Howard Jacobson: If you want to know the source of anti-western propaganda, look no further than ourselves

There is hysteria abroad. It now looks normal to talk of Bush and Blair as if they were Stalin and Pol Pot
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Love your opposite. If I die tomorrow, may this be the sentence I am remembered for. "Love your opposite."Not "Love your neighbour," though in some instances, I accept, that might be harder. And not just "Love your enemy," who might only be an enemy by accident of time or place. When I say "Love your opposite" I mean love the obverse of yourself, love that which contradicts you in your soul.

This thought came to me last week when, driven to escape news of war and terrorism, I turned to what I still in my heart think of as the Third Programme. Wagner was on. Tristan and Isolde. The Liebestod. Sung I wasn't sure by whom. Once upon a time I could have rattled off the best one hundred Isoldes in the world; now I'm soprano ignorant. For some reason I listen less these days to music which I know will make me weep. Maybe you run out of that plentiful supply of tears you had when you were young and must now husband whatever's left.

As for Wagner, well you have to be careful with him at any time if you are not a Nazi. It doesn't much bother me that he expressed anti-Semitic views. Who doesn't? Of more concern is the ecstatic death-borne stuff which as a Jew you feel you shouldn't be having truck with. Bliss in expiry isn't our bag. We value consciousness too much for that. Isolde finding sexual fulfilment in extinction not only negates the greatest glory of existence which is thought, it negates sex as well, which I like to think of as wide awake, forward-looking, talkative and industrious.

Thus the Liebestod contradicts everything I value. Yet there I was, transfigured, transported out of mind and body, melted into feeling. Truly "transported" in that I was taken somewhere else, parted from myself, made to inhabit an alien place. And how would I be without the experience of that alien place? No question about it - immeasurably poorer!

The terrorist - who also hungers for the bliss that accompanies non-being - believes there is only one response to the opposite to himself, and that is to destroy it. How does he or she get to that? I understand dislike. I can see why one might turn Wagner off. But destroy his music? Remove it from existence? That's the step that always baffles me - how a person gets from identifying the obverse to himself to believing he is justified in blowing it to smithereens.

There is no shortage of experts on the psychology of political extremism. The bombers, terrorists, saboteurs, call them what you like, are alienated, these experts tell us, as though there is no stage that needs accounting for between alienation and indiscriminating destruction. Once upon a time the alienated wore black berets, smoked cheroots and read Jean Paul Sartre. How alienation became murderous, how the alienated went from being hip and argumentative outsiders to an extermination squad, remains to be explored.

Ditto radicalisation, a word which for some commentators carries its own frisson of justification. To be radicalised as we are told some young Muslims are radicalised means to be convinced that the West is wholly malevolent in its intentions to Muslims the world over and is bent on their destruction. But which, emotionally speaking, comes first - our being bent on their destruction or their being bent on ours? What if the motivation they ascribe to us is no more than a mirror image of what drives them? What if the ideology they sip - wherever it originates - cannot tolerate the existence of an opposing world view and they are therefore unable to believe we do not feel the same? What if the all-destroying enemy they behold in their soul is, in actuality, themselves?

That we assist them in these delusions, out of delusional motives of our own, I have no doubt. We ask where they learn this stuff. Mosques which preach hatred of the West? Holiday retreats in Pakistan? Covert literature found in universities which once were polytechnics? Myself, I think it is easy to show that they can get confirmation of their fantasies at far less expense from the front pages of our newspapers. If we are searching for a source of poisonous anti-western propaganda we need look no further than ourselves. It is we who peddle that "hegemonic single-narrative" which, for the politically naive and inflammable, explains history.

There is hysteria abroad. That no experts on the psychology of extremism are putting their minds to this hysteria can only be explained by their not noticing it is there. And that is because it looks perfectly normal now to talk of Bush and Blair as though they are Stalin and Pol Pot. Iraq is no longer a tragic blunder, or even a cynical and selfish manipulation of truth; let any embryo terrorist see it as a wilful attempt to eviscerate Iraq of its Muslim population and there is nobody to tell him he is wrong. Afghanistan, as we narrate it, is going the same way.

As for Israel and Lebanon, a new arrival from Mars would never guess that the conflict had causes which are at least open to conflicting interpretations. The front pages of our national newspapers depict sadism for the sake of it. Photographs show dead children. Reporters describe the slaughter of innocents as though their deaths were not only intentional but the sole purpose of the war. No context, no history, no intractable complexities. Just another story of obliteration to confirm the obliteration mindset of barely adult bombers who discern in us nothing but the same monster of solipsism that consumes them.

Thus, by a species of higher rabble-rousing - call it sensationalism for the better-educated - do we contribute to the radicalisation of those who by way of thank you will destroy us. Explain it to me. Do we too seek the sensuality of extinction? Are we getting off on this?

Just how comprehensively the single narrative impoverishes the terrorist we know from his vacancy of expression on those zombie videotapes he leaves behind, trusting that the God who made life will reward him for taking it. He goes to the worst of all hells, where men live buried up to their necks in their own grievances and for company have only reflections of themselves. But what of us? Why are we, in our own way, so in love with easeful death that we furnish the rhetoric for those who mean to kill us? Love your opposite, I say. But love him because he is the argument you must have with yourself, not because he means to blow all argument away.