Yuri Tarnopolsky                                                                                ESSAYS
Essay 49.  Terrorism and its theorism

Essays                                                                                                logo

Essay 49.  Terrorism and its theorism


This Essay continues Essay 48 and previous publications in simplicity and complexity, exploring the generalized chemistry of history. 


In January 2007 I decided to read something on Islamic terrorism. I chose Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy by Fawaz Gerges (Harcourt, 2006). I was attracted by the word inside in its title.

Before opening the book, I gave myself a couple of days to think on my own about the subject. I had already touched upon it in Essay 26. Terrorism: The Other Side of the Hill   (October 2001), under the powerful and by that time fresh impression of 9/11.


I divide this Essay into:



of an awkward but practical term theorism, which I use instead of a shorter but

even more awkward term ism,


i.e., my initial perception of the problem, not biased by the literature, then 


after having read the book and under the influence of some other literary sources abundant on book shelves and on the Web, and, finally,





As, probably, many witnesses of 9-11, I am fascinating by the phenomenon of modern Islamic terrorism. If I thought its reasons were complex, I would  trust the professionals to decipher them. But terrorism attracts me as any mystery that, as I suspect—and mystery novels confirm—hides some simple reasons  (Essay 28). I feel compelled to test my chemist's view of the world® on this menacing problem.  Global warming, pandemic of bird flu, pandemic of religious fanaticism, incompetence of government, entanglement of humans in webs spun by electronic devices, loss of privacy, and, as if all that was not enough, terrorism—it sounds like the end of the world, at least as we know it.  In history, however, the end of the world-as-we-know comes every day. History is about novelty. Understanding novelty is the major aspect of my personal program at spirospero.net .

Let us use the generic term theorism for all the isms behind socio-political movements that call their devotees under a banner and often push them toward a gun rack: Anarchism, Extreme Evangelicalism, Fascism, Islamism, Leninism, Maoism, Marxism, Separatism, Extreme Zionism, etc. With so many isms, one more can sneak in unimpeded. I wonder if after the Iraq war Democratism  will jump on the bandwagon out of the obscurity of big dictionaries.

Democratism means:


The principles or spirit of a democracy

in    http://www.answers.com/topic/democratism ,

Democracy as a principle or system

in  "The Oxford English Dictionary, Volume IV, Clarendon Press Oxford 1989, Second Edition,

the theory, system, or principles of democracy

in Webster's Third New International Dictionary Volume I, G.&C. Merriam Co. 1981

The last two references are from http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demokratismus (in German). The page remarks that democratism is used approvingly in the English language sphere and pejoratively in  German.


I see theorism as a logical bridge from belief to action. Theorism is not a theory. It is a small bundle of basic statements, a credo that claims a certain logic. Thus, neither  religion nor democracy is a theory, but its political use implies a certain theorism, i.e. an inference from a dogmatic (or, as scientists say, axiomatic) ideological premise, the truth of which is beyond discussion and doubt. Theorism is an interpretation in terms of action, not reason. Sacred texts cannot be modified, but their application to daily life can. Theorism puts an idea above basic human needs.

Examples of theorisms: capitalism must go by revolution (Marx), private property must go by violence (Lenin), the world must live by the sacred books of Islam (Islamism), the culture of the past must be destroyed (part of Maoism), all Jews must live in Israel (extreme Zionism), the government must go (Anarchism), the state is above the individual (Fascism, Leninism, Maoism), people united by language and culture must have their own state (separatism, nationalism, Putinism), people should not be allowed to end human life at any stage (Christian-Right-ism). Any religion and political ideology can grow a violent theorism, although, of course, not all of them do. This happens even if non-violence is part of religion, as Ahimsa in Hinduism. Even non-violence could lead (a great paradox!) to violence, as Leo Tolstoy's extreme non-violence would do in WW2.

A superficial look at the theorisms from A to Z,  reveals  obvious similarities:

1. The theorisms partially overlap.

2. They partially contradict each other.

3. They have internal contradictions.

4. They split up into factions.

5. There are endless arguments among scholars, ideologues, and leaders about them.


As far as particular theorisms are concerned, they contain some standard blocks:


1. There is only one true ideology.

2. Society should live by a universal code of behavior.

3. The true ideology must be not only professed but practiced by behavior.

4. The true ideology must be spread or at least advertised and promoted.

5. The deviants should be killed, punished, or banished.


Finally, each theorism spells the political code of behavior which always goes beyond the ideological code. Neither the Bible nor the Koran say a single word about America, abortion, stem cells, or sects of Islam. The theorisms are: Kill the Jews. Kill Americans. Kill the abortionists. Kill Shiites. Kill Sunnis. Kill Christians. Kill Muslims. Kill Hindus. Expropriate the expropriators. Proletarians of the world, unite. Deutschland über alles. End embryonic stem cell research. No right to die. Execute murderers. All those simple slogans are extreme forms of theorisms. They are not universally followed by the rank and file believers, but the zealots will always find a sergeant to drill and lead them.


Ideology is not just an ethereal abstract meme, but a quasi-living species. It  competes with other species for the place in the minds and needs a source of energy like any other life form. The theorism is its organ of survival, an extremity of its body, a claw, a fang, or a stinger.


If we add to that the persistent contradiction between ideology and action, a wide scale of intensity and violence, evolutionary and opportunistic drift, and invariable political inconsistency, the mad entanglement of the global humanity into its own messy diversity and subversity has a potential to


turn a rationalist into a cynic,

make an irrational one a fanatic,

drive a realist into apathy, and

give to an opportunist a great chance to make money.


For the lack of a better label, I probably can be best of all characterized as surrealist, just to distance myself from the cynics, fanatics, escapists, and opportunists.


As compared with the last two great wars—Hot World War II and the Cold World War—the ongoing Terror War (which is, in essence, a Hot Cold World War) is an indisputable fact. This war has been aggravated by the Cold Civil War in America.




I am coming back to the subject of terrorism after more than five years. As always and  everywhere within my spirospero.net, only partially excluding poetry, I am in no position of an academic, adviser, doomsayer, soothsayer, expert,  guru, oracle, prophet, problem solver, scientist, tutor, and visionary. I am interested in understanding evolving complex systems (X-systemexystem would be a fine term) as a general phenomenon of nature.  What to make out of it is up to professionals.

Here is what I think about the nature of any episode of history, without repeating basic ideas, which I reduce to Figure 1. For its interpretation see   Essay 48. Motives and Opportunities . In short, motives correspond to the projected gain in stability and opportunities inversely depend on the projected height of the transition barrier, i.e. loss of stability from the initial state to transition state.  In human matters we never know the validity of our projection until the post factum analysis. I believe this is what George Soros calls the principle of fallibility (see Essays 46 and 48 ). 

The analysis of events in human matters rarely leads to a consensus, creating a double fallibility.  My  general intent is to explore a possibility  of  a unified  approach from positions that are still not only  completely off the beaten track in the study of complexity but also safely hidden behind the roadside bushes.


The man has to do what the man has to do. In an off-street language, when you make up your mind, you overcome the barrier of action, if only you have the guts to do it. But expectations and reality may differ and as a rule they do. You can get into a big mess, unless you are a big pro. While king is a profession, US President is not. On the contrary, terrorist can be a profession, often disposable, with FREEDOM  FIGHTER on the business card.


Here is my improvisation in the form of theses:


I. Individual act of suicidal terrorism (small scale event):


1. Overcomes the unstable transition state between two stable states.


2. The high transition barrier of the act is stabilized by:


(A) Tribal connectivity (social capital, tribal nexus, etc., in short, the influence of the closest neighbors in a configuration, in complete agreement with the balance theory in psychology),

(B) The vision of the final  state as more stable (paradise, rewarded family, honorable status of martyr).


3. Transition is made (or naturally is) irreversible.


4. The transition is alleviated by the high stress of the initial state. The factors of initial instability are the strongest known human emotions of shame, honor, hate, love, pride, etc.



II. Suicidal terrorism as historical trend  (large scale event):


1. Apparatus of stabilization of individual transition states, against the counteracting fear of death, is supplied by energy in the form of money.


2. Terrorism has the capitalist organization pattern: it deals with supply and demand, budget, profit, efficiency, growth, logistics, CEO culture, security, competition, etc.


4. Transition state is stabilized by clear simple ideas and stimuli:

(A) Negative : occupation by enemy, offense,

(B)  Positive:  honor, promise of paradise, family security.


III. External terrorism against “enemies” is complemented and sustained by internal terrorism within the tribe

Any ideology is by definition totalitarian, even the ideology of democracy, in the sense that it tends to proselytize, spread, and to denigrate opponents.  Instead of the harsh "totalitarian" I would concede to "competitive." But even an American TV commercial is a little totalitarian artifact. I remember only two neon ads in Moscow of 1960-1970: DRINK TEA and GLORY TO KPSU (Communist Party).

Tribal, militant, hateful, and intolerant ideology suppresses evolution of the system and eliminates, often physically, its internalor externalenemies, dissidents, or just non-participants.

Examples: Soviet and Nazi systems, the stories of Salman Rushdie, Oriana Fallaci, Denmark cartoons, van Gogh murder in Netherlands, and scores of daily news.

Remembering my life in totalitarian Russia, I find the internal tribal terrorism the main reason for the export of terrorism. In the USSR it was practiced by the state.

The roots of the tribal terrorism go back to barbaric, from our point of view, customs, partially extinct (giving some rationale for optimism), from Old Testament stoning to Islamic "honor killings" of unfaithful women, from American lynching to Saudi beheadings, and from Spartan infanticide to Indian burning of the widow.  The value of human life in tribal societies has a variable, not a constant, measure, a market value, so to speak.  Open societies are coming gradually to the same idea, but from more technical considerations.




This transition state approach to events is typical for chemistry, although some physicists have already suspected ( see APPENDIX 1) that the theory of transition state is as universal as thermodynamics: it applies to any dynamic system, i.e., a system in motion, from a bacteria to you, reader, and to cosmos.

Naturally, the same applies to any human act, from the most benign to the most malicious, and from any suicide to any murder. Similar ideas in psychology belong to the area of theories of balance. I greatly doubt, however, that psychologists and chemists realize their hidden kinship.

While thinking on the problem, I discovered a large volume of literature on the Web on the origin of terrorism, its statistics, and theory of balance in psychology. I was struck by how chemical one of the recent formulations of the concept sounded:

Structural balance theory (Heider, 1958; Cartwright and Harary, 1956; Newcomb, 1961) is viewed as a set of generative mechanisms for changes in dyadic ties that create trajectories of signed networks in a coherent fashion. Further, the macro-structures (in terms of subgroup memberships) place constraints on the actors as they make their affective choices. The joint dynamics of tie formation (and dissolution) and evolution of group structures are the focus of our attention here.

Hummon, N.P. and Doreian, P. (2002): Some dynamics of social balance processes: bringing Heider back into balance theory. Social Networks, 25, 17-49. 


These simple (at least to me, see APPENDIX 2) ideas may seem obscured here by the academic lingo, but what they tell us is that psychologists are intellectual relatives of chemists. This, however, is a separate big topic, only slightly touched upon in History as Points and Lines, Chapter 21.

The subject of terrorism, like anything related to evolving complex systems (X-systems or exystems) such as life and society, has two aspects: individual acts of terrorism (small scale events, usually numerous) and the historical trend of modern Islamic terrorism as a system (large scale events, always singular). See APPENDIX 3.


I value books not only by the answers they provide but also by the unanswered questions they point to. I had not found answers to all my questions in Favaz Gerges' book because the inside in its title promises much more than it delivers. Nevertheless, it was not only a good introduction for a layman like myself: it opened a whole host of questions.

The book presents a Swiss-cheese outline of the problem, which holds its overall shape in spite of the holes. Thus, I have learned about the two-phase history of Islamic terrorism: from the struggle against their own secular governments to the struggle against the West and America in particular. On the other hand, the problem of the violent, as seen by the Westerners, character of Middle-Eastern societies and the relation of violence to the Koran has been practically dismissed.

I have not found in the book any answers to the main package of question I address to the entire already large literature on Islamic terrorism, expecting answers from inside:

What is the way of life of the terrorists dispersed among population as well asand especiallyteaming in camps?

What makes the young people, al-shabab, charged with male hormones and ambition, to live in the camps, often in remote, inhospitable, and isolated areas?

Where are their women, mothers, families, and friends?

What are their food, entertainment, privacy, hygiene, sex life, small group structure, and ethnic relations?

What are their conflicts, attractions, secrets, punishments, and rewards?

What are their relations to the leaders and to each other?

What do they talk about? What do they dream about? What are they afraid of?

In other words, what is the cultural anthropology of terrorism? What is the culture of Islamic terrorism?


NOTE (March 14, 2006). Later I found answers to most of these questions in truly extraordinary for many reasons From the Terrorists' Point of View: What they Experience and what they  Come to Destroy  by Fathali M. Moghaddam (Praeger Security International, Westport, CT and London, 2006). This book could be entitled Analytical Chemistry of Terrorism.  


And yet the book made a strong impact on me from an unexpected side.  I felt myself at home (former Soviet home) among the terrorists!

The more I have been digesting my impressions of the book, the more I felt enveloped by a sensation of  déjà  vu . The cloud of familiar fetid atmosphere, from which I escaped from Russia twenty years ago, arose from the pages of the book. I felt my bronchia contracting and skin itching.  Which makes me quote my own book:

I know that if any ideology takes the place left in the world by communism, it will be orthodoxy and fundamentalism.  In the algebra of history the C-word [i.e., Communism] stands not for Marxism-Leninism but for the rule of orthodoxy and fundamentalism of whatever content.

Yuri Tarnopolsky,  Memoirs of 1984 . Chapter 15: From Russia with Allergy. (University Press of America, 1993)


Today I have doubts about such terms as orthodoxy and fundamentalism because they come in multiples in any ideology.  Orthodox Christianity is no more orthodox than Catholicism. The Shia Islam is no less orthodox than Sunni Islam. Wahhabism, the most "orthodox" from the point of view of purity, is in fact, among the youngest branches of Islam. Liberalism can be as orthodox as conservatism. This is why I prefer theorism, a live amoeba stuck to the dead shell of ideology.

In Memoirs of 1984, Chapter XIV, The Pyramid, I suggested that the Soviet totalitarian system was a quasi-religion based not on thought control, as it was seen from the West, but on monitoring attendance and behavior in Soviet rituals (see APPENDIX 4).

As any  religion, the Soviet ideology needed some kind of priests. In the Soviet religion that role was performed by partorgs (short for “party organizer” partijny organizator), i.e., the lowest level of party functionaries. The formally elected by Party members partorgs were complemented by a network of seksots (secret collaborator, sekretniy sotrudnik ), recruited informers who reported their observations to the Secret Police (KGB). Both partorgs and seksots were just common employees who worked like anybody else and performed their monitoring functions in addition to their formal jobs, without any immediate reward.  

"I value communal rights more than individual rights. In an Islamic state, the individual is not free to do what he wishes. There are limits ordained by God's laws, which supersede any human authority," one of the terrorist of the first generation said to Favaz Gerges (p.53). This philosophy of the beehive and anthill was exactly the core of the Soviet official moral: the individual must subordinate his interests to the interests of the tribe. The tribe size can vary from the family to the country to all the believers of the same creed in the world. Proletarian solidarity was the Soviet equivalent of Muslim solidarity; proletariat was the fictional Soviet ummah.

The collectivist spirit of Islam, the Islamic "pervasive sense of camaraderie and instinctive magnanimity" (Gerges, p.149) that was seen in Soviet Russia of the first decades, slowly declining afterwards, is one of similarities between the two collectivist ways of life.

Evenings are longer than the days in the Arab world. Relatives and friends routinely drop by unannounced. In many family homes, for example, as many twenty friends and relatives might drop in every evening and stay well past midnight. And it would be unseemly if one did not try to convince a guest to stay still longer. The idea of community is not taken for granted, nor is it a matter for debate and discussion (Gerges, p. 148).


Scale down this picture in time and space a little, and you will get an insight into the Soviet life of 1950-1960, when the cities were much more compact, overcrowded, and telephone was a luxury.


It would be interesting to find recollections of Muslims who visited  Soviet Russia at the peak of its Red pride and compare them with the impression of the "vapid landscape" found by some Muslim puristsand some pride-pinched Russiansin America.


If not similarities then parallels between early Soviet Russia and Islamic communal and messianic way of life, militancy, idealism and sacrifice, in Gerges' book are striking. To my ear, the quotations seem literally translated from Communist Party speeches in Russian to Arabic and "back" into English, with only the proper names rewritten.


"Fighters had sweet dreams of fulfilling their duty to God and Prophet. Who could resist the magic of jihad and martyrdom and courage and sacrifice?... Who could resist the dreams of reestablishing the caliphate ... an Islamic state encompassing Muslims from Senegal to the Philippines?" (Gerges, p.112)


"We had dedicated ourselves to jihad, and the matter was finished. Our mission in life is to protect the ummah wherever we are able to go." (Gerges, p. 126).


During the Russian Civil war, the two fighting sides, the Reds and the Whites, sang the same folk song of the WW I, but in different versions. As the Red Soviet revolutionary song goes,

Hear, worker,

The war has begun:

Drop your work,

Get ready for a march.



We shall go bravely to the battle

For the Soviet Rule

And we will all die

In the fight for that.


One of the stanzas of the White version sounded:


Russia has been flooded

By alien forces

We are dishonored

And the temple is desecrated.


We shall go bravely to the battle

For the Holy Russia

And we all spill

Our young blood.


Substitute Muslim land for Russia, Islam for Soviet, combine the first White stanza with the second Red one, and the battle hymn of Militant Islam is ready.

Muslim land has been flooded

By alien forces.

We are dishonored

And the temple is desecrated.


We shall go bravely to the battle

For the rule of Islam

And we will all die

In the fight for that.



This is a great example of what pattern is: it can travel through ages and  lands, religions and cultures. This is why pattern is the key to understanding history and complex systems in general. That was the idea of Ulf Grenander when he initiated  History as Points and Lines.

Here is a magnificent example of pattern perception of history from Gerges' book:

Afghanistan in the 1980s provides an Islamic parallel to the enormous tent and tabernacle gatherings of the Great Awakening in eighteenth century New England, where ecstatic Christians gathered to proclaim and reassert their holy mission to build a "new world" guided by divine providence (Gerges, p.110).


Here is another example:

In 1989 the Russians retreated from Afghanistan. Rather than disband and go home, thousands of Afghan veterans felt so empowered by having defeated one of the world's superpowers that they embarked on new militant adventures. Fighters and campaigners became unpaid mercenaries. It is a story as old as human history (Gerges, p.113).


Favaz Gerges lists other historical examples. I want to add one on my own.  The role of  the Freicorps, the organizations of veterans of disbanded German army defeated in WW I, in the emergence of Nazism is not widely  known. After I had learned about it from a rich and illuminating book  The Orientalist, by Tom Reiss (Random House, 2006), in which a small footnote might be worth a heavy volume, I found on the Web more material not only about the Freicorps, but also on direct parallels between the pre-Fascist Germany and the rise of  both Soviet Communism and Islamic terrorism as result of the movement among war veterans.

The parallels do not end here. Favaz Gerges gives us a cursory look into the internal struggle between the fractions, conflicting interests, and contradictions within the militant Islam that match rather closely the historic way of Soviet Communism toward decline.

The Lebanese Civil War did not pit mainstream Muslim against mainstream Christian. On both sides those who led and sustained the fighting came from the fringes; they saw the war purely as an opportunity to seize power. Sectarianism, communitarianism, and asabiya, or group and tribal solidarity, were ways of grabbing a bigger share of the pie, meaning control of local and national bureaucracy (Gerges, p.76).


And yet there is a point where the parallels diverge.

The Holy Russia was one thousand years old.  The Soviet Rule lasted about 70 years and, more important, was condemned by history, at least for now.  The restoration of the glory of the Holy Russia in a modified and modernized form seems now the official grand goal of Vladimir  Putin's government, with its old Soviet habits. Condemnation, indignation, and emotions in general are a very poor way to understanding, however. Alas, there is no such thing as impassionate history. I wish a Martian-American could someday write it.  See Essay 48.

History has two timelines: one of revolutions and the other of tradition. The question that I want to pose is whether the Militant Islam is a revolt against or an assertion of the tradition. The question is entirely rhetorical, but it gives us a two-dimensional space to position various historic events.

To give an example, the Russian Revolution was extremely radical, but, paradoxically, it resurrected the Russian tradition of slavery. The Chinese Revolution was culturally even more radical, but the tradition of individual farming in the countryside was affirmed.


NOTE, March 10, 2007: Private property has been actually restored in China by the decision of the last Party Congress.


The problem is that we can write history only as historians, i.e., post factum. It is the function of the politician to award labels ahead of time.  And God knows how the judgment of history will look in times of New Ice Age or Hot Flooded Earth. The danger of regarding history in terms of good and evil is that good and evil drift, fuse, and split like tectonic plates, so that you lose track of the initial colors which, by the way, are seen differently by different eyes.


Favaz Gerges:


It is a Manichean view of lifebelieving that human history is shaped by a titanic struggle between absolutes of good and evil. There is Islam and the Islamic way of living, and there is Satan, ever-present evil that is forming cells of corruption and debauchery in the form of democratic, secular politics. For a Godly life to be possible, its enemy must be annihilated (Gerges, p.43).


The important question that has been left out in the book (the author should not to be blamed for that)  is the contradiction between the loyalties to the small tribe (family) and the big tribe  (clan, ummah).  This problem always arises in revolutions and civil wars, cutting across families and tribes. The waves of fiction literature that spread from the tsunamis of revolutions heavily exploit this dramatic subject, which is a very hard nut for an academic investigator.


I am coming to the core maddening problem of terrorism, especially, the suicidal one.

Obviously, the powerful natural instincts in human nature require humans to treasure the life of closest relatives, friends, and their own. There are extreme and infrequent situations in which these instincts can be blunted or suppressed. But what can suppress them on the incredibly wide scale that we witness in the Islamic terrorism of our time, in Palestine and Iraq?

I have a three-part answer that I do not claim to be original.

1. The first  part is inspired by one of the most revealing  and dramatic documentaries  I have ever seen: the chilling Jesus Camp. The technology of brainwashing has made another step since Hitler and Stalin: it became privatized. You buy the plastic brain shapes, a pack of some  sticky gooey pieces and you can impregnaterape is the best wordthe young mind with the sperm of an idea of sin that nests in the brain, waiting for the moment when sin nests side by side. You can prepare the child and a young adult  to a war and let him or her wait until the moment when the enemy is named  by the last name and the child can bear a real machine gun or a real explosive belt.  

Some last  stages of this technology  are illustrated by scores of examples in African civil wars, in addition to Iraq and Palestine. The ideology itself does not matter. What matters is the pattern, the theorism: an irrational idea that is given precedence over basic human needs.

2. The second part complements the first. The brainwashing itself is not sufficient  to explain the virulent hate and violence. It is the constant internal terror that suppresses dissent and natural human values of life, well-being, and posterity, the loyalty to home, the closest circle, the smallest and dearest tribe. People in a harsh tribal culture are not given any choice.

I ask myself a test question: what is the difference between the terrorism of the Communist or Nazi state and the Islamic terrorism?

My answer is that both Communist and Nazi ideologies came as revolts against traditions. Islamic terrorism marches under the banner of affirming and protecting the tradition with which the society had been in harmony for centuries, slowly moving toward modernization.

3. The third part belongs to the category of simple reasons, of which stupidity is always the simplest reason, but greed comes next. The grave and unforgivable errors of the current arrogant presidency, the greed, incompetence, and corruption of the government, its contractors, and subcontractors matched the efficient determination, mad cruelty, barbarity, and violence of  the terrorist sergeants unencumbered, unlike the Americans, by the bureaucracy of the state and paid by the oil dollars.

It looks like history as usual.  But where is the novelty without which there is no history?  In many ways Islamism reminds Russian Communism with assabiyya instead of  international solidarity. It is certainly a form of totalitarian ideology which, I emphasize, uses the yardstick of behavior control to impose artificial selection on the population. The first condition of the selection is to assemble the herd under one roofor in an enclosure. The pattern of selection , whether in a temple or in the concentration camp, is the same. You don't read minds: you watch the behavior and look at the zeal. You grope for the muscles and look at the teeth.

The novelty is that Islamism acts in the name of tradition. Islamism is a conservative terrorism on world scale. Its theorism is defense and preservation by means of attack and destruction. It is not the same as the ultimate aspirations of the Islamist leaders, which hardly differ from those of all aggressive political leaders, from pharaohs to modern dictators.  Hundreds of peopleand thousands waiting in lineblow themselves up to welcome a few leaders to power, wealth, and fame (or a futile dream of it) with a carpet runner strewn with pieces of scorched human flesh instead of rose petals.

Why is Islamism successful? There are three peculiar reasons against the generic pattern of totalitarian drive.

1. Islamism is based on a book which could be found in any family for over thousand years and is part of life: a sacred and beloved book. The code requires a weekly lecture on a theorism coming from the cleric interpreter.  The strength of the mass acceptance and the influence of the code designed to regulate all aspects of life, including sacrifice and reward, gives the legitimacy to the lecturer.  Neither the Nazi, nor the Communists had such books. They printed their own Big Books: Mein Kampf  and  Short History of the Bolshevik Party.  None of them contained the "sanctification of death" (Bernard Lewis) typical for Islam, although, of course, cult of death was practiced.

2. The internal terrorism of the tribal society hampers its evolution.  Islamism revolts against all forms of change: those coming from secular leaders and those coming from the West.  Murder is the cheapest way to put breaks on history. You can kill with bare hands.

3. The new technology of instant and undeterred by distance communication  provides unprecedented  means to turn population into a beehive.  

All that leads me to a very unpleasant question. Do the three waves of totalitarianismCommunism, Nazism, and Islamismmean that the postmodern civilization of unlimited growth is coming to an end and the two hundred years of Industrial Revolution have been just a transition state to a new state of stability on new, yet unclear terms, probably, an Old Deal?  Does it mean that the end of history is still behind the corner? Or that we have completed the run around the square block?

A whole peacock tail of other questions accompanies this question.


But my time and space is over. 




There is abundant and diverse literature on Islamic terrorism, the main points of which can be easily found on the Web. Among the books, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism ( Random House, 2005) by Robert A. Pape is outstanding and I would trust him more than myself even if I disagreed. It is full of hard unexpected facts, striking revelations and it leaves disturbing questions, too. What struck me most was the relatively small number of suicide attack (315) between 1980 and 2003.  I was also reading with awe the passionate and penetrating From the Terrorists' Point of View: What they Experience and what they  Come to Destroy  by Fathali M. Moghaddam, which is not reflected in this Essay. Bernard Lewis provides a historical perspectiveas profound as it is artisticin his books, for example, The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror, The Modern Library, New York, 2003. He has a unique ability not only to draw parallels but to uncover contrasts and he speaks from the unambiguous moral position of individual freedom and not from abstract and toothless humanistic values.


Since I have recognized Islamic terrorism as a personally familiar variety of totalitarianism,  I want to add two personal remarks based on my own experience of life in a totalitarian state.  


First, I want to testify that, according to my observations, general population adapts to the totalitarian way of life by avoiding sacrifice by any means and pursuing rewards mostly in roundabout ways. Millions of Germans had to adapt twice: to the Nazis and to the Stasi. The decimated Russians adapted to the Party, too. The Muslims adapt to a wide range of conditions from Wahhabism to Turkish secularism. The Americans would adapt to an American theorism, too. Human nature always wins, but adaptation comes after a cruel selection. A strong state can keep a dissident alive in jail, but a week state or a tribe  has no choice but to kill him.


Second, as somebody who could not adapt to the unnatural even for the totalitarian system state of suspense, uncertainty, and constant humiliation in the refusal of 1979-1987, I want to testify that my hate of the Soviet system and Russia itself during those years was, probably, not less than the hate of the West by a brainwashed Muslim. I did not blow myself or anybody up, but by protesting, organizing a small group of refuseniks, challenging (teasing is a better word) the KGB (secret police),  and passing information about the refusal abroad I reacted to the humiliation in a way pretty close to suicidal, which means that I consciously played the Russian roulette. My 40 day long hunger strike in 1982 alone was a road to suicide, inspired by the Irish suicidal hunger strikes of 1981 , all the more suicidal that I did not know about taking salt. But the bullet came in the shape of a Siberian labor camp, where I was twice in touch with death, not intended, however, by the authorities. By that time the Soviet theorism was nearing the end of its evolution and became less bloodthirsty. But I already told about it in Memoirs of 1984.  In America I pretty soon cooled down. On my current view of Russia see Essay 44.  


In his early childhood recollections Leo Tolstoy described his older brother's conditions  for a wish come true:


These conditions were: first, to stand in a corner and not think of the polar bear.


Of course, it was impossible. But in America I was able to cool down, never completely reconciled with my past, by playing the same game. I had, however, to take really harsh steps by cutting bonds with many good and generous people who reminded me about the  polar bear.  




The following recapitulation is not a review of literature. It is an independent test of the chemical view of the world. I was pleased to find out that the opinions of professionals (#11, for example) significantly overlapped with my improvisation. Anyway,  Favaz Gerges' book was an excellent stimulus. Robert Pape, Fathali M. Moghaddam, and Bernard Lewis left only minor gaps in my understanding of Islamism but no sympathy to it, which often follows from understanding.  All those books  have been an extremely captivating reading.  


1. The postmodern world is obsessed with a pattern of growth which I called elsewhere numerization. In short, only what has a numerical value has a value at all.  While wealth, fame, and power—the three currents of numerization—are commonly creative, there is one kind of numerical growth that stands apart: the growth of stateless armies designed not to create, but to stop and to reverse history by piling up corpses.

2. Militant Islamism takes its place among the totalitarian theorisms of modernity and postmodernity.

3. It is the first such theorism that has a conservative and protective agenda, at least on the surface.  I wish somebody could correct me on this point.

4.  Islamism is a geopolitical movement. Its revanchist and annexionist streak reminds of Nazism.

5. It is the first such modern theorism that has no state platform. Before 1917 militant political Marxism had no state platform either.

6. It is based on tribal loyalty, but takes away the choice between its concentric circles. It destroys lives and families in the name of idea, which is typical for theorism.

7. It maintains internal terror by local and traditional means.

8. It is sustained by modern technology like any other major theorism of modernity.  Actually, it has been widely recognized that the Islamic terrorism would be impossible without Internet and cell phones. Islamism uses a privatized technology of terror, unlike that of the Nazi and the Soviets who guarded the state monopoly. It looks like Iran aspires to have both.

9. It exploits serious mistakes and inherent weaknesses of its Western opponents and especially the fatal choices of American voters.  That is also a technology-driven trend. The money-driven election showbiz leaves little good to choose.

10. To fight terrorism means to selectively strengthen or weaken key bonds in the initial, transitional, and final configurations of the conflict. The exact shape of this configuration is up to the professionals. But, as the generals understand and the peaceniks do not, it means to kill, i.e., eliminate the nodes of the network.

11. The following countermeasures are being widely recognized (compare with The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism by Robert A. Pape):

°  Weaken tribalism by offering an alternative of economic independence.


°  Put emphasis on defense in the form of secure borders and counter-terrorism.


°  Cut money supply. Don't pay for your funeral.


°  Strengthen offense in the form of propaganda that reveals the internal contradictions of terrorist system and ideology. This is the only kind of information that can be checked by the object of propaganda.


°  If military action becomes necessary, it should be executed without any restraint, shock-and-awe style, in order to raise the transition barrier to terrorism.  There is no global government and we have to defend ourselves. Naturally, our own barrier to military action should be high enough.


°  Engaging and compassionate dialog is always acceptable even with the most repulsive enemy. There is no reason to reject negotiations with anybody.


That the Great Satan can afford some magnanimity toward Smaller Satans is not widely recognized.


° Sometimes [Robert Pape emphasizes sometimes] concession and retreat can work. There is no reason for the American presence where it is not desired.  


I am not sure this is widely recognized: we, Americans, have our own Big Book, although in a small package: The US Constitution.  No other Big Book can unite us, although the  Red Republican Revolutionaries have already tried.  And somebody will try again.



But what is the simple reason of Islamic terrorism, to which I hinted in the Introduction?

Wherever wealth (= energy) is concentrated in few hands and tends to grow, a new socio-political species  emerges and a new instability leads to a transition state. Here I mean the oil money, but the principle itself is the main thing the physics and chemistry of history tell us. This differs but not directly contradicts the theory of Robert Pape who considers  the suicide terrorism  an "extreme national liberation strategy" and presents impressive arguments, with which I do not agree. The sectarian suicide bombings in Iraq, however, clearly demonstrate the inherent fallibility of all theories regarding large scale human matters.  Islamism wants redistribution of power (wealth would follow), and world domination as much as the Nazis and, especially, Communists did.  Islamism is a configuration under the same pattern.

Suicide bomber, in my opinion, has become a standard issue weapon, "poor army's guided missile" (Fathali Moghaddam, p. 123), biped, though. Of course, only a totalitarian theorism can regard an individual a single-use disposable killing machine and use it for political reasons.  I am not sure even Koran has anything in it that directly, without a theorism, can give a blessing to a modern Muslim suicide  bomber who kills other Muslims (Bernard Lewis confirms that). This entire murderous machine works only because the internal Islamic terrorism suppresses dissent the same way dissent was suppressed by Hitler and Stalin.  

We, hedonists and sybarites, are terrified by the suicidal aspect of bombing which overshadows its pragmatic aspect: killing. For the generals and sergeants of terrorist armies the pragmatic aspectbombingis the only thing that matters. Robert Pape has collected lots of amazing evidence of Islamist pragmatism in his book and other authors add their own.

With a wider brush, regardless of totalitarian means, Islamism, in my opinion, is a drive for power concentrated in a few handsthe most universal, natural, and ideology-blind force of history, which drives us, Americans, too.  Power, as I noticed in Essay 44, is measured by the available amount of wealth (=energy) to spend on a single goal. Whether the goal is liberation, caliphate, Herostratos' fame, victory over cancer, great fun, military victory, saving the earth, or even more powerthis is secondary.  

I hope to return to this point soon.

For detailed professional discussion of terrorism, see  http://www.comw.org/tct/

NOTE (May 4, 2007).  I had to wait for almost three months in line to get  Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (New York,  Free Press,  2007)  in the local libraryan unprecedented time for this kind of book. Meanwhile, I had an opportunity to watch Ayaan on TV at a book discussion. Her magnetic personality combined with her incomparable book, both in aura of an already extinct in the West kind of intellectual honesty, made a profound, even painful, like a wound, impression on me.  She  became  another Spinoza,  expelled from Holland  as a troublemaker and heretic. Her book, as any great book, leaves some big questions unanswered, although one her verdict is unambiguous: Islam is not just a religion: it is a totalitarian ideology.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali provided me with a third testimony in a peculiar side line of  her questioning.  She noted, with surprise, that  being Dutch did not mean anything for her younger Dutch friends: they were  free of patriotism. Oriana Fallaci  wrote about young Italians  who  were ashamed of  the Italian flag (proudly displayed for years at a home in my own American neighborhood).  My young Israeli friends, who emigrated to America,  spoke with  disdain about  American patriotism, as if it was an obsolete line of clothing. This may be the most ominous sign of times: nothing but the bloodstained, burnt, and vilified American flagand in bad handsagainst the Green one.


The following APPENDICES 1 to 3  belong more to complexity than to simplicity and are possible seeds of further investigation.


APPENDIX 1 . Transition state


 Excerpt from:


Charles Jaffé, D. Farrelly, and T. Uzer,  Transition State Theory without Time-Reversal Symmetry: Chaotic Ionizationof the Hydrogen Atom,  Physical Review Letters,   Vol. 84, No. 4,  24 January, 2000.  http://www.physics.gatech.edu/people/faculty/uzer/118.pdf

Transition state theory (TST), introduced by Eyring and Polanyi [1,2] in 1931 as an early attempt to determine absolute reaction rates, is too often considered the domain of  the chemist or chemical physicist. However, the transition state (TS) is actually a general property of dynamical systems which involve an evolution from "reactants" to "products." � Such processes include, but are by no means limited to, the ionization of atoms, the dissociation or reaction of molecules, and even the escape of an asteroid from its orbit. Conventional TST [3,4] postulates the existence of a minimal set of states that all reactive trajectories must pass through and which are never encountered by any nonreactive trajectories. Thus, the TS is a hypersurface of no return. While, as noted, TST has been used mainly in chemical physics, it also offers considerable advantages in other problems, especially those whose dynamics are nonlinear or chaotic, that involve some form of progression from an initial to a final state.


[1] H. Eyring and M. Polanyi, Z. Phys. Chem. B 12, 279 (1931).

[2] M. G. Evans and M. Polanyi, Trans. Faraday Soc. 31, 875 (1935); also see papers and discussion in Trans. Faraday Soc. 34, 3—127 (1938). [3] P. Pechukas, Dynamics of Molecular Collisions, edited by W. H. Miller (Plenum, New York, 1976), Pt. B.

[4] E. Pollak, Theory of Chemical Reactions, edited by M. Baer (CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, 1985).


APPENDIX 2.  Chemistry and psychology


See a ppt presentation Signed Social Relations by Patric Doreian.

( http://mrvar.fdv.uni-lj.si/sola/info4/balance/pat/signedsocialrelations.ppt )


The quotation means, in a simplified form, that people in a small group are connected by bonds of different strength and  sign (i.e., positive or negative, attraction or repulsion, cooperation or conflict), and the resulting configurations (Figure 2), very much like a chemical structure, undergo  series of changes, moving through states of increased stability ("balance").  Thus, A and B,  members of a small group, are connected by a positive bond. They have common close neighbors C and D, with a sign attributed to each bond. Each atomic member, called generator in Pattern Theory, has a circle of close neighbors. The partially overlapping circles constitute the network (configuration).  

Social Net

The changes consist of changes in the strength and sign of the bonds, as well as in addition and elimination of the "atoms."  Theories of balance, in the form of cognitive dissonance, apply also to individual acts, which can  be represented as configurations with positive and negative bonds. Similarly, ideas, for example, plans, decisions, and evaluations, are networks with pro and contra arguments.

In terms of Pattern Theory, both chemistry and psychology deal with configurations and patterns  and so do all studies of complex systems, including history of societies and ideas. In this sense, all such studies, including biology and economics, are histories, or sequences (trajectories) of configurations (events). The sequences and configurations in X-systems include in principle unpredictable novelties (this is my interpretation of the principle of fallibility of George Soros), which distinguishes human matters from physical sciences. The traditional physics and physical chemistry study time-invariant properties. Organic chemistry as a whole straddles the border and this is why life started in chemical systems. Chemistry, therefore, is an introduction into complex systems.  


Negative bonds are as legitimate in chemistry as positive bonds: they follow from the same quantum equations as the positive ones. They mean simply an impossibility of bonding. Evolving complex systems based on biochemistry have very much stable and vibrant negative bonds because they are maintained by constant dissipation of  free energy supplied by an external source.  


For more details about  X-systems, see complexity.  


NOTE (2009): Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy is a study in the concept of power balance in international relations. It comes to conclusions strikingly similar to those of the balance theory in social psychology.


APPENDIX 3.  Anatomy of history   

As a preliminary illustration, any history (i.e., evolution) has a  universal quasi-fractal pattern (hetero-fractal?) that can be compared with  a string of beads made of strings of beads made of string of beads, etc., but with no two beads identical at any level.  In Figure 3  this non-repetitive heterogeneity is portrayed by different sets of symbols.  A somewhat different view would see history as a continuous fiber bundle (the term is not meant to be related to fiber bundle in topology, but it may open a question), in which individual strands have, so to speak, variable thickness and may even emerge or disappear, see Figure 4. One way to deal with this object is to see it as an anatomy.  The key question, to which Pattern Theory is the answer,  is: how can we see any regularity in such heterogeneous picture.  I hope to come back to this subject elsewhere. As a hint: anatomical patterns have been one of the areas of Ulf Grenander's research.   




APPENDIX 4. The yardstick of orthodoxy


The following is an excerpt from my Memoirs of 1984Chapter XIV. The Pyramid


The scope of that responsibility posed a problem.  How could a person of very limited knowledge and capabilities know without any special training or education for this particular function what was right and wrong about a neighbor who had not violated either regulation or law?


Heresy could be detected only with the yardstick of orthodoxy.


Soviet orthodoxy was shaped as a quasi-religion with Marx as God the Spirit, Lenin as God the Father, the Party as collective God the Son, and the current party leader as the Czar.  All four were infallible, the czar at least while he was still on the throne.  That in the Russian Orthodox Church the czar was both a religious and civil leader, and his power was divine, was of telling significance regarding the Russian mentality. The four were one, and they were righteous and almighty.  Only those who believed in them could enjoy life in the worker's paradise on earth.  Those who were not true believers had to be corrected and reeducated.  If they resisted, they should be destroyed or isolated.


It was an elaborate orthodoxy of human behavior that made it easy for partorgs to pinpoint heretics.  Heretics were not just those who deviated from the orthodoxy of thinking.  It would take some brains to find out whether there was a deviation or just a rewording of the orthodoxy.  So, instead anybody whose behavior did not fit the approved model, whatever his motives were, was labeled a heretic.


Actually, the Soviet system of ideological control was nothing but a system of quality control at the end of an industrial assembly line.  Any bolt that did not fit the standard dimensions went to scrap.


Unlike in Orwell's picture, it was not thoughts that were controlled, but only behavior, because the intellectual capacity of the party and police never exceeded the lowest common denominator.


The powerful process of artificial selection was at work in Russia because there was always a standard of behavior.  It was like the standard of breed for a dog breeder.  That is how the intricate function of ideological control could be performed by ignorant people—they were given a yardstick or, rather, the procrustean bed.

Page created:   2007                                                                                             Revised: 2016

 <<<    To Essay 48. Motives and Opportunities                To Essay 50. The Mysterious Island     >>>

Website: spirospero.net                          To contents                            email
   Essays 1 to 56 :
   Essays 57 to 60: 
   Essay 60: