Last summer, after the London 7/7 bombings, I wrote:
We have met the enemy, and he is us–or at least an offshoot of multiple elements of 20th century far left worldviews, as two essays making their way through the Blogosphere today argue.
First up is a remarkable piece by David Brooks (made even more remarkable for where it’s appearing–but then, this is far from the first time that the moderate Brooks has played an iconoclastic role at the house of Pinch). Brooks reminds us that terrorists are an offshoot of the 20th century modernist utopians who universally sought to immanentize the eschaton:
We have learned a lot about the jihadists, from Osama bin Laden down to the Europeans who attacked the London subways last month. We know, thanks to a database gathered by Marc Sageman, formerly of the C.I.A., that about 75 percent of anti-Western terrorists come from middle-class or upper-middle-class homes. An amazing 65 percent have gone to college, and three-quarters have professional or semiprofessional jobs, particularly in engineering and science.
Whether they have moved to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, England or France, these men are, far from being medieval, drawn from the ranks of the educated, the mobile and the multilingual.
The jihadists are modern psychologically as well as demographically because they are self-made men (in traditional societies there are no self-made men). Rather than deferring to custom, many of them have rebelled against local authority figures, rejecting their parents’ bourgeois striving and moderate versions of Islam, and their comfortable lives.
They have sought instead some utopian cause to give them an identity and their lives meaning. They find that cause in a brand of Salafism that is not traditional Islam but a modern fantasy version of it, an invented tradition. They give up cricket and medical school and take up jihad.
In other words, the conflict between the jihadists and the West is a conflict within the modern, globalized world. The extremists are the sort of utopian rebels modern societies have long produced.
In his book “Globalized Islam,” the French scholar Olivier Roy points out that today’s jihadists have a lot in common with the left-wing extremists of the 1930’s and 1960’s. Ideologically, Islamic neofundamentalism occupies the same militant space that was once occupied by Marxism. It draws the same sorts of recruits (educated second-generation immigrants, for example), uses some of the same symbols and vilifies some of the same enemies (imperialism and capitalism).
As Brooks wrote, “In short, the Arab world is maintaining its nearly perfect record of absorbing every bad idea coming from the West. Western ideas infuse the radicals who flood into Iraq to blow up Muslims and Americans alike”.
Austin Bay picks up this theme, explaining ” Why Salafism is a utopian ideology“:
This article from the Toronto Globe and Mail (hat tip pajamasmedia) provides an illustrative quote, from the now-defunct website of alleged terror conspirator Zakaria Amara: