It sounds like a complicated question, but Michael Ledeen nails it with six words: because it gives meaning to life.
It’s a commonplace to anyone who’s studied the rise of fascism, of which Islamofascism is the most recent variety. The main problem with democratic capitalism is that it’s so successful, and therefore very boring. A generation or two of European intellectuals bemoaned the great triumph of science and industry, which they portrayed as relentlessly stifling the human soul, burying us under a hill of material things.
The Germans produced the most moving such literature — think Nietzsche, think Hesse, not accidentally the cult hero of the American revolt against materialism in the 1960s — and, seeking for paths to spiritual fulfillment, they often wandered off into Eastern mysticism. . . .
The spiritual path merged with politics, catalyzed by war. All fascism, whatever version of social or political organization it advocates, insists that war is the true measure of human virtue. A person’s valor and courage are measured by his performance in combat. The Italian fascists insisted that Mussolini and his followers were superior people who had been molded in the trenches of the Great War. Young men and women who believed they possessed heroic qualities raced to join the fascist movement, just as they now race to join the jihad.
The attraction exists regardless of social class. Indeed, many Islamofascist leaders come from well off families and/or are drawn from upper middle class (or better) professions.
Why do they give it up for jihad? Because, says Ledeen, they seek “excitement, the thrill of fighting the enemy, of making a signal contribution to the creation of a new world, and joining an irresistible force.”
That last phrase, “joining an irresistible force,” points the way to defeating jihad. As Ledeen says, if we demonstrate that the jihadists are not the wave of the future, we “shatter their ideology by demonstrating that their leaders are false prophets.”
We came close to accomplishing this under President Bush. But the ideology of jihad was vindicated because America demonstrated a lack of resolve — by striving to minimize our footprint in Iraq, by releasing terrorist prisoners (including the leader of ISIS) at the urging of our elites, and by withdrawing completely from Iraq and announcing in advance that we would withdraw from Afghanistan by a particular date.
These moves may help liberals think well or themselves, but to jihadists they signal weakness and suggest the exciting prospect of humiliating the Great Satan. That possibility has become a reality under President Obama.
Given the successes of ISIS during the Obama years, why wouldn’t potential jihadists believe that ISIS is an irresistible force that can give meaning to their lives by transforming the world? And believing this, why wouldn’t they sign on?