While a common idea throughout the Muslim world, Radical Islamists seek to foreseeable realize, a Caliphate in which political and religious power are fused and whose hypothetical borders are indicated here. One should note that it encompasses the Christian, Confucian, Jewish and Hindu populations of Spain, the Balkans, Greece, central Africa, India and Indonesia.
This Jihadist worldview however, lends itself to global a conspiracy theory today, which provides the dramatic background for the self-appointed role of the global Islamist terrorists.
Steeped in conspiracy theories and apocalyptic fantasies, Islamists believe that America, Israel, and other "crusader" nations have plotted to destroy Islam, and that they are called upon to defend it. Islamism and Islam exist of course also of other phenomena, not least to say that there are two major groups; shi’ites (example Iran) and Suni (example Saudi-Arabia).
Osama bin Laden thus has an opinion about who are the real terrorists: "The truth is that the whole Muslim world is the victim of international terrorism, engineered by America at the United Nations"
Although most scholars would agree that conspiracy theories are a form of explanation, social psychologist Serge Moscovici begs to differ. His objection is worth considering:
But, you will say, conspiracy theories grow out of the need to explain, which is the function of any theory...In order for any explanation to be valid, however, one must be willing to recognize certain limits to its applicability. If one can trace all effects to the same cause, one believes that one has explained everything. But a theory that explains everything really explains nothing. Thus I suggest that the function of conspiracy theory is not to explain an event through a cause. Rather, it responds to the need to integrate one's image of society in one cause...m other words, the import of the theory in question is that it integrates people's mind-set and prevents any "rupture" in their mentality...It is like saying "You see, everything is dear," or "There is nothing bizarre or disconcerting about this; you are familiar with all this." (Moscovici, Changing Conceptions of Conspiracy, 1987, pp. 156-157)
Moscovici is correct that the function of conspiracy theories is not really to explain, if we mean investigating a phenomenon and then discovering its true cause. On the contrary, conspiracy theories „explain away" phenomena, particularly those events that might disrupt the ontological security of the members of a particular society. For example, many socially and politically backward countries blame their economic troubles on conspiracies by Western imperialists, thus explaining away those unpleasant facts about themselves that urgently need to be addressed, but if addressed would cause social disruption. Although Moscovici does not use the phrase „explain away," or reductionism, it lies at the heart of his critique.
On the other hand, Moscovici is incorrect in distinguishing conspiracy theories from other theories on that basis, for in truth, to explain is always to explain away, and this is something that all theories do, more or less. They explain away anything that is unintelligible, such as color and sound, by taking these phenomena out of the object, and placing them in that repository for ‚unreal’ appearances, known as the subject.
Even if it were somehow true that the evils that befall one were not a function of chance - but were prearranged to occur by a group of conspirators wielding enormous power, who could significantly influence the course of history - the very existence of the conspirators would be contingent upon the accidental circumstances endemic to spatiotemporal existence, and thus lack necessity. There is not a necessary reason why any particular person, group or organization - nefarious or otherwise - is destined to exist and to play a decisive role in shaping world events. Rooted in the vicissitudes of current events and history, the existence of a secret cabal lacks both the time-transcending universality, as well as the necessity required to serve as a satisfactory explanation of the evil, injustices, and suffering that one experiences.
That said, how is it that conspiracy theories do, in fact, have enormous explanatory power for many people, capturing their emotions, luring believers to suspend their critical thinking capacities, and sometimes propelling them into violent action. The explanatory power of conspiracy theories derives from the fact that they make an implicit claim to universality and necessity. Absurd though it may seem, their subtext is often that the alleged conspirators are the universal, necessary, and ultimate, source of evil in the world or, at least, the group of conspirators are believed to be Satan's earthly agents. Usually, the more malevolent the conspiracy theory, the more ultimate is the implicit metaphysical claim. Sometimes this claim to universality is even explicit, as in the conspiracy theory about Jewish plans for world domination - The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (discussed in P.1).
Paradoxically, the key to understanding a theory is to discern its limits, to ask: What is the theory unable to explain? Where does the theory fail in its claim to universality? There is always some element of reality that lies beyond the purview of a theory, outside the circle of interpretation. For example, the theory of atomism cannot explain human values such as love, justice, charity, and beauty. Efforts by atomists to do so are reductionist; they attempt to „explain away" these values rather than admitting that their theory has a „leftover,“ that which cannot be explained by the theory. Similarly, the frequent claim made by a certain class of conspiracy theories, that „The Jews are all powerful, and control everything," cannot explain their persecution through the centuries, the Holocaust, nor how Jews are frequent targets of terrorism by Islamic fundamentalists.
Finally there is also the convoluting of a theory what happens in the realm of conspiracy theories. For example, many Arabs admit that Jews are killed by Palestinian suicide bombings. Does this belief the Arab's notion that the Jews are all-powerful?
Not at all, for they claim that the Israeli secret intelligence service, the Mossad, arranged for the terrorists to set off the bombs, so as to make the Arabs look bad. Thus one could say that conspiracy theorizing is an effort to make sense of the world. But it is desperate, because there is a great deal in life that is inexplicable, that must remain unintelligible.
Human beings, unlike animals, however cannot simply be. They feel compelled to justify their actions, demonstrating how they are necessary, right, valid, and moral. More essentially, justification is the effort to connect one's actions to a higher law or purpose. Even those who commit heinous deeds are not indifferent to questions of good and evil, but seek to defend their actions, both to themselves and to others. Mostly that higher law, upon which they base their justifications, is self-defense.
Conspiracy theories - by offering in addition a spurious answer to the question of justification, - have a retarding effect on the evolution of moral and religious consciousness, both in a person and in a society.
Its vision is not founded on a conviction of original sin, nor on retribution for a transgression that had fractured the very cosmos, as in Greek tragedy. What justification can suffering have when one is fundamentally innocent, good, perfect, pure, and noble, simply by being affiliated with a certain group?
After all, self-righteousness - over the sense of having been insulted and injured - is far from uncommon among human beings. On the other hand, this sense of injustice, unfairness, -and victimization readies the ground for the paranoid sense that some group of people, a cabal of conspirators, is the source of one's problems. For example, in 1919, after their defeat in World War I, if the Germans looked inward at all, it was relatively short-lived, for in 1939 they voted the Nazis into power. The Nazis attributed Germany's military defeat to the Jews and other groups, whom they slanderously accused of having betrayed Germany. What is the origin of this sense of being innocent, pure, perfect, and great?
The conspirational vision has its own version of the paradise lost myth. It attributes the fall neither to the gods, nor to natural or cosmic disasters, nor to the deficiencies within human beings, but to oppression by society. "Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains," states Rousseau. That society's chains can be broken is his version of "good news for modem man." The next step is to posit that Paradise was lost, not simply because of society in general, but on account of the evil machinations of a particular group of people. The implication is that paradise can be regained by vanquishing that group and destroying their treachery.
At first it might seem counterintuitive to associate the conspirational vision with idealistic and utopian longings since paranoids are typically angry, bitter, fearful, suspicious, and cynical. How could the Serbs could up a war that included rape, murder, and starvation of cities? They felt sorry for themselves, as we have seen above, they solved their formidable moral problems by declaring themselves the injured party.
It would seem, then, that disappointed expectations first turn into self pity before they erupt into violence. This is because self-pity vindicates self-defense, which provides a type of justification for violence. Often the sense of self-pity takes the form of feeling that one has been treated unfairly.
Another lure related to the conspirational vision is the scapegoat. Aggression, as it exists in the human realm, is not, simply a function of instinct, animals are neither totalitarians nor fanatics. It would seem, then, that aggression in human beings is not so much biologically driven, as it is the manifestation of certain ways of seeing, such as the paranoid vision.
Furthermore, it would appear that not all scapegoating is an effort to repress aggression. For example, Islamic fundamentalists scapegoat the United States so as to deflect attention from the social, economic, and political problems of their own nations. Here scapegoating is not about repressed aggression. If anything is being repressed, it is feelings of humiliation, envy, and resentment. The resultant conspiracy theories can then lead to a host of evils: slander, false accusations and imprisonment, lynching’s, pogroms, wars of vengeance, genocide, etc.
Plus those who are under the sway of the paranoid style in politics, may also have delusions of grandeur not simply about themselves, but about the group with which they are affiliated. When groups have delusions of grandeur, it often leads them to an antinomian disdain for rules, laws, and morality in regard to people outside the group, or even outside the group's inner circle. Not surprising, this double morality is endemic to utopian politics.
The disappointment that inevitably arises from utopian expectations is paranoiagenic. It leads to bitterness, hostility, blame, envy, and all the other malevolent feelings associated with the paranoid vision. The utopian vision has clearly left something out of the human equation, namely the fact that human beings are, as Kant said, "twisted timber", from which nothing straight can grow.
How ironic, then, that the utopian vision, with its unconstrained affirmation of humanity's godlike possibilities, leads to bitterness. But those visions of life that recognize the amphibious nature of human beings, and which are constrained in their hopes for humanity, lead to the affirmation of human grandeur, greatness, and nobility. Furthermore, the tragic vision leads to an optimism - not one founded on shallow hopes, but on ennobling endurance of suffering and triumph over adversity. It is paradoxical that the acknowledgement of finitude is a prerequisite for the realization of true grandeur.
The September 11th suicide terrorists were obsessed, as are many fundamentalists, by the dread of impurity. The paranoid's sense that the world needs to be purified, through an apocalypse, is a distortion of a fundamental inner need - the need to attain purity of heart. Martyrdom through suicide is far easier than years of difficult struggle to obtain true purity.
Group delusions of grandeur are seductive, for they promise those who feel unhappy and unworthy that they can attain the power and prestige of the group, or so they imagine. Furthermore, such groups offer opportunities for ambitious true believers to attain immortality by sacrificing their life for the group. As Schopenhauer has been attributed as saying, “Martyrdom is the only way a man can become famous without ability”.
Bin Laden's and conspirational paranoia?
Robert A. Pape, a political scientist, who wrote a well-circulated article for the American Political Science Review entitled "The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism"(2003) states that, "all suicide terrorist campaigns in the last two decades have been aimed at democracies, which make more suitable targets from the terrorist's point of view" (2003, p. 5).
Pape is making an interesting point here, but one must ask: What about nations like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Sri Lanka? They have experienced terrorist attacks, and they are not democracies. Russia, too, as suffered terrorist attacks, and it is barely a democracy. Each of these cases are different, but it would seem that a recent phenomena are nondemocratic countries that have dealings with democratic counties being attacked by terrorists. The July 26th 2005 terrorist attack in the Egyptian city of Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, where there exists a vacation resort that caters to English tourists, and has been the site of meetings of international conferences, would be an example. All the same, Pape is mostly correct in his assessment. Why, then, do democracies make good targets? According to Pape:
.. .democracies are often thought to be especially vulnerable to coercive punishment. Domestic critics and international rivals, as well as terrorists, often view democracies as "soft," usually on the grounds that their publics have low thresholds of cost tolerance and high ability to affect state policy. Even if there is little evidence that democracies are easier to coerce than other regime types this image of democracy matters. (2003, pp. 7-8)
This seems unconvincing as an explanation of why democracies have been most frequently targets of terrorists. It could be argued, though, that the essential reason is not practical, like Pape contends, but ideological. If democracies are a target for terrorism it is because democracies, quite naturally, stand for democratic freedoms, liberty, individualism, human rights, the separation of church and state, and all else that terrorists, who are invariably totalitarians, reject. Terrorist fear that such liberal values will invade their nation. This fear, and all else that follows from it, is a paranoid reaction to the dread of modernity.
The notion that what is really dreaded is democracy and liberty could explain why democracies are by far the most prevalent targets for terrorism, but how can one explain the act of terrorism itself, now that we have rejected Pape's rational motive thesis? A frequent thesis is that suicide bombing, terrorism in general, and genocide, are part of a cult of death, i.e. a perverse mythicizing, glorification, and worshiping of death. Where as frequently seen in Islam, death is idealized as a desired goal and not a necessary evil in war. At its most extreme, nihilism is not just a doctrine advocating the complete destruction of social and political institutions, which is what some revolutionaries have sought, but the negation of all values. (See Warrant for Terror: The Fatwas of Radical Islam, and the Duty of Jihad by Shmuel Bar, 2006.)
But in radical Islam, suicide plays an absolutely indispensable role, and is not a means to an end but an end in itself, transformed into an act of martyrdom - martyrdom in all of its transcendent glory. Indeed, a third thesis is that apocalypticism. is what motivates the terrorist. In fact terrorists have repeatedly attacked those who seek to find negotiated and non-catastrophic solutions to difficult problems. See for example Anwar Sadat who was assassinated by the forerunners of Al Qaeda, and Yitzak Rabin by a Jewish fanatic, because these political leaders sought out solutions to conflict by means of diplomacy and compromise, the type of solutions that lie at the core of liberal Western democracy. In the minds of fanatics, such compromises prevent the apocalypse from coming, and ultimately forestall the arrival of utopia. Furthermore, they remove the terrorist's raison d' etre, the logic of terrorism that compromisers are counterrevolutionary and must be killed.
But which view, then, is correct? Is terrorism all about nihilism, or is it about martyrdom, or is it about apocalypse? It would seem that all three views are correct, if one adds a few qualifications. First of all consider the notion that the desire for martyrdom is what is motivating terrorists. If this is martyrdom, Islamists are defining it in a strange new way. After all, the notion that a martyr is a person who, through the act of suicide, kills as many innocent civilians as possible, is outrageously absurd. If anything, martyrs recognize the sanctity of human existence. Furthermore, elsewhere he Quran prohibits suicide yet potential suicide murderers are bolstered in their belief that they will be martyrs by belonging to societies, that interpret suicide-murder as a glorious act of self-sacrifice.
It may be that the desire for complete destruction, for a tabula rasa, is itself prompted by a paranoid purity-seeking. The hope is that terror will precipitate the Gotterdammerung, and then the world, having been cleansed through destruction, will be ready for renewal, and for utopia. Underling nihilism, then, may be apocalyptic fantasies, which would suggest that the nihilist is under the sway of the paranoid vision.
Then, there is for example Osama bin Laden's opinion about who are the real terrorists: "The truth is that the whole Muslim world is the victim of international terrorism, engineered by America at the United Nations"
Putting it all together, the murderous martyrdom that terrorists seek might be called, for want of a simpler term, and a more parsimonious explanation, "apocalyptic, nihilistic, sadistic, envy-inspired, pseudo-martyrdom."It can be concluded, then, that terrorism is not fundamentally strategic, even though, on a surface level, it appears so. It is, on the contrary, the product of a number of un-strategic elements, all of which are under the sway of the paranoid vision, combining together. Ironically, the most world-threatening forms of the malady of tyranny and totalitarianism have coincided with the rise and spread of liberal democracy, giving rise to an opposing ideal that seeks to control every thought and act.
For example how is it that Athens, as the advent of liberal democracy, and Sparta, as the advent of totalitarianism where mutually arising? Could the purpose of totalitarianism be, to combat the 'anxiety' that is aroused by the lure of other, better ideas ?
Nevertheless, if ideas cause anxiety, it is not necessarily because they are seen as better. It is because their very existence relativises the supposed absoluteness of one's own ideas. Furthermore, new ideas suggest the perspectival quality of one's worldview, unmooring one from the solidity of the familiar. Thus is totalitarianism a flight from openness, freedom, and possibility? One might say that in each person there exists an inner Peloponnesian War, a series of battles between freedom and psychological control. Indeed, totalitarianism - of which Islamism is a form - is a desperate effort to quell those anxieties. Anxiety need not result in desperation, reactionary closure, and social and political malevolence. It can spur a people on to new learning, to an expansion of self-awareness, the result of which is a more conscious and more creative relation to the realities of human existence. It can, indeed, lead to a cultural renaissance. But if the "opportunity knocks card" of new learning is rejected, this anxiety will find release in outlets that are pernicious, including conspiracy thinking, the major force that is against us.
Some moderate Muslims, have interpreted the call to Jihad to mean the call to spiritual warfare, i.e. the conquest of one's weaknesses. A spiritual Jihad is, indeed, necessary if the temptation to accept the facile answers proposed by Islamist totalitarianism, and other paranoid phenomena, are to be overcome.
But all of the manifestations of the conspirational vision make sense, and are of a piece. Delusions of grandeur are an obvious enough refusal to acknowledge one's finitude. The sense of evil that is endemic to the paranoid vision has a similar ground. After all, evil represented as defilement, possession, or as a devil (projected onto a vilified group of people) - has the aspect of externality. The implication is that one is inwardly pure and perfect. This arrogation of absoluteness to oneself is a refusal of the task to mediate the finite and the absolute. Conspiracy theories, apart from their vilifying function, fail to acknowledge the limits of the knowable. They derive from a refusal to acknowledge the uncertain, contingent, and chance dimension of spatiotemporal existence. Apocalyptic fantasies are founded on a rejection of the world, with all of its imperfections. Rather than taking up the arduous task of being the crucible, one longs for the day when the imperfect world will be destroyed, and a less demanding mode of existence will appear.
The conspirational vision can be viewed as one modality of the flight from the inner demand to live at the intersection (of time and eternity, of the finite and infinite.)
But what does the existence of the conspirational vision tell us about that amphibious creature known as a human being?
Evidence exists however that conspirational paranoia is contagious. In fact conspirational paranoia is founded on a vision of life, the assumption being that visions of life are akin to one could compare to ‘cognitive viruses’.
Conspirational paranoia like hysteria are transmitted through the media, although the choice of media are as different as a blog from a website devoted to disseminating conspiracy theories.
Leaders of organizations like al Qaeda, although they may be intelligent and idealistic, are often blind to their ontological assumptions. Furthermore, followers are resistant to seeing the emperor's new clothes, which means that an organization's real agenda often remains hidden from them.
As for Islamic terrorist groups, their "fantasy ideology" grows in a manure rich with conspiracy theories and other paranoid narratives, hidden from the light of reason, lacking contact with universal discourse.
Thus insularity is a failure to connect with the larger world. Without that connection, one lives a fragmented, isolated, alienated, and dissolute existence, and one becomes a candidate for possession by the paranoid vision. There is another comparison that one can make: Disagreement in regard to ideology or policy meant losing favor, ostracism, and possibly excommunication. Thus despite the imperfections of democracy, a democratic nation has a better chance of surviving such crises than one that is authoritarian.
What about the transformations that are intrinsic to human existence, "the apocalypse within" (inner death and rebirth )? It is necessary, though, to issue a caveat. For seriousness must be balanced with lightness for human existence to avoid nihilistic despear.
Although preoccupied by religion, it will also be evident that Islamists are motivated by, a form of totalitarianism. Whether secular or theocratic, totalitarian societies are, to use Popper's term, "closed societies," meaning that they are ideologically monistic, allowing for only one set of ideas, the so-called party line, to be believed, discussed, and implemented. What is known as "religious fundamentalism" is essentially theocratic totalitarianism.
For Islamists, the non-separation of church and state means that there is no secular realm, for the existence of such a realm would limit Allah's (meaning the Koran and Sharia law) sphere of influence, thus fragmenting the overarching totalitarian unity. Some Islamist thinkers, such as Sayyid Qutb, advocated the abolition of free market capitalism altogether.
Some might say that radical Islam is a religion characterized by an absence of love and true piety that have been replaced by the strict observation of religious rituals and the hunt for infidels (the reward for martyrdom is said, to be the gift in heaven of seventy-two black-eyed virgins).
If the effort to bridge the gap between the ideal and the actual is undertaken with a fanatical zeal, it invariably proves socially, economically and politically disastrous, as would be any effort to place life upon the procrustean bed of a totalitarian theory. It also creates a great deal of cognitive dissonance. This is where the paranoid vision enters the stage. It is an effort to explain why the gap between the ideal and the real exists. It always comes down to assigning blame; a certain group of nefarious individuals has conspired to subvert what could have been utopia. Islamists blame "the infidels." Consequently, if absurdly convoluted conspiracy theories abound in the Middle East - it is because these theories are attempting to bridge the impossibly wide gap between visions of Islamist glory and the actual state of Islamist societies today. Furthermore, those under the sway of the paranoid vision concoct apocalyptic fantasies, mad dreams of a time when there will no longer be a gap between the ideal (totality realized) and the real. Islamism is highly apocalyptic.
Furthermore the sense of decadence, in regard to present-day Islam, is attributed to various historical events. For example, in one of the videotapes that bin Laden had sent to news stations, he alluded to the abolition of the caliphate as devastating to Islam.
Thus revivalism is often allied with delusions of persecution - which is a key aspect of the conspirational vision.
And apparently, bin Laden views all of Islam as a single nation. In fact as we have seen, the notion that there is an Islamic nation is very much part of Islamism's "ideology," that is endemic to fascism. In the sence that it blends nationalism with the perception of victimhood, which derive from conspirational ideas of persecution, hence an undertone of vengeance.
Al Qaeda and other extreme forms of Islamism, is not, of course, a dictatorship, but it could be argued that it is fascistic in its way of seeing. Their power has rested on popular acclaim, certainly by those within their organization, and by many people outside their organization as well.
If one reads transcripts of the speeches of Osama bin Laden, one hears about the virtues of being a holy warrior, of sacrifice and martyrdom. Bourgeois life is rejected in favor of that creed. Civilian life disappears as everyone becomes the equivalent of a soldier. This is not viewed as a temporary state of affairs, but one founded on the belief that war is good in itself when it purifies.
The example of Islamist feeling that the existence of American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia was defiling the land can also be perceived as the paranoid vision of purity seeking. And then, there are the effort to return to a supposedly purer state of being by means of terror and violence. A purifying violence would purge the people of egotism and hedonism, and draw them back into a primitive collective of self-sacrifice.
But the assumptions, on the part of the Islamists, that makes for their bitterness, is that hegemony is an indication of moral superiority. After all, Mohamed was a hugely victorious general and leader, in contradistinction, for example, to the Jews at the time. And so, not surprisingly, Mohamed becomes the paradigm for the right life. Consequently, if they do not see themselves as having been betrayed by fate, history, or conspirators, they are in danger of falling into doubt about their alleged moral superiority.