February 02, 2004

ANDREW SULLIVAN and James Taranto both refer to the Hajj-stampede phenomenon as an example of Islam as a "death cult." I think this comparison is misplaced.

There's no question that the more fanatical Islamofascist ideologues -- and a huge number, perhaps a majority, of Palestinians -- are in the grip of something that might reasonably be called a "death cult," with its worship of suicide-bomb martyrdom as an end in itself. But I don't think that's what's going on here, and I think it's a mistake to paint with too broad a brush.

What's going on here seems to be classic Arab-regime ineptitude, glossed over with a convenient fatalism. Here's what an American Muslim wrote recently:

In Mecca, I found the same mixture of confusion, oppression and apathy I thought I had left behind in Egypt. But as in Egypt, nothing worked, even at the blessed hajj, for we were visitors not to an Islamic state but to yet another cynical Arab kleptocracy which only pretended to adhere to the true ideals of Islam.

The Saudis couldn’t even organize the hajj safely. Each day, as I performed the rituals of the hajj, I was part of massed crowds of Muslims from all over the world: Turks and Pakistanis, Nigerians, Malaysians, Arabs. We would shamble forward without order or seeming direction, endangering lives as we knocked over women, the lame and the elderly in our hurry to get from one ritual to the next. Once, in a street so filled with pilgrims that I could not take one step forward, I was forced to jump into the back of a truck to avoid being killed in a stampede.

At night, I would wander through the pilgrim camps, disgusted by the sight of the mud-faced pilgrims who were only too happy to sleep on the filthy streets. In the morning, the streets would be clogged again, and veiled women who had trouble walking because they’d so rarely been let out of their homes would waddle slowly before me. At the stoning ritual, I watched little girls fall under the crowds of pilgrims: Turks shoving Arabs, Africans shoving Indians until each day a few more pilgrims were trampled to death. The next day I would read of the incident in the Saudi Times (FOURTEEN PILGRIMS KILLED IN STAMPEDE) which would quote a hajj official who never took any responsibility for the deaths. He would only say that since the pilgrims had died on hajj they would ‘surely enter Paradise’. There was never any promise to cut the number of hajjis or control the outsized crowds to prevent these needless deaths.

Disney could solve this problem in its sleep. That the Saudis aren't up to Disney's standards, and use lame fatalistic theology as an excuse, isn't evidence of death-cultism so much as arrogance and ineptitude. Of course, the helpless rage that this behavior produces (or, perhaps, that the realization that Disney could solve this problem in its sleep produces) tends to feed the fanatics -- but that's still not the same as death-cultism.