Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Suicide of Reason

Lee Harris's newest book, The Suicide of Reason, will be gaining a lot of attention in the months ahead.

Here's an essay he wrote in 2002 on fantasy ideologies. It's worth revisiting. An excerpt:

To be a prop in someone else’s fantasy is not a pleasant experience, especially when this someone else is trying to kill you, but that was the position of Ethiopia in the fantasy ideology of Italian fascism. And it is the position Americans have been placed in by the quite different fantasy ideology of radical Islam.

The terror attack of 9-11 was not designed to make us alter our policy, but was crafted for its effect on the terrorists themselves: It was a spectacular piece of theater. The targets were chosen by al Qaeda not through military calculation — in contrast, for example, to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor — but entirely because they stood as symbols of American power universally recognized by the Arab street. They were gigantic props in a grandiose spectacle in which the collective fantasy of radical Islam was brought vividly to life: A mere handful of Muslims, men whose will was absolutely pure, as proven by their martyrdom, brought down the haughty towers erected by the Great Satan. What better proof could there possibly be that God was on the side of radical Islam and that the end of the reign of the Great Satan was at hand?

As the purpose of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia was to prove to the Italians themselves that they were conquerors, so the purpose of 9-11 was not to create terror in the minds of the American people but to prove to the Arabs that Islamic purity, as interpreted by radical Islam, could triumph. The terror, which to us seems the central fact, is in the eyes of al Qaeda a by-product. Likewise, what al Qaeda and its followers see as central to the holy pageant of 9-11 — namely, the heroic martyrdom of the 19 hijackers — is interpreted by us quite differently. For us the hijackings, like the Palestinian “suicide” bombings, are viewed merely as a modus operandi, a technique that is incidental to a larger strategic purpose, a makeshift device, a low-tech stopgap. In short, Clausewitzian war carried out by other means — in this case by suicide.


Grayman said...

Many thanks for this and the link.

May I also suggest the works of John Ralston Saul (Votaire's B*stards, On Equilibrium) for another view of the effect of reason and rationality in our society?

Michael Wade said...


You're welcome. Thanks for the reminder of John Ralston Saul. I picked up the Voltaire book years ago and got sidetracked before finishing it. Have dug it out of a box in my garage and will put it on my reading shelf. I'll also check out On Equilibrium.