Our frequent exposure to the exhibitionistic snuff porn of Jihadis has prompted numerous attempts at psychological explanation. Clinicians know how comforting it is to have a diagnostic label. Correct diagnosis can be the first step to cure.
There are problems, however, with psychological diagnosis. In totalitarian states, dissidents are often locked up in ‘mental hospitals’ for their ‘crazy’ behavior. They are diagnosed as ‘sociopaths’ and ‘narcissists’, interested in individual freedom rather than behaving like ‘normal’ conformists to the system. Shrinkwrapped (Sophisticated Diagnosis) has commented on the various problems with psychiatric diagnosis in our own culture, including its tendency to relieve the ‘sick’ person of responsibility for his actions.
Psychological explanations offered for Islamic savagery are useful, as far as they go. However, they can be overly generalized and undynamic when applied as labels to Jihadis. Writers like Dr. Sanity and the Sanity Squad have highlighted the narcissistic insecurities of Islamic males and their defensive need to control women to shore up their own masculinity.
However, clinical experience tells us that many men suffer from the same narcissistic insecurities and don’t resort to violence to assuage their deficiencies. Only Islamic clerics sanction the murder of women who have been raped. Only Islamic clerics issue murderous fatwas, celebrate murder of artists, and mobilize sword-wielding men to demand death for a female teacher who allowed children to name a teddy bear ‘Mohammed’. Only Islam proudly exhibits videos of throat-cutters torturing helpless victims.
It is the intense pleasure derived from religiously sanctioned murderous lust that makes the jihadis so dangerous. The degree of narcissism matters little; these are not people who can be ‘treated’ by shoring up their narcissism, and bolstering their self esteem. It is our very civilized, therapeutic culture that makes us flinch from taking the necessary measures needed to deal with such foes. In truth, it may be our own narcissism — the need to reassure ourselves of our superior civilized nature — that causes us to obsess about whether necessary measures for waging war, like water boarding, and Guantanamo constitute ‘torture’.
In our politically correct age, the word ‘perversion’ has been banished from the circles of multicultural academia, literary and journalistic usage. It is, we are instructed, ‘judgmental’, tends to unfairly ‘normalize’ heterosexuality and is, like the ‘N-word’, insulting. It creates hierarchical differences and that is illiberal.
Nevertheless, despite the efforts to remove it from the language and/or because of that effort, it still carries an emotional charge. In a time when gleeful murderous terrorists blow themselves up daily, it behooves us to face the reality that militant Islamic jihadism is a perversion and its practitioners derive a gratification that is more than simply defensive against feeling of inadequacy. It is the pleasurable charge that comes from throwing off all inhibitions on the discharge of murderous rage.
The late Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel was a French psychoanalyst and holocaust survivor who devoted her clinical efforts to understanding sexual perversions*. She realized there was a connection between individual sexual pathology and political movements.
Her intuitive insight was that Nazism’s appeal, on both the individual and mass psychological level, derived from its power as psycho-sexual perversion. (See, for instance, Cabaret andGoodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood.) Having seen and survived what happened in the heart of civilized Europe, she discovered, through her clinical work, that perversions were not just the sexual kinkiness of a small minority.
She realized that perversions were not even merely ‘sexual’ in the narrow behavioral meaning of the word, but that erotic pleasure could be intensified by the discharge of aggressive wishes, including the inflicting of, and submitting to, pain up to the point of death. She broadened our understanding of perversions to include, not just behavior but modes of thinking.
What she found was that perversions are an essential way in which the human mind and psyche rebel against and seek to evade reality. That reality is rooted in biology: the male-female difference. The intolerance and fear of such differences can result in the practices of Wahabbi Islam, wherein women are so feared that they must be hidden and brutalized like beasts of the field. Muslim men’s terror of women is undoubtedly accompanied by a high incidence of hidden (not so hidden when they travel to the Riviera) perverse sexuality.
Long before there was a Norman Mailer proclaiming his artistic right to transgress bourgeois laws constraining sex and aggression, there was the Marquis de Sade. Chasseguet-Smirgel wrote about the celebrated French author, and pointed out that in his fantastical world of perversion, (see Mailer’s preoccupation with ‘buggery’) the incest taboo is violated, and thus the generational boundaries are breached.
Sade celebrates non-genital sex which is celebrated as an outlet for violence (sadism); bodies are dismembered, children are the targets of violent sexual discharge, humans and animals copulate and all differences are obliterated. Sade’s work was designed to overturn the biblical injunction against perversion, but also to overturn the differences laid down at the beginning of the Old Testament, between the sexes, the animals, in fact between differentiated life and inanimate chaos.
God brought order out of chaos and Sade wishes to return to chaos. For Sade, the elimination of God means all sexual and aggressive behavior is permitted, including mass murder. Love is repeatedly mocked and dismissed. The release of all constraint on aggression maximizes pleasure.
The most intense Sadean pleasure is sexual murder, since no need exists to protect the object of sexual desire from aggression. Love cannot exist in the Sadean world because it puts limits on the pleasurable indulgence of murderous wishes. Perversion aims at destruction, destruction of difference, of the living order of the universe and its replacement with chaos and deadness. Long before Hitler put Sade’s ideas into practice, Sade celebrated mass murder and the erotic pleasure to be gotten from torturing victims.
Chasseguet-Smirgel’s insight revealed that, besides perverse behavior there are perverse modes of thinking, with the same aim of erasing distinctions and eliminating systematic thought itself. Thus, for example, Post-Modernism represents perverse thinking in its denial of the difference between truth and falsehood, good and evil, superior and inferior cultures. When it argues that ‘male’ and ‘female’ are ‘constructed’ identities, it argues against the immutable differences imposed by biological reality.
Socialism is similarly perverse in its radical egalitarianism, denying differences of talent, intelligence, motivation, skill. Liberalism’s affirmative action is perverse in its effort to impose an egalitarianism that is unattainable. It seeks to correct the “socially constructed” discriminatory differences. (Under its strictures shouldn’t there be affirmative action for white basketball players?) This is perverse thinking. Modern politically correct liberalism is shot through with perversion. Renouncing her early socialist utopianism, Chasseguet-Smirgel became a conservative.
Ideas are perverse when they seek to undermine distinctions that are necessary for thought itself to exist. When such distinctions are eliminated, anything goes. When liberalism asserts that al Qaeda and America are equal threats to the world, it is being perverse. In fact, when liberals argue that modern Christianity and Islam are both ‘religions of peace’ they are being perverse.
When language is debased by perverse thinking war becomes peace and all distinctions are rendered meaningless. Socialism embraces perverse thinking when it argues for a utopian egalitarianism that constitutes an assault on human differences, the differences that exist — of talent, motivation, achievement, skill, and worth. It is perverse in ultimately reducing the vitality of difference in favor of deadening sameness.
Ideas do have consequences. Mass murder, idealized by Sade, became mass murder carried out by Hitler. Civilization is a fragile thing, and once perversion rules, there are no limits to the human imagination. We thought Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot were the worst, but now we see Islamic Jihadis strapping bombs to babies and blowing them up. Once again, we are in a struggle between civilization and perversion. Some remain puzzled by the alliance between modern day left-liberalism and jihadism. Perversion explains the puzzle.
To the perverse jihadis who constitute large numbers of Muslims, the existence of the female sex is threatening, hence women are treated as little more than cattle, with fewer rights than some lower animals. Why do Western feminists keep their mouths shut? Because many are themselves leftist utopian perverts, who also cannot tolerate the existence of two sexes and secretly long to submit to the appealing sadism of the jihadis.
One of the great fascinations of the Marquis de Sade was with child murder. In Justine he offers a lengthy argument for why parents should sexually assault, then murder their children. The most primal human bonds exist to be destroyed to the accompaniment of erotic pleasure. Deriving pleasure from sexual assault on and murder of children is the ultimate denial of God, the moral distinction between good and evil, and the distinction between humans and animals. It is ultimately the assertion that man is no different from the lowest form of matter.
What Sade imagined and longed for has come to pass.
In recent years, since the exhibitionistic torture and beheading of Daniel Pearl, the world has been exposed to depravities that would delight the Marquis. Palestinian (Let’s give them a state!) children are repeatedly celebrated as little jihadis ready to blow themselves up while murdering Jews.
They are indoctrinated in the erotic pleasures instantly available to mass murderers: all those eager virgins. There has been a strangely muted reaction from the civilized world. We have heard repeated calls for restraint on our part, warnings against “Islamophobia”, and we take pride in minimizing casualties when fighting the Sadean jihadis.
Why is it that our media are so reluctant to report such occurrences as the recent successful effort by a jihadi in Pakistan to turn his year old infant into a bomb, killing more than 100 innocent bystanders? Readers of the New York Times would not have known of this ‘martyrdom’. You would have to turn to the Pakistan Tribune to learn the following:
“KARACHI: The Oct 19 bombing on Benazir Bhutto’s procession in Karachi which killed over 170 people, was carried out by a person who used a one-year-old child strapped with fatal bombs…”
The very idea of making a living, breathing baby into an inanimate object, a bomb to slaughter hundreds, is straight out of the Sadean universe and the religious system that justifies it is properly called ‘perverse’.
The reason we hear so little condemnation, much less military resolve to annihilate these savage perverts, is Western culture’s thralldom to contemporary, politically correct liberalism, which is itself perverse. Post-modern Liberalism shares the mindset of the jihadis and unconsciously enjoys their enactment of liberal fantasies.
Civilization has been built painstakingly on difference: male and female, yes and no, right and wrong, truth and falsehood. There are rules, laws, customs, hard-won scientific knowledge. Civilization is a fragile guardian of reality, which must be defended from the onslaught of barbarians wishing to abolish rules and differences.
In each of our psyches the perverse temptation must be fought, if civilization is to survive. The more advanced the civilization, the more intense the appeal to throw off constraints. Often individual rebels are rewarded with the title of ‘artist’, but Sade was an artist whose ideas were realized in Nazism.
When the discharge of polymorphous perversion is united with murderous aggression we get Jihadism. Such perverse ideologies could be more easily fought if not for the politically correct liberal urge to submit to them in their crudest totalitarian form.
To the memory of Mme. Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel.
Stephen Rittenberg, MD is a psychoanalyst.