'Each man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world'
-- Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

'Artists are tricky fellows sir, forever shaping the world according to some design of their own'
-- Jonathan Strange, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


'And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: Behold! human beings living in a underground cave'
--Socrates in Plato's The Republic, Book VII

My final thoughts on the cave/luxury compound. Daniel Byman writes in Foreign Affairs this month ('Terrorism After the Revolutions', published before the bin Laden killing) that, 'indeed, looking out from bin Laden's cave, the Arab world looks less promising [for Jihadists] than it did only a few months ago.'

A Pakistani woman photographed her daughter at the gate of the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Copyright: Aqeel Ahmed/AP, reproduced by NYT here.
This made me realise that whilst both the West and the Jihadists propagate the idea of bin Laden in the cave, they do so for opposed reasons. The West puts bin Laden in a cave because it visualises him as a cave-dweller and his jihad as a throw back to an era before history, before civilization. He's hiding from the forces of enlightenment and order in the dwelling of neanderthals. The cave serves to illustrate the lack of progress that can be made by the jihadists, their inability to produce social contracts, institutions of government, technology, infrastructure. Indeed, much of the work at CTC, West Point has focused on the absence of any jihadist blueprint for government (see inter alia, Lahoud, N. (2010) The Jihadis' path to self-destruction). Having moved away from the Muslim Brotherhood's ideals of politicised Islam, which made concessions in order to produce a palattable idea of government, the jihadists rejected all forms of the political, preferring only the relationship between the individual and God - thus the West demonstrates this apparent rejection of civilisation by production of an atavistic image and accompanying narrative. 

The jihadist propagation of bin Laden in a cave is meant to enhance the bin Laden brand - the myth of the man as a symbol. In this way he becomes more than a figurehead, he seeks the amplitude of the idea of his self into something broader and less tangible. He is the austere leader who has rejected Western luxuries in pursuit of jihad. He has travelled to the peripheries of the Islamic world to fight to expand the dar-al-islam, at the boundaries of the dar-al-harb. The cave is where the warrior in the mountain lives. Compare this with Rashid ad-Din Sinan, known to history as 'the old man of the mountain', the leader of the infamous hashashain sect (of the heretical Nizari Shi'a) in Syria in the 12th century and considered in some contemporary writings as semi-divine. Bin Laden, is (or, was) attempting to portray himself as the living embodiment of the untainted 'Salafist jihadist' (the term is Kepel's) ideal. 

Strange then, that he ends up in the million dollar compound...

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