The term radicalization has been pathologized, thereby divorcing it from its psychological meaning. It’s viewed as a disease, with the implication that if the right steps are taken, the contagion can be controlled.
But to be radicalized is to rebel and anyone who has taken up such a position of defiance has, in the case of ISIS, already reached a conclusion about the West. Indeed, they have most likely reflected more deeply on the West than the majority of their generational counterparts who, being less likely to engage in cultural critiques of any kind, don’t have a particularly coherent view of the West — good or bad.
The problem here is not one [of] inadequate availability of positive images of the West.
The point, Woodward notes, is “the willingness to die for a cause,” though I think he also touches on something very important — it is having a cause worth suffering and dying for.
The societies of the West are no longer unified by a common narrative and common story, and the leaders of those societies are themselves no longer able to sacrifice or suffer for a cause, and thus they cannot ask any of the people they govern to sacrifice and suffer either. (Well, this isn’t quite true — the globalized elite are more than happy to compel suffering and dislocation for neoliberal and progressive aims, but they themselves don’t pay any price for immigration, the relocation of jobs, or the financialization of the economy.) Woodward writes:
Most states don’t overtly recruit would-be martyrs and yet all states promote the idea that anyone who dies for their country has died in the name of a noble cause.
At the same time, this has become an increasingly ambiguous value as professionalized military forces promote their ability to minimize their own loses. They want their soldiers to remain willing to die and yet decreasingly fearful that they might face such a risk.
The religious zealot who is willing to die for what he believes in, will inevitably have a sense of superiority over the non-religious soldier who has submitted to the commands of the state rather than the command of God.
Woodward speaks of a conflict between “divine authority and human design.” And I think this suggests the greatest problem anyone seeking to be a truly faithful Christian (in Benedict Option terms) — the states of the modern West are going to becoming increasingly intolerant and even fearful of any commitment to a truth that is not made by the state, and that can compel the kind of sacrificial devotion that is the response to the call of God (and that, in the first two-thirds of the 20th century, was also demanded by the state).
Technology and economics seek to make sacrifice and struggle — the kind of sacrifice and struggle I believe is essential to being meaningfully human (even under antihuman conditions) — irrelevant and unnecessary. Some people yearn for the clarifying meaning of struggle and sacrifice, and some people just simply find it given the brutality and mercilessness of Modernity, but however that happens, the banality of modernity is simply not enough for some people.
And I suspect, even as we seek to live faithfully and peacefully, “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands” as Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians, we will still find ourselves the objects of much suspicion and hostility simply because we fervently and passionately follow a truth that is not proclaimed by the state. A truth that makes demands of us that will be increasingly seen as irrational, unbalanced, and dangerous.
Even if all we proclaim is love.