Posted by Curt on 24 June, 2007 at 12:10 pm. 2 comments already!

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Thought this passage from Lawrence Wrights book The Looming Tower was interesting enough to reproduce it for you.  It’s about the beginning of the Death Cult in Islam in which the culture begins to accept suicide bombers and the death of innocents to achieve their objective.  Not only do they accept this, they embrace it.  This period began during the Afghan/Russian war of the 1980’s and with a man name Abdullah Azzam:

"I reached Afghanistan, and I could not believe my eyes," Azzam would later recall in his countless videos and speeches around the world.  "I felt as if I had been reborn."  In his renderings, the war was primeval, metaphysical, fought in a landscape of miracles.  The Afghans, in his tableau, represented humanity in a pristine state – a righteous, pious, pre-industrial people – struggling against the brutal, soulless, mechanized force of modernity.  In this war, the believers were aided by the invisible hands of angels.  Azzam spoke of Russian helicopters being snared by ropes, and he claimed that flocks of birds functioned as an early warning radar system by taking wing when Soviet jets were still over the horizon.  Repeatedly in his stories mujahideen discover bullet holes in their clothes when they themselves are not injured, and the bodies of those who are martyred do not putrefy but remain pure and sweet-smelling.

The struggle of Islam, as Qutb had framed it, and as Azzam deeply believed, was against jahiliyya – the world of unbelief that had existed before Islam, which was still corrupting and undermining the faithful with the lures of materialism, secularism, and sexual equality.  Here in this primitive land, so stunted by poverty and illiteracy and patriarchal tribal codes, the heroic and seemingly doomed Afghan jihad against the Soviet colossus had the elements of an epochal moment in history.  In the skillful hands of Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, the legend of the Afghan holy warriors would be packaged and sold all over the world.

Later in the book:

It was death, no victory in Afghanistan, that summoned many young Arabs to Peshawar.  Martydom was the product that Azzam sold in the books, tracts, videos, and cassette tapes that circulated in mosques and Arabic-language bookstores.  "I traveled to acquaint people with jihad," Azzam said, recalling his lectures in mosques and Islamic centers around the world.  "We were trying to satisfy the thirst for martydom.  We are still in love with this."  Azzam visited the United States each year – Kansas City, St. Louis, Dallas, all over the heartland and the major cities as well – looking for money and recruits amoung the young Muslims who were mesmerized by the myths he spun.

He told stories of the mujahideen who defeated vast columns of Soviet troops virtually single-handed.  He claimed that some of the brave warriors had been run over by tanks but survived; others were shot, but the bullets failed to penetrate.  If death came, it was even more miraculous.  When one beloved mujahid expired, the ambulance filled with the sound of humming bees and chirping birds, even though they were in the Afghan desert in the middle of the night.  Bodies of martyrs uncovered after a year in the grave still smelled sweet and their blood continued to flow.  Heaven and nature conspired to repel the godless invader.  Angels rode into the battle on horseback, and falling bombs were intercepted by birds, which raced ahead of the jets to form a protective canopy over the warriors.  The miracle stories naturally proliferated as word spread that Sheikh Abdullah was paying for mujahids who brought him wonderful tales.

The lure of an illustrious and meaningful death was especially powerful in cases where the pleasures and rewards of life were crushed by government oppression and economic deprivation.   From Iraq to Morocco, Arab governments had stifled freedom and signally failed to create wealth at the very time when democracy and personal income were sharply climbing in virtually all other parts of the globe.  Saudi Arabia, the richest of the lot, was such a notoriously unproductive country that the extraordinary abundance of petroleum had failed to generate any other significant source of income; indeed, if one subtracted the oil revenue of the Gulf countries, 260 million Arabs exported less then the 5 million Finns.  Radicalism usually prospers in the gap between rising expectations and declining opportunities.  This is especially true where the population is young, idle, and bored; where the art is improverished; where entertainmen – movies, theater, music – is policed or absent altogether; and where young men are set apart from the consoling and socializing presence of women.  Adult illiteracy remained the norm in many Arab countries.  Unemployment was among the highest in the developing world.  Anger, resentment, and humiliation spurred young Arabs to search for dramatic remedies.

Martydom promised such young men and ideal alternative to a life was so sparing in its rewards.  A glorious death beckoned to the sinner, who would be forgiven, it is said, with the first spurt of blood, and he would behold his place in Paradise even before his death.  Seventy members of his household might be spared the fires of hell because of his sacrifice.  The martyr who is poor will be crowned in heaven with a jewel more valuable then the earth itself.  And for those young men who came from cultures where women are shuttered away and rendered unattainable for someone without prospects, martyrdom offered the conjugal pleasures of seventy-two virgins – "the dark-eyed houris," as the Quran describes them, "chaste as hidden pearls."  They awaited the martyr with feasts of meat and fruits and cups of the purest wine.

The pageant of martyrdom that Azzam limned before his worldwide audience created the death cult that would one day form the core of al-Qaeda. 

Of course, trying to bring hope and democracy to these countries is a fools errand right?  Bringing hope, freedom, education to the Middle East may be the only way to defeat terrorism in the long run and if we had never even tried what would future generations have said of us?    

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