The Intersection of Terror and Glamour

Deep Glamour has a provocative post about the relationships among glamour, heroism, martyrdom, desire, violence, and terror.

It begins by quoting author Salman Rushdie, who, when asked about the causes of terrorism, suggested: “a misconceived sense of mission,” a ‘herd mentality,’ the desire to become ‘a historic figure,’ an attraction to violence, and — shocking the interviewer — glamour. … ‘The suicide bomber’s imagination leads him to believe in a brilliant act of heroism, when in fact he is simply blowing himself up pointlessly and taking other peoples lives.'”

Blogger Virginia Postrel continues:

“To someone who thinks ‘glamour’ means movie stars and designer dresses, the idea that terrorism is glamorous sounds bizarre. But Rushdie is wise to the deeper meaning of glamour, as a form of magic and persuasion. Glamour is in the audience’s eyes, and the phenomenon long preceded Hollywood. … Glamour can sell religious devotion or military glory as surely as it can pitch lipstick or island vacations. All promise a way to transcend our everyday circumstances, to experience more and become better than ordinary life allows.  All invite us to imagine escape and transformation. … Glamour appeals to our desires, whatever they may be.”

Glamour, in other words, has something in common with the sacred, as Alison talks about it in his Nov. 2001 essay “Contemplation in a world of violence: Girard, Merton, Tolle”:

[T]he old sacred worked its magic: we found ourselves being sucked in to a sacred center, one where a meaningless act had created a vacuum of meaning, and we found ourselves giving meaning to it. … In short, there had appeared, suddenly, a holy day. Not what we mean by a holiday, a day of rest, but an older form of holiday, a being sucked out of our ordinary lives in order to participate in a sacred and sacrificial centre so kindly set up for us by the meaningless suicides. … Quickly people were saying things like ‘to think that we used to spend our lives engaged in gossip about celebrities’ and politicians’ sexual peccadillos. Now we have been summoned into thinking about the things that really matter.’  … What I want to suggest is that most of us fell for it, at some level. We were tempted to be secretly glad of a chance for a huge outbreak of meaning to transform our humdrum lives, to feel we belonged to something bigger, more important, with hints of nobility and solidarity.”

Postrel ends her post by asking, on September 11, “How do we puncture the glamour of Jihadi terrorism?” She answers with: “The first step is recognizing that such glamour exists.”

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