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Seattle Catholic
A Journal of Catholic News and Views
8 Mar 2006

Terrorists and Post-Modernists

by Matthew M. Anger

Theo Van Gogh

It was a forwarded article from a relative. It told of a new French documentary by Pierre Rehov, Suicide Killers, making the politically incorrect link between Muslim theology and terrorism. Rehov referred to Islam as a "culture of hatred in which the uneducated are brainwashed to a level where their only solution in life becomes to kill themselves and kill others in the name of a God whose word... has became their only certitude." But there was a fly in the ointment. For, according to Rehov, Islamic violence is really the product of sexually-repressed Muslim males. "The separation between men and women in Islam is absolute," he says. "This leads to a situation of pure anxiety, in which normal behavior is not possible. It is no coincidence that suicide killers are mostly young men dominated subconsciously by an overwhelming libido that they not only cannot satisfy but are afraid of." Thus we are confronted with the only permissible critique that a sex-obsessed world has to offer.

Rehov's thesis was no doubt inspired by prize-winning French novelist Michel Houellebecq, who opined that Islam is "the stupidest religion," along with some more obscene observations about the followers of Mohammed. In his pornographic story Platform (2001), for example, Houellebecq pits attractive Western hedonists against bloodthirsty Muslims driven by what he sees as moral fanaticism. The novelist was barely cleared in 2002 by a Paris court of committing "hate crimes." But as journalists were quick to remark, Houellebecq was an equal opportunity bigot, having expressed his disdain for all monotheistic creeds.

Cynical Amoralizing

The linkage of "virtue" to evil is not a new one. Houellebecq's is simply a new variation on this theme. Back in the Cold War, there were libertines (conservative and liberal) who opposed Communism simply for its "puritanism," ranking all forms of morality as thought-control. They no doubt felt vindicated when the mobs pouring over the Berlin Wall in 1989 made a beeline not for grocery stores or fashion outlets, but for adult bookstores.

Houellebecq is not the only fashionable Western amoralist. There is the late Theo Van Gogh — Netherlands' "Michael Moore" — best known for his savage death at the hands of Mohammed Bouyeri in November 2004. One also recalls Louis-Ferdinand CÚline, author of aimless, erotic novels like Journey to the End of the Night, who was a rabid anti-Semite and collaborator with the Nazis in occupied France. These men share a sense of frustration with contemporary society, often mocking mainstream ideals. But, like all post-Modernists, they do not even attempt a real spiritual solution, preferring a chaotic individualism that expresses itself in despair.

Houellebecq waxes obscene about the frustration of Western men with their feminist counterparts, and their quest for sexual partners in the Orient. Yet his characters are haunted by futility. They are satiated with monotonous indulgence at clubs and nudist colonies, when not having endless affairs. Characters are always on the brink of achieving fulfillment when it is suddenly snatched away by disease, suicide, accidents or, in the case of Platform, by terror attacks by Islamic fundamentalists. In this respect, the novel was unintentionally prophetic, portraying terror bombings on sex tourism centers like the ones that occurred in Bali in 2002. But Houellebecq's answer is more of the same. As seen through the eyes of the main character:

Michel doesn't like capitalism much himself (the West has created a system that reeks of "egoism, masochism and death," he thinks gloomily, "and we keep on exporting it"), but he'll take it over Islam any day.

The Evil that "Good" Men Do

To people of Houellebecq's contrarian mindset, it is virtue that produces vice. Muslim men are abnormal because of strict codes on sexual, and other, behavior. Take that away and they would become charming and inoffensive epicureans. According to Brendan Bernhard's summary in the LA Times:

Michel meets a Jordanian banker who has a theory about why certain Muslim fundamentalists are so hostile to the American way of life. Their secret dream, he tells Michel over a beer, is to become a part of it themselves, and their aggression is a symptom of impotent envy. As for the paradise promised by the prophet, the problem for Muslims is that you don't need to die to find it. "There are places on this earth where available and lascivious girls dance for the pleasure of men, where one can get drunk while listening to heavenly music," he says. "There are twenty such places within a five-hundred-meter radius of this hotel. These places are easily accessible, and to enter them you don't need to fulfill the Muslim's seven duties or dedicate oneself to a Holy War; all you have to do is pay a few dollars."

Such flippancy exudes a certain charm for the indolent. But there are just a few holes in this argument. According to criminological and psychological studies, sexually explicit entertainment is closely linked to violent behavior. One recalls the testimonies of serial killers Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. Utah child killer Gary Bishop admitted some years ago that, "I am a homosexual pedophile convicted of murder. Pornography was a determining factor in my downfall ... For me, pornography was like lighting a fuse on a stick of dynamite. I became stimulated and had to gratify my urges or explode."

Nor are killers on a wider scale necessarily diverted by sexual freedom. It is often posited that political leaders who lack inhibitions are less likely to channel their urges into violent directions. Unfortunately, this overlooks the fact that Hitler had Eva Braun and Stalin went through a number of mistresses. And it need not be mentioned how many human beings in recent decades have been terminated in the quest for "safe sex." Hedonism has a darker side as well.

Dysfunctional Creeds

That is not to deny that the voluptuaries are, in their rather warped way, onto something. Filmmaker Theo van Gogh, before he was shot and hacked to death by an Islamic fanatic in broad daylight, detailed the stories of Muslim women in Holland who were beaten, raped and forced into marriage. Sexual slavery, including harems, is a persistent and entrenched practice in the Islamic world. So is temporary marriage (as found in Iran, which permits "licit" shacking-up). Even in the afterlife Islam makes explicit promises about fleshly delights. No doubt this is the basis for a long tradition of erotic story-telling in Islam as found in The Thousand and One Nights and The Perfumed Garden. It is ironic to see people like van Gogh condemn Islam because of its intolerance of homosexuality and feminism. Yet liberals generally seem happy to overlook such apparent shortcomings, hating Christianity more than its rivals.

Unfortunately, Playboy ethicists, on both the left and the right, do little to inspire opposition to Muslim zeal. Nor is the idea that Islam poses a principled challenge to the decadent West exclusively confined to Allah's adherents. There are those (like the aforementioned CÚline) who favor nihilistic ideologies, including fascism. But whether Muslim or agnostic, the problem stems from non-Christian views of morality which focus purely on externals. In the case of Houellebecq, it is a superficial appreciation of terror and its causes — i.e., "fundamentalism" as opposed to "liberating" profligacy. For other simplifiers, it is a totalitarian ethic.

Undoubtedly, moral frustration does play a role in the contradictory faith of the Koran. Muslim terrorists simultaneously acknowledge sin while suppressing their own consciences. It is part of an age-old tradition of cloaking self-indulgence under sanctimonious activity. Marx and Mohammad have come to tell us that it is okay to "hate your neighbor" in the name of the higher cause. They also share the belief that vice, as they define it, can be eradicated or ignored through the institutions they have established.

Vice and Virtue Defined

It is said that in this life, all men agree on the ends; they disagree on the means. In that all men want happiness (as Aristotle states), this is certainly true. But how one defines this "happiness" makes a difference. Consider the methods used by followers of messianic creeds who think that they can buy a quick ticket to heaven — be that heaven in this world or the next. Sins are "cleansed" away by "what we are" and not what we do. It is adherence to the Party Chairman, the Jihad, or sola fide that makes us "pure." In such manner Mohammed Atta and his co-terrorists, having partaken of such Western vices as drinking and frequenting striptease bars, could make up for their indulgence through an act of "martyrdom." They also made use of pornographic chat rooms to post their covert instructions to one another. The ends justified the means.

That still leaves us with the hedonist allegation that evil is tied to an ill-defined "fundamentalism" (i.e., strong moral beliefs). It is true that ethical structures can be warped, but only so long as they are subjective. Virtue does not lead to vice, and vice certainly does not lead to virtue. The Western system of objective ethical norms, espoused by the ancients and embraced by the Catholic Church, denies that virtue can be validated on an individual, emotive basis. Rather, that is the error of moral rebels, and the basis of all crimes.

Totalitarians partake of all the transgressions valued by Western liberals even if they cloak and "justify" them in other ways. Yet individualists really only differ in their choice of methods. Houellebecq and Atta, for example, both want their unfettered sex. Likewise, fanatical hedonists and Muslims share a craven ruthlessness in striving to maintain their artificial structures of reality: Houellebecq rejoices every time he hears that a Palestinian child is "gunned down in the Gaza Strip," while Muslim militants find it necessary to behead Christian schoolgirls in Indonesia. In neither case have these men understood the true meaning of morality and virtue.


Matthew Anger is a freelance journalist who has written essays on history, philosophy and literature from a Catholic perspective. He lives with his wife and eight children in the Richmond, Virginia area, where he is employed as a web/multimedia designer. In addition to Seattle Catholic, he contributes to The Latin Mass and Homiletic & Pastoral Review. He also maintains Imlac's Journal, a philosophical blog.

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