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Hmm... Oh, I get it, it's the blame-the-religion argument:
The jihadi movement grew over the last decades in response to the relative disparity of power, wealth and “muscle” possessed by the West and the US as the obvious symbol and leader of the West and the total unacceptability of this situation to many Muslims who believe that it is unnatural and contrary to God’s will that this should be so. This is a hard saying for many in the West. Why?
The reason is that the great majority of Westerners of whatever religion, or lack of religion, no longer BELIEVE in the way that such Muslims believe. We say we believe but our belief is largely a matter of public observance and life-cycle rituals like baptism, marriage and funerals. There are Westerners who still believe in the way the jihadis do, but they are generally viewed with suspicion and secretly feared by most of us.
Didn't realize that was still floating around, but there it is: for religious reasons, as a matter of faith, "They hate us for our power", not for how that power is exercised, which is merely a catalyst for action. Only because we're secularists The West doesn't Get It.
As I'm living in`a very fundamentalist country, this explanation took me by something like surprise. It's different if you include European populations, sure, but what of the world's lone superpower. The response, if one accepts the above explanation of events, has been on display in this country and it's policies. For the death of four mercenaries in Fallujah we virtually nuke the joint, as no shortage of folks wanted. They aren't a "secretly feared" minority here, they're driving policy, in many cases making policy. There are clearly some individuals that embrace the conflict as a religious war, find meaning in it, and are willing to engage in meaningless acts of indiscriminate revenge without remorse. On one side they have influence on and power in the most powerful state in the world, and on the other they have some scattering of terrorist groups.
Why has this come about? Acculturation seems as likely as any other explanation, sure. Pressures for selection are "very, very low", so long as you're talking about black helicopters and the anti-christ or zionists and the great satan. Leaders are inevitably exploiting religious doctrines as part of their political platforms, revolutionary, reactionary, or otherwise. Leaders are inevitably exploiting political grievances as part of their religious platforms. If only because so few men of power see reason to hold themselves to their own standards of piety it seems more likely more the former than the latter, but they help political identity groups cohere like the "religious right" or "jihadist salafi" and there the trouble begins.
These aren't useful, straightforward tools for analyzing a situation, and personal motivations rarely are. The focus on speculating on motivations rather than analyzing actions in light of particular goals was what lead so many wrong on Saddam's WMD programmes (that he wanted them mattered more than whether he had been able to acquire them: his desire alone justified the war), or, just going back twenty years with the exact same group, what lead the same guys to believe that "failure to find a Soviet non-acoustic anti-submarine system was evidence that there could well be one" because the Soviet Union was rhetorically dedicated to world revolution. Going back further you find similar mistakes as regards "Soviet aggression" when the Soviet union was militarily exhausted, dominated by domestic concerns, but nevertheless devoted to "world revolution" in some meaningless sense. The focus on what an enemy dreamt of, rather than what it could achieve, which is why I can now turn on CNN and listen to "experts" describe Al Qaeda as "an existential threat". Absurdity! They could get their fancy new caliphate over the entirety of the Muslim remnants of the Ottoman empire (frankly a more logical organization of that area than numerous semi-feudal microstates) and they would remain less of an existential threat than our post-cold war nuclear posture. There are more serious threats than Al Qaeda, they're simply not as sexy.
In any case, if "Jihadism is about SALVATION. It is about the aspiration of some Muslims for a 'short cut' to paradise." why would our crew of devout, fundamentalist salvation-seeking hijackers make frequent sin-filled, alcoholic benders to las vegas strip clubs, even on the eve of their martyrdom?
Jihadist Salafi types are executing people for that kind of behavior, if the underlying motivation of these particular jihadi terrorists were really religious you'd sort of expect them to pay the slightest observance to their supposed religion. Or if they hated our freedoms so much why were they worshipping at the hedonistic idols of American freedoms like some aging billionaire? You'd sort of expect them to be able to wait in patient prayer one lousy day for paradise.
Attempting to formulate an accurate generalization of the motivations of an unorganized ideological movement, even were it successful, wouldn't be all that useful. If there is no vertical command structure, only charismatic ideological leadership, then the motivations of the group in aggregate are largely irrelevant, and what is relevant - and for the most part only for the sake of human intelligence work - is the motivation of any given individual in the 'movement'. Seems to me it would be more useful to talk about their goals and tactics, which are easier and more useful to understand and explain than discussing vagueries about motivation. One can't mistake the trees for the forest if all you have is a scattering of sleeper tumbleweeds.