I have always admired Dr. Scott Atran. That’s why I’m both shocked and puzzled by his new piece in Aeon magazine. Because the Alt-right and islamic jihadists are hugely different. Any superficial similiarities are dwarfed by scale, demographics, ideology and time and space.
Often when a researcher creates a model, they become overly invested in that model, eg: when all you have is a hammer, the world is made of nails. I think that this has happened with Dr. Atran and the idea that radical extremists can be unmade, that there is some universal recipe for radicalization. The hammer requires that all nails are morphologically and functionally similiar. Dr. Atran has made a sort of ideological procrustean bed– he trims and stretches radical ideologies to get a uniform fit. I violently disagree– but maybe that is my model bias– because I think we are not the same. If you doubt this consider Trump’s election and his voter base. I think of Dr. Atran as a gaussian, smoothing the curves of radicalization, to get a uniform response template. But I’m a fractalist, and I’m wildly bumpy. It seems to me that a fractal representation of extremism is superior– the shape is the same, the scale is different. And here is where we get to the scale problem– both islamic jihadists and alt-right neo-nazis desire a homeland. The difference is the Alt-right white nationalists want a “white” homeland within culturally and racially diverse nation states and islamic jihadists want islamic nation-states within a vast islamic monoculture, Sunnistan.
To begin, the Alt-right has no analogy to the Quran. In studying Quran and ahadith, it is apparent to me that jihad is in the memetic DNA of Islam. Its easiest for me to think of jihad as a kind of cultural “gene expression” in response to environmental triggers. The current explosion of jihadism represents a kind of gene drive, a “meme drive”, a reaction to environmental triggers. Dr. Atran would have globalism and transition be the culprits– totally ignoring the endless war mono-culture of the unipolar power that creates the ongoing chaos fields blooming with hundreds of emergent islamic militias. So no, Islam isnt separable into “radical Islam” and “moderate Islam” just as the Quran is not separable. There is only one Islam.
The Alt-right has no analogy to global population dynamics– the youth bulge in Africa will deliver 1 billion youth to the global population by 2050, more than half will be Sunni muslim– we will likely see 100’s of millions moving North as economic and warzone refugees, and as victims of climate change. Europe couldnt handle a million refugees– what will 20 million or 200 million do? Dr. Atrans fragile outreach systems would be instantly overwhelmed.
This seems to me like the kind of “whataboutism” so prevalent in the US– sure, Nazis, Proudboys and confederate revanchists are bad, but what about ISIS? A very facile and superficial treatment of a horrific and burgeoning problem — that muslims are not allowed representative government since the collapse of the Ottoman empire. Algeria, Chechnya, Egypt, Turkey, all attempts to impose top down control on emergent, organic systems of islamic government by the west. Jihadism is a reaction to injustice, while white nationalism is actually a reaction to justice, the representation of multicultural and multiethnic citizens in racially diverse societies.
What Dr. Atran proposes is the same sort of weak feel-good patching that has precipitated the building problem– democracy is not a solution. In fact, I think democracy is a terrible lie. He was much more accurate here:
One quarter of the global population is going to be muslim. US has spent 5.6 trillion dollars over the last 15 years for nothing in Syria, Pak, Iraq, and A-stan. We could have built a freaking moon-base for that. How much more effective to take Dr. Atran’s original sound advice and shape emergent sunni nations. I do not think that will happen.
I think instead collapse is coming.
NOTE: Apparently Aeon picked that awful title for sensationalist purposes.
Dr. Atran: It is not a title I would have picked and I had no choice in the matter. The title I wrote was “the collapse of cultures” and I didn’t see the other title until it was published.
I’m all about Collapse of Cultures!