Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The World is Flat

But only on the bottom....

In the words of an anthropologist:

None of the ISIS fighters we interviewed in Iraq had more than primary school education, some had wives and young children. When asked "what is Islam?" they answered "my life." They knew nothing of the Quran or Hadith, or of the early caliphs Omar and Othman, but had learned of Islam from Al Qaeda and ISIS propaganda, teaching that Muslims like them were targeted for elimination unless they first eliminated the impure. This isn't an outlandish proposition in their lived circumstances: as they told of growing up after the fall of Saddam Hussein in a hellish world of constant guerrilla war, family deaths and dislocation, and of not being even able to go out of their homes or temporary shelters for months on end.

Most foreign volunteers and supporters fall within the mid-ranges of what social scientists call "the normal distribution" in terms of psychological attributes like empathy, compassion, idealism, and wanting mostly to help rather than hurt other people. They are mostly youth in transitional stages in their lives: students, immigrants, between jobs or mates, having left or about to leave their native family and looking for a new family of friends and fellow travelers with whom they can find significance. Most have had no traditional religious education, and are often "born again" into a socially tight, ideologically narrow but world-spanning sense of religious mission. Indeed, it is when those who do practice religious ritual are expelled from the mosque for expressing radical political beliefs, that the move to violence is most likely.

And here's where it gets interesting:

As one young woman from the Paris banlieu of Clichy-sur-Bois told us, she like so many others she hangs out with, feels neither French nor Arab, and because she will always be looked on suspiciously, she will choose the Caliphate to help create a homeland where Muslims can pool their resources, be strong again, and live in dignity.

But the popular notion of a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West is woefully misleading. Violent extremism represents not the resurgence of traditional cultures, but their collapse, as young people unmoored from millennial traditions flail about in search of a social identity that gives personal significance and glory. This is the dark side of globalization. They radicalize to find a firm identity in a flattened world: where vertical lines of communication between the generations are replaced by horizontal peer-to-peer attachments that can span the globe. Young people whose grandparents were Stone Age animists in Sulawesi, far removed from the Arab world, told me they dream of fighting in Iraq or Palestine in defense of Islam.

Because that's pretty much the explanation for the rise of fundamentalism beginning in the early 20th century.  It was a reaction to German biblical scholarship, which represented a collapse of tradition. But it was a collapse of tradition that hit home for many Americans (where Christian fundamentalism got started).    And the unspoken truth here is that "globalization" is pretty much a one-way street, a return to what has never really gone away in Western culture:  the supremacy of Rome, the tolerance of other cultures and religions as long as they show fealty to Caesar:  whether Caesar is a person who embodies Roman values and virtues, or Caesar is just an ideal symbolizing Western virtues and values, like capitalism or the free market.  As long as it's first Western, and primarily white, it's what the globe needs.  All other identities are to be flattened out.

And people who object are just objectively unreasonable.....

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