How can we wrap our minds around the perverse appeal of ISIS to youth growing up in modern, liberal and democratic societies of the West? What is it that compels a young woman in Paris or a well-established young professional in California to eschew the fruits of modernity and liberalism, to join a radical movement that is so brutal and inhuman that even Al Qaeda finds it repellent?
According to some, these youth have embraced an ideology, a radicalized interpretation of Islam, that teaches gratuitous violence against unbelievers. Their policy solutions — profiling Muslims, making a registry of all Muslim-American, closing mosques, etc. — seem as arbitrary as the violence.
Others argue that when Muslim youth in the West — who are experiencing racism, Islamophobia and socio-economic marginalization or already alienated from their home communities — see a movement that is fighting Western imperialism, such as support for Israel and invasion of Iraq, they run to join it in the hope that they will earn victory in this world and in the next.
Finding real policy solutions won’t work until we subject modernity to a fundamental scrutiny. Why are youth in the West, where there are religious and political freedoms, equality and economic opportunity, turning away? The key question here is not what is the appeal of ISIS but rather why has the American dream and the promise of Western liberalism lost its appeal?
The answer is that modernity promises much more than it delivers and hence ultimately engenders disenchantment.
Muslims were told that if they embraced modernity they would become free and prosperous. But modernity has failed many Muslims in the Muslim World. It brought imperialism, occupation, wars, division and soul stifling oppression by home states and foreign powers. Today the most important element of modernity, the modern state, is crumbling across the Arab World, precipitating chaos and forcing Muslims to seek refuge abroad.
For Muslims in the West, unjust foreign policies of their new homes, persistent and virulent Islamophobia, state surveillance, discrimination and demonization can be at best alienating and at worst radicalizing. Perhaps it is those whom modernity has failed at home and abroad who are tempted by the fatal attraction of extremism.
But why Muslims only you might ask? My answer: Open your eyes and look, modernity is failing non-Muslims too. Egregious income inequalities, police brutality, rampant institutionalized racism, mass-killings, drugs, gang violence, sexual predatory behaviors, militarization of police, diminishing civil rights as the state becomes more intrusive and rising rhetoric of intolerance from mainstream politicians — they are symptoms of institutional failures, extremism and even domestic terrorism.
We can combat extremism only by recognizing and resisting it everywhere. But we must make the promise of modernity a reality for all in order to render the appeal of radical utopias less attractive.
Source: NY Times