While the Islamic State has to this point expanded only to cover parts of Syria and Iraq, it’s exercise over our collective imagination knows no bounds. This is in part because if their cinematic way to capturing heinous acts of cruelty- images of Jordanian pilot being burned alive in a cage look say “Hollywood” and don’t reflect the startup that Isis actually is.
Of course, there is no shortage of speculation, theorizing, and philosophizing about what it is that allows a group as heinous as Isis to come into being. A lot of such talk, of course, explains their existence as a product of Islam’s violent scriptures. Or, they’ll say, the Islamic world never had the equivalent of an enlightenment. Which is true, but I don’t think it is a satisfactory explanation for why Isis exists.
I believe that Isis exists for two reasons primarily: a lack of economic opportunity for young men in the Arab world and a sense of fragementation of socio-cultural tradition. Isis exists because people the grand soft power vision that was pioneered by America and exported globally has failed. From the 1950s until the 1970s the dream of corporate America was something people could subscribe to. Work a 9-5, pay into a pension fund, retired at 55 and take home a gold watch a penion. Of course, this dream dyed its financial gasps on the eve of the Global Financial Crisis in 2007, when the US’ housing market slowed an acted as a harbringer of further economic slowdown to come.
Whether in America or in oil rich Arab states or in the low and middle income countries, the message was clear- what we depended on for growth was no longer effective, and the social contract you have spent your life implicitly buying into doesn’t look so good anymore. Previously, the compromises required by the Global Corporation- sit inside an office all day, sacrifice your dignity to a ruling overclass, move miles, sometimes thousands, away from your family in order to earn your wage offered strong returns. You could buy a house, or at least rent a nice one. You knew that, with the right amount of hard work, you could have a better life than your parents.
Even in regions where this wasn’t a possibility, it at least wasn’t a chimera. It was something that could be aspired to. But in this new economy, suddenly young men worldwide are finding opportunities denied them. And even where there weren’t opportunities in their particular region, they aren’t sure where to look. The myth of corporate comfort has been shattered, once and for all.
So now we have men and women worldwide existing in a state of fragmentation and alienation. They are far from families. They are far from commmunity. The western values that predominate no longer seem to hold up their end of the bargain- believe in CocaCola, because your neighbor works for them and is treated well there, and after you graduate uni you might even be able to get your foot in the door there. And yes, of course they offer a 401k.
Isis exists because people everywhere have a strong desire for values. The values prescribed them don’t work. They no longer carry the promise they used to. People have an inherent desire to be good, and many of those naive young men and women flocking to Isis want only that- they want to be good, they want values they can believe in, they want community. And in the modern world, they haven’t been able to find it. Until Isis, that is.Read more