I hadn’t planned a follow-up to my most recent post, but reading today has added some thoughts and points of view worth sharing.
Roger Cohen in NYT writes about the participation in ISIS by volunteers coming from Europe. He writes:
More than 500, and perhaps as many as 800, British Muslims have headed for Syria and Iraq to enlist in the jihadi ranks. In France, that number stands at about 900. Two adolescent girls, 15 and 17, were detained last week in Paris and face charges of conspiring with a terrorist organization. The ideological appeal of the likes of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is intact. It may be increasing, despite efforts to build an interfaith dialogue, reach out to moderate Islam, and pre-empt radicalization.
Cohen quotes a Brit who works with those (men mostly—of course) who might make this jump:
“One minute you are trying to pay bills, the next you’re running around Syria with a machine gun,” said Ghaffar Hussain, the managing director of the Quilliam Foundation, a British research group that seeks to tackle religious extremism. “Many young British Muslims are confused about their identity, and they buy into a narrow framework that can explain events. Jihadists hand them a simplistic narrative of good versus evil. They give them camaraderie and certainty. ISIS makes them feel part of a grand struggle.”
Anticipating what Roger Scruton has written (see below), Cohen states:
Perhaps racked with historical guilt, European nations with populations from former colonies often seem unable to celebrate their values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Meanwhile, in the Arab world the central hope of the Arab Spring has been dashed: that more open and representative societies would reduce the frustration that leads to extremism.
[T]he deepest American and Western defeat has been ideological. As Hussain said, “If you don’t have a concerted strategy to undermine their narrative, their values, their worldview, you are not going to succeed. Everyone in society has to take on the challenge.”
So Cohen seems to conclude that we’re losing a battle for the hearts and minds of young men (mostly) who may have a connection (tenuous, as we’ll see below) to Islam.
In this piece from TNR, writer Mehdi Hasan writes about the seeming weirdness of ISIS recruits and other would-be Islamic terrorists:
Sarwar and Ahmed, both of whom pleaded guilty to terrorism offences last month, purchased Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies. You could not ask for better evidence to bolster the argument that the 1,400-year-old Islamic faith has little to do with the modern jihadist movement. The swivel-eyed young men who take sadistic pleasure in bombings and beheadings may try to justify their violence with recourse to religious rhetoric— think the killers of Lee Rigby screaming “Allahu Akbar” at their trial; think of Islamic State beheading the photojournalist James Foley as part of its “holy war”—but religious fervour isn’t what motivates most of them.
In 2008, a classified briefing note on radicalisation, prepared by MI5’s behavioural science unit, was leaked to the Guardian. It revealed that, “far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could ... be regarded as religious novices.” The analysts concluded that “a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation,” the newspaper said.
For more evidence, read the books of the forensic psychiatrist and former CIA officer Marc Sageman; the political scientist Robert Pape; the international relations scholar Rik Coolsaet; the Islamism expert Olivier Roy; the anthropologist Scott Atran. They have all studied the lives and backgrounds of hundreds of gun-toting, bomb-throwing jihadists and they all agree that Islam isn’t to blame for the behaviour of such men (and, yes, they usually are men).
This means we have to think outside many simple parameters (“It’s Islam”) that seem so easy and direct but that simply wrong (because simple). Hasan quotes Atran:
Atran pointed out in testimony to the US Senate in March 2010: “... what inspires the most lethal terrorists in the world today is not so much the Quran or religious teachings as a thrilling cause and call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends, and through friends, eternal respect and remembrance in the wider world.” He described wannabe jihadists as “bored, under¬employed, overqualified and underwhelmed” young men for whom “jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer ... thrilling, glorious and cool.”
Yesterday I got into reading Roger Scruton’s The West and the Rest: Globalization & the Terror Threat (2002). This heavy-duty philosopher (aesthetics, music, Spinoza, Kant, etc.) is also is an outspoken “conservative” in the Burkean tradition (he's not one of the “all Hayek, all day” stations), and he’s a fine essayist. In this book, he contrasts the doctrine and culture of Islam with those of the Greek, Roman, and Judeo-Christian West (many rivers flow in to the Western basin). He argues that the West has developed some fundamental tenants, especially since the Enlightenment, which sets it off from Islam. Some of the key differences go back much further, but because one can argue that the Enlightenment was the most significant change in Western culture in about two millennia, I think that Scruton rightly focuses on differences arising from the Enlightenment. For instance, that’s when Western Christianity—Protestant and Catholic—began to play a different role in public life. Scuton doesn't think that the West has done enough (in arugment) to defend its values and traditions in the face of criticisms and that this lack of an energetic defense only serves to inflame and energize would-be attackers.
What I get from Scruton (so far) focuses not so much on background of terrorists and would-be terrorists, as (for example) Atran does, but instead Scruton focuses on the high cultural differences, especially in politics and law. One might at first glance think that he contradicts those such as Atran cited in the TNR article by Hasan, but I don’t think so. What I think that the significant cultural differences establish is that immigrants to the West, especially from Islamic countries, may have a greater disjunction between their native culture (so defined by religion) and the culture that they find in the West. (Some other non-Western cultures, for instance, Chinese, would not suffer the same degree of culture shock.) Because of the depth of the difference, a deeper, more threatening sense of alienation can develop. Of course, this needn’t be true, as many from Islamic countries emigrate successfully to the West (U.S., U.K. Europe, Australia, etc.). But if alienation develops, as it can so easily in young males, then you have a recipe for disaster because of the compelling claims that they can recover from Islamic tradition. From reading today, one gets a sense of “cradle” Moslems prone to violence and steeped in fundamentalist Islamic culture are sought out by those who use Islam as a vehicle into a violent and totalizing movement.
Thus, you have two different groups and sets of motivations to consider when thinking about how to counteract the threats that they pose.