Islamist and Western Symbolism: A three-part analysis

With the "Deal of the Century" about to be revealed, it is time to understand the two cultures involved. Part I of The symbolism of Trump's strike at Soleimeni

Howard Rotberg

OpEds Auschwitz tattoo
Auschwitz tattoo
INN:HR
"Symbolism is no mere idle fancy or corrupt degeneration; it is inherent in the very texture of human life.”
(Alfred North Whitehead, Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect.)

Part One

We are in a war with Radical Islam with all its violence and destruction. So much of the violence is infused with symbolism.

-9/11 was an attack on the commercial heart of the most important city of the West.

-Murders are often accompanied by beheading or castration, just to symbolize the utter contempt the Jihadists have for their victims.

-The 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center by Iran’s Hezbollah was a sign of contempt for all Jews everywhere, a dangerous symbol for those who thought the Islamist war against Jews would be confined to Israel only or some Muslim majority countries..

-Iran’s Quds force is a symbol of its intent on regional hegemony. 

Until he was targeted doing mischief in Iraq by the Americans, Qassim Soleimani, was an Iranian major general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and, from 1998 until his death at the hands of the Americans, was commander of its Quds Force, a division primarily responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations.

The Middle East is replete with symbolism. When the Palestinians or other Arabs or Iranians refuse to “recognize” Israel as the Jewish homeland, that is a symbol for the contempt they have for the Jews and the impossibility of peace, when Israel is not worth recognizing.

We think our tolerance is something admirable; but the jihadists see our tolerance as a symbol – of weakness and indecision and a refusal to fight for what is important.
We think our tolerance is something admirable; but the jihadists see our tolerance as a symbol – of weakness and indecision and a refusal to fight for what is important. In my book, Tolerism: The Ideology Revealed (Mantua Books) I discuss how excessive undeserved tolerance has now become a full-blown ideology which I call “tolerism”.

And when President Donald Trump ordered the death of the evil Iranian General Solemeini, this was a significant symbol in the Islamist world – that the tide has turned, and the effete appeasing Obama has now been replaced by President Trump, a man who understands power and how to use it to the maximum effect. The latter has demonstrated that, unlike the former, he will act on “red lines” in American foreign policy.

Donald Trump, before he felt the need to enter politics and counter Obama’s “transformation”, showed that, as a businessman, he understood symbolism. After years of developing quality high rises for residential or commercial uses and despite lack of success in the casino business, his “brand” became so valuable, he began to license the Trump name to be used by other developers as an aid to their marketing. On the one hand “Trump Towers” is a symbol, and on the other, the killing of Al-Baghdadi and Solemeini was also a symbol.

It is time to pay attention to the symbolic nature of what is happening in this war, between Islamism and the rest of the world. We shall examine some symbols in the West and some symbols of the Islamist world. But first I should go back in time a bit.

At the end of the 1960s, as I entered manhood, many of my friends were growing long hair and beards, as some kind of symbol of our generation, some kind of symbol of their values or a symbol of rejection of mainstream or establishment values. I let my hair grow a little but I entered university not to make myself a symbol but to learn about history, culture, politics, society, economics, and the world of ideas.

A striking symbol, the swastika, had plagued my family in Europe. (My grandparents and then 8 year old aunt were gassed in Auschwitz.) My father had a tattoo – his Jewish identification number tattooed by the Nazis on his arm – and none of his children or grandchildren would dare tattoo themselves.

Some of the children of the 1970s hippies honor the family tradition of “anti-establishment” symbols by covering their skin in tattoos and piercings. Some go further and choose the symbols of the supposedly oppressed, never mind that lack of clear thinking creates some strange symbols – for example, Leftist Gays, some Christian clergy, and radical feminists making common cause with Islamofascists in the world who themselves persecute gays, Christians, and oppress women.

Symbols are sometimes chosen by the inarticulate, because what articulate person with a confidence that his well-articulated arguments will be heard would instead choose symbolism? It is sadly symbolic that thousands of young people are now “worshipping” in tattoo parlors rather than churches and synagogues.

Symbolism indeed but symbolism of what? Secularism is usually involved, as those influenced by the Torah would know that in Leviticus 19:28 it is written: “You shall not etch a tattoo on yourselves.” Living in the present only is another aspect, because who with a sense of past and future would permanently mark himself? All this permanent symbolism has taken hold just as Western nations have increasingly banned the symbols of majority Christian doctrine.

As Bruce Ledewitz has pointed out, in his book, Church, State, and the Crisis in American Secularism, “secularism has been drawing unthinkingly towards relativism” Ledewitz’s work, seeking “holiness in our personal lives and divine justice in our social lives” revolves around the reintegration constitutionally of the concept of a “higher law”, a theory of “objective value” to create some “common ground” among secularists and the religious without infringing on the constitutional separation of Church and State.

However, just as traditionalists like Ledewitz have been struggling with American Supreme Court doctrine, relativism has minimized majority Christian religious symbolism while exempting minority immigrant (especially Muslim) religious symbolism from constitutional prohibition in the public realm.

Not a problem for the secular relativists for whom the tattoo is symbol enough. Tolerance and pacifism in the public realm and skin symbols in the private realm mean we have to acknowledge that paganistic tattoos now symbolize hostility to certain prevailing norms. Tattoos by the children of the middle class now constitute a permanent downward mobility of culture, and such symbolism is rarely discussed anymore.

One can go back to the year 2000, when the great British moralist physician/writer Theodore Dalyrimple (his pen name) writing in New Criterion, reviewing a book about tattoos, wrote:

“One cannot but feel sorrow for people who think that by permanently disfiguring themselves they are somehow declaring their independence or expressing their individuality. The tattoo has a profound meaning: the superficiality of modern man’s existence...

“Here we see the bodily consequence of an intellectual climate that has long extolled opposition and hostility to what exists as the only honorable and ethical stand to take towards it. Of course, such an attitude is fundamentally ahistorical and lacking in respect for the achievements of the past, and only people who live in an eternal, egoistic present moment could adopt it.

“It is also no accident that some members of the middle classes should have adopted a typically proletarian form of bodily adornment as a badge not only of independence, but also of liberal virtue. A tattoo establishes them as tolerant, open-minded, and sympathetic towards those below them in the social scale: the highest virtues of which they can conceive.”

And what is the symbolism when current day intelligentsia use more swear words in their daily discourse than the proverbial sailor used in times past? Why have so many become poseurs of the underclass in speech, dress and music? What does that symbolize?

Tolerance, by the non-religious of our own debased culture including its masochism, relativism, and its cultural Stockholm syndrome, together with tolerance of the threats to our political liberty, make for a submission of good towards evil, a symbol of surrender.

I analyze the aspects of political and cultural submission in my book The Ideological Path to Submission ... and what we can do about it, (Mantua Books, 2017)

Before turning to Islamist symbols, consider how sloppy we have become with our symbols, to the extent that it appears sometimes that no one really cares too much what symbols we in the West adopt. I have previously written about the German automaker Volkswagen, with an early history of using Jewish slave labor, does not appear to care about the fact that for over a decade, their premium SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle),was called the “Touareg” after a North African tribe (usually spelled “Tuareg”)with a history of using slaves and trading slaves, which continues up to this day, and which has recently allied itself with radical Islamists in Mali and elsewhere.


It is sadly symbolic that thousands of young people are now “worshipping” in tattoo parlors rather than churches and synagogues.
In an essay, published in Frontpage Magazine (http://frontpagemag.com/2013/howard-rotberg/slave-labor-from-auschwitz-to-mali/), I pointed out:

The reason for this choice of name, according to the Volkswagen enthusiasts’ website www.vwvortex.com, writing at the time, is that Touareg translates as “Free Folks” and:   “A proud people of the desert, the Touareg embody the ideal of man’s ability to triumph over the obstacles of a harsh terrain.  To this day, they have maintained their strong character and self reliance.”

“There are two major problems arising from this description:

"The first is that, like the Germans, this proud people have a society that has made extensive use of slave labour.  And the second, is that this supposedly self-reliant people have, in the recent past, made a series of potentially disastrous alliances, first with Libya, and now with Islamist-Jihadists.

“The Tuareg society has a caste system and a long tradition of using slaves.   Until the mid-eighteenth century, perhaps half the value of Saharan trade, dominated by the Tuaregs, was in slavery, and the attrition rate for the slaves marched across the desert was horrible.”

It seems to me that this bizarre choice of symbolic name for an automobile reflects some kind of inadequate understanding and thought: I wrote: “Europeans, especially the French and the English, but also Germans, have often manifested a romantic notion of the Arab desert dweller, with his camels racing across the desert terrain.  From Lawrence of Arabia to the Volkswagen Touareg, and to the notion of 'oppressed' Palestinians, whose sole attribute is its genocidal hatred of a Jewish presence in the Middle East, we see a tendency in Europeans to romanticize the noble savage in the guise of Arab marauder.”

Symbolically then, Volkswagen, which once employed 15,000 slaves, has named a car after a slave-trading and slave-owning tribe, which in order to further its goals of rebellion against the Government of Mali, has now made common cause with Islamist radicals? And if anyone knows, does anyone, besides me, really care? And so tolerism is inextricably linked to ignorance. Tolerance is much easier if you don’t care to learn too many facts about what one is tolerating.

In the next part of this essay, we shall examine more closely the nature of the symbols of the Islamists.



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