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Tony Grist

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The Hamburg Cell [Sep. 3rd, 2004|09:32 am]
Tony Grist
Young men are very suggestible. They're fragile and they have a great need to belong. And so they're very easily roped into wars, sects, jihads and the like. If the war, sect or jihad is something that pisses Daddy off then so much the better.

I was watching Channel 4's drama about the 9/11 hijackers last night. They were rootless rich boys, most of them, adrift in a society that didn't give them enough respect. Al Quaeda offered them brotherhood, charismatic father figures, dogmatic certainty, a strong sense of purpose. As one of them said as he made his commitment to the Hamburg cell- "I want my life to count."

They weren't demons. At least, they weren't demons to begin with. At some point or other they crossed the line. And the scary thing is it was impossible to say exactly when that happened. When did imagination fail? When did they stop asking questions? We watched as noble idealists morphed into murderous fanatics and it was a smooth, unbroken process.

War on Terror? Bush was right the first time; it's unwinnable. Why? Because it's a war on human nature. So long as there are needy young men there will be recruits for Al Quaeda and the like.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: glitzfrau
2004-09-03 02:57 am (UTC)
You formulated vague and rambling thoughts I've had on the issue for ages. Thank you.

(Though: do you really believe there is such a thing as "human nature", entirely independent of social circumstances? Surely, in a different society, needy young men might turn to other - less or more destructive - means to boost their pride? For example, and this isn't intended personally, but they might seek power in a religious rather than a religio-military hierarchy?)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-03 07:31 am (UTC)
Oh yes, I agree. Men are pack animals. They crave that whole Band of Brothers vibe. But you can get that just as much from the Society of St Francis as from Al Quaeda or the Marine corps.
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[User Picture]From: ibid
2004-09-03 08:32 am (UTC)
Similarly I do beleive a lot of it has to do with the unemotional nature of male upbringing. Women are allowed to be emotional, to get attatched to people. Men are supposed to be public animals, unemotional and I think this results in a tendency to seek approval in things like this.

I keep thinking htis when I know more men who are soppy with their sig. oths. than women!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-03 09:01 am (UTC)
I think it may go back to the very beginning- when big-brained apes started hunting in packs.

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From: archyena
2004-09-03 11:43 am (UTC)
The problem is that in Middle Eastern society there has not been an adequate social maturation out of the warrior ethic and its attendant mythology. The West matured out of it in a series of wars against itself that involved enough of the population close enough at hand to break forever the notion of "blood and gloy" leave in the collective mind only blood. The Arab world has not yet had that great war where people are plucked by their government from comfortable lives and forced to kill other people just like them. This is why there is no great uprising in Palestine, it is a low intensity affair where only a handful of fanatics that the West would medicate are engaged actively in violence. In the West, these men become serial killers when they reach that point at all and will create another (often psuedo-spiritual) reasoning for wanton death.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-03 11:53 am (UTC)
That's a very interesting point. It would explain why Turkey stands apart from most of the rest of the Islamic world in its desire to integrate with Europe. Turkey was a combatant in the Great War.
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From: archyena
2004-09-03 11:56 am (UTC)
Not to mention the destruction of its empire. Once a people give up racial (ie imperial) domination as an avenue of advance, they become much more agreeable. Look at the Deutschmen.
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[User Picture]From: catvalente
2004-09-03 03:44 am (UTC)
And what about the old men who recruit them?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-03 07:33 am (UTC)
I don't know. Are they the same guys twenty years down the line or a completely different breed of animal?
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[User Picture]From: catvalente
2004-09-03 08:02 am (UTC)
They aren't usually too keen to risk their own lives--I doubt they did so as young men. Look at Bush.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-03 09:02 am (UTC)
We've seen Osama toting a machine gun. Has he used it in anger or is it just a prop?
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[User Picture]From: catvalente
2004-09-03 09:02 am (UTC)
I highly doubt it's more than a prop.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-09-03 04:10 am (UTC)
I heard there was some controversy about this documentary's "humanizing" the 9/11 killers, but at some point we need to see them as people in order to understand what happened.

So long as there are needy young men there will be recruits for Al Quaeda and the like.

This was interesting. Thanks.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-03 07:41 am (UTC)
But they are human. All the time I was watching it I was reminded of my own brushes with extremist groups- political and religious. I know from shaming experience just how attractive they can can be.

These guys weren't any different from other young men. They wanted to belong, they wanted to give themselves to a good cause. It just so happened that the cause they adopted (out of ideals of brotherhood and service and all that) turned out to be really nasty and they didn't have the imagination and independence of mind to break free.
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From: manfalling
2004-09-03 07:49 am (UTC)

humanized

yeah i watched that too. funny to see them as handsome. these good-looking blokes (yeah it's just actors but of course the real dudes might have been too) being nice and saying thankyou very much to the airline people, then going on to do what the TV didn't show but what we knew happened next.

the choice not to show hostage situations in the planes. that was interesting. part of me was afraid they would show it- cos after seeing them be kind of normal but for their sentiments up to that point- we'd have to watch them put other people, and themselves, through some really bad shit. they were doing some wussy self-defense training in a hotel room. then they have to start sticking knives in people who they know are innocent. big diference. probably quite hard to maintain your 'idealism' in that situation.

the will to make something like that happen, to make people do these things, is awe-inspiring. hitler had it too i guess. cult leaders.

fight club is a great movie cos it shows us this from beginning to end. just wanting to belong. to do something important. all the things you said. and at the end we want to cheer the destruction of buildings. which is an act of terrorism. weird.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-03 09:06 am (UTC)

Re: humanized

It would have made a big difference if we'd have seen the actual hijackings. I guess they spared us that for the sake of the relatives of the victims. Also, of course, we have no idea what really happened on board those planes.

I thought the guy playing Mohammed Atta looked a lot like Mr Bean. He moved like him too. A comical, prissy, little chap.
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From: archyena
2004-09-03 11:45 am (UTC)

Re: humanized

But in the movie Project Mayhem practices a distinct separation of man from material, the buildings have been abandoned before they are dynamited. Symbolically, this is the end of the global capitalist-consumerist order, the collapse of the structures once no one believes in them. No one is hurt because no one remains to be.
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From: manfalling
2004-09-03 04:05 pm (UTC)

Re: humanized

collapse of the global capitalist-consumerist order? hmm. i wasn't going that way with it, but i'm sure you've got a point. what i was mentioning it more for was the extents to which people will go to follow a charismatic leader who offers them meaning in life. now, we see in fight club that the leader is seriously flawed, and so is his plan. so while the destruction of the buildings could show the end of the global capitalist etc.. when no-one believes in it, it could also just be because they already made sure the buildings were vacated- and blowing them up just seemed like a cool thing to do. rebellion against any authority/power figure to give life conflict and meaning.
either way.
but what you said is interesting too.
further, in the book fight club, project mayhem doesn't separate so clearly between man and material. i don't remember if the buildings are vacated or not, but they sure kill some dudes and also cut off that guys balls.
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From: morrison_maiden
2004-09-03 09:27 am (UTC)
Very interesting thoughts. I've compared these men and some women to the Nazi youth; looking to fit into society, choosing anything and anyone that will in effect, adopt them. At least, that's my take on all of it...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-03 11:15 am (UTC)
Yeah, there are a lot of similarities. One of the biggest is that Al Qaeda is viciously antisemitic.
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From: archyena
2004-09-03 11:50 am (UTC)
They're like overgrown youth gangs. My suspiscion is that if they had fully socialized in the West they'd probably have not gone back to the Middle East at all and Mohammed Atta would be just another engineer originally from Egypt or wherever. To a degree, the people of the West (not "The West" or even it's philosophical underpinnnings) are to blame in part for these specific hijackers. If they had been reached out to enough, pried out of the international student ghetto, brought into the real West and taught the defining value of modern Western culture--screw what everyone thinks about it--they might have broken that link and stopped letting their religion make them feel worthless and alone. I think that's where it lies in the end, they don't belong because they don't think they should and live a life of self-flagellation and self-fulfilling prophecy.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-03 12:29 pm (UTC)
The film toyed with that idea. The central character, Ziad (I think he was the guy whose plane was brought down in Pennsylvania) had a westernized wife and drank beer (when Atta wasn't looking) and generally yo-yoed between the brotherhood and the culture of the "crusaders". It was never entirely clear why he finally came down on the side that he did.
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