井の中の蛙

10/7/2006

Self-Immolation Tactics as Media Spin, Cultural Pretense and Strategic Initiative: Japanese and Jihadist Cases (A “companion reader” for Yuki Tanaka’s upcoming (Oct 10) Reischauer Institute lecture)

Filed under: — M.G. Sheftall @ 9:43 pm

Next Monday (Oct 10), Professor Yuki Tanaka of the Hiroshima Peace Institute will be delivering a lecture at Harvard, under the auspices of the Reischauer Institute, titled “Japan’s Kamikaze Pilots and Contemporary Suicide Bombers: War and Terror”. Operating under the assumption (which may very well come back to bite me for a classic Roseanne Roseannadanna moment) that the content and main theses of Professor Tanaka’s lecture will be basically unchanged from his November 2005 Japan Focus article http://www.japanfocus.org/products/details/1606 of the same title, I would like to post here a piece I have written that should be considered not necessarily a rebuttal of the professor’s positions, but rather, a companion reader it is hoped will add some perspective to the lecture. Before moving on to my piece, I would like to take the opportunity to wish Professors Tanaka and (moderator) Andrew Gordon the best of success with the lecture, and to express my regret that I cannot attend in person to enjoy the talk and participate thereafter in the stimulating discussions that will no doubt follow. So, without further ado…

Self-Immolation Tactics as Media Spin, Cultural Pretense and Strategic Initiative: Japanese and Jihadist Cases

“THE AMERICANS LOVE PEPSI, WE LOVE DEATH”

“War is our best hobby,” a proud young mujahedin commander told British journalist David Blair in Peshawar, shortly after the 9/11 attacks. “The sound of guns firing is like music for us. We cannot live without war. We have no other way except jihad…The Americans love Pepsi-Cola, we love death”.[1] What a stinging little Information Age soundbite that is, I recall thinking the first time I read it, as clouds of asbestos-laced concrete dust and atomized human remains were still settling over downtown Manhattan. “We love death”! What chance did the rest of the world stand against fighters possessing such awe-inspiring primal überwarrior mojo?

A few years after my first sobering encounter with the “Pepsi” quote, I came across the line once again in a wonderfully incisive book by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit titled – obviously with a tip of the hat (and perhaps a slight cock of the snoot) to the late Edward Said Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies (New York: The Penguin Press, 2004). But what I experienced upon reading the quote this time around was not shock and awe at the mujahedin commander’s paradoxically nihilistic yet triumphant contempt for my bourgeois frailty; rather, thanks in part to Professors Buruma and Margalit and my own research of the kamikaze subculture of the Asia-Pacific War, it was a spark of realization that the remark could just as easily have come from the text of a Japanese admiral’s pre-attack send-off speech to kamikaze pilots in 1945 or a passage of Ernst Jünger or Oswald Spengler as from the mouth of a media-savvy jihadi in 2001.[2] I found this notion somehow comforting – my bogeyman’s zeal rendered derivative and thus a bit pathetic now – but at the same time, it still disillusioned me; how many millions, I wondered, had marched (or sailed or flown) happily off to their deaths over the last century or two after having their heads filled with chauvinistic bunk like this, and how many other millions innocent of any such crusading fervor had been destroyed as “collateral damage” in the process? Would the carnage this century prove to be even worse?

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