Narcissus Leaves the Pool

I wrote that comment before I read David Aaronovitch’s piece which says some of the same things.

Mass murder, however, with your own slaughter centre stage, is a pretty extreme act. It is an act of such narcissistic destructiveness, displaying such an incapacity to empathise (you have to be there in the carriage with the Polish girls), that you’d imagine some warning signs, if only you could recognise them…It was also, in a psychological sense, a perverted act. The boys will have known (don’t the relatives remind us?) something of the wrongness of what they did, just as the Columbine school killers did. For whatever reason, however, the pleasure of contemplating the act was greater than the knowledge of its error.

Just so. It’s the narcissism that is so striking – and so oddly ignored by the people who babble about their ‘rage.’ It’s so me me me – I’m pissed off, I want justice, I’m upset, I want to do something, I want to make a difference. Well it’s not about you. Why should it be about you? Why should what you want outweigh all those other people? What makes you so damn special? And don’t tell me it was because they were so concerned about their fellow Muslims, because I don’t believe a word of it. I just don’t. I think it’s all about vanity and showing off. Get me I’m a martyr.

I blame the ideology and the psychology of Grievance — the pleasurable, destructive business of imagining that “they” are being bad to “you”, and of therefore calculating every event on that basis. We call it “nursing” a grudge for a reason. We take this aspect of existence and add to it, almost lovingly…It’s not me, it’s not us, it’s them. They keep doing bad things to us.

Go together, don’t they – narcissism and Grievance. They have to. Grievance-hugging goes with having a badly inflated sense of one’s own importance to the scheme of things.

The elected Government in Iraq, the Shia majority, the new fact of Kurdish rights in that country, don’t count. All these peoples are de-Muslimified for the purposes of victimology. And that happens because they simply don’t fit the narrative. The Sunnis of Iraq are imagined to be “us”, but the Shia and the Kurds aren’t. The bombed villagers of Afghanistan are “us”, the liberated women aren’t. The Kosovan Muslims aren’t, either, though you can bet they would have been had Nato not intervened to save them. As it is, they too have disappeared from Muslimhood…It simply is not an accident — in psychological terms — that anything that conflicts with the Grievance is discounted, and anything that contributes to it is emphasised…All populist right-wing movements, inciters to violence and hatred, are adept in the language of Grievance. The only way to fight it ultimately is to argue — again and again and again — that it just ain’t so.

Hanif Kureishi is not so skeptical. He thinks the rage is genuine.

The burning sense of injustice that many young people feel as they enter the adult world of double standards and dishonesty shock those of us who are more knowing and cynical. We find this commendable in young people but also embarrassing. Consumer society has already traded its moral ideals for other satisfactions, and one of the things we wish to export, masquerading as “freedom and democracy” is that very consumerism, though we keep silent about its consequences: addiction, alienation, fragmentation.

Oh, crap. Really – just pure unadulterated crap. Can’t you do better than that? Consumerism? ‘Damn, look at all these people with their Starbucks cups and their expensive undershirts – I think I’ll bomb them all into atoms.’

Burning sense of injustice my ass. Please. Rampant hormones and an insufficiently tamed ego do not add up to a burning sense of injustice – they add up to a tendency to posture at having such a thing. And as for consumer society – yes yes, I used to whinge about it a lot myself, but it has become way too clear to me that there are far worse things. I’ll take people buying stupid garments and kitchen artifacts they don’t need over religious bullies any day. Though to be fair, Kureishi does get there in the end.

If we need to ensure that what we call “civilisation” retains its own critical position towards violence, religious groups have to purge themselves of their own intolerant and deeply authoritarian aspects. The body hatred and terror of sexuality that characterise most religions can lead people not only to cover their bodies in shame but to think of themselves as human bombs.

David Goodhart also talked about grievance the other day.

But the overwhelming theme of public comment, even after the recent bombings, is one of Muslim grievance. Britain’s Muslims are among the richest and freest in the world and most of them are groping successfully towards a hybrid British Muslim identity, but when did you last hear a Muslim leader say so? Iqbal Sacranie is a capable leader who has helped to turn the Muslim Council of Britain into an effective lobbying body, but his organisation’s default position remains grievance. Here he is in the introduction to a recent booklet for British Muslims: “The unleashing of a virulent strain of Islamophobia, inflammatory media reporting and the misconceived wars against Afghanistan and Iraq have all contributed to the undoubted increase in prejudice we face.”

An undifferentiated rhetoric of grievance contributes to alienation, lack of integration and even indirectly to extremism. If you are constantly being told by even moderate Muslim leaders that Britain is a cesspit of Islamophobia and is running a colonial anti-Muslim foreign policy, you might well conclude, like one young Muslim quoted after the bombs: “I would like to give blood but they probably won’t want mine.”

Like so many things, Grievance gets a momentum of its own. Once it gets started, it’s hard to back away from it, because that seems conservative and ruthless and indifferent. But…there’s a price for that.

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