I believe that part of the etiology of Western self-hatred and its eventual suicide could be understood in terms of deMausean “growth panic” theory. But in this entry I would like to quote something about the primitive Islamist mentality. The following article is an abridged version of a piece by Robert W. Godwin, “The Land that Developmental Time Forgot.” Godwin uses Lloyd deMause’s childrearing model to understand both the Muslim mind and Islamic terrorism:
In his excellent book, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, the economist and historian David Landes writes that it is impossible to understand the dismal economic performance of Muslim nations “without attending to the experience of Islam as faith and culture.” Likewise, Bernard Lewis, the preeminent scholar of the Muslim Middle East, blames the slow pace of progress in the Islamic world on various cultural factors—in particular, the theological shackling of independent analysis, which has tended to “suppress enterprise, experiment, and originality and to reinforce a fatalistic world view.”
After having gotten off to a fine start just four or five centuries earlier, Islamic civilization peaked in around 1200, since which time it has been “mostly downhill,” leading to the “economic and intellectual backwater” of today. “History,” writes Landes, “had gone awry.” Perhaps it is not farfetched to speculate that Islam may have gone the way of other large-scale dysfunctional civilizations, such as the Aztec, had it not been for the fortuitous discovery of oil under their feet, which essentially rewarded their cultural maladaptation with a constant flow of uncreated wealth.
In this article, I would like to attempt to define some of the variables that have caused Islamic culture to fixate, regress, decay, and fail to prosper on so many fronts. In today’s politically correct academic climate, even raising this issue is a controversial proposition, because it assumes that some cultures are more healthy and advanced than others, and that it is possible for an entire culture to become “sick” and developmentally stunted. However, since September 11 we have all learned many disturbing facts about the Islamic world that make it difficult for even the usual academic suspects to accuse us of being racist and Eurocentrist for criticizing such practices as female genital mutilation, stoning adulteresses, burying homosexuals alive, amputating limbs from suspected thieves, etc. In fact, it is more than just intellectually naive to think of all cultures as equally healthy: it is a dangerous delusion.
In order to comprehend the “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West, we might begin with Howard Stein’s thesis that developmental time is embodied in cultural space, so that to study various cultures around the globe represents a literal form of time travel, as we encounter groups that have attained different levels of psychological development. As Lloyd deMause has demonstrated, it is possible to take a “bottom up” approach to culture, and show how early childhood experiences lead to the various cultural practices that define a given psychoclass. In describing the brutal child-rearing practices prevalent in the Middle East, deMause has surely identified the dysfunctional axis around which the culture of the terrorist revolves and renews itself. If, as psychohistorians believe, any given culture reflects the psychological development of its individual constituents, there are many aspects of Islamic culture that can be traced directly to childhood trauma.
While most academics continue to blame the cultural pathologies of the Middle East on the legacy of colonialism, the Muslim world has now been free and independent for at least fifty years, enough time to organize itself around its own center of psychological gravity, so to speak. In other words, various nations in the Islamic world have developed a broadly similar pattern of cultural beliefs, practices, and institutions that reflect the unresolved needs and conflicts of their collective childhood. Therefore, although the Western and Islamic worlds are surely engaged in the “clash of civilizations” predicted by Samuel Huntington in his prophetic book by the same name, it is not as if “civilization” is an arbitrary construct set apart from unconscious psychological factors. In fact, if Huntington is correct that there is no evolutionary cultural trend toward universal liberal values of liberty, democracy, individualism, private property and the rule of law, then our historical situation is truly hopeless, and perennial civilizational conflict is inevitable. However, if deMause and like minded psychohistorians are correct, then our present clash of civilizations is really only the outward manifestation of a “clash of psychoclasses,” and there is every reason to believe that the world of Islam can proceed through the same evolutionary process that saw the Christian West gradually master external and internal (emotional and cognitive) reality over the past 500 years, as childrearing practices became increasingly humane.
Unfortunately, just when the West was breaking away from a primitive “hand-me-down” form of mythic knowledge, and turning down an historical road that pointed to the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Scientific Revolution, Islam took a wrong (but very emblematic) turn which involved “closing the gate of Ijtihad,” or independent analysis.
According to Daniel Pipes, the adage “better a hundred years of repression than a day of anarchy” encapsulates the dread of social disorder, or fitna, that “lies deep in Islamic civilization.” Because of the anxiety involved in making the break from childlike conformity to authoritarian religion, the Islamic world refused even the printing press, because it was “seen as a potential instrument of sacrilege and heresy.” For this angst-ridden society, “the truth had already been revealed. What led back to the truth was useful and permissible; all the rest was error and deceit.” Again according to Landes, “Nothing did more to cut Muslims off from the mainstream of knowledge.” Unlike the West, the Islamic world did not develop the cognitive sophistication to conceive of any separation between the religious and secular. For all practical purposes, this meant that the cognitive domain or “reality principle” was dominated by a superimposed grid of fixed and final knowledge, so that it became very difficult to actually learn from experience.
The preoperational mind—specially when it is arrested and structured around a complex of developmental trauma—is simply not equipped to “think through” its cognitive dissonance; instead, it must eliminate the cause of it, through violence if necessary. Certainly this is a major preoccupation of the Koran, which declares that “the infidels are your undoubted enemies” (Sura 4), so kill them wherever ye shall find them (Sura 2), because “they will not fail to corrupt you and long for your ruin” (Sura 3).
These types of sentiments would not be so problematic if they were understood, like the Old Testament, as a developmentally earlier form of religious expression that could be modified or softened through time. In the West, there is a long history of biblical exegesis, commentary and criticism. But even today Islamic theology remains mired in the Dark Ages, still hewing very closely to its original mythological formulation. The omnipotent fantasy that the 7th-century Koran “contains all the truth required in order to guide the believer in this world” was tantamount to civilizational suicide. As a result, “the Muslim world has been in paralysis since religious extremism rose in the twelfth century.”
What this means is that mainstream Islam is comparable to the most extreme form of Biblical fundamentalism, certainly to the right of a Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. Actually, according to historian David Gress, the qualifier “fundamentalist” only makes sense in the West, where there is something to weigh it against. But in Islam these types of ecumenical distinctions are out of bounds, because in the Koran there is “no possibility of error. Therefore the question of fundamentalism versus critical analysis had never arisen in Islam. No Muslim had ever felt himself entitled to read the Koran in any way other than the literal.”
What the Islamic fundamentalist gains in the form of a comforting omniscience, he loses in terms of being able to adjust his thinking to the dictates of reality. But rather than seeing this concrete, inflexible adherence to scripture for the cognitively debilitating weakness it is, Islam openly regards itself as superior to the West because it offers “more perfect knowledge of the world.” Therefore, the all too obvious economic and cultural supremacy of the West leads directly to paranoid and conspiratorial thinking. For all these years, we have been under the mistaken impression that the epithet “Great Satan” was nothing more than typical Islamic rhetorical excess when in fact, it is the signpost of a deeply paranoid psycho-political reality.
It is a natural mistake to assume that radical Islam is opposed to the West only in terms of some definable thing that we are doing, such as “defiling the holy soil” of Saudi Arabia with our armed forces. Rather, what we are again primarily dealing with is a clash of psychoclasses, in which the fundamentalists object to the very form of our thought: a form of thought that makes possible such things as democracy (because it values individuation from coercive group fantasies), formal operations, scientific thinking, rational economic development, equality of the sexes, and modernity itself.
In short, it is a battle between the cognitive/emotional past and present of the human species, no different than if we had somehow entered a time warp and were fighting the barbarian hordes of Genghis Khan. Even when logical, formal operations thinking is employed by the terrorists, it is in the service of perverse paranoid-schizoid envy and sadism, so that they have no interest in designing planes, only crashing them; building magnificent skyscrapers, only destroying them; curing disease, only spreading it. The very real problem we are facing is an adversary with a dangerous combination of primitive psychological development but access to sophisticated weapons and technology that their level of cognitive integration could never have produced on its own. If it could have, the human race would have been extinguished several thousand years ago by barbarians with weapons of mass destruction.
The preoperational style of thought predominates between the ages of two and seven, and if a child is traumatized at that time (as vividly described by deMause), it can lead either to a general stunting of emotional and cognitive development, or to a cordoned off part of the psyche where the trauma is held “in escrow” for later processing. If such an individual is traumatized later in life, it may “resonate” with the old trauma, causing the person to enter a trance-like altered state. In such a trance state, the individual may become highly suggestible especially toward intimidating or charismatic authority figures. Radical Islam, as embodied in the Koran, Hadith and Sharia, is the spurious cure for the type of childhood trauma described by deMause. It is an absolutist, closed, dogmatic system that looks backward to the lost perfection of a fantasized, infantile past. Anti-evolutionary to the core, it believes that “progress” consists of undoing the historical developments of the past millennium and returning to a time when there was no freedom of inquiry, no deviation from the “already known,” no individual rights and no due process, a time when the word Islam was literally true: “submit,” usually at the end of a sword.
In his book, The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy, Daniel Pipes provides example after example of the type of preoperational, magical, paranoid thinking style that pervades the Muslim world. Even sophisticated Middle Easterners “interpret great public issues through the prism of conspiracy theories” which are “virtually immune to rational argument.” While we of course have our paranoids as well, this is a cognitive style that only exists on the fringes of the West, e.g., in the Militia movement on the right or among radical environmentalists on the left.
[An] attitude that may be traced to the Koran tells followers that women are “a pollution.” The pervasive male sense of superiority over women is actually a cultural defense mechanism against unconscious maternal fears. And again, this fragile sense of manhood feeds directly into the violence of the region, because “violence is the quintessential, testosteronic expression of male entitlement.” What we have to imagine is the incredible disorientation these “chosen” men feel, growing up with unrealistically high self-esteem, and believing they are heirs to a superior civilization, but all around being confronted by the social and political disaster that is Islam. Something has gone wrong… and someone must pay. Thus the search for scapegoats begins.
According to Huntington, in recent years Muslims have been participants in twenty-six of fifty ethnopolitical conflicts, and two-thirds to three-quarters of intercivilizational wars. “They also have had a high propensity to resort to violence in international crises, employing it to resolve 76 crises out of a total of 142” between 1928 and 1979; and when they do involve violence, conflicts involving Muslims tend to be heavy in casualties. Huntington concludes with an empirical statement that nevertheless attracted a great deal of controversy, that “Islam’s borders are bloody, and so are its innards.”
Yet another outcome of anxiety-based male sexual superiority is the inability to integrate the psyche, in particular, to experience enduring loving and sexual feelings toward the same object. Here again there is a ready-made cultural defense mechanism that legitimizes this developmental arrest: polygamy. Islamic tradition allows up to four wives, and even if most Muslim men are not wealthy enough to avail themselves of this option, there are all important psychological implications for a society that does not hold out monogamous heterosexuality as its ideal. This probably contributes to the fact that women are not regarded as quite fully human in most of the Islamic world: they are simply degraded figments of the projected male psyche. And we also see evidence of part-object relating carried over to the afterlife, with the childlike fantasies of scores of young virgins (as opposed to frightening or polluted adult women) waiting upon the elect.
From a psychohistorical standpoint, the societal attitude toward women and sexuality is no small matter. Along with childrearing practices, the status of women is one of the hinges of cultural evolution. In fact, according to Landes:
In general, the best clue to a nation’s growth and development potential is the status of women. This is the greatest handicap of Muslim Middle Eastern societies today, the flaw that most bars them from modernity. If we view gender relations as a continuum running from nothing to full equality, the Muslim countries, especially the Arab Muslim countries, would bottom out the scale.And obviously, the treatment of women circles back on the treatment of children. Indeed, if we consider only the staggering rates of female illiteracy in the Islamic world (again, endorsed by Muslim tradition), having an illiterate mother presents an additional barrier to a child achieving a more developed formal operational style of thinking. And it goes without saying that depressed and terrorized women cannot help but unconsciously transmit this terror to their children.
In deMause’s article, he describes how the Muslim child develops a tyrannical superego that forbids the experience of pleasure and short-circuits the spontaneous expression of the will. In the Muslim Middle East “there is little evidence of the idea of a carefree childhood,” and “in adult eyes, the period of childhood is a nuisance, and childhood activities, especially play, are a waste of time.” When these children grow up, they impose the same joyless tyranny on the next generation of children, preventing any freedom of thought, expression, will, creativity, or dissent. For example, teaching methods in the Middle East are very different from our own, emphasizing rote learning as “the major method of teaching. Throughout the Arab world memorization has been a common element of education.” This involves forcing the child, under threat of corporal punishment, to mindlessly memorize lengthy passages of the Koran perfectly, so that the indoctrination “still remains with the individual throughout his lifetime.” As such, children are not encouraged to reason or develop formal operational capacities.
Of course, the ultimate myth is not just the resurgence of Islam as the preeminent global power, but the delusion of how that would come about. The fundamentalists believe that Islam is the magical solution to all the world’s problems, and that “Muslim strength follows directly from living the sacred law of Islam,” or Sharia. The way the fantasy goes is this: about a thousand years ago, Islam flourished with great armies, wealth, and cultural attainments surpassing both Europe and China. All of this followed, according to Islamist doctrine, from the fact that all of the “good children” of Islam strictly followed the “parental” law of the Sharia. Likewise, when the Islamic world became “contaminated” by Western and Jewish influences, it became weak and vulnerable.
In attempting to analyze the motives of the terrorists, I see evidence of a superego so violently suffocating that we are essentially dealing with people who have become psychically “dead” through childhood trauma. A clue to this was provided in a statement from one of the Al Qaeda terrorists after the commencement of the bombing of Afghanistan, when he said that the terrorists “love death the way Americans love life.” Again there is a temptation to dismiss this as rhetorical bluster, but I believe it reveals a great psychological truth that we ignore at our peril.
Let me be explicit: the nineteen terrorists who went down with the planes, the ten more who were planning to do so, the thousand or so “sleeper” terrorists still hiding in the U.S., the hundred Palestinian suicide bombers since 1993—all were and are already dead emotionally. Just as the terrorists’ psychic “death” is something that happened in the past but which they were not mature enough to experience, physical suicide involves “sending the body to a death which has already happened to the psyche.” The need to experience death for these soulless “living dead” is equivalent to the compulsion of a neurotic patient to either act out or remember unconscious conflicts; suicidal terror is repetition compulsion taken to the highest extreme. [As Boltas put it:]
The person who has been “killed” in his childhood is in unwilling identification with his own premature mortality, and by finding a victim he transcends his own killing, psychically overcoming his own endless deaths by sacrificing to the malignant gods that overlooked his childhood.And for this unconscious drama to be emotionally complete, it is critical that the victims be innocent, just as the terrorist once was before being converted to the cult of death by his parental “body snatchers.”
We see this necrophilic inversion of life and death in much of the Middle East, in a way that beggars belief. For bin Laden, this is the natural order, because true Muslims “all seek martyrdom and want to meet Allah as soon as possible. One billion Muslims are capable of turning their bodies into bombs which are equal in force to all the weapons of extermination and mass destruction possessed by the Americans.”
Note of 29 August 2010: I have removed some paragraphs from this article according to my new mind after a lightning struck me. Robert Godwin’s complete article, twice as longer of the above abridged version, contains numerous endnotes.