group numbers (at least) in the tens-of-millions.

Several million Muslims who accept the current Jihad are fully prepared to enter “paradise” at a moment’s notice by becoming “martyrs.” This means that the current “war on terror” should not be based upon traditional military operations or on the corollary eradication of extremists. Rather, it must be founded upon the undiluted understanding that, for the most part, Islamic terror is plainly the most visible and dangerous expression of an entire civilization in desperation and regression.

To be effective, the war on terror must now confront a far-reaching Islamic effort to usher in a new Dark Ages, a determinedly titanic struggle in which resurgent medievalism seeks to bring fear, paralysis and death to legions of “infidels” and “unbelievers.” Moreover, in the next several years, the preferred terrorism tactic in this distinctly unholy war is likely to involve chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The stakes are now extremely high, and the western imperative to achieve victory is now overwhelming.

Our truest war, therefore, is not against Osama Bin Laden or Hassan Nasrallah or even the particular Islamic states that nurture and encourage their generally unhidden programs for mass murder. Even if Bin Laden and Nasrallah and every other identifiably major terrorist were apprehended and prosecuted in authoritative courts of justice, millions of others in the Islamic world would not cease their impassioned destruction of “those whose blood lack sanctity” – that is, of all non-Muslims. Naturally these millions, like the zealots who destroyed the World Trade Center, attacked the Pentagon, and more recently sent thousands of razor-filled bombs to Israeli schools and hospitals from Lebanon, would never intend to do evil. On the contrary, they would choose to mete out death and injury to innocents as an expression of faith. Sanctified killers, these millions would gleefully generate an incessant search for more “godless” victims. Though mired in blood, their search would always be tranquil and self-assured, born of the endlessly reinforced knowledge that their “God-fearing vicars” were neither evil nor infamous, but heroic and “sacrificial.”

Let us be clear. For those millions engaged in an Islamic war against the West, violence and the sacred are always inseparable. To understand the rationale and operation of previous and still-planned terrorism, it is first necessary to understand these conceptions of the sacred. Then, and only then, will it become clear, that Islamic terror is, at its heart, a grotesque manifestation of religious worship known in cultural anthropology as “sacrifice.”

This is the truest meaning of Islamic terrorism, and the root meaning of 9/11. It is a form of sacred violence oriented toward the sacrifice of both enemies and “martyrs.” It is through the ritualistic killing of Americans, Jews and certain others – including Christians – that the “holy warrior” embarked upon Jihad, can buy himself free from the penalty of dying. It is only through such murder, and not through diplomacy, that “allah’s will” may be done.

Ironically, the suicide-bomber fears death much more keenly than do normal human beings. It is precisely because of this acute fear that he or she is willing to commit “suicide.” The apparent paradox is easy to understand, as the planned suicide/homicide is merely a small annoyance. After all, it is only a momentary inconvenience on the explosive path to eternal life.

When we have finally understood that terrorism is only a tactic, and that it is a method related to certain religious patterns of Islamic sacrifice, will we then be able to confront our uniquely lethal enemy. Soon-to-be armed with weapons of mass destruction, quite likely through the “good offices” of the expressly genocidal president of Iran, Islamic terrorists may shortly have within their capabilities the unprecedented capacity to kill hundreds of thousands or even millions of men, women and children. Until now, the fusion of terror with religious sacrifice is an understanding that has lent itself to insubstantial theorizing. Now, however, it is time for greater sophistication. Now, it is time that Islamic terrorism is recognized, at least in part, as a bloody and sacred act of mediation between millions of death-worshipping believers and their deity.

America is now routinely characterized as a malignancy in the Islamic world. An article, several weeks ago in an Egyptian newspaper, spoke of “the cancer, the malignant wound, in the body of Arabism, for which there is no cure but eradication.” Such references are far more than a vile metaphor. They are profoundly theological descriptions of a despised enemy that must be excised; that is, “liquidated.” Where this “liquidation” would be accomplished by self-sacrifice, possibly even terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction, it would be life-affirming for the killers. Naturally, some Islamic governments and movements would deny such end-of-the-world thinking, but it operates nonetheless.

What is to be done? The truth of the terrorist threat to the United States and the West is vastly more serious than is commonly understood. We face suicidal mass killings with unconventional weapons in the future, not because there exists a small and identifiable number of pathological terrorist murderers, but because we are embroiled – albeit unwittingly – in an authentic clash of civilizations. While we all wish it weren’t so, wringing our hands will get us nowhere. Our only hope is to acknowledge the true religious source of our now existential danger – the spreading roots of September 11 – and proceed to fight the real war from there.

Copyright, The Jewish Press, October 6, 2006. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is author of many books and articles dealing with terrorism and war. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Tel Aviv Bombing’s ‘Merely Wounded’: The Flesh And Blood Harms Of Suicide Bombing Terrorism

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006

The April 17 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv included the usual breakdown of casualties – the steadily rising number of dead and of those casually described as “merely wounded.” But what, exactly, does it mean to be in the second category? Consider just a few of the carefully documented medical answers.

X-rays of suicide bombing “survivors” routinely show hundreds of metallic fragments, ranging in size from millimeters to whole nails, grotesquely embedded in the victims’ bodies – literally from head to foot. Palestinian terrorists have repeatedly transformed objects that had originally been created for constructive use into the deadliest of destructive projectiles. Nails, screws, nuts and ball bearings are packed by the suicide bombers into their explosive vests to maximize their lethal effects and to inflict unimaginable pain and suffering on the penetrated persons. With a furious indifference to civilized human behavior, these transformed objects – soaked in rat poison – are propelled with the force of bullets to enter skin, flesh and bone.

The nails fly head first, presenting themselves in a strangely surreal, yet orderly, arrangement within the victims’ bodies. Many are embedded “only” to the depth of their entrance sites. Others burrow their way more deeply and lodge under the skin, where the examining physician can actually touch and feel their presence. Others must be removed after hours of meticulous exploration. Still others enter the body, far deeper, perforating and lacerating vital organs at random. CT scans of these victims’ heads show blood, air, metal and bone fragments displacing normal brain tissue.

The “lucky” patient who survives the initial explosive insult may often require extensive surgery to repair damaged organs. Others may sustain fractures, burns, amputations, vascular injuries, paralysis, blindness or brain damage. A collapsed lung or perforated colon – what would ordinarily be considered a major injury – is now taken as a blessing for these “merely wounded” victims of Palestinian terrorism.

Although some of the victims recover physically and return to a “normal” life, many more require a lifetime of ongoing rehabilitation. Some are assuredly impaired permanently. All suffer serious psychological effects that need to be treated. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety affect not only the victims of the attack, but all of Israeli society. Many reports have indicated a dramatic rise in the use of prescription antidepressants and sedatives. How could it be otherwise? Israelis live in a society under constant attack by those who cry out ecstatically: “When the martyr dies a martyr’s death, he attains the height of bliss….”

The Palestinian martyr’s unheroic weapon has now literally and figuratively penetrated the hearts and souls, as well as the bodies, of an entire nation. Too often television and print media are unable or unwilling to transmit the full human measure of this violation to viewers and readers. The result is that too few people are able to understand the true horror of the Palestinian suicide bomber. For them, Israeli wounded are little more than a statistic. In reality, however, the “merely wounded” suffer a medically indescribable death-in-life.

All life moves in the midst of death, and the denial of death is some of humankind’s most persistent preoccupation. Nowhere is this more distressingly apparent than in the generally unrecognized calculations of an aspiring Palestinian suicide bomber. This terrorist gleefully chooses self-immolation, fused with mass Jewish homicide, only because this is his or her presumed path to eternal life. It is only because he or she fears death beyond any normal measure of cowardice that the Palestinian suicide bomber chooses to end life here on earth.

The physical pain experienced by the “merely wounded” Jewish victims of suicide bombings is enlarged by the destruction of language. This destruction, which cannot be captured in radiographic images, produces a visceral reversion to pre-language human sound. Thus it is that we hear, following every instance of Palestinian suicide bombing, those palpable moans and cries and whispers that are fully anterior to learned speech.

The language fashioned by the Arab/Islamic suicide bomber is the language not of unreason, but of anti-reason. Created by the deliberate social derangement of goodness – a perverse celebration of cruelty as the essence of religious worship – this language absolutely immobilizes any residual prospects for “peace.” Yet, in the final analysis, it is not really Palestinian barbarism that invokes and makes necessary endless warfare, but rather the stupefying cowardice of contemporary “civilization.”

In Israel, America and Europe, leaders remain oblivious to the danger. Uttering the same old empty phrases and tired clichés, their public meanings of “peace” seethe with inept allusions and crude equivocations. How transparent they are in their persistent failure and how endless must be all of our Jewish tears. We Jews who witness the terrorism-inflicted pain of our brothers and sisters in Israel steadfastly seek to share their sorrow, but this Jewish pain is simply too great for sharing. Confronting an enemy who claims to love death, but only in the context of unparalleled Arab/Islamic cowardice, we still seek a proper balm for Jewish wounds and proper words for Jewish healing. For now, that is all that we can do. Soon, perhaps – or so at least we continue to hope – the rest of our “civilized” world will join us in audibly recognizing that there can never be any justification for the suicide bomber, and in raising their voices together with ours to finally and unhesitatingly curse his human and cosmic villainy.

LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of many major books dealing with terrorism and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Suffocating In Mass Society: The bloodless death of individual dignity in America (Second of Two Parts)

Friday, October 1st, 2004

“The mass,” said the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset in 1930, “crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select.” Today, in deference to the Many, the intellectually and culturally unambitious mass not only celebrates the commonplace (which it has been taught to do), it openly proclaims and spreads our American epoch of engineered mediocrity as an enviable form of democracy. While the unparalleled danger of our apocalyptic time palpitates under the miming masses who wish merely to “succeed,” the dignified grace of the Few is harder and harder to discover.

This is not an argument for monarchy or social aristocracy. It is not a call for hierarchic separations based upon considerations of wealth or birth. Not at all. It is, rather, a plaintive cry that we now demand more of ourselves, as Americans, as persons, as thinkers, and as people of belief.

Ortega y Gasset reminds us that “…the most radical division ….is that which splits humanity into two classes of creatures: those who make great demands on themselves, piling up
difficulties and duties; and those who demand nothing special of themselves, but for whom to live is to be every moment what they already are, without imposing on themselves any effort towards perfection; mere buoys that float on the waves.”

In 1965, the Jewish philosopher Abraham J. Heschel offered an almost identical argument. Lamenting that “The emancipated man is yet to emerge,” Heschel asked all human beings to raise the following questions: “What is expected of me? What is demanded of me?”

Indebtedness – an indebtedness to become Few – is, for Heschel, given with our very being in the universe. Living at a moment in history when it is almost impossible to think of collective human behavior without anguish and disgust – especially for Jews – it is required that camouflage and concealment in the Many give way to what Heschel calls “being-challenged-in-the-world,” to becoming and sustaining the Few. Resisting the luring flushes of creature comfort that always accompany mass, a courageous individual who risks disapproval for the sake of becoming. Few now offers America the only real republic worth preserving.

The Many make the American imagination thoroughly reproductive. Feeding off familiar images of contrived pleasure and contentment, this anonymous mass – by its persistent forfeiture of individuality - routinely subordinates all intellectual life to a ritual of mimicry. In this America, which routinely blocks access to more genuine images of meaning and self-worth offered by the Few, the sinister caress of the crowd manifests itself in everything – from an insufferably vulgar politics and cheap entertainments to widespread gluttony, dehumanized public schools and random violence.

The Many, of course, can never become Few, but certain individual members of the mass can make the transformation. Moreover, just as more and more individual Americans must now accept the perilous challenges of the world, those who are already part of the Few must maintain their essential stance against mass. Aware that they comprise a last barrier to America’s spiritual, cultural, intellectual and political disintegration, these select few amongst the Few must understand, soon, that staying the more difficult course of personal challenge and renewal is the only decent option. With their minds now fixed on what is truly precious, the Few will brood and dream at the edges of our material world, consciously separating themselves from those who must always epitomize cowardice, compromise and servility. With the market for individual meaning removed from the sweating palms of the crowd, these Few Americans will steadfastly refuse the inhuman disfigurement that comes with “fitting in.”

For now, the Many still rule uncontested in America. Joined at the hip with this pattern of rule, the upcoming presidential election will change nothing of ultimate importance to our lives. True change can happen only when expanding numbers of Americans begin to distance themselves from an anesthetized society of strong appetites but little taste, of surface confidence but limited ideals, of great zeal but no aspiration, of democratic politics but no ascertainable wisdom. Once this distancing can come to pass, the destructive propositions of the Many will collapse. Then, and only then, will we Americans be able ward off the laughable conceit that we have been “successful.” Only then – no longer shorn of all dignity and reverence – will we reasonably expect not to suffocate in a despairingly lonely crowd.

(c) The Jewish Press, 2004, all rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Suffocating In Mass Society: The Bloodless Death Of Individual Dignity In America (First of Two Parts)

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2004

Ravaged by excess – of consumption and commodities rather than of understanding – America now lives anxiously in crowds. This is naturally pleasing to politicians of all persuasions, for whom herding the people together where they cannot think is always “good.” Impresarios of a meticulously banal discourse, our candidates continuously provide whatever entertainment is necessary to keep the audience attentive. Above all, the mutually demeaning cross-fertilization between Washington and Hollywood effectively ensures that our citizens can never really become true persons.

To be sure, we laugh, as often as possible, but it is often a transparent laughter, the pretend-reflex of a society erupting at the margins of happiness. Our sporting events and presidential election campaigns are merely two sides of the same coin. Drawing upon crowds which keep us from experiencing even an occasional moment of reverence and solitude, both are the interconnected product of a conspicuously shallow social world. Forced to endure between public ardor and foreign terror, we remain in soulless captivity, chained to the relentless world of competitive materialism and empty work.

Clinging with observable desperation to our cell phones, we Americans now fear loneliness more than any other emotion, more even than the loss of individual dignity or the wrath of punishment. Ignoring the soundless dialogue that should take place meaningfully within ourselves, the wholly indispensable conversations of authentic thought, we Americans speak proudly of achievement, but our actions often reveal something very different. Although it is good to send video cameras to Jupiter and Mars, it would be far better to make the souls of our citizens better right here on Earth.

To be sure, America’s greatness is legitimately endangered from the “outside,” primarily from war and terror, but some true hazards stem more from our own willful abandonment of individual dignity and faith than from any particular weaknesses of power. Charles Dickens, during his first visit to this country in 1842, anticipated – perhaps prophetically – what was yet to come to these United States: “I do fear that the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty will be dealt by this country in the failure of its example to the earth.”

Today, in America, we have successfully maintained our freedom from tyranny and oppression, but we have also surrendered our related liberty to become persons. Meekly accepting that both our leaders and our schools do not want us to question too much or to reflect too deeply, we generally agree to remain collectively distant from the one place in which we might have constructed a genuine life of meaning and purpose. This place of real consciousness is “inside,” within the sacred Self, aptly reverent and largely incorruptible.

Our American civilization now imposes on us all the breathless rhythm of an accelerating machine. Struggling to keep up with the mad mechanics of “progress,” we confuse wealth with success, and noise with happiness. The end of all this delirium can only be to prevent an entire society from remembering G-d.

Unlike previous periods in our national history, when elements of the Many sometimes sought to become Few, the situation is now turned on its head. Instead of looking to the Few as an exemplary standard of aspiration, the Many want very much to remain Mass. A good portion of the Few now even wish to be blended with the Many. In essence, real excellence in America has become something to be shunned, an embarrassment, a naive and archaic goal that stands annoyingly in the way of “getting ahead.”

To form the Few, each interested American must first wish to separate himself or herself from the convenient ideas that intellectual achievement is measured by academic test scores and that personal importance is determined by frenzied imitation and consumption. Gorged with bad food and enchanted by bad taste, we Americans now literally amuse ourselves to death. Living in a society where reading difficult literature is taken as effrontery and where publicly prescribed meanings seethe with equivocations, our citizens have generally forgotten Ralph Waldo Emerson’s valuable injunction to hold themselves sacred. Not surprisingly, at a moment when our people seem to have lost all sense of awe in the world, the adult public seeks mind-numbing circus distraction in child-level amusements and in the disturbingly adolescent gibberish of presidential candidates.

The vital division of American society into the Few and the Many is not an elitist division into social classes – rich and poor, educated and uneducated, native and foreigner – but a far more important separation of those who are spectators from those who seek growth. Today, in the stunningly absurd theater of these United States, there are no longer declared protagonists. There are some serious actors in this perplexed theater, to be sure, but the play is largely chorus.

(c) The Jewish Press, 2004. All rights reserved.

(To be continued)

LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

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