Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Appeal of Radical Islam

The recent shooting in Ottawa has caused us once again to ask what it is about Islam that drives so many of its adherents to murder. Or, conversely, why do so many people inclined to murder gravitate to Islam? Ray Pennings, editor of Comment magazine, comes at the question from a somewhat different angle. He asks what it is about Western culture that alienates so many young people so much that they're eager to embrace a radical jihadist version of Islam in the first place. Part of the answer to this question, Pennings believes, is to be found in the meaninglessness and emptiness of life entailed by a secular worldview:
I would also point out to those who advocate a public secularism, who insist that religion is simply a personal matter and is something of no public consequence, there are a number of “radicalized Islam fundamentalists” who are finding the answers of extreme Islamism more compelling than the emptiness of secularism that says there is no meaning beyond the here and now. These are not simple questions nor do I intend to suggest any sympathy or justification for Islamic fundamentalists. But it would be dishonest to ignore the reality that the nihilism of contemporary secularism is not at least in part the explanation for the appeal of extreme Islamic fundamentalism. Something always trumps nothing when it comes to providing a sense of meaning and purpose for individuals and our shared lives together.
Pennings is right, I think. Given a choice between a muscular worldview that infuses life with meaning, hope, and purpose - even if that worldview is otherwise fraught with error - and an arid worldview that empties life of meaning and purpose, which implies that life is nothing more than "a tale told by an idiot signifying nothing," which reduces love and beauty to neurochemistry, and which insists that hope of an existence beyond death is futile, many young men will find the former far more appealing than the latter.

It's ironic that secularism, the chief champion of the Darwinian view in the Western world, is being assailed around the globe by competing ideologies that seem to be more successful in the Darwinian struggle for survival.