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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Where There Is No Vision, The People Perish; What Pushes Young People to Embrace Extremism?

A Facebook friend posted a video of a young English man who had converted to radical Islam. The new English convert looked directly into the camera and insisted that he was ready to make war on his former friends, neighbors, and family, in order to make Islam dominant around the world.

There are many such videos. One is linked below.

My Facebook friends respond to such videos by lambasting Islam and Muslims. I think we could benefit by looking a bit closer to home.

Scholars of immigration talk about "push factors" and "pull factors." Something pushes the immigrant out of his homeland.

Similarly, something pushes those who convert to radical Islam. Something pushes them out of their natal cultures.

What are the push factors behind conversion to radical Islam? Why would a nice English kid feel so uncomfortable in his own culture that he must reject it and embrace the idea of jihad on his own loved ones?

I've been a teacher or a student all of my life.

I regularly see classes where, no matter the purported content of the class, the professor's obsession was teaching students to regard their natal culture with contempt. Some teachers stress the following:

* Western Civilization is nothing but evil, oppressive colonizers.
Professors who insist on this never teach their students that others besides Westerners colonized. For example, the Muslim Ottoman Empire was notoriously corrupt and oppressive. This is not mentioned by anti-Western professors. Too, Western colonizers sometimes did good things, like fighting against sati, the Hindu practice of burning widows alive, female infanticide, and Chinese foot binding. Not mentioned by anti-Western professors.

* There is nothing special about Western Civilization. Those Ancient Greeks? Nothing special. The only reason we focus on Western Civilization is our own ethnocentrism.
This was typified in a recent issue of Smithsonian Magazine.

The Smithsonian Institution is a publicly-funded institution charged with preserving American culture. It has been called "The Nation's Attic." Smithsonian Magazine is its publication. In its June, 2013 issue, in response to a reader who asked how the world would be different if Persians, not Greeks, had won the Greco-Persian Wars, Smithsonian employee and Iranian-American Massumeh Farhad claimed that "We might be looking back to ancient Persia as the birthplace of democracy."

This is a bizarre statement. In fact the ancient Persians rejected democracy, fearing it would produce mob rule. Persia was ruled by an absolute monarch. Persian servants to the Persian king had to cover their mouths in his presence so that he would not have to breathe the commoners' air. Farhad's statement is bizarre, and false, but it is Politically Correct. Ancient Greece? Nothing special. (I wrote to Farhad asking her to support her claim. I received no reply.)

* The Judeo-Christian tradition is nothing but misogyny, witch burning, inquisitions, and oppression.

* The best thing we can hope for is some cataclysm that will destroy Western Civilization so we can start from scratch and make a Brave, New World.

These messages are often conveyed in an atmosphere in which any criticism of any civilization other than Western Civilization is criminalized. Students are drilled in the facts of the Atlantic Slave Trade, for example. My students know nothing of the Muslim Slave Trade, which lasted longer, still exists, and enslaved many millions more than the Atlantic Slave Trade. My students have heard of witch burning, though they know more fiction than fact. They have never heard of Gulags or Kolyma or the Cultural Revolution. When I tell them that Marxism was the justification for the murder of tens of millions of people, they are astounded and confused. Many of my students have been taught, and believe, that Nazism was a Christian phenomenon. They know nothing of Nazism's atheist, Scientific Racism and neo-Pagan ideological roots.

I haven't just seen these kinds of classes in college. I've seen them in grade schools. I've seen ten and eleven year old kids stare at their teacher in incomprehension, having no idea what their teacher was attempted to indoctrinate them into.

And we see this anti-Western, anti-Judeo-Christian attitude in movies and on TV.

I have seen students' eyes go dull and their shoulders slump in despair. Students have said to me, in so many words, "I wish I was part of something I could feel proud of." Yes, I have heard students say, "I'm ashamed to be white … to be American … to be Christian."

Push factors. There are push factors in our culture that push young people into embracing extremism.

We need to stop pointing the finger outwards, "Oh, bad Muslims, Bad Islam," and start looking at ourselves, at our classrooms and movies and textbooks.

Filmmaker Robb Leech talks about why his stepbrother, Richard Dart, became an Islamist here.


  1. You might be interested in Kenan Malik's essays. He's British, but I think they apply to the US too. Basically he argues that while multicultural communities are valuable because they help people learn from one another, "multicultural" policies that pigeonhole people based on their race and religion are harmful. And one of the ways they are harmful is that they encourage extremism.


    "I was waiting in the Victorian semi that housed the Council of Mosques when I heard a familiar voice. It was Hassan, a friend from London. 'What are you doing in this godforsaken place?' I asked him.

    "Hassan laughed. 'Trying to make it less godforsaken', he said. 'I've been up here a few months helping in the campaign against Rushdie.' And then he laughed again when he saw my face. The Hassan I had known in London had been a member of the Socialist Workers party (as had I). His other indulgences were Southern Comfort, sex and Arsenal. We had watched the Specials together, smoked dope together, argued together about football. He was secular through and through: the only god he worshipped was Liam Brady, Arsenal's magical midfielder. But here he was in Bradford, an errand boy to the mullahs, inspired by book-burners, willing to shed blood for a 1,000-year-old fable that he had never believed in."


    "Political struggles unite across ethnic or cultural divisions; cultural struggles inevitably fragment. As different groups began asserting their particular identities ever more fiercely, so the shift from the political to the cultural arena helped create a more tribal city. At the same time, since every group was now defined by its culture, militancy came to be seen as the demand for greater cultural authenticity. Secular Muslims were regarded as betraying their culture while radical Islam became not just more acceptable but, to many, more authentic....

    "For an earlier generation of Muslims their religion was not so strong that it prevented them from identifying with Britain. Today many young British Muslims identify more with Islam than Britain primarily because there no longer seems much that is compelling about being British....

    "The very notion of creating common values has been abandoned except at a most minimal level. Britishness has come to be defined simply as a toleration of difference. The politics of ideology has given way to the politics of identity, creating a more fragmented Britain, and one where many groups assert their identity through a sense of victimhood and grievance something that has been particularly true of Muslim communities.

    "Multiculturalism did not create militant Islam, but it helped create a space for it within British Muslim communities that had not existed before. It fostered a more tribal nation, created a grievance culture, strengthened the hand of conservative religious leaders, undermined progressive trends within the Muslim communities and created a vacuum into which radical Islam stepped and all in the name of combating racism."

  2. One more excerpt, and a comment...


    "There were many Danish Muslims who were happy to see the publication of the cartoons [of Mohammed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten]. Bunyamin Simsek is a councillor in the city of Aarhus. He is religious – he attends mosque, does not drink or eat pork and fasts at Ramadan. But he is also secular. ‘There is,’ he insists, ‘a large group of Muslims in this city who want to live in a secular society and adhere to the principle that religion is an issue between them and God and not something that should involve society.’ Appalled by the way that people like Abu Laban had come to be seen as the authentic spokesmen for Muslim concerns, Simsek set up a network of Muslims opposed to the Islamists and helped organise a counter demonstration to the cartoon protests. ‘We wanted to show that not all Danish Muslims are Islamists’, he said. ‘In fact very few are. But it is the Islamists like Raed Hlayhel and Abu Laban who get all the hearing.’

    "Voices such as Simsek’s were rarely heard in the media because they did not fit into the narrative of what constituted a Muslim, a narrative promoted by liberals as well as conservatives, by those sympathetic to Islam as well as those hostile to the faith. The Danish MP Nasser Khader, like Simsek a critic of the campaign against the cartoons, tells of a conversation with Toger Seidenfaden, editor of Politiken, a left-wing newspaper highly critical of Jyllands-Posten and of the publication of the cartoons. ‘He said to me that the cartoons insulted all Muslims’, Khader recalled. ‘I said I was not insulted. He said, “But you’re not a real Muslim”.’"

    I have met a lot of people these days who seem to have that attitude--that the only way to be a "real" (whatever) is to be the most extreme version. People who argue that Episcopalians, Lutherans and Methodists (etc.) aren't "real Christians" (I recently heard exactly that from three different friends--a Catholic, an Evangelical and a Hindu). Or people who go around calling people "Uncle Toms" and "Oreos"...etc.