Dennis Mangan recently discussed a new study which claims that Middle Eastern suicide bombers are more sad sacks than wild-eyed fanatics, driven towards their explosive final act not by Allah-ardor but simple world-weariness and clinical depression.
I’m sure that much will be said about these findings, and debates will be held about whether or not they bear up under scrutiny. What I find worth noting, however, is the extent to which post-modern Western notions inform and undergird all such attempts to understand a manifestation of a foreign, and in some ways pre-modern culture—one whose fundamental values diverge radically from ours.
In my novel Considering Suicide, the narrator contemplates the enemy in America’s so-called “war on terror,” an enemy with a new face, finding most notorious and recognizable expression in the anonymous, militant jihadi, who aims to die in a spectacular attack against the infidel and thus become a holy martyr. How do we comprehend such a phenomenon in the secular, hedonistic Western world, where death is most often viewed as an enormous calamity to be avoided for as long as one possibly can?
The lazy way to attempt to process such an unfamiliar mindset is to insist that, deep down, the representative of the foreign culture in question really wants exactly the same things we want—to assert that we and he are essentially the same, extraneous external differences aside—moreover, to declare that his claims to be different from us are mere pretentious drivel and humbug. Thus, the Suicide narrator observes:
“Westerners snort that these ‘human bombs’ do what they do out of base desire. After all, a martyr’s death is to be rewarded with the flesh of seventy beautiful virigns in the next life. It is easy to mock, lest we forget what is plainly significant: these fellows actually BELIEVE in the next life. If their understanding of Heaven seems risibly simplistic, they are still willing to die for it. They have faith.”
Young men in the West, meanwhile, caught up though they may be in a crass, hyper-sexualized culture, nevertheless know one thing that, in contemporary parlance, “sucks” worse than not “getting some”: namely, having to die:
“Palestinian adolescents may foolishly seek carnal delights in the next life, but we (Westerners) demand our pleasures in the here and now. Actually dying in order to get laid would be asking too much, even for the horniest of our teenage boys.”
Of course, all men are carnal and sensually-inclined to an extent, and everyone possesses an inborn fear of death. But the effort to circumscribe the profile of the suicide bomber, rendering him either some sort of deferred hedonist (who aims to sow his righteously martyred oats in the next life with a bevy of dark-eyed virgins), or a morbid-minded depressive (who rushes into the arms of death due to a pathological aversion to the troubles of existence), simply won’t wash. Such reductive categorizations wrongly assume the mores of the contemporary West to be universally normative. But if all men are driven to have sex and shun death by nature, it is nevertheless also true that culture is immensely powerful in either mitigating or amplifying these ever-present drives.
We live in a culture in which scantily-clad or naked women are commonly flaunted on billboards, magazine covers, and television screens; in which tight jeans, bikinis, and miniskirts are common public female apparel. Our culture indulges, where it doesn’t actively encourage, teenage sexuality and premarital cohabitation; our public schools hand out condoms to sixth graders; our ruling class presses us to view religiously-informed sexual restraint as a malignant and dangerous condition, requiring psychological intervention.
A culture with values like these without question will produce a very different type of man than a culture which requires women to wear veils, forbids sexually explicit material in all media, and fiercely denounces sexual intercourse outside of wedlock, under penalty of death.
Likewise, a secular culture which sees religious doctrine as largely irrelevant, a “whatever works for you” proposition where flexible principles are the only “must”; which views “living the good life” (however defined) as the highest possible good, while shunning talk of death as depressing, will in all probability NOT churn out a generation of men willing to blow themselves to smithereens, not even for the posthumous reward of getting to carnally enjoy seventy Mylie Cyrus or Taylor Swift clones for all eternity.
Western perspectives on Islamic self-immolators are almost hopelessly soaked in the very “ethnocentrism” so commonly assailed by Frankfurt-school trained Western anthropologists: we can only understand such people in the light of our own cultural assumptions. The fact that the conductors of such studies are in most cases politically aligned with just such anthropologists and other left-wing academic types helps to underscore the curious position of the post-modern, contemporary West.
For the contemporary West’s most prominent and politically powerful spokesmen are liberals, the sort of people who do little but relentlessly apologize for the historical crimes—both real and imagined—of Western civilization, while at the same time endlessly glorifying primitive, Third World and non-Western cultures as superior, more humane, more authentic, and more aesthetically pleasing than anything forged by the brutal and genocidal White man, that despicable cancer of the planet.
Of course, reflexively scorning the “white, male, patriarchal, heterosexist” West may help this lot feel good about themselves and reinforce their endless affinity for hearty self-congratulation, but it also renders them utterly unable to counter the numerous patently Illiberal ideologies, such as radical Islam, which are on the rise across the globe, threatening Western liberalism’s long-term hegemony.
Awash in debased sensuality, stricken with spiritual anemia, and occupied by an intelligensia which smugly loathes its own culture’s philosophical foundations, the West lurches grimly towards collapse. In the “war on terror,” the “terrorists” will almost certainly win eventually, because they alone are possessed of a simultaneous willingness to control the lusts of their loins and a determination to fly to their deaths when necessary.
Perhaps the typical suicide bomber is indeed a “brainwashed” individual, as is often alleged. Could the same not be said of the typical young Western male of today, who has been trained to esteem alcohol, parties, and “pussy,” and who gives himself over to this lifestyle with enthusiastic abandon? To whom more likely belongs the future: the inheritors of the legacy of Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, or the worshippers of Steve Stifler and Van Wilder?