October 19, 2007


The ventriloquist: It is striking the extent to which Bin Laden, celebrity terrorist of the MTV era, speaks through Western dummies rather than in his own voice (Faisal Devji, September 2007, spiked review of books)

As a celebrity, of course, bin Laden is part of the West he criticises, remaining firmly inside it despite all attempts to play up his foreign provenance or exotic beliefs. And of this insider’s role, bin Laden himself is fully aware, not least because his attacks on America in particular are given voice in this videotape through the lips of dissenting figures like Noam Chomsky and Michael Scheuer. While not himself a socialist or a liberal, in other words, bin Laden adopts the anti-capitalist stance of such people to voice his opposition to the West. His own critique of the Occident is therefore an immanent or internal one, but more than that it is a form of ventriloquism in which the prince of terrorists speaks through one or more dummies rather than in his own name.

In itself, this adoption of readymade positions is not strange, marking in fact the language of most politicians in Europe and America, but in the case of bin Laden it illustrates additionally the fact that he possesses no position outside the world of his enemies.

It is because he speaks through a disparate set of dummies without occupying a position of his own that bin Laden can be said to turn internal or immanent critique into a form of terrorism, since all he does is to deploy one kind of argument against another in a battle which none is meant to survive. It is a form of rhetorical suicide bombing in which the Muslim critic is destroyed alongside his infidel enemy, given that the Islamic element in bin Laden’s argumentation serves as a false externality, a merely decorative covering for Marxism, Third Worldism and God knows what else. [...]

By contrast, the way in which the West engages al-Qaeda is strikingly different, with bin Laden invariably seen as being irredeemably alien, rarely if ever addressed by his enemies, and usually described as sharing nothing at all with them. And yet what could be more familiar to political life in the West than the spectacle of a leader being fed bits of information and summaries of important books by his research assistants, the very procedures that allow bin Laden to quote Noam Chomsky or assail capitalism?

However, the fragmentation of a position that is truly external to the world of his foes results not only in the fragmentation of bin Laden’s critique, but in the dissolution, as well, of any alternative worldview he might hold. In addition to lacking a unified ideology or even a utopia, therefore, al-Qaeda ends up promoting a perverse and paradoxical moral pluralism instead.

Indeed perverse, hardly paradoxical. Given that all the isms are mere reactions to the End of History, by those who don't like its values, how could Islamicism/Islamo-Fascism/Salafism/bin Ladenism (or whatever you want to call it) be external to History?

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 19, 2007 2:21 PM

I like the description of the realtionship as an attenuated form of the old Communist/useful idiot one.

Very good article.

Posted by: Benny at October 19, 2007 4:52 PM

There it is: ethnoentric reaction, Boxerism, in all its works, is the bane of mankind.

What was it, we should ponder, which allowed our forebears to so willingly accept the best idess the world had to offer? What is it, to this day, which leaves the rest sunk in their loved Egyptian night?

By now we know it well. Our combination of confidence and tolerance lets new ways of thinking and acting spread and grow. It realy is Christianity, you know.

Now as to the so-called "paradox," I agree that the perversity is actualy quite transparent. It turns out that "Chomskyism," (as good a name as any for this infantile vacuity) is not at all "progressive." Rather, it is just one more manifestation of atavistic barbarism, only slightly more glib than its fellow psychopaths.

Posted by: Lou Gots at October 19, 2007 5:04 PM

It was their rejection of all ideas inconsistent with their own traditions.

Posted by: oj at October 19, 2007 8:20 PM