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"Poets Exploding Like Bombs" [Sep. 1st, 2006|09:47 am]
Tony Grist
Young men love to fight. They particularly love to fight in a good cause. In the 1930s lthousands  of young British men- not street thugs, but scholars, poets, trades unionists, students-  went off to fight in the Spanish Civil War, in a cause that only tangentially touched them-  "for Communism and for liberty".  They included George Orwell, the poet Laurie Lee and -fleetingly- W.H. Auden. 

So what's so surprising about young British Muslims going off to seek martyrdom in Iraq?

Auden, who became tiresomely conservative in middle age, later disowned his poem "Spain". It's one long adrenaline rush. Strip out the specific cultural references and the overwhelming intelligence, and isn't this what jihadis feel?

[User Picture]From: seraphimsigrist
2006-09-01 10:50 am (UTC)


As always yours is thoughtful and leads to
some thought and if this resulting thought is
contrapuntal it is not intended as argumentative
but precisley as counterpoint.

I understand this line of thought
and the intended empathy but it is not
I think it can quite work or at least not
to make sane what is madness...
we hear of course Yeats intoning
"you who Mitchel's prayer have heard
'send war in our time Lord' know
{and the rest]" or the great South
African poet and adventurer Roy Campbell
speaking as "the talking bronco" of
the flowering barrels of the fascist
rifles. for he was on the other side from
the men you mention in that war in Spain.
the jihadis are mad, possessed... as surely
as ,in Jung's expression, the Nazis were
possessed by the Wotan archtype...so they
are sick and mad with the madness rising
from the depth of their own history
and also that finally of all of us...

I think our reaching out to this state
(and I would regard the Islamist as not exactly
within the same state of possession as an Auden
or Campbell or Mitchel or Wolf Tone etc) we are
right to see it as human and right to see how
it is not something alien to our humanity but
we might err a little and letting romanticism
override a sense of pathology and also I would
say to override the awareness that some pathologies
needs be resisted even with deadly force or at
least as Dr Johnson in another context
"knock down the madman who comes at you with
a stick first and only then reason with him.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-09-01 11:46 am (UTC)

Re: counterpoint

I'm not sure that Islamism is any madder than the fashionable European ideologies of the 1930s- the varieties of Fascism on one side and the varieties of Communism on the other.

My point is that young men- idealistic and naive- are easily suckered into fighting for detestable causes.

Have you read Orwell's Homage to Catalonia?
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[User Picture]From: seraphimsigrist
2006-09-01 11:56 am (UTC)


yes of course. he was with the
POUM was it?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-09-01 01:07 pm (UTC)

Re: orwell

That's right- the Trotskyists
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[User Picture]From: seraphimsigrist
2006-09-01 12:02 pm (UTC)


my favorite quote on spain is
from miguel de unamuno (who supported
franco in a sense)
theirs are the red of blood
and ours are white like pus and
I do not know which are worse.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-09-01 01:12 pm (UTC)

Re: unamuno

Which makes me think of the movie The Red and the White (by Miklos Jancso, I think) where the camera roves the battlefield from incident to incident without discriminating between the sides.

Hey, I want to see it again....
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[User Picture]From: solar_diablo
2006-09-01 01:31 pm (UTC)
If you remove from the equation that jihadists deliberately target noncombatants as their vehicle to Paradise, and utilize young people who are conditioned by poverty and apocalyptic ideology to kill themselves in order to murder those noncombatants - I guess the emotional fervor can be somewhat similar.

But something rings hollow in the comparison.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-09-01 01:44 pm (UTC)
I ask, very humbly, whether the hollow ring may not be simply a matter of cultural prejudice....

Don't get me wrong- I hate Islamism, but the young men who went to fight in Spain were putting themselves at the service of ideologies just as repugnant.

Stalinism, for instance- which killed far more people in its time than the Islamists have yet managed.

And not all jihadis are poverty-stricken and uneducated. Some of the British suicide bombers have been well educated, well respected and apparently well-integrated members of the community. It's sometimes the best and brightest who fall the furthest.
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[User Picture]From: solar_diablo
2006-09-01 02:35 pm (UTC)
I understand what you're getting at. And yes, there are those Muslims who are motivated to kill themselves and innocents around them as much by alienation from Western culture and religious fervor as by poverty or lack of education. I didn't mean to imply only the desperate were drawn to the jihadist's call, only naming some factors involved (particularly in the case of Palestinians).

There is a certain level where your comparison resonates for me, and maybe that is a matter of cultural prejudice. The Utopian vision of jihadists does not appeal to me any more than does the vision of communism. They are, in my opinion, unattainable "ideals" that in reality do more to oppress and restrict humanity than uplift it. Where the comparison fails is more in methodology. Yes, many were willing to sacrifice themselves for Marxist ideals, but only in particular expressions of Islam do you see 21st century individuals willing to kill themselves to murder others in the name of establishing theocracy.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-09-01 03:05 pm (UTC)
I'm remembering myself in my 20s. There was a period there when I was so hungry for the just society that I'd have been willing cannon fodder for any plausible ideologue. I look at those jihadis and think "there but for the grace of God..."
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[User Picture]From: solar_diablo
2006-09-01 03:11 pm (UTC)
You're a thoughtful individual, and spot on to be careful in otherizing these people. I can only agree with you there.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-09-01 03:28 pm (UTC)
When friends and neighbours of British jihadis talk about them it's usually with bewilderment.

"He was so religious..."

"He loved playing cricket..."

"He was always so quiet..."
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[User Picture]From: methodius
2006-09-01 04:48 pm (UTC)
When friends and neighbours of British jihadis talk about them it's usually with bewilderment.

"He was so religious..."

I think there are some comparisons that work, and some that don't.

The young British men who fought in the Spanish civil war may indeed be compared with young British men who, burning with the sense of injustice at their own country's treatment of people in Iraq and elsewhere decide to join the jihan. And the same may be said of young Jewish men who have, at various times, gone to be soldiers in Israel.

And yes, I can empathise with them and know how they feel, and think that had I not been long ago convinced that as a Christian I was also called to be a pacifist, I might have been tempted on some occasions to do something similar.

But I believe it is a temptation to be resisted.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-09-01 07:08 pm (UTC)
I've never been entirely sure whether I'm a pacifist or not.

I've never been put to the test.
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[User Picture]From: methodius
2006-09-01 04:34 pm (UTC)

Targeting non-combatants

In the Spanish Civil War non-combatants werer targeted by both sides, so that is hardly a difference. An AnGlican monk I knew had gone to spain in a non-combatant capacity (before he became a monk), as an ambulance driver or stretcher-beare
r or something, and said that when he saw what anarchists had done to non-combatants, he was never able to take anarchism seriously as a philosophy again. But such atrocities were not confined to one side only. there or in other fields of combat.

Roy Campbell, the South African poet, was often accused of having fascist sympathies (as was J.R.R. Tolkien, a fellow Catholic, and I believe Campbell was peripherally involved with the Inklings at one time). But what appears to have put Campbell off was the atrocities perpetrated by the Republicans, though the bombing of Guernica was a similar atrocity by the Nationalists.

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From: (Anonymous)
2006-09-01 04:47 pm (UTC)

Re: Targeting non-combatants

You're right, of course. I'm not so naive to think that Muslim terrorists are the ONLY ones in history to deliberately target noncombatants. What I was specifically speaking to, however, is their use of suicide as the means to do it.
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