John Gray on Al Qaeda, terror and making a New World

Splendid little book here by John Gray, Al Qaeda and what it means to be modern.

I recommend it, though some of his left-leaning suggestions seem incorrect to me. Also, I do not think we can accept without qualification his conviction that Al Qaeda is completely part and parcel of modernity. The idea of Al Qaeda of using violence to cause a revolution is, granted. But the use of terror to coerce political and social change for the entire world is as old as the Prophet himself. Strong points are his treatment of Saint-Simon and Positivism. A few good quotes from this book:

[Al Qaeda is]...a by-product of globalisation. (1)

Totalitarianism follows wherever the goal of a world without conflict or power is consistently pursued. (9)

There was never any doubt in Hitler's mind that Nazism was a modern project. An ardent admirer of Henry Ford and American techniques of mass production, the Nazi leader saw technology as a means of enhancing human power. Science enabled humanity--or some portion of it--to take charge of evolution. A superior species would be bread from the best human types. As for the rest, they would be exterminated or enslaved. (11)

Embracing science and technology, Soviet Communism and Nazism were each animated by ambitions that derived from the Enlightenment. (14)

Enlightenment thinkers like to style themselves as modern pagans, but they are really latter-day Christians: they aim to save mankind. The ancient pagans did not believe that the mass of mankind could be saved. Or, for that matter, that it was worth saving. (104)

Take away this residue of [Christian] faith, and you will see that while science makes progress, humanity does not. (104)

Quotes Wittgenstein on p 110: "When all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched."

This reminded me of the Arab world, where they use technology so often: "For a society to be genuinely modern, it must have the capacity to generate new knowledge, and not merely use knowledge that has been acquired by others." (111)

...the twentieth century, industrial-scale killing by states of their own citizens has been practised in the belief that the survivors will live in a world better than any that has ever existed. (117)

Western societies are ruled by the myth that, as the rest of the world absorbs science and becomes modern, it is bound to become secular, enlightened an peaceful--as, contrary to all evidence, they imagine themselves to be. (118)


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