Friday, September 24, 2010

Mervyn F. Bendle on the Left, Islamism, and Religious Extremism

Yesterday, I excerpted Mervyn F. Bendle's review of Robert R. Reilly's Closing of the Muslim Mind, and I'm now quite glad that I did, for I was introduced not only to Reilly's argument but also to a very interesting scholar in Bendle himself. He's apparently controversial in the Australian academic world because he expresses a rather vehement critique of the Left, as here, for example, when he takes on some Leftist treatments of terrorism:
[I]n 2006 I published two articles in the Australian ("Don't mention the terror", September 6; "Status quo defence fails", September 20) and another in On Line Opinion ("9/11: Treason in the Academic Comfort Zone?", September 11). These described the way in which the study of terrorism had either been ignored in Australia or had been colonised by the radical, postmodern Left, which was assimilating the study of terrorism to its prevailing ideological paradigm based on class, race, gender, anti-Americanism and cultural relativism, often under the guise of the neo-Marxist "critical terror studies" approach. My assessment was supported by two University of Queensland terrorism experts, Carl Ungerer and David Martin Jones ("Delusion reigns in terror studies", Australian, September 15, 2006). (Mervyn F. Bendle, "Hijacking Terrorism Studies," Quadrant Online, September 2008, Volume 52, Number 9)
Bendle goes on to offer an example of one 'expert' on terrorism who likens the July 2005 bombers to the Chartists, both groups having supposedly been similarly motivated by anger over a "democratic deficit" in Britain. According to this 'expert':
[There is] a parallel . . . for the four young men [that is, the Islamist terrorists] who ruthlessly attacked innocent London commuters in July 2005. The Chartist years were not that long ago. (Bendle, "Hijacking," Quadrant)
Concerning this sort of equivocating equivalency, Bendle angrily points out:
This is ridiculous: the Islamists who carried out the July 2005 bombings were not seeking political reform like the Chartists. In fact, Islamists are not seeking to extend democratic rights but rather to extinguish them. They adhere to an anti-democratic, violent, intolerant, exclusionary, xenophobic, misogynistic, anti-Semitic and ultra-repressive political ideology that seeks to create a theocratic state akin to that imposed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and ultimately a "new Caliphate" stretching from Spain to Indonesia. (Bendle, "Hijacking," Quadrant)
Bendle is right about what such Islamists believe in and strive for, particularly those drawn to terrorism, yet the substance of Islamist ideology is often dismissed by the Left in favor of attention to "root causes" that shift blame to the West. I wouldn't tar all Leftists with the same brush, of course, for there are also scholars like Paul Berman on the Left, but Bendle is largely correct on this point.

From what I can gather, so far anyway, Bendle seems to be a solid scholar. Take a look at his fascinating article on "The Apocalyptic Imagination and Popular Culture," Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Fall 2005, Volume 11, which analyzes the apocalyptic mentality pervasive among the Christian Right in America, some of it very far on the radical Christian Right, and the ways in which it overlaps with more secular forms of apocalyptic visions on the Right (as well as with American popular culture more generally). Bendle specifically notes such writings as the explicitly religious, evangelical Left Behind eschatological series and the rather more secular, albeit ultimately theistic, dystopian Turner Diaries, which happens to be virulently racist and ideologically antisemitic as well. Here's a sample paragraph from Bendle's "Introduction":
As this paper will show, the twentieth century saw a crucial shift within the apocalyptic tradition, from what might be called a Promethean to an Augustinian view of human nature and history, i.e., from a belief in human self-determination to a conviction of human sinfulness and weakness. In secular terms this was a shift from a utopian to a dystopian vision, from humanism to anti-humanism, from progressivism to conservatism. It involved a move away from a basically optimistic outlook that complemented secular faith in human progress based on reason, science, technology and social amelioration, towards a far more pessimistic view that distrusts these values, and instead sees the near future in terms of social disintegration, violence, war and ultimate catastrophe, before a final deliverance brought by divine power . . . . It is this dark vision that now shapes the contemporary apocalyptic imagination in both its religious and secular forms. (Bendle, "Apocalyptic Imagination," Journal of Religion and Popular Culture)
Bendle can therefore not easily be construed as merely some rightwing ideologue. He's broader and more interesting than that, so far as I can tell from reading a few of his articles.

I may look further . . .

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