The Fanatical Muslim Mind

Murderous minds have plotted against us. They have conspired to slaughter thousands of our countrymen in attack after attack. These killers have millions of sympathizers the world over who cheer them on and bankroll their criminal assaults. Our purpose now is to illuminate that dark deformity of the human psyche called Muslim fanaticism. The fanatic, as a psychological type, has been a problem since the dawn of humanity. The Muslim fanatic has been making mischief since the Seventh Century.

In the year 610AD a Bedouin trader named Muhammad began a visionary quest to unite the feuding tribes of the Arabian Peninsula into an unstoppable military and political force. The vehicle for this mass movement would be a new religion of Muhammad’s choosing. The holy text of his new religion was the Quran (Koran), which Muhammad claimed was dictated to him by the Archangel Gabriel. Muhammad never wrote any of this angelic dictation down. It was left to his followers to write down his spoken words on bits of bone and stones and pieces of leather. These notes were later collected and bound into the volume that is the Quran as we know it today.

Muhammad sought to enliven the stagnant and degenerate culture of Arabia. The burning enthusiasm which he ignited was both a religious and a nationalist mass movement. Like the later Bolsheviks, the early Muslims were encouraged to place blind faith in the omnipotence of their doctrine, the Quran. Like the later Nazis, they placed their blind faith in an infallible leader, Muhammad, and in a crushing technique, the Islamic code.

First, a ruthless army of Muslims would overrun their neighbors, then all non-Muslims would be burdened with heavy taxation and the threat of enslavement. Only Islamic teachings were allowed in schools. The construction of houses of worship other than mosques was forbidden. Not surprisingly, the combination of blitzkrieg and propaganda and terror, resulted in wholesale conversions to Islam. Many converted to avoid financial ruin from taxation and to lift the threat of enslavement.

Muhammad called the faithful to jihad, or holy war. His army of converts was imbued with a reckless enthusiasm born of an extravagant hope in a brighter future. Those who died for the new faith were assured of an luridly sensual afterlife. The Quran, they were told, was the key to the future. Muhammad did not gather a following by the reasonableness of his arguments, but by encouraging extravagant hopes: hope in a heavenly kingdom, hope in world domination and the hope of plunder and riches.

The hopeful fanatics of today are no different from those of centuries past, and it makes no difference whether they are shepherds or artisans or intellectuals, they all have a reckless disregard for the present and would wreck the world to its very foundations to make space for the world they envision. The wrath of the hopeful is a terrible thing. When an army of dreamers is loose in the world the most noble cause soon turns to the business of bloodletting.

There is an old saying: Happy people don’t make history. Neither do they become fanatics. The fanatic is always discontented, frustrated and feeling powerless. If only he had access to the irresistible power of an infallible leader, or a powerful doctrine, or a revolutionary method for capturing a bright, fulfilling future! Muhammad of Mecca, the self-anointed Messenger of God, provided Muslim fanatics with all three. Muhammad wasn’t seeking the meek. He wanted fanatics.

The people who are drawn to radical Islamic organizations are not seeking self-advancement; they are seeking self-renunciation. Confident, contented and fulfilled people tend to shun such groups. Radical Muslims look upon mere self-advancement as something unclean. They seek, instead, a rebirth, a new and better self. They long to lose their old unhappy selves in a new collective body. Converts and fellow-travelers of the radical Muslim revival experience a new-found pride, confidence, hope and sense of purpose through their identification with the holy cause of Islamic jihad. The sort of unhappy underachievers who are attracted to the current Islamic revival are also the very sort who tend to make the movement even more extreme, for this reason: the less claim a man has to personal excellence, the more vehement will be his claim of excellence for his cause. They cling to their movement to give their lives a sense of worth. Their need is intense and personal, and so their embrace of their cause is passionate. The willingness of the Muslim fanatic to die for his cause is proof to himself that his chosen cause is a worthy substitute for his former unhappy existence.

The sort of people who would attract themselves to a Muslim revival movement are the sort who would Attract themselves to any mass movement. Indeed, at a time when the president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was encouraging Arabs to join his mass movement for Pan-Arab Socialism, the American CIA sought to blunt the expansion of this movement by encouraging a revival of Islamic fundamentalism as a way of soaking up potential mass-movement adherents and keeping them away from Nasser’s socialist movement. It was an effective way to diminish Soviet influence in the Middle East, but it encouraged the growth of today’s radical Muslim revival groups.

The opportunities for advancement, which Western capitalist societies represent, only serve to frighten the average Muslim fanatic because failed people of little talent always find freedom to be a burden. The freedom to act as individuals will only serve to expose how personally ineffectual they really are. The Muslim fanatic who joins a radical organization seeks to be free of individual responsibility for his actions, to be free of individual guilt.

Fanatics crave an atmosphere of strict discipline. They love the close adherence to doctrine. They live to obey the commands of their infallible leader or sacred text. But in his heart the fanatic fears liberty. The sense of liberation that the fanatical adherents of a mass movement experience comes from escaping their feelings of failure and hopelessness as failed individuals. Overturning existing social institutions can also create a heady sense of liberation, even though the intended future social institutions are constricted and suffocating.

Muslim fanatics have never fought for freedom; they fight for the uniformity of a single all-encompassing doctrine. Their passion for the “one true doctrine” is, in truth, a passion for uniformity, for authority, for anonymity. Mediocre people and people with a deep sense of their own inferiority, will always clamor for equality at the expense of individual freedom. Muhammad designed Islam to be a great leveler, to make everyone equal to everyone else. Any Muslim who observes the Five Duties will be accepted by others as a good Muslim. Nothing more is required of him. Islam does not encourage the sort of deep soul searching and reformation of character which characterizes Christianity. Soul searching puts a sharp focus on the individual. Islam was designed to be a mass religio-military movement. Islam encourages the faithful to lose their individual selves in the great sea of Islam. The very word Islam means “submission.” The word Muslim means “one who submits.” It is the very essence of Islam as a restless mass movement that has made it such a menace to its non-Muslim neighbors down through the centuries to the very present.

The Muslim is encouraged to see himself as an atomistic particle in the great mass of Islam. Such people do not see themselves as autonomous individuals who are solely responsible for the condition of their lives. If they are poor, they do not blame their poverty on their own shortcomings, but seek to blame remote or hostile influences for their condition. By their very temperament they will place all blame on some Great Satan.

Communal life is the very essence of Islam and it is communal life that is most threatened by any contact with Western civilization. The Western ideal of individual self-advancement strikes at the very heart of tribal solidarity. Tribal leaders fear the diminution of their influence, while common folk may experience a new-found frustration from their failure to prosper. Even the richest sheik may long for the soothing anonymity of “that old time religion.” To millions of Muslims the Western jewel of individual freedom is no more than a threat of personal isolation.

Islam did not grow so quickly because of the brilliance of its doctrine, which is little more than a cut-and-paste of Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian texts, but because of its corporate structure which was quick to absorb so many people who were living meaningless individual lives. The success of the Bolsheviks, likewise, rested on their ability to offer the feeling of being a closely knit welcoming community.

The ranks of the Muslim fanatics are filled with those perpetually unfulfilled misfits who long to lose themselves in the welcoming collectivity of a mass movement. They willingly renounce all individual will and ambition and give themselves completely to their chosen cause. These misfits are the most likely to become the most violent extremists.

Mass movements live or die by their ability to promote united action and self-sacrifice. Matters of doctrine are secondary. Self-sacrifice and united action require self-diminution, even self-renunciation. This is something that frustrated and unhappy people are all too willing to do.

The closed Islamic state and the cloistered mosque are ideal incubators of fanatical minds. To create a killer who is willing to die for Islam, the believer must first be alienated from his real-world self. This is done by drawing him more deeply into the sheltering Islamic community where he assumes a new imaginary self as a warrior for Islam. He is encouraged to disparage the world as it is and to fixate his attention on the dream of a brighter Islamic future. Islamic doctrine is held up as a shield against reality. His spiritual teachers infuse him with passions that prevent him from regaining rational emotional stability. The fanatic ceases to be an autonomous human being; his only identification is with the Muslim collective body. His confidence springs from his attachment to the collective. Even when he is alone he feels the watchful eyes of the collective upon him.

The ideal of Islam is total submissiveness. To ensure that the faithful will not identify with any other collective body, all exposure to the outside world is severely limited: the news is censored, the texts of other religions are not available, missionaries are discouraged or banned outright. All Muslim school children are taught the glories of past Muslim conquests. A psychological barrier is drawn around the Muslim collective by a relentless propaganda campaign that strives to impress upon every Muslim that there is nothing worthy of admiration or reverence outside of the Islamic community.

If dying and killing are to be a part of the fanatic’s function, then he must be imbued with the illusion that he is participating in a grand pageant. The killer becomes an actor in a piece of religious theater. The very act of killing may take on dramatic, ritual or ceremonial aspects. The suicide bombers of Islam are reminded again and again that the eyes of the Islamic world are on them and that they will be remembered by posterity. The Muslim fanatic stands ready to sacrifice his temporary earthly self for the opportunity to become a new, eternal, heroic, imaginary self forever revered by his Muslim audience.

The spiritual leaders of radical Islam extol the ascetic life; they denounce all pleasures and comforts; all personal happiness is characterized as trivial or immoral. Their purpose is to make the budding fanatic see the present as soiled, corrupted and useless. He is taught to see the present as an illusion that masks a vibrant future which is just around the corner; it merely awaits the final triumph of Islam.

The joyful renunciation of this present world as something vile and base serves to lessen the fanatic’s sense of personal failure and isolation. The determination necessary to overcome his personal desires gives the ascetic fanatic the illusion of strength and control.

The emboldened fanatic displays a marked preference for attempting the impossible. To fail while attempting the possible is to be exposed as a sad incompetent, but to fail while attempting the impossible is to remain safely heroic.

The Muslim fanatic lives within a fact-proof cocoon of cant and holy writ. He believes that there is no truth or certitude outside of his interpretation of the Quran. The contradictory evidence of the observable world around him must never be acknowledged; he must reject the evidence of his senses as heresy. To sustain his faith he must labor daily to maintain his unbelief in reason and direct observation. The Muslim fanatic uses the Quran as a blindfold.

Islamic doctrine is not effective because of its profundity, but because it so thoroughly insulates the Muslim from the real world. The fact that the Quran is a hodgepodge of other religious texts which does not include a single original idea is of no consequence: the strength of Islamic doctrine flows from its certitude, its claim to be the one and only truth superseding all others.

Fanatical Muslims are convinced that Islam is the one true and eternal path to Paradise. Their conviction is rooted in a passionate desperation rather than in the excellence of Islam. The need for any passionate attachment is far more important to the fanatical mind than are the particulars of the cause to which it is attached. This is why fanatics can be converted to other radical causes, but will never accept moderation or compromise or reason. Hitler knew full well that the best pickings for future Nazis could be found in the ranks of the Communist Party.

The Muslim fanatic needs to experience total dedication to his cause. For him, tolerance will always be a sign of weakness. His deepest reassurance can only come from complete surrender to his vision of Islam. The contents of the Quran are less important to the fanatic than his need for communion with the Muslim congregation.

The cement that unites any band of fanatics is a shared hatred. Fanatical Muslims are not inspired by Allah, but by their shared vision of a devil. The Great Satan of their twisted theology is currently the modern Western world and its hated offspring: democracy, moderation, tolerance, skepticism and the idea of progress. If he chooses to, he may also imagine that the whole non-Muslim world is but a puppet show manipulated by his old hobgoblin, the Jews.

Every fanatic is deeply suspicious by nature. Any deviation from his fundamentalist party line within his own ranks is immediately branded as the work of outside enemies of his faith. All Muslim dissenters are denounced as instruments of the infidel. Every failing is blamed on the enemies of Islam. An atmosphere of suspicion is encouraged among the faithful; every Muslim must be constantly on his guard against spies and traitors and deviationists. Every transgression must be reported to the enforcers of the faith.

The wise fanatical leader will strive to keep the great mass of his followers intellectually immature. By raising dogma above reason, the leader prevents his followers from becoming intellectually self-reliant. Iron-fisted censorship of art, music, science and literature prevents even the small population of creative intellects from achieving their full flower. An endless routine of compulsory religious devotions also retards Muslim intellectual maturation by demanding daily conformity to prescribed behavioral norms. People raised in such a suffocating atmosphere will always remain dependent and incomplete.

The realization and perpetuation of Islam depended upon the generous application of force. To pave the way for the armed fanatics the existing social order had first to be discredited by a creative man of words. That man was Muhammad (aka the Prophet). The Quran is Muhammad’s manifesto. The Quran is a political document; its political purpose was to discredit the existing social conditions on the Arabian Peninsula. Muhammad claimed to have received the Quran from the Archangel Gabriel simply to give himself greater authority. Muhammad’s dream was to unite the feuding tribes of Arabia under the one big tent of Islam. Islam was conceived as a mass movement. It has been perpetuated as a mass movement. For Islam to achieve success all other competing thought systems had to be swept aside. The plentiful numbers of Arabian Jews, Christians and animists would have to go. Henceforth the intellectual life of Islam would be shaped by the Quran and by theocracies rooted in the Quran. In essence, all learning became a monopoly of the Islamic state and the few elite men of letters who served the state. Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Castro, Pol Pot and Muhammad all understood the utility of a state-run educational monopoly. If the anonymous masses were kept barely literate, so much the better. It is not by accident that radical theocracies such as the Taliban deny an education to over half their populations, women. Most schooling for boys is narrowly Quranic.

Certainly early Christianity had its zealots, those fanatical enthusiasts who defiled the temples of pious Roman citizens, but by the end of the Thirty Years War, European Christians had pretty much lost their taste for murderous intolerance. Christians now acknowledge that these conflicts were, in essence, un-Christian. Islam, by contrast, was conceived in zealotry and has maintained a deep affection for its most fanatical adherents until the very present.

Mass movements that carry on their early stages for too long will fall into stagnation. The early flowering of Islamic culture now resembles a bright butterfly frozen in amber. It was a gift to Europe that the Muslims preserved the intellectual heritage of the ancient Greeks during Europe’s own period of stagnation, the Dark Ages, but the constraints of Quranic anti-intellectualism ordained that Islam would not be able to evolve its own intellectual heritage beyond the perspectives of Aristotle. The wealth of Islam today and what little intellectual ferment it possesses, flows from its relations with the non-Muslim world. Islam itself has languished in stagnation for centuries. The fact that Muslims have allowed fanaticism, masquerading as piety, to persist for so long in their midst is testimony to their deeply inbred submissiveness. Generations of iron-fisted boss-man rule by tribal leaders and theocratic despots has inured them to zealotry and intellectual poverty.

Over a century ago Madame de Stael said of the Germans: “The Germans are vigorously submissive. They employ philosophical reasoning to explain what is the least philosophical thing in the world, respect for force and the fear which transforms that respect into admiration.” It’s an apt description of the Muslims and their use of Quranic interpretations to justify generations of submission and their cultural habit of murderous jihad.

Fanatics of every stripe, whether Communist, Nazi, Fascist, or Muslim, have loudly expounded the opinion that the Western democracies are decadent. They imagine the citizens of democracies to be soft, self-absorbed and addicted to pleasure and not at all willing to die for a glorious holy cause. There is some truth in this; we in the West tend to be skeptical of “holy causes” in general. It’s a skepticism born of bitter experience. And why shouldn’t we enjoy all that our honest efforts have given us?

But the fanatic hates all pleasure; only his chosen cause gives his otherwise empty life purpose. Without a forward-looking cause, without a mindset that is always awaiting tomorrow, the fanatic would have to live a normal life in the present and be confronted daily by his personal failings. These hollow men would rather die than endure such a fate.

How Tough Are They?
The Muslim fanatics are not insane. Their fanaticism is a social phenomenon that feeds on feelings of shame, fear, failure and powerlessness. They see the world in a completely different way. For them, blowing themselves to bits while killing thousands of infidels is not really suicide, but istishhad, or self-sacrifice, which they regard as heroic. The emotional world they live in is opposed to everything we associate with modernity. Muslim fanatics tend to be alienated and unsuccessful. Their leaders tell them that they are the victims of injustice. They are told that their lives will be better if they strike out at the Great Satan. They do not seek to influence the West, but to expel all Western influence. They seek a hermetic Islamic world. These fanatics have found communion in a closed society that condones their extreme behavior.

Osama bin Laden vividly conjures up for them the cherished memory of the millennium during which Islam triumphed over the Jews and the Christians. They imagine Western secularism to be a spiritual pollution that threatens the umma, the community of believers. Their successful assaults on American embassies, ships and cities have emboldened them. The absence of any meaningful response to their assaults during the Clinton years was taken as proof of America’s lack of spiritual vigor.

Bin Laden is trying to demonstrate to all Muslims that a cadre of truly committed believers can reverse the recent history of the Islamic world. In his eyes the flaming collapse of the World Trade Towers was the most promising victory since the capture of Christian Constantinople in 1453. As long as bin Laden is alive he will remain an inspiration for holy-warrior enthusiasm. Things will quiet down when he is dead. Any concern that he would be made a martyr is of secondary importance. In the Middle East, martyrs are a dime a dozen.

The holy-warrior spirit of the Muslim fanatics can be broken by combat. The British cracked the holy-warrior spirit in 1898 when they crushed the warriors of the Mahdist regime in Sudan with cannon fire and Gatling guns. Saddam Hussein bled the spirit out of Iran’s Muslim fanatics with machine guns, artillery and flaming oil pits.

To quote former CIA operative Reuel Marc Gerecht: “To defeat bin Laden and his kind, we have to restore our awe, and the only way to acquire and retain such majesty in the Islamic Middle East is through the use of military power.” We can defeat Osama bin Laden and the Muslim fanatics if we can sustain the determination to do so. They are not supermen; they are only motivated religious bigots. Their reputation as warriors is wildly inflated. The Taliban mullah, Mohammed Omar, blusters that America will be sucked into a fatal Afghan quagmire. He sounds a lot like that other jerk, Saddam Hussein, who threatened us with “the mother of all battles.” Hussein’s divisions collapsed within one hundred hours.

The mujahedin, Osama bin Laden among them, boast that they defeated the Soviet Union. It’s not true. The Red Army retreated back into Central Asia in February 1989 because the antiquated Soviet Union was under severe economic pressure from the United States. The disordered Afghan forces were propped up with cash and weapons from the CIA, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. They were trained and directed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence force. This time around the Afghanis will have little outside support and they will be fighting a robust and far more advanced adversary.

We should also remember that the Soviets left behind a Communist-backed government in Kabul that successfully fought off the mujahedin for three years after the Soviet withdrawal. The Najibullah regime finally collapsed because the Uzbek militia, under General Abdul Rashid Dostum, revolted over a pay dispute. In April 1992 the clumsy, inept, hopelessly ethnically-divided mujahedin stumbled into Kabul with hardly a shot being fired. Within a week of their “victory” they were squabbling among themselves over the spoils of war. The tough General Dostum became a leader in our allied force, the Northern Alliance.

The mujahedin also enjoy a bogus mythology that portrays them as relentless warriors who held out in the mountains for fourteen years. In truth, seven of the eight mujahedin leaders spent the war in luxurious smuggler’s villas in Peshawar, Pakistan. The mujahedin foot soldiers were recruited from refugees around Quetta and served for no more than a few months at a time, returning to Pakistan to rest and resupply. Pakistan is no longer available to the mujahedin for such support.

The Afghans have never been united; their ruthless internal ethnic feuding and jealousies keep their country in perpetual disorder. Their reputation as a force capable of humbling empires is based almost entirely on the falsification of the Soviet retreat and on the sacking of the British residency in Kabul in 1841, which was followed by the brutal slaughter of a retreating column of 12,000 civilians. In an era of modern air transportation and instant communication, the Muslim fanatics will not be afforded the opportunity for such a methodical slaughterfest.

Our president is a nice guy, but the constraints of diplomacy prevent him from being his naturally plain-spoken self. We are not, as President Bush has said, engaged in a war against terrorism, for terrorism is merely a tactic. This tactic is motivated by an ideology and that ideology is militant Islamic fundamentalism. Our enemies are Muslim fanatics. The command structure of their lethal movement is comprised of all the mullahs, ayatollahs and imams who counsel Muslims to slay the infidels. The Muslim fanatics rely for support on millions of Muslim well-wishers and contributors to radical Islamic organizations. Fund raising for militant Islamic groups remains, even now, a brisk business here in the United States.

Unlike the Christian faith, Islam can look to its sacred text for explicit justification for its age-old habit of jihad. Jesus never exhorted anyone to hack off the limbs of unbelievers or counseled his apostles that it was okay to hold their enemies for ransom, but the Quran is full to bursting with such angry teachings. The prophet Muhammad was, before all else, a political organizer. Islam was conceived as a pan-Arab mass movement. The word love seldom appears in the Quran. Muhammad had little use for lovers; he wanted militant followers. Muhammed, personally, began the business of bloody Islamic jihad. Every Muslim child is taught to revere and emulate the Prophet.

To the failed and directionless young men who are drawn to the service of charismatic zealots such as Osama bin Laden, the Quran is a righteous guidebook that justifies the pitiless slaughter of non-Muslims. These merciless fatwa enforcers have embraced the perfect textbook for promoting mayhem. They have found perfect communion with their Muslim brotherhood. Locked within the cramped hermetic psychology of their Islamic fanaticism, these hollow men can imagine themselves to be radiant warriors standing with the legions of Muslims who have threatened the lives of non-Muslims ever since Muhammad.

Islamic fanaticism was not created by anything that we have done. When former President Clinton suggests such things he is only reminding us of what a hollow suit he is. Fanatics are as old as humanity; they are the perpetual camp followers of our species, always searching for a cause to embrace for dear life. Our chickens have come home to roost in only one sense: we, as a culture, were ineffectual at making these fanatics fear us. When Bill Clinton tossed a few cruise missles their way, it only magnified their contempt for us. By appearing weak, Clinton emboldened these fanatics. Every fanatic longs to be powerful and now they are in their glory. Because the true fanatic disdains all moderation, he will never become a believer in moderate democracy. He can only be converted to another radical cause. Since our great democracy cannot offer them any satisfying alternative to militant Islam, our only choice is to awe them with our majesty.

Thomas Clough
Copyright 2001