“Homegrown terrorists” and what to do about them

Andy McCarthy has written two good posts taking on the concept of “homegrown terrorism.” Andy argues that “what grows a terrorist in Paris – or New York, London, Madrid, Hamburg, etc. – is not his environs; it is Islamic supremacist ideology” which is decidedly non-Western.

Moreover, to suggest that terrorists residing in the West are homegrown is to imply that “it is something innate in America (and the West) that is catalyzing extremism – our culture, our economy, our foreign policy, our past sins, etc.” This, says Andy, is willful blindness. In reality, “the extremism is of a very specific kind – Islamic extremism.” It is catalyzed not by the West but by the anti-West Islamist ideology.

All true. But Muslims living in the West compare that anti-West Islamist ideology to the prevailing ideologies they encounter in, say, America.

On a radio interview with Andy this morning, Bill Bennett argued that anti-West Islamist ideology is succeeding with Muslims in the West because the West has lost its cultural confidence. Andy takes the point. As he puts it:

Western education and popular culture inculcates in students the belief that Western principles and the policies of Western governments are the main cause of the world’s problems – that they are more of a threat than “violent extremists” who are simply reacting to oppression.

The West’s lack of cultural confidence may be contributing to the radicalization of young Muslims in western countries. But I doubt that even a culturally confident West would prevent that a substantial amount of radicalization.

The problem is that for some young Muslims, the American dream is inferior to the Islamic dream. That dream in its realistic form holds out the promise that immigrants can work extremely hard, become fairly prosperous by middle age, and then see their children perhaps become influential members of society.

Under the Islamist dream put forth by ISIS, young Muslims can move to Syria or Iraq and instantly become members of a conquering army and the ruling class of something that resembles a state. No matter how culturally confident the West is, it obviously can’t, and never could, offer this kind of vision — one that has natural appeal to a certain kind of youth.

This analysis helps explain why ISIS has been so much more successful than al Qaeda in recruiting Westerners. Bin Laden talked about a caliphate. ISIS seems to be delivering one.

Radical ideologies have always had appeal to some American immigrants and their children. One hundred years ago, Communist ideology attracted Jewish and Italian immigrants, for example, with the promise that history would sweep away the economic structure in which they and/or their parents occupied the bottom rungs.

But Marxism held that the sweeping away would require an arduous class struggle. And Communism promised only a place among comrades in cell or, perhaps, leadership in a splinter group of a few dozen.

ISIS promises conquest, the ability to lord it over entire cities, and in the event of death, sex with virgins (but how many radical Muslims believe that part of it?).

If my analysis is correct, then the remedy to “homegrown terrorism” is to smash the Islamic “state” and to kill or round up Westerners who have fought (directly or indirectly) for it. Unfortunately, we currently lack the cultural confidence to take on this job.


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