Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Arrested materialism

There is a very interesting article by Robert Sibley about Islamism in the Ottawa Citizen, arguing that "spiritual diseases" and an age-old conflict between reason and revelation are behind Islamist violence.

I'm not going to engage here with the argument, but I am interested by his use of the word "materialism" in the article. These are the opening two paragraphs:
During the last decade of Islamist terrorism, numerous commentators, particularly those on the left, have adopted a materialist approach to explain why some Muslims want to slaughter guests at hotels in Mumbai or detonate bombs at Christmas festivals in Sweden.
Terrorism, they argue, is rooted in poverty, frustration over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and memories of western imperialism. In other words, so the argument goes, the West itself is to blame for terrorism. If only the West would apologize, make reparations, abandon Israel, leave the Middle East and Afghanistan, all would be well. Or at least that's where the root-cause crowd's assumptions logically lead.
It is of course true that many, overwhelmingly on the left, argue that poverty, frustration and imperialism are the "root causes" of terrorism. They are, furthermore, utterly wrong.

If they bothered to look at the facts, they would notice that Islamism is not primarily a movement of the poor, but rather of elites in Islamic countries. Its practitioners tend to be educated, transnationally mobile, and at ease in western contexts. There have been far more scientists, doctors and engineers among recent terrorists than there have been proletarians or peasants.

In other words, the leftist "root causes" argument is not wrong for being materialist, but for being insufficiently materialist. Real materialism would take the trouble to examine the Islamist terrorists who really exist in the world, and ask what the material base for their actions might be, and what the "circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past” (to quote Marx) feed their vision of the world.

The leftist "root causes" view is not materialism but arrested materialism. It makes a materialist gesture (pointing to "root causes" in the economy) but it is superficial and based on wishful thinking rather than on actually examining the material world.

5 comments:

James Bloodworth said...

Brilliant post. Will read this again as it sums up the state of many "progressives" very well.

Interesting also this new psuedo-materialism and how it may (in my opinion) relate to much of the modern left's dislocation from its own domestic working-class - look at the middle-class nature of the SWP's politics for example.

Funny, as I'm writing this the "word verification" it is asking me for is "kitch". Of course, kitsch would be better - the kitsch-left!

Jogo said...

The absolutely MOST fundamentally wrong (and incurably wrong, may I add) aspect of the Leftist critique of Jihad is that it is A-SPIRITUAL. The Left simply cannot understand that there's a spiritual logic to Jihad. So no matter how you spin or enhance the materialist critique (even as wisely as you do), something is missing -- i.e., the certain knowledge that Jihad is spiritual in nature. If you can't "go there," you can't "get it."

Yes, the materialist Left is wrong. But it is forever wrong because it cannot grasp the spiritual reality and logic of Jihad.

BenSix said...

If they bothered to look at the facts, they would notice that Islamism is not primarily a movement of the poor, but rather of elites in Islamic countries.

Anger at social conditions has been enough to inspire revolutionaries (Trotsky), guerrilla warriors (Che) and terrorists (Baader and Meinhof), all of whom were as middle-class as low-cut vests. Sure, that doesn't mean they were or are the only motivations (and I'd bet that ideology and simple group dynamics are more influential for the sods that are your subjects) but, still, I'm not sure it's a powerful criticism.

Bob said...

Ben - Just looked at the low-cut vests link. It's fantastic! More later on spirituality and progressives

Anonymous said...

SWP's position on terrorism:
http://web.archive.org/web/20061027215212/leninology.blogspot.com/2005/07/suicide-bombing-dossier.html