Are Al-Qaeda like Milton’s Satan, beyond reason, or are they motivated by something more accessible to our understanding?

WARNING! SPOILER ALERT FOR HOMELAND FANS!

So, Abu Nazir is dead. If you have been watching the second series of Homeland, on Channel Four, you will know what I mean. There is one more episode to go, which will hopefully provide a climax to the second season. There is to be a third season, but, with Abu Nazir dead, I do not think that is such a good idea. Best to quit when ahead. But I doubt that good advice will be taken.

Those of you who have been following up to now will know that Abu Nazir is the terrorist mastermind who has been threatening a second Nine Eleven-style attack on America. His son was killed in a drone attack, which partly explains his animosity to the Americans. But only partly. This latest episode took the motivation theme much further, and we were told that Abu Nazir was engaged in a never-ending war with America, one in which the casualties could make no difference to him, not the damage done.

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It was at this point that a bell rang, and I turned to my Milton:

What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; the unconquerable Will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?
That Glory never shall his wrath or might
Extort from me. To bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee, and deifie his power,
Who from the terrour of this Arm so late
Doubted his Empire, that were low indeed,
That were an ignominy and shame beneath
This downfall; since by Fate the strength of Gods
And this Empyreal substance cannot fail,
Since through experience of this great event
In Arms not worse, in foresight much advanc’t,
We may with more successful hope resolve
To wage by force or guile eternal Warr
Irreconcileable, to our grand Foe,
Who now triumphs, and in th’ excess of joy
Sole reigning holds the Tyranny of Heav’n.

This is the conclusion of Satan’s first speech in the epic poem, spoken to his chief counsellor Beelzebub, as they both languish in hell, just after their expulsion from heaven.  I think it represents the mindset of Abu Nazir rather well. The terrorists in Homeland are not motivated by any ideology, but simply by immortal hate and the determination never to admit that they are beaten. Ideologies are subject to change. Hate can endure for a very long time.

I would not be surprised if the scriptwriters had Milton’s Satan in their minds when writing yesterday’s episode. But, while the parallel may be true in the context of the drama, what about real life? Are the Taliban and Al-Qaeda like Milton’s Satan, beyond reason, or are they motivated by something more accessible to our understanding?

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