Commentators on the right have long argued that Islam is incompatible with the values of the Christian West. In fact, some have loudly claimed that Muslims living among them are demanding the majority’s assimilation to their way of life. Those on the left counter that experiences of racism and discrimination encourage extremist beliefs among Muslim youths. However, neither argument has explained why the “unassimilated” have turned almost exclusively to these radically new interpretations of Islam, or why conversion to jihadist ideology has only been a relatively recent phenomenon.
First off, concerns about Muslim assimilation are not well-founded. Large-scale surveys conducted over the past decade have revealed that the vast majority of Muslim immigrants in Europe and the United States identify quite positively with their “host” society. Indices of cultural assimilation are even higher for second-generation immigrants. Moreover, researchers claim generally declining levels of religiosity among Muslims in the West (the same can be said about Christians). Even the biographies of jihadists often work against lack-of-assimilation arguments: many live fairly normal lives before their “born-again” moments.
Members of the global jihad are often portrayed as desperate losers and loners. But these movements don’t necessarily attract antisocial individuals who are alienated from family and peer groups. To the contrary, people often learn about and join jihadist movements with friends and relatives. Indeed, one of the more surprising aspects of jihadist movements has been their skilled use of social media.
The predominantly young men who are drawn into the global jihad are not exactly retreating from the impenetrable world around them, but rather are looking to engage with it. Jihadist movements have expended substantial resources on proselytizing, to the extent that some experts have claimed al-Qaida to be the fastest growing strain of Islam in Europe. Jihadists are not seeking refuge in their parents’ or grandparents’ religion and culture (of which they often know very little) but in a new Islam that is very much of this world and is making use of (some would say perverting) the ideas and technologies supporting it. ...
The “assimilation” debate, then, is not just about making Muslims more French or American. In fact, some government officials and terrorism experts have recognized cultural integration without ideological assimilation as a potential problem, with their warnings of “sleeper cells.” When the left and right talks about assimilation, they also mean the acquiescence of the “assimilated” to current hierarchies of power in the world. If we set aside the religious pretensions of the global jihad and take seriously its claims to eliminate global inequalities and the oppression of ordinary Muslims (especially in the Middle Eastern “heartland”), then the movement’s popularity starts to make sense. One begins to see parallels emerge with past youth movements claiming to defend fundamental human values against powerful countervailing forces in the world, like the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War.
Interesting point of view, isn't it? The young are often drawn to radical ideologies. Communism was a popular option before it failed so dramatically that even officially-Communist countries gave up on it. Now, I see a lot of young people embracing libertarianism. The attraction is clearly the same, even though the two ideologies are vehemently in opposition. Is this just a matter of popular fads?
The essay mentions "born-again" Muslim extremists. Well, that's another example. When I was young, this "born-again" evangelical Christian movement was not at all common, either. Even at the University of Nebraska, when I attended, the 'God-squad' could pretty nearly be counted on the fingers of one hand.
It's not that we didn't object to the status quo in America, but that we rebelled in different directions. And yes, part of the attraction of such groups - whatever the group might be - is the interaction with fellow true-believers. I see a lot that makes sense in this post.
Later, he says, "The irony is that the West’s victory in the Cold War helped to create the conditions for the rise of political Islam as a leading voice for change by dismantling everywhere the socialist oppositional model that had mobilized previous generations."
Is radical Islam just a different "oppositional model"? Unfortunately, it's a violent oppositional model. There's nothing wrong with opposition, as long as force isn't used. Unfortunately, America has been using force, too - including the torture of prisoners of war! We did not create the religious violence of radical Islam, but we haven't helped.
Furthermore, we've been propping up corrupt governments around the world. Mostly, I suspect, we do that as a "lesser of two evils" kind of thinking, which isn't always invalid. But when we prop up the status quo without also working tirelessly for reform, what can we expect but a backlash? And in most of those countries, peaceful opposition isn't an option (one of the reasons why they need reform).
In America, certainly, there's plenty of reason to oppose the status quo. I do, myself, in many ways. I still strongly support the rule of law, though. Of course, I'm no longer young. But there were violent groups when I was young, and I didn't support them. Neither did most young people,... but some did, and more were at least sympathetic.
Still, we have a two-party system in America, and both tend to support the status quo. The Republican Party might be downright evil, but the Democratic Party frustrates me to no end. I still support the two-party system (for reasons I won't go into here), and I still vote, reluctantly, for the lesser of two evils on occasion (far too often, in fact).
But young people seem to be less likely to do that. It's not that they turn to violence, not at all. Only a very small minority do that. But the urge to find a different way, the urge to find something radical to believe in, is quite strong. And if reform can't be pushed within a system, it will be pushed outside it, though not as successfully and not always peacefully.
We need reform - in America and worldwide. The status quo will always push back, so it will never be easy. But unless rational members of the status quo understand and accept the need for reform, the backlash, when it comes, won't be pretty.
And unfortunately, there will always be ideologues - like Ted Cruz, for example - willing to hijack reform movements to further their own political ambition. (On the other side, I might suggest Elizabeth Warren as working for reform from within.) That's in America. In developing countries, those ideologues are more likely to be violent extremists. And they will oppose an America which props up corruption.
Make no mistake, I'm not defending terrorism. I'm not blaming America for all the ills in the world. (We've made mistakes, certainly. Who hasn't?) And I do not oppose military action, in principle (just dumb military action). Violence often has to be met with violence.
But all too often, America props up the status quo because powerful, wealthy people are making money from the status quo. That's not a good reason. Supporting the lesser of two evils is fine, as long as that lesser evil is being reformed - or, at least, where there's a decent chance of reform.
We won't all agree on what's "reform" and what isn't, but there has to be a way within the system where reform has a fair chance. (And right now, I'm not sure than an America where billionaires can legally buy politicians and where incumbents with cash are nearly guaranteed reelection, is that kind of system.)