Since its inception only four months ago, The Quartermaster Archive has focused its ruminations on the obscure history and luminous marginalia of the Boy Scouts of America as well as representations of Boy Scouts in American literature. Yet, the catastrophe committed in Paris earlier this month by the terrorist organization ISIS demands a necessary aside, although one that is not unrelated to the interests of this blog.
A great deal has already been said and written about the Bataclan Theatre Massacre where three young men, armed with Kalashnikovs and suicide vests, murdered eighty nine concertgoers during a performance by the American rock band the Eagles of Death Metal.
Since then the gun smoke has cleared, and today the horror at the Bataclan exceeds the worst tragedies witnessed in history of rock n’ roll. The murder of Meredith Hunter at the Altamont Festival in 1969 and the human stampede that left eleven people dead at a Who concert in 1979, are incomparable indeed.
Still, little has been said about the significance of a rock n’ roll concert as the target of Islamic terrorists. An act of terror, such as this, is not accidental and therefore this particular target, an ordinary rock concert, is hardly inconsequential.
Why then did ISIS terrorize the Eagles of Death Metal and their fans?
To put it simply: ISIS is a fascist movement unseen since the early twentieth century, and rock n’ roll is antithetical to the spirit of fascism, regardless of whatever material form fascism takes.
Wilhelm Reich, the mass-psychologist and furious critic of authoritarianism, defined fascism as the organized political expression of the average man’s psychological character—an amalgam of rebellious emotions and reactionary social ideals. Furthermore, fascism, he said, is not confined to certain races, nations, religions, or political parties, but is generally an international phenomenon.
For Reich, who was a student of Sigmund Freud, the problem of fascism originates from the stubborn Oedipal complex. In short, the fascist craves the power administered by patriarchal authority figures while at the same time craving rebellion against that same authority. In the fascist psyche, this contradiction—between submission and rebellion—transforms the patriarch’s discipline into a tendency for sadism, which manifests as war and genocide when performed on a mass-international scale.
This ambivalence toward authority—a revolt against it and submission to it—begins to shape the human character during the teenage years and persists into adulthood. Reich argued that this psychological trap shaped the mind of Adolf Hitler and it may also explain the motivation behind the droves of young Muslims joining ISIS.
As reported by the BBC, Samy Amimour, twenty-eight years old and one of three Bataclan killers, rejected overtures from his own father, who in 2014, travelled to Syria hoping to convince his son to abandon ISIS and return home peacefully. Amimour’s allegiance to ISIS is itself a rebellious denial of his father’s authority, but that same allegiance is dependent upon Amimour’s submission to the ideologically deformed strain of Islam prescribed by ISIS. The act of terror at the Bataclan Theatre was an inevitable manifestation of a sadistic tendency arising from Amimour’s longing to rebel and to obey.
And Samy Amimor is hardly alone. The contradictory desire to revolt and to submit may well have motivated the three teenage Muslim girls from England, who received considerable media coverage earlier this year, when the trio boarded a plane for Turkey, ultimately making their way to Syria, where they intended to help the ISIS war effort.
It remains politically incorrect to suggest Islam is a religion of war; however, this provocative claim was proposed by the social critic and Nobel laureate Elias Canetti, long before the global War on Terror. I do not believe that America and its allies are at war with Islam, but Cannetti’s analysis is helpful in understanding the mind of ISIS foot soldiers like Samy Amimour.
According to Canetti, Islam is structured by an unconditional opposition between the faithful and the unbelieving. This irreconcilable division fates both sides to perpetual conflict, legitimizing all wars waged in the name of Islam, wherein the body count becomes the measure of a Muslim’s revolt against the unbelievers and his submission to Allah as well.
But let’s return to the Bataclan Theatre and the Eagles of Death Metal.
In the ancient world, music was the art of the Greek god Dionysus, whose rituals stripped participants of their individualities, conjuring an ecstatic state, Friedrich Nietzsche called, the Original Oneness. Music needs both a performer and a spectator and it is under the intoxicating effect of song that both performer and spectator forget themselves completely. Music is the ritual that celebrates the reconciliation between the two.
When encountering a rock n’ roll frenzy, an ISIS fascist cannot tolerate the possibility that this music will draw him into a realm without division. Consequently, the solitary ISIS fascist, like Samy Amimour, demonstrates his obedience and revolt by punishing the participants of a ritual that was initiated by a music he is forbidden to hear.
Music is no match for Kalashnikovs and suicide belts, but amidst the harmonies and distortions of rock n’ roll, whether it is Elvis Presley or the Rolling Stones or the Eagles of Death Metal, there remains a resolution to the divisions that have deformed Samy Amimour and many other members of his generation.
Canetti, Elias. Crowds and Power. 1960. New York: Farrar, 1984. Print.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy. New York: Double Day, 1956. Print.
Reich, Wilhelm. The Mass Psychology of Fascism. 1946. New York: Farrar, 2000. Print.