When we see the swelling numbers of a would-be Caliphate, and the destructive swath they’ve been cutting through the Middle East, we begin to notice “that problem over there”.
Then, when we find out that those numbers have been augmented by radicalized zealots from Western Nations, it starts to come closer to home.
After that, when we find out that these zealots are coming not just from expected places (disaffected young men from Muslim families) but also from unexpected ones, with no previous ties to Islam whatsoever, it’s time to take stock of what is going on.
Stop to think for a moment about the significance of a headline that reads: “More Brits Joined Jihad than Volunteered for UK Army Reserves”. (Perhaps as many as 400 hundred British citizens have left to fight along ISIS in the last year, compared to 170 who joined the Army Reserves during a major recruiting drive.)
In the same place that gave us the Magna Carta, and much of the template for stable modern Parliamentary Democracies, more Brits today would hearken to a promised Caliphate than, say, any of Churchill’s speeches of defiance against tyranny.
What should we make of places like Dearborn, Michigan which was successfully sued for violations against free speech and religious expression? The government and its officials had charged and jailed 4 Christians for preaching the gospel at an Islamic festival, even though any actual violence was solely directed against them. Do communities in America really need reminding that the Constitution — not Sharia — is the law of the land?
What should we make of a guy from a rural town in Canada — once your typical French-Canadian kid — when he makes a promotional video… for jihad? Andre Poulin changed his name to Abu Muslim, and turned up dead among the Syrian rebels. In his video, he claimed to enjoy hockey, hunting and hitting the cottage on weekends. This doesn’t fit neatly into the “disaffected poor” stereotype we’ve been conditioned to expect of such zealots.
We should begin to wonder what they are embracing and why, certainly. But just as importantly, we might ask what it is they are rejecting. Why are they choosing Sharia over the Magna Carta and the Constitution? Why are they choosing fundamentalism over secularism?
What are they moving to, and what are they turning their backs on? And just as importantly, why is it happening now?
We are not surprised when we see young people with neither fathers nor mentors joining gangs for a sense of belonging. Is something similar happening here?
Could it be that these groups, these ideologies offer something that our own society has stopped offering? That the restrictions, the violence, the group-think is overlooked by would-be members because it answers to some void not filled elsewhere?
I suspect that might be exactly what is happening.
Let’s look at the “Evil Western Culture” that is being rejected for a moment. We usually assess it through a geopolitical perspective – wars, commerce, etc. But is that blinding us to other possibilities? Do ordinary people live for geopolitical issues? Or just activists and hacks?
Western nations, and Europe more so even than North America, have embraced a few fundamental(ist) views of their own. Moral and cultural relativism, for example. Simply put, the one big sin is to claim there is sin. Also, the demise of “purpose”. If we truly are just Darwinian accidents, there is truly no right or wrong path to be on. There are only socially acceptable ones and unacceptable ones. Even these notions of “acceptable” are malleable and can be easily reversed . Nothing is certain.
“Nothing is Certain” indeed. Even cultural norms about such rudimentary things like “what is truth” (there isn’t one, we are told), “why do I have religious urges” (there is no God, that’s merely cultural conditioning), or “what does it mean to be male/female” (gender is now a choice) have been swept aside.
If Chesterton is correct in saying “tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions”, then we have functionally built a society and culture on what we do NOT believe. Without even realizing it, we in the West have defined ourselves by a negative premise. We now make no positive claims about who and what we are, only negative claims about what we are not.
We have seen the social vacuum fatherlessness creates that is sometimes filled in destructive pursuits like gang membership. In the same way, a generation of people raised in an ideological and spiritual vacuum where materialism and hedonism are the coin of the realm will go looking elsewhere for meaning.
Do these zealots find belonging, purpose, meaning, and something claiming to be transcendent? Almost. They find it in the same sense that the guy on the lifeboat finds water in the sea. Drinking it will kill him. Does that knowledge stop people in lifeboats from drinking the saltwater? No. Eventually the thirst becomes unbearable. The only remedy is fresh water.
There was a “freshwater ideology” that held Islam’s ideas in check for much of the last 1000 years. But Europe and North America have recently traded Christianity for an ideological vacuum. Now we wait to see what will fill the void.
Will there be a return to a robust Christian worldview? Or will we drink the salt water? Whether it’s Islam, Nationalism, Communism or some other false option, thirst cannot be ignored forever.
Jesus himself said, “Come to me, all who thirst”.
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