August 4, 2005


Trading Cricket for Jihad (DAVID BROOKS, 8/04/05, NY Times)

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).

Roy emphasizes that the jihadists are the products of globalization, and its enemies. They are detached from any specific country or culture, he says, and take up jihad because it attaches them to something. They are generally not politically active before they take up jihad. They are looking to strike a vague blow against the system and so give their lives (and deaths) shape and meaning.

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.

Al Qaedists are perfect children of the Age of Reason.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 4, 2005 3:16 PM

Which is why so many of our oligarchs have such a difficult time comming to grips with them: they may love abortion but they hate fratricide.

Posted by: Luciferous at August 4, 2005 3:49 PM

It just shows that there is no going back to the traditional past. You either love the modern world or you commit suicide.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 4, 2005 4:10 PM

Robert: Huh? The problem is that for more than a century there has been an active strain of Western thought that despises traditional Western culture. Naturally this has inspired non-Westerners to oppose the West even more vehemently...

Posted by: b at August 4, 2005 4:18 PM

OJ, what's that book and author who wrote The Crusades were defensive in nature?

I want to get it.


Posted by: Sandy P at August 4, 2005 5:23 PM

So the Islamist nutters that want to return to the 8th Century are childern of the "Age of Reason"?

You've got mad I think.

Posted by: AML at August 4, 2005 6:05 PM


Most of them resemble 20th century Western anarchists far more than anyone seriously trying to establish a society or win control of a government. Nihilism is a modern, post-Enlightenment creed.

Posted by: Peter B at August 4, 2005 6:19 PM


They despise the 8th century, like all good rationalists.

Posted by: OJ at August 4, 2005 6:55 PM

They wax nostalgic for an idealized 8th century. It is amazing how far you guys will go to absolve religion of any culpabilty for crimes committed in the name of God.

These groups are not so much modern as anti-modern. Modernism broke down the old social and religious ways and brought new ways. Some people can make that transition, others can't. Nihilism is the escape chute for those people who can't feel at home in the modern world.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 5, 2005 12:11 AM

Exactly. Nihilism is a disease of modernism. If they were believers in 8th century Islam they'd not be nihilist.

Posted by: oj at August 5, 2005 12:16 AM


Except that nostalgia for past golden ages is very frequently an indice of modern, secular thinking. Rousseau's state of nature, the fixation of psychology with what is "natural", the liberal churches' fixation with the purity of early Christianity, the environmental movement, the anti-industrial strain of a large part of the left, the idealization of aboriginal cultures, etc. etc. do not spring from traditional religious thought.

Posted by: Peter B at August 5, 2005 8:15 AM

Peter, modern and secular are not synonymous. We are all modern, modernism is just the experience of living in an industrialized, technologically advanced, socially dynamic and open world. It affects the religious and the non-religious alike. You are correct, they don't spring from traditional religious thought, but traditional religious thought is an anachronism. Religions have had to adapt to modernism, and one of the (mal)adaptions has been Wahabi Islamic fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism itself is an adaption to modernism, the word didn't even exist until the 1920s.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 5, 2005 9:26 AM

Mr. Burnet;

You wrote

nostalgia for past golden ages is very frequently an indice of modern, secular thinking
Yes, unlike ancient Greeks or ancient Jews. Yep, definitely a basically modern phenomenon.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at August 5, 2005 11:42 AM

It's more an index of human wiring.

Posted by: Al Cornpone at August 5, 2005 12:53 PM

I don't think the Taliban are all that modern, except in their ability to use weaponry made by real modern people.

Adopting artifacts does not make a person modern.

Even acquiring an advanced education does not make a person modern. Look at Orrin.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 5, 2005 3:40 PM

Amen, brother.

Posted by: oj at August 5, 2005 4:48 PM