Bush Speak: a Weapon of Mass Destruction
By John D. Goldhammer
As soon as the Bush administration declared a “War on Terror,” something disturbing happened: Dropping this verbal atomic bomb in response to the horror of September 11th, the United States, a world superpower, elevated a cult leader, mass murderer, and ideological fanatic—Osama bin Laden and his band of fundamentalist clones—to the status of a nation state. We gave an already infamous terrorist global recognition and renewed credibility among his followers, a PR coup and continuing recruitment bonanza for Al Qaeda, dramatically increasing the threat and spread of terrorism. A highly contagious, barbaric cluster of ideas was given new life, empowered to infect additional millions, aroused by a burning, swirling maelstrom of words.
Like the perpetual “War on Drugs,” labeling our efforts to find a group of psychopaths a “War on Terror” was a plunge into a linguistic, bottomless pit, another potentially endless pursuit of an impossible goal. Moreover, these three, notorious words, similar to some corporate logo, appear everywhere, attached to every imaginable circumstance, creating all manner of serious, long-term consequences including justification for trampling on fundamental civil liberties, waging preemptive wars, fomenting a continuous state of public apprehension, alienating our long-term allies, and significantly increasing hatred, distrust and fear of the US. We had the civilized world on our side right after 9-11 but we blew it big time!
Bin Laden ought to be treated by the U.S. and the international community as the criminal and mass murderer that he is, nothing more and nothing less. A more sensible U.S. response following September 11th (then and now) would have been to organize a powerful and effective international alliance, a coordinated police action to track down each individual involved in the 9-11 tragedy.
This verbal overreaction also let loose some lethal group dynamics: an ideological firestorm that could easily reach epic proportions. Because of our “war rhetoric” response we set ourselves up to be an irresistible target for terrorists. There is nothing more satisfying or exciting to a cult like Al Qaeda than an actual confrontation with the “Great Satan,” their designated enemy, a most useful tool for keeping a movement alive. Such groups cannot see their own faults; everything bad and evil is projected “out there” on an external foe; the cult is but a victim of oppression, not responsible for their circumstances or their self-destructive ideas and social policies. Because of this cult/group dynamic, how we react to evil becomes a determining factor in either escalating terrorism and hatred or reducing the threat of terrorism. It is a group-think trap to rationalize and justify any form of terrorism with real or imagined grievances. To do so is to reward acts of terrorism, transforming savages and murderers into diplomats and heroes. We then become defacto supporters of this regressive, primitive, immoral logic which, if accepted, can, without a twinge of conscience or humanity, rationalize the most unspeakable evil to further the cult’s agenda.
From a fundamentalist, cult mind-set, a suicide bomber yearns for death and martyrdom as a passport into heaven or paradise. Thus death becomes an ultimate goal to be attained. Suicide and murder for a twisted and perverted ideological organism become virtues; barbaric, spiritually ignorant individuals misunderstand and misinterpret allegorical stories and metaphors, whether in the Koran, Bible, Torah, or any other text. In a fundamentalist group, religious scriptures are taken as historical fact and acted upon accordingly. Such groups are, as author, Robert J. Lifton observed, “always on the edge of violence because it (the fundamentalist group) ever mobilizes for an absolute confrontation with designated evil, thereby justifying any actions taken to eliminate that evil.”
Meanwhile, the “leaders” of such groups never do what they encourage their followers to do. After all they, the Bin Ladens of the world, and other like-minded, criminal, cult leaders of terrorist groups, have discovered the cruelest, cheapest weapon of all: an endless supply of thoroughly brainwashed individuals who are expendable fodder for what is in reality a political cult masquerading as a “religious” group. The cult uses youthful idealism and naiveté for its own ends. The serial murder of innocents in the dark factories of terrorism begins with young suicide bombers. For them, the cult and its bloodthirsty mission are more important than individual existence.
When we attacked Iraq, we again walked right into the same deadly group dynamic: by starting a war, essentially on our own, we fulfilled our role as the “Great Satan” in the minds of Islamic radicals, empowering and reinforcing their already blood-soaked mission to destroy western civilization and replace it with a Moslem theocracy. A prominent Iranian ayatollah, a religious fundamentalist, made this mission quite clear: “Moslems have no alternative . . . to an armed holy war against profane governments. . . . . It will . . . be the duty of every able-bodied adult male to volunteer for this war of conquest, the final aim of which is to put Koranic law in power from one end of the earth to the other.” Radical Islamic fundamentalism is a rapidly spreading mental virus, an ideological cancer, and one of the oldest and most dangerous group dynamics; it is fast corrupting traditional Islamic values of compassion and mercy. The barbarians are not only at the gates of the civilized world, they are inside.
Using verbiage dripping in Religious Right doctrine (the Christian face of fundamentalism), George W. stepped into another word nightmare when he labeled certain countries as belonging to a designated “Axis of Evil,” and Pentagon officials threatened to “…drain the Middle East swamp,” “righteous” crusades that our God will help us accomplish. Never mind if thousands of innocent civilians are murdered in the process. And, you and I need to remember that “we,”—the United States—according to “George W. Bush,” are “called to bring God’s gift of liberty to every human being in the world.” Again, classic cult language: we are the superior “chosen people,” outsiders are not. We now have a new mission that should keep us busy for the foreseeable future as well as insuring continued growth and expansion for the military-industrial complex—good news and full employment for the Pentagon, Halliburton, weapons manufacturers and, of course, all manner of terrorists.
And by the way, now that Iraq has settled into an ongoing quagmire, maybe we can muster enough real “intelligence” to catch Bin Laden and all his accomplices. You remember him; the guy with the AK-47, that cave-dwelling columnist for Al-Jazira—the murderer actually responsible for the September 11th massacre.
When it comes to “group dynamics,” we are dangerously illiterate and naive. It may well be that we are condemned to repeat past horrors—until we come to grips with the crucial necessity to educate ourselves and most urgently, children everywhere, about the often fatal effects of destructive groups and destructive ideologies. It is too often true that “we are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers—thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses.”
John D. Goldhammer, Ph.D., is a Seattle Washington (USA) writer, psychologist, and author of “Under the Influence: The Destructive Effects of Group Dynamics” (Prometheus Books). His newest book has just been released: Radical Dreaming (Kensington/Citadel Press). He created and taught these university classes: Psychology of Groups and The Psychology of Hate. email@example.com.
Notes: Robert J. Lifton, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989). Khomeini, Sayings of the Ayatollah Khomeini, 4. George W. Bush, “Bush and God,” Newsweek, March 10, 2003, pp. 24, 28. Peter S. Beagle, from the Introduction: The Return of the King, by J. R. R. Tolkien.