Getting Radicalized in an Era of Jihad

I have a confession to make. It’s not pretty. Indeed, given the argot of the day, it’s pretty terrifying. You see, I’ve been ”radicalized.” 

Why, I am even going to take a course to qualify for a pistol permit, this coming from a guy who once wrote, and still believes, that repeal of the Second Amendment would be a good idea — the world would be better without guns.

But I’ve been radicalized, you see. Maybe a gun or two isn’t such a bad thing.

ISIS, or ISIL, or Daesh, or what President Obama referred to the other night in a nationally televised speech as a “death cult,” has not claimed my loyalty. Neither, to be clearer than the president cares to be, has Islamic fundamentalism.

My radicalization is of a different sort. If I’m not quite ready to drape myself in the stars and stripes and sing God Bless America, I am, nonetheless, more aware than ever of being grateful to be an American. Who knows? — my radicalization just might end up in a full-blown case of patriotism.

It’s too soon to tell.

Radicalization takes it root from the term radical, a word with Latin origins meaning getting to the root, or foundation, of something. To be radical is not, as the media suggests, to be a terrorist. It is to take stock of fundamentals, to start at the beginning, to build from the ground up.

Islamic fundamentalists are radicalized, according to the news media. What is at the root of the killers in Paris and San Bernardino? Ideas, ideals and a vision of the world inconsistent with the values cherished by most of the world. Islamic fundamentalists claim bloodlust is jihad, a sacred obligation; their co-religionists claim otherwise, calling their brand of savagery a sacrilege of what they hold most dear.

I’m confused about it all just now, and have become wary of the Muslim world in ways my friends find shocking. I count that a sign of my radicalization. I’m looking for some core value to hold and to cling to in a time of turbulence.

Historians debate the deeper causes of what moves events. An ideographic view of history attributes causation to ideas. We act to accomplish ends, and those ends are the ideals that give us purpose. The ideas inspiring ISIS are apparently rooted in a twisted version of Islam. What ideas inspire, or move us?

Donald Trump's call for a ban of Muslim entry into the United States outraged many on the right and on the left. It marks a betrayal of the American ideal, they say. He’s embraced bigotry, even racism.

Trump’s call for banning Muslims entry into the United States does offend the premium we place on tolerance of differences; it is a mockery of an open society of people bound together by a common respect for one another’s ideals.

At its core, tolerance for others’ views is rooted in what moral and political philosophers call pluralism: the belief that the world contains many truths, and that each of us should be free to find the truth as we see it. Pluralism claims agnosticism about life’s larger purposes; we are each free to walk our own path.

Contrasted to pluralism is a contrasting view: monism. This vision contends that there is a larger truth, and that we are all obliged to follow it. Those who don’t, in fact, can be forced to do so, or, as Jean Jacques Rousseau once famously put it when speaking of the general will, folks can be “forced to be free.” Infidels are killed in the name of righteousness.

The pluralist project has for the past several centuries been one of the hallmarks of liberal democratic societies. It fosters freedom of speech, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and various other civil liberties cherished in the West.

Monists claim one truth, and assert the right to enforce its claims: think communism in the former Soviet Union, or think the madrassa of the Islamic fundamentalist.

There is a clash of ideas and ideals forever at work in world history. Arnold Toynbee counted the rise and fall of 23 distinct civilizations in world history: each had distinct ideas and ideals it used to explain the world and to justify its power.

Is there a clash of civilizations now dividing Islam and the West? We’re cautioned to be careful about such claims: they are explosive, and carry the seeds of intolerance.

But what does a pluralist, a liberal Democrat, do when faced with extinction at the hands of a monist? Turning the other cheek and embracing a foe bent on your destruction reflects tolerant, liberal values. It might also get you killed.

The reporting of the recent shootings in San Bernardino had an almost comic character. Newscasters went out of their way to avoid stating what we now know to be true: the killers were Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. Yet, no one wanted to say it. Instead, we were told the slaughter was an act of workplace violence.

Pluralism becomes an empty shell when it refuses to speak the name of what seeks to destroy it. I wonder sometimes whether our pluralistic project has run its course. We’re now so concerned lest we offend someone that our universities convulse over Halloween costumes and minor slights — the term is called “microagressions.”

Does pluralism become nihilism — a belief in nothing — when taken to extreme? I am afraid it does, and I see signs of rot all around: Classics in literature and philosophy are denigrated as the works of white men suffering from “white male privilege.” We have to rewrite our history to suit every grievance. And, in a dark hour, when a foe announces its intention to come ashore here to kill, we’re afraid to call out the name of the killer.

I’ve been radicalized in the past year. ISIS is real. The ideas that fuel it are real. Respect for the rights of individual freedom and conscience do not require me to kiss the hand that seeks to strike me.

Tolerance for the tolerant I say. And as for new monist seeking to destroy? I am struggling with that just now, just as are you.

Also listed under: Journal Register Columns


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