Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Brit and Yankee Butchers


The obscene murders of two American journalists is horror enough for anyone from the West, but what seems especially dispelling is that the beast who's cut both throats speaks with a British accent. In the last few weeks, two American-born jihadists have been killed, one as a suicide bomber, the other fighting another rebel group in Syria.

It seems impossible, somehow, that the West raises these mad men.

I've never wrapped myself too tightly in Old Glory, so, to me, that someone would criticize American culture is neither surprising nor heretical; but it is hard to understand how someone can jump ship to join a gaggle of cold-blooded killers and a way of life committed to destroy anyone and everyone who isn't what they've become.

Are they insane? Yes. But there are more than a few.

How on earth can Islamic jihadists grow up from American soil? Seriously--how?

Phillip Jenkins, who has taught the evangelical world a ton about world Christianity, draws a startling cultural and demographic analogy in the latest Christian Century, when he argues that the greatest success story in the Christian faith in the last century, the world-wide rise in Pentecostalism, has grown as abundantly as it has for understandable demographic reasons. "What is surprising," he says in "Sects Without Tradition," is how very closely that Christian narrative echoes trends in modern Islam."

In both cases, he claims, the children of dislocated traditionalists find themselves connected neither to their parents' religious and cultural pasts nor to the values around them in what is still something of a strange land.  Mom and Dad get by, religiously, on remnants of their own pasts. But their children have been, he says, "deterritorialized"; they're robbed of the time and place in which their parents came to understand their own faith and practice. 

They're dislocated. They're aliens. In the case of the jihadists, they can no more be their parents than they can be ordinary Americans or Brits. 
They turn instead to the apparent certainties of a universalized or globalized Islam, which in practice offers the sternest and most demanding standards of the Wahhabis or Salafists. In return, believers receive a vision of themselves as the heroes of a glorious historical narrative in which faith defeats the temporary and illusory triumph of disbelief and paganism.
They're given certainty and identity by something new, something immensely powerful and only tangentially linked to history.

Here's the analogy. "This seemingly ancient version of faith is a quintessentially post-modern response to social dislocation and destabilization, and it is presented through strictly modern electronic media." 

What Jenkins steers wide to avoid is the equation of jihadists and Pentecostals; coming to Jesus, after all, isn't the same as coming to Satan. What he's diagnosing is how tempting it is--how blessed it can be and seem--for dislocated and "deterritorialized" people to find themselves, to be born again, in new, muscular religious cultures. 

The phenomenon he's describing isn't necessarily going to help President Obama deal with the deadly poison that is ISIS, nor will it help the UK determine how long Muslim clerics in London or Liverpool can preach hate before they become enemies of the state.

On Monday, Prime Minister Cameron outlined new measures by which the state would more closely police which Brits get back into the country after spending time in Syria, for instance, or Iraq. Such measures threaten the basic human rights Brits, like Americans, take for granted; on the other hand, jihadism threatens the UK.

Still, it is as impossible for Cameron as it Obama to watch and listen as that animal with a British accent cuts the throat of yet another reporter.

Phillip Jenkins may not relieve our fears, but he does at least help us to understand.  

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