Step back for a moment and think about it. We wonder why Muslims in Europe won’t contain their grievances and settle down to live within the ordinary routines of European society. I imagine that the tacit motto of most British politicians is “Just give assimilation a chance.” And yet that same society supports and idealizes an entire class of perpetual protestors (Greenpeace, anti-globalization groups, animal rights activists, and so on) whose waking lives are spent hurtling themselves against society. May I be forgiven for thinking that mode of modern European existence has been well assimilated by the arrested terrorists?Seriously, however, I would not blame the west across the board for being the home of a lot of bad ideas. At the end of the day, it must always be the resentful (i.e. all of us) who are responsible for their own resentment, whatever the degree of rational thought (and it is never wholly rational) behind the sense of injustice we feel.
Moreover, the linkage of supposedly idealistic protest with violence and aggression is also very much a part our modern Western political aesthetic. The French Revolution sanctified mob violence and ritualized public executions as noble expressions of liberty. The revolutionary remains a heroic type with a gun slung across his shoulder. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir wrote about gratuitous crimes as acts of existential purity. Norman Mailer romanticized murderers, and the Marquis de Sade ascends to canonical status in our universities.
I’m not an expert in Islamic history or theology, so I cannot assess its contribution to the European predicament of homegrown Islamic terrorism. But I do know something about the antinomian theologies of modern Western culture. We have a strong tradition of idealized political violence, and we have a closely related tradition that celebrates the imagined courage to transcend mere bourgeois morality to become the master of life and death. These are traditions taught and transmitted with pride and public subsidy. Educators and other representatives of culture vigorously defend these traditions against any criticisms by what remains of the older Western culture of civility, order, and restraint.
Maybe the arrested British Muslim men are not so alienated from the West after all.
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