Saturday, April 25, 2015

The War We Have Now: Mr. Obama vs Alberich the Craven Dwarf Nibelung

He's got to deal with the shooters.
"There are the adventure seekers--those who think this will enhance their masculinity, the gang members and the petty criminals too; and then, of course, the die hard radicals."
--From "Why Do They Go" NY Times Magazine article Mary Anne Weaver 4/19/15 about why there are more British Muslims fighting in Islamist groups than serving in Her Majesty's armed forces.

That description could describe the motivations of major groups of young men who left New Hampshire to fight in the Civil War. Wars are fought by young men for many reasons, but as Boris Pasternak observed, men do not leave home, voluntarily,  if they are happy at home. Men who go fight are looking for something. 

So now, we have left anthropology, sociology and political science behind and we are into that great wobbly netherworld: Psychology.

We are certainly not in economics: For the most part the Brits (and likely the American Muslims) who hop a plane to Turkey on their way to ISIS are in no way impoverished. They are typically high school graduates, often in college and they leave behind immigrant families pushing upward from the middle class in Michigan or London.

They are off to help establish the great Caliphate in the sky, earthly location: Syria, Iraq and wherever else in the fertile crescent ISIS can gain a foothold. They are excited by youtube videos of brave ISIS fighters chopping off heads of hapless captives, or burning a Jordanian pilot alive. How could you not want to be part of that?

Where does that sort of alienation come from? 

Intriguingly, there is the flip side of the coin: The girls. Girls are going to become concubines/wives/ baby makers of the brave killers in the Caliphate, in the great tradition of the Third Reich, where blonde, nubile German girls went happily off to camps to get impregnated by blonde, clean limbed, virile Aryan boys before they shipped out to the Eastern front to annihilate the Slavic hordes.
Alberich, the Craven Dwarf Nibelung

Really thrilling, such a mix of testosterone, masculinity, a desire for perfection--after all there is the strong narrative of wanting to join your fellow killers in paradise, where you great reward will be VIRGINS. 

(Personally, the prospect of virgins would not get me tying my shoe laces. But, maybe that's just me.)

I don't get it. Well, maybe I do. There is also the sense of grievance. Where could that come from? Well, from the immigrant experience, the problem of being the new arrival, scrambling to catch up, to gain acceptance and feeling put down by those already well established. 

After WWII, neighborhoods in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. were filling up with the families of all the government workers who would be part of the great expansion of the federal government.  Many of these neighborhoods were "red lined" which meant WASPs only. Sometimes Catholics were excluded, but certainly no Jews or Blacks allowed. You could never know if the Jones family you sold the house to was Catholic, but there was little question about the Rabinowitz's  and certainly, you had only to look to know about Blacks. 
Helga's Antecedants

I grew up in one of the "mixed" (Non WASP) neighborhoods and at school I experienced what Alberich the crave dwarf Nibelung had. You remember Alberich, the dwarf who comes across the beautiful, naked, voluptuous Rhinemaidens, who tease him:  invite him then reject him and taunt him for being, well, a Nibelung, short, dark, not at all Siegfried.   Alberich does not take it well. If he had had ISIS to run off and join, I'm sure he would have, but he seeks revenge in his own way.

But I digress. I was trying to get inside the mind of the British son of a Pakistani merchant, the Michigan son of a Somali Ford worker, who goes off to school and something happens and, poof, he's off to Syria to join ISIS.

It's dangerous to extrapolate, but I remember when I first beheld the girl I'll call Helga, all five feet seven inches of blonde, pale blue eyed perfection: flawless skin, sparkling white teeth and boundless energy, and I knew, in an instant, I didn't stand a chance with her. The local Siegfried, captain of the basketball team got Helga. Then the captain of the football team, named "Trevor" or "Hunter" or "Biff" with a roman numeral III after his name, got Helga. I was never going to get Helga. 

Rhinemadens Not for Nibelung

My friends from the hood discussed all this and concluded we did not rate. Many years later, I saw a movie "Bread and Chocolate" about a man from Southern Italy who moves north, near the Swiss border and he is faced with the same thing--there is one indelible scene when he looks out from a chicken coup, with his fellow Southern Italians, at a group of tall, blonde, immaculate, gorgeous teenagers, as they strip off their clothes and plunge into a waterfall and its basin in a coed celebration of celestial beauty, and all the short people in the coop can do is adore them from afar and loathe themselves. 
Rhinemaidens in Switzerland

The View From the Chicken Coop

Can it all come down to this?  Aryan envy? Got to be more complicated than that. But when I look at the guy who shows up to the state legislature packing a gun, I have to think--this is a guy who does not feel his own, native, flesh and blood equipment is adequate.


  1. Mad Dog,
    Feelings of rejection seem to be a prime motivator in a whole host of hideous crimes from mass shooter to terrorist attacks..but then don't you think most adolescents and young adults of the world can identify more with Alberich than Siegfried..if only we could identify the added ingredient that turns dejected youth into crazed killers....

    Now am I understanding this correctly-are you saying the Rhinemaidens of suburban DC failed to see the budding Renaissance man, with the curious mind and rapier wit, right in their midst? Silly them...I'll bet the Siegfrieds never held a candle to you in the ways that matter..

  2. Maud,

    I suspect if he'd been there, they would have seen him.
    Or if they did see him, they didn't act on it. Comes to much the same.

    Mad Dog

  3. Maud,
    Been thinking about your comment.
    Thing is, I think what we have here, in the case of these renegades is not a simple matter of rejection. If you are Helga, and a boy spurns you, you have all sorts of ego support around you--other boys, images of girls who look like you idealized in movies, TV, magazines. Your self worth is not shaken.
    But for the Muslim kid, there are no comparable images and what he experiences is more than an instance of rejection but more what Satre meant by "L'enver est les autres." He was talking about seeing yourself though the eyes of others. If you see yourself through those eyes as loathsome, you get self loathing and that is where "Hell is other people" comes from.
    During the 1960's Civil Rights movement, there was some focus on "Black is Beautiful" which tacitly addressed this issue. The absence of images of beautiful Black people in the media,( TV, movies etc) was decried as part of the problem--there was a lot of baloney in those days, but I think this was a telling criticism.
    Maybe what we need is an effort to embrace "Islamic is beautiful" or something. Show these kids we love them and they won't look elsewhere for love. (Oh, kumbaya, I know.)
    Game of Thrones has a wonderful scene in which John Stark is defamed for having loved a Wildling. We need someone who will fight the Wildlings, not love them, his opponent says. But the Watch votes for Stark, and elects him their leader, because, in part, he can see the beauty in the Wildlings, and so there is a chance he can lead them to a better place.
    Mr. Obama might have lost his chance to do that; maybe not yet.
    But as we look toward our next leader, maybe we ought to be as wise as the members of The Watch.
    Make Love, Not War.
    Mad Dog