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July 7, 2005

Terrorism, the Evil Resistance

The foreign minister of Iraq, Hoshyar Zebari, said something in a recent interview with Jay Nordlinger, published in the June 20 National Review that seemed particularly appropriate to post today (brackets in original):

Lakhdar Brahimi [of the U.N.] refers to the insurgency you're facing as a "resistance" — a resistance, moreover, some of whose "aspects" are "very legitimate." Your response?

We were the resistance, against Saddam Hussein. I personally was — I was a member of the resistance in the early '80s, opposed to Saddam Hussein. At the time, nobody [in the world at large] was on our side. But we never, ever blew up water plants, we never attacked a pipeline or an electrical pole, we never targeted civilians, or hospitals, or schools, or populated areas. We never sent cars [outfitted with bombs] to kill innocent people in the streets.

There are aspects of a legitimate resistance, and these aspects are missing in Iraq. To call the insurgents a resistance is an affront to a true resistance.

May God be with those in England who've suffered most deeply, this day, and on a daily basis in Iraq, and may those nations' ruling classes lead their people in a direction that acknowledges that not all violence against organized civilizations is righteous.

Posted by Justin Katz at July 7, 2005 10:03 PM
International Affairs

Thanks for your comments on my article, The Future of Tradition. I enjoyed them.

I wrote this essay over a year ago, and since that time I have been furiously working out a complex and elaborate argument in which I conclude that reason is itself a transformative tradition that has emerged only in certain cultures, though it is a latent possibility in all humans.

For example, if I can get what I want from you by knocking you over the head, why should I bother to reason with you? Hence, in order to make men even entertain the idea of reasoning with each other you must first install a visceral code that rigidly prohibits the "knocking over the head" option.

It is not reason that tells us we shouldn't knock each other over the head, but a specific visceral code that happens to be found only in certain kind of communities, namely communities in which all aggressive impulses are subjected to control from an early age.

The question then becomes why have some communities developed such a pacific visceral code, and the answer to this question is nornally given, by the communities, in terms of a revelation--either from a god or from a divinely inspired law-giver.

Revelation is the theological symbol for the "out of the blue" emergence of a transformative tradition. A seer, prophet, a law-giver suddenly appears and says that everyone must give up their old way of doing things, and begin from scratch doing things in a new way. Lycurgus with his Spartans, Moses with the children of Israel, Jesus with his kingdom of Heaven--each is an example of the revelation of a new visceral code that permitted the communities that embodied it to reach a new and higher level of ethical life than was available to them before the revelation.

From an atheist's perspective, you might simply regard the revelation as the sport-like appearance of a transformative meta-meme that ushers in a new way of producing and constucting human adults from human infants--a new techne for the making of special kinds of human beings, such as the Spartans, the Hebrews, the early Christians.

Also from an atheist's perspective, you can demonstrate how these specific visceral codes offered to the communities that adapted them enormous advantages over the communities that continued to live at a lower ethical baseline.

Thus, in the final analysis, it is the great transformaive traditions that allow the full emergence of reason, and it is only the visceral code in which these traditions are encoded and embodied that guarantee that this reason will not become simply an ideology that one group can use to knock another group over the head.

Enlightened rationality is, in our world, more often than not simply a tool by which the cognitive elite assert their dominance over the masses--and thus it has lost the essential character of reason, which is its dialogical (and dialectical) openness to the possibility of self-transcendence. We can learn from others that our own views are one-sided, but only when we take seriously other people's point of view.

Posted by: Lee Harris at July 8, 2005 9:56 AM