Last week the President articulated his understanding of terrorist origins. At the National Defense University he explained:
Most, though not all, of the terrorism we face is fueled by a common ideology – a belief by some extremists that Islam is in conflict with the United States and the West, and that violence against Western targets, including civilians, is justified in pursuit of a larger cause.
This is a common perception of what motivates terrorists. The President tells us — and I agree — the motivation is not based in reality.
Of course, this ideology is based on a lie, for the United States is not at war with Islam; and this ideology is rejected by the vast majority of Muslims, who are the most frequent victims of terrorist acts.
But there is another motivation more fundamental than the ideology referenced by the President. There is an underlying precondition that enables the deadly ideology. The vast majority of Muslims are mostly immune to this precondition precisely because of their Muslim faith.
Intentional violence against random strangers may be this precondition’s most dramatic symptom, but there are many more. Other common attributes are beliefs and behaviors associated with narcissism: self-aggrandizement, sense of persecution, envy, lack of empathy, paranoia, delusions of omnipotence, et cetera.
If the ideology noted by the President is a symptom emerging from an underlying pathology, is a deeper diagnosis available? Continuing the theme of poetic policy argument started on Tuesday, I suggest:
Banality breeds barbarity
Beginning with brittle self-regard
Combining with vague resentment
Finding in a convenient other
Sufficient blame for the fatal infection
The banal prefer clarity
Impatient with ambiguity
Insisting on bald binaries
Purchased by investing in
Disdain denial delusion
The banal find comfort in
Any orthodoxy that claims to
Contain the perpetual paradox
Emerging from our experience
Of constant creative change
Creating involves doing
Failing learning – thinking
Traipsing the light fantastic
The banal prefer repeating
Half-heard petty pieties
Unchanging litanies of self-
Congratulation and complaint
Elaborate confections of conceit
The banal build barns and fill them
Construct houses on sandbars
Do not consider the birds of the air
Cherish the log in their eye and the
Speck in the eye of their neighbor
The banal are deaf to dialogue
Blind to beauty but generally
Harmless except to themselves
Unless their delusions are
Nationalized, worse sacralized
Then sugary sentiment becomes
Hard cold sharp steel ready to
Sacrifice innocence especially their own
On a baroque altar of self-righteousness
Bloody bathos brutal banality
Bless me please with uncertainty.