Posts Tagged ‘Marathon’

Omar Mateen: Islamist Warrior, or Just Angry Nutter?

June 14, 2016

Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter, apparently phoned up ISIS and swore allegiance to the murdering scum, before going out to commit his own horrendous atrocity. He had been investigated by the FBI before, as one of his friends had been a suicide bomber. They’d let him go. Now questions are being asked about the investigation and the soundness of their decision.

My guess here is that the FBI probably did have to face a genuinely difficult decision. Many people know someone personally who is a ‘bit dodgy’. For most people, it’s low-grade criminality, nowhere near the level of mass murder. The problem with looking at networks of people is that just because person X knows Y, who might be a known crim, or be a member of an unpleasant political or religious organisation, doesn’t mean that person X is either. Of course, ISIS are bound to claim him proudly as one of their own, because they are, after all, a gang of cut-throats with a twisted sense of morality and a need to kill and maim. But that doesn’t mean that Mateen joined them out of any deep religious or ideological reasons. He could just have joined them because he was an angry, nihilistic thug with a need to take out his rage on innocents, and ISIS gave him a pretext, a rationale for his atrocity.

Way back in 19th century France, Paris was rocked for a time by a series of bombings committed by Ravachol, an anarchist. Yet when Ravachol himself was caught, his self-declared ideological reasons for blowing up cafes and their patrons looked less than sound. He has no connection to other anarchist groups, and far from attacking the ruling classes, his bombings were of working class bars and cafes. He might have been genuinely motivated by the ideas of Bakunin and the other advocates of ‘propaganda of the deed’. Or he might simply have been a maniac with a need to kill and maim, and seized on anarchism for his rationale. Just as Mateen used ISIS.

After all, if Mateen was a dedicated Islamist, it looks like he left it rather late. Rather than phone them up before going out and shooting people, you’d have thought he’d have done it long ago. And then there’s his choice of venue. He had a very specific hatred of gays. I think this is remarkable, because in previous Islamist atrocities, they target the general population indiscriminately. They’re just interested in killing Western unbelievers, which includes those Muslims, who don’t share their warped views. You think of the 7/7 bombers. They targeted public transport. They didn’t target gay pubs. I’m not saying that they didn’t hate gays. It’s highly likely they did. But specifically targeting one particular group wasn’t their aim. They wanted to kill all infidels generally. The same with the Boston bomber. He targeted a marathon in order to kill the maximum number of people in a public place, irrespective of their sexuality.

Now it could be that Mateen was a genuine Islamist, and that from killing the patrons of the nightclub, he would have moved on to other sections of the population, apart from gays. But I wonder. At the moment, it looks to me like he was a nasty homophobe with a specific desire to kill gay people, rather than being a warrior for Islam.

The Ancestors of Democracy in Ancient Iraq?

March 14, 2015

Ancient Greece is rightly venerated as the place where western democracy began. However, Daniel E. Fleming, in a book published in 2004, suggested that the origins of western democracy may lie even further back and to the east, in ancient Mesopotamia, now modern Iraq. In his book Democracy’s Ancient Ancestors, Fleming examined 3,000 letters from the archives of the ancient city of Mari, finding in them evidence for collective leadership and early democratic ideas and vocabulary in the city’s myths and literary traditions.

I haven’t read the book, but I think I can see where Fleming is coming from. The cities of the Babylonian Empire were ruled by three different layers of government. There was the governor, appointed by the emperor; the city’s local ruler, the mayor; and the karim, or chamber of commerce. This last could be the popular assembly of a limited kind that provided the proto-democratic element in the Babylonian political system.

The Babylonians were also rather like us, in that they also expected their rulers to act in their interests, and had a cynical contempt for them when they didn’t. There’s one Babylonian story about a citizen, who gives the mayor a golden cup, expecting a suitable favour in return. When he doesn’t get it, the citizen arranges a series of four incidents, in which the mayor has the living daylights beaten out of him in consequence. Okay, so it isn’t democracy so much as a bribe, but it does show that there were limits placed on the actions of their rulers, and the citizenry considered it their right to mete out appropriate justice when their rulers didn’t govern on their behalf.

Aside from this, since Edward Said’s Orientalism, there has been a move by some historians to challenge the simplistic notion of a free, democratic West versus a despotic East. Said traced this idea back to Herodotus’ The Histories, and the Father of History’s account of the Persian War as a battle between Greek democracy and Persian absolute monarchy. Sasan Samiei, for example, in his book Ancient Persia in Western History: Hellenism and the Representation of the Achaemenid Empire , wrote a measured attack on this view, in particular examining and contrasting the works of Goethe and Gibbon.

Said’s Orientalism was an attempt to challenge what he viewed as Western imperialist attitudes towards Arabs and their cultures, attitudes, which justified American and European imperialism and domination. The same attitudes have been seen as influencing Frank Miller’s 300, about the Spartan victory over the Persians at Marathon. Clearly histories like Samiei’s are important as they challenge the assumptions about the Near East and the Arab and Iranian worlds, which see them as a terrible ‘Other’ implacably hostile to the West and democracy, and which partly justify Huntingdon’s theory of renewed ‘culture wars’ between the democratic, free West, and a despotic, Muslim East.

And I wondered if Fleming’s book also didn’t provide another key to explaining the destruction of the priceless Assyrian artefacts by Isis a few weeks. They weren’t just trying to destroy the remains of a civilisation they considered to be pre-Islamic and therefore idolatrous. They were trying to destroy the reminders that Iraq had a history and culture going back thousands of years, in which democracy, rather than the rule of force, may have played a part. This last might provide a point a rapprochement between the West and Iraqi Islam. ISIS despise the West, and would like to provoke us into further attacking Iraq and its people further, in order to create more chaos. This would, they hope, further cut the rug from under the moderates and radicalise more of the people against us. Smashing those artefacts was part of that process, in the hope it would incense the West, as well as destroy the ancient, and possibly democratic legacy, of that ancient civilisation.