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Barry Werner

Barry Werner – Why are there Islamists in the Modern World?

Barry Werner – Why are there Islamists in the Modern World?

We want to think that Islamists come out of an extraordinary world, one that is fundamentally different from the world the rest of us live in. We want to assure ourselves that our world is not like their world. We want to distance ourselves from them psychologically. And we want to wallow in a self-congratulatory, self-righteous spirit of vengeance against them.

But Islamism is often adopted by relatively intelligent people with relatively important roles in society, like school teachers and doctors. It should make us feel uncomfortable that Islamist recruiting tactics are so effective.

It’s not true that the world can be divided easily into those who live primitive, violent lives of poverty and then become religious fanatics and the rest of us who are modern and cannot possibly be fanatics. The phenomenon of fanaticism is more about the failure of modernity to satisfy people’s existential needs than it is about the distinction between us modern people who are not fanatics, and the old-fashioned, premodern people who we want to think of as different from us. Fanaticism is a sickness embedded in modernity that society has to deal with, not something we can congratulate ourselves on having avoided.

All of us in every society, whether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish, are in danger of tolerating religious fanaticism in our family, friends, and acquaintances. And in ourselves? It’s not correct to adopt a spirit of vengeance against fanatics from another society without seeing it as a problem every society should be facing together. We should all be sensitive to the phenomenon of fanaticism and help each other fight against it.

And maybe we should also ask ourselves, what is it about modernity that results in drop-outs choosing to be religious fanatics?


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