Monday, September 8, 2014

Dishonor through Jihad

Why would anyone join ISIS? Why do young Europeans go off to fight in the Middle East? What attracts them to a violent and brutal terrorist organization?

Michael Ledeen answers that they do it: “because it gives meaning to life.”


Many people have found this explanation to be utterly satisfying. And yet, what does it mean to give meaning to life?

It might mean giving your life a purpose. But, why this purpose and not another one? The world is not short of purposes. It isn’t even short of causes. Why don’t these young people seek out “spiritual fulfillment” in prayer?

Unfortunately, “the meaning of life” is so vague and imprecise that you can make it mean whatever you want it to mean. Why, after all, do these aspiring young jihadis not find any meaning in British or French life? Why would they not find meaning in doing a job, making a living, having a family and contributing to community? Why do they see nothing meaningful in charity work?

How is it that the only way they can find meaning in their lives is by unleashing a reign of terror on Iraq and Syria?

Ledeen suggests that these young Muslim men (and women) run away from the comforts of home because home is too tranquil for their aggressive male spirit:

The main problem with democratic capitalism is that it’s so successful, and therefore very boring.  A generation or two of European intellectuals bemoaned the great triumph of science and industry, which they portrayed as relentlessly stifling the human soul, burying us under a hill of material things.

For my part I do not think that success is boring. It might, however, be seriously alienating to be surrounded by success when you have none.

Surely these young Muslim men feel alienated from European civilization. They cannot relate to a civilization that was built on the Industrial Revolution, free enterprise and liberal democracy.

In that they are not alone.

For centuries now European artists and intellectuals have been railing and revolting against the triumph of science and industry. And they have led a reaction against the Industrial Revolution, arguing that it has stifled the creative wellsprings of authentic human being. From time to time enterprising politicians have taken up the cause.

They all hate the British inventions of the Industrial Revolution and free enterprise. They pretend that these inventions have caused human beings to lose touch with their spiritual being, but they are more concerned with way that modern life has repressed our aggressive and sexual impulses.

Whether you read this through Nietzsche or Heidegger or Freud, those who assault the Industrial Revolution, liberal democracy, rational thought and free will believe that civilizing forces have repressed the more authentically violent and depraved human instincts.

Some believe that the repressed impulses will inevitably return. Some believe that the impulses become degenerate because they are repressed.

All believe that human irrationality will out in the long run. They join the fight because, among other things, they believe that it puts them on the right side of history.

After all, what could be more authentic—in the Heideggerian sense—than the theatrical performance of murderous aggression? And let’s not forget the performance of violent sexual assault?

Like fascist movements before it ISIS seeks to undermine the foundations of Western civilization by showing that incivility is stronger than civility.Or better, it is trying to expose the fatal flaw in civility, its weakness and effeminacy.

These groups are not merely opposed to the Industrial Revolution and free enterprise. They abhor the British cult to gentility, to good manners, to propriety and decorum… to queuing up.

In the past fascist movements on the European continent believed that British gentility would make the British (and the Americans) easy targets, easy to defeat in war.

So they trained their armies in brutality and terrorism, believing that they could easily beat an army that has been trained in fastidiousness.

All fascists love war. But they do not love just any kind of war. They believe in the most brutal and violent kinds of war. They believe that they will inevitably win because they have overcome the tendency to fight by the rules. They refuse to limit themselves to fighting against armies. They extend the war into civilian population centers. They believe that limitless brutality will cow a civilian population into believing that those who can practice it will inevitably prevail.

Everyone has noticed that the junior jihadis who are signing up with ISIS have basically failed at life. In some European nations Muslims have failed to assimilate and have failed to embrace the values and the customs that define those nations.

Why did they fail to assimilate? Was it because their religion and culture did not allow it? Did they fear that they would lose their souls if they became Westernized?

Either way, some of them believe that they can overcome the humiliation that accompanies failure by showing that Western customs are corrupt or corrupting, and that the West will inevitably lose out to civilizations that are in closer touch with their more primal instincts.

In other words, the young European jihadis didn’t join ISIS in order to give meaning to their lives. They joined ISIS in order to save face.

Unfortunately, there is nothing face-saving in showing the world that you excel at savagery. Similarly, there is nothing honorable about murdering your children.

A civilization that cannot understand the concept of honor can only survive by terrorizing people.


Ares Olympus said...

re: Michael Ledeen answers that they do it: “because it gives meaning to life.”

I'm not sure about giving meaning, but "status" is the prize of war. If the ordinary social roles haven't offered you a dependable path towards status.

re: Everyone has noticed that the junior jihadis who are signing up with ISIS have basically failed at life.

Ideally life has competition to tease out strengths and weaknesses, and through competition everyone fines a domain where they can excel, but what do you do with those who fail to find a path?

It makes sense to me that these are "vulnerable" men, and whatever charm ISIS has in their eyes, so there's an unmet need in these men, one that, as you say can satisfy their need for status without being so brutal and foolish.

When I look at the failures in my history, more often what seems to come out is drug addiction. When you're high, apparently life isn't so bad. That's what my brother said a few years before he died from a prescription methadone overdose, that he felt most alive and powerful in his life when he used the most drugs.

Maybe there are key periods in young men's lives, where they're most vulnerable to warrior cult fantasies, and if they pass through, they just become ordinary losers?

Anonymous said...

In "The Clash of Civilizations", Prof. Huntington created a term and a concept.

Re-indiginization. Young men of various Civs hearkening to what their grandfathers abjured or neglected. Seeking, and embracing, the old ways.

The Prof. gave examples. It may well be illogical, emotional, and self-defeating. But so what. Many people are like that.

Islam has many many very very old ways.

Many Muslims look to the era of "The Rightly-Guided Ones" as best. The 4 Caliphs who succeeded the Prophet. 3 were assassinated.

Please. We must eschew the belief that other Civs want to be like ours. They don't, and never will. In fact, the more successful we are, the more we're hated.

We're not even v popular in bloody Europe!

It's not a problem. It's a condition.

Anonymous said...

Oh. Sorry. I forgot to attach my name to 2nd entry.

Sorry also for being so categorical and hortatory.

It's all IMO. --- Rich Lara

Ares Olympus said...

Anon, 8:30, so much I've not heard of. I see the book from 2011:

Also I found a 2011 lecture, an attempted take down: In 1993 Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington wrote an essay titled "The Clash of Civilizations?" and later he expanded into a book with the same title, but without the question mark. Edward Said, late Columbia professor rips Huntington's thesis to shreds.

I'll have to learn more.

Ares Olympus said...

Update: Book originally published in 1996, and Huntington died in 2008, while the critic lecture I found, Edward Said died in 2003.

There's a long wiki article on the book:

Anonymous said...

Western society has destroyed the place of men in our society. No matter how tragic it is that many of these men choose violent movements like ISIS, this is what happens when men have no positive and meaningful societal role.

It is the same as gang life taking over the inner cities. These men were replaced by government welfare so they seek out a life soaked in gang violence.

The West needs to realize that there are dire consequences to feminism, normalizing homosexuality, etc and using a powerful Federal government to force these changes. These movements replace and diminish normal outlets for masculinity such as jobs, marriage, and fatherhood.

Cause and effect. Cultural change doesn't happen in a vaccum

Anonymous said...

Said was a bum, who crippled US academic studies of Islam, the ME, an related subjects.

A professor of English, his screed "Orientalism" labeled them racist and other ist's.

A congenital liar and fantasist, he lived in US comfort, while rhapsodizing over Arab "superiority". He wasn't fit to shine Sam's shoes.

Prof Sam took a lot of grief for Clash. I read many reviews & essays slamming him, none positive. One of our best scholars. -- Rich Lara

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Absolutely right, Rich.

David Foster said...

Two quote...first, from the (now defunct) Italian blogger who called herself Joy of Knitting:

"Cupio dissolvi…These words have been going through my mind for quite a long time now. It’s Latin. They mean “I (deeply) wish to be annihilated/to annihilate myself”, the passive form signifying that the action can be carried out both by an external agent or by the subject himself…Cupio dissolvi… Through all the screaming and the shouting and the wailing and the waving of the rainbow cloth by those who invoke peace but want appeasement, I hear these terrible words ringing in my ears. These people have had this precious gift, this civilization, and they have got bored with it. They take all the advantages it offers them for granted, and despise the ideals that have powered it. They wish for annihilation, the next new thing, as if it was a wonderful party. Won’t it be great, dancing on the ruins?

The second, from Walter Miller's great novel A Canticle for Leibowitz:

The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle’s eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn. Well, they were going to destroy it again, were they — this garden Earth, civilized and knowing, to be torn apart again that Man might hope again in wretched darkness.

Soviet of Washington said...

Mr. Ledeen would find a supporter in George Orwell given this excerpt from Mr. Orwell's 1940 review of Mein Kampf:

Also he [Hitler] has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all “progressive” thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarized version of Socialism.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

I can only imagine how empowering it must feel for a young masculine jihadist to premeditatedly decapitate a helpless man bound and kneeling in the sand, in front of a videocamera so his savagery can be broadcast to a world audience over social media. This is the Islamic State, and these are the new crop of vaunted Islamic warriors. This macabre theater is intended to terrorize enemies around the world. Yet it will backfire, because kidnapping and murder are not acts of bravery, they are acts of extraordinary cowardice. And this cowardice is cheered on by a sick, declining Islamic civilization. This is an honor culture? This is the highest aspiration of a young jihadist? Killing American journalists? Such men have no honor and will hopefully meet Allah and the seventy virgins soon. All of them. And if their religious leaders continue to encourage, sanction and reward this kind of barbarism, then they can no longer claim the inheritance of the Abrahamic God of Jews (who they hate and kill) and Christians (who they hate and kill). They believe in a deity altogether different, one they claim will reward evil. In this, they blaspheme, pretending to be god.

Anonymous said...

For years, I planned to write a speech using a dollar bill as a prop.

It's merely a piece of paper. Worthless in itself, it represents the trust of people worldwide in the probity, stability, honor, strength, social capital, progress, wealth, and enlightened Leadership of the issuer.

Not sure if I mentioned earlier. Monty Python had a skit about El Mystico. a magician who constructed residential buildings out of thin air.

But they only stood if residents believed in them. When doubts crept in, the structures tottered and fell.

I think that's a good metaphor for countries, cultures, and Civs.

A Brit politician (Burke?) said: "There is much ruin in a Nation". It costs blood, toil, tears, and sweat to create and maintain it.

The power of Ideas, Ideals, and Beliefs. -- Rich Lara

Unknown said...

Has anyone bothered to ask the men who joined ISIS why they joined?

Unknown said...

Has anyone bothered to ask the men who joined ISIS why they joined?

Anonymous said...

Whew. I really shouldn't hog the Comments this way. But I can't resist.

Why they "joined" ISIS? 1. It's a religious organization by the standards of Islam. You don't "join" it like the Marines. It's a religious act.

2. Their Imams will give you a multiplicity of reasons. Some severely sincere, others Taqquia (sp).

3. Relevant websites: Memri, Robert Spencer, the Gates of Vienna, among others.

GofV refers to the last great Muslim Invasion by the Ottomans in 1683. I'm proud to say my Polish ancestors under King Jan Sobieski defeated it at Vienna. -- Rich Lara

Leif said...

I love this blog, but this piece profoundly mis-reads both fascism and ISIS. Perhaps the inherently bourgeois lens of psycho-therapy is not apt in all situations?

JKB said...

They fear modernity and as many do yearn for the ancien regime. They don't feel comfortable in a world centered on the individual with responsibility and self control. They don't like that the spheres of life (economic, political, society, religious/ideological) are separated. A world where family, tribe, religion, race, etc. inform the individual but do not control them. The Muslim world is still pre-modern with the individual subsumed to the family which defines and controls their actions, or the religion which defines and controls their actions. Where the economic and political are controlled by religious/ideological leaders. Where the individual is part of the collective with no or little independence from the controlling hierarchy.

Now a modern society, where the individual is the center and not controlled by the tight linkage of the spheres is somewhat boring and uneventful. Doesn't have the drama of familial expectations or religious dilemma. Alan Macfarlane theorizes that English literature, games, etc. are outlets to provide relief from the banality of modernity.

Bizzy Brain said...

The fourth stage of nihilism, The Nihilism of Destruction.

Anonymous said...

Leif, w/respect: To paraphrase Goebbels "When someone uses the word "Bourgeois" I reach for my pistol".

It was a term of abuse leftists used for solid citizens who created the Industrial Rev. And well into the 20th C. I guess the obverse is "Revolutionary". It has no meaning.

"Fascism". It's so slippery, it can refer to virtually anything. Maybe the obverse is "Anarchism".

Buzz words do not a reasoned riposte make. Best -- Rich Lara