On the Internet, you’re never really alone. Name any fad, any cause, any hobby or passion — Shaker furniture? Dungeons and Dragons, Bolivian tree frogs? — and you’re only a few clicks away from someone who shares your obsession.
That’s great. It’s also horrible. Because while there’s no harm in tree frog fans sharing pictures and stories inspiring others to fly to the Andes to take pictures of exotic creatures, the Internet also lets evil people share stories and pictures inspiring others to cut off the heads of various infidels and apostates.
Though I’m perfectly comfortable with YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and similar platforms doing what they can to undermine the PR campaigns of fanatical murderers, my point here isn’t necessarily that such things should be banned or censored (even if that were technologically feasible). I weary of reflexive responses to barbarism that involve curtailing the freedoms of Americans in order to not offend savages.
Rather, my point is that to a considerable extent, the Islamic State — and groups like it — is a modern foreign legion for losers. When discussing people who openly boast of rape, murder and torture, “loser” is hardly too harsh. But invective is not my intent when I call them losers. These men — and a few women, too — are losers in a more significant sense. They are losers at Western Civilization.
Recently the Middle East Media Research Institute posted transcripts from Facebook and Twitter conversations among various French and British supporters of the Islamic State. They enthusiastically chatted about the exciting news that you can buy slave women in areas controlled by the Islamic State. The terrorist group reportedly captured an unknown number of women from the ethnic minority called Yazidis. They aren’t Muslims, so they can be used as chattel.
The men in the discussions asked all sorts of questions about the rules for sexually abusing (i.e. raping) the women. One British Muslim asked, “I have 3,500 dollars to spare, I am going to buy 10, who wants one?”
A French one joked that $180 must be the “price for the ugly ones.” There were plenty of “LOLs” in the thread. Because, you know, collecting the female survivors of mass murder and raping them is just so Laugh-Out-Loud funny to cretins who can only bed women at swordpoint.
Many of the Westerners flocking to Syria and Iraq for “Jihad tourism” don’t have any of the usual excuses one hears for terrorism. Just like the 9/11 hijackers, they are often middle class, educated and technologically adept.
What they are not is assimilated. They may have passports identifying them as American, French or British, but they are not American, French or British in their hearts. These labels do not give them the meaning and mission in life they crave. And Western democratic capitalism bores them. Often the children of immigrants, they are literally misfits; they don’t fit in with their parents’ native culture but they also haven’t connected to the society in which they now live.
And that is nothing new. The French intellectual Olivier Roy observed over a decade ago that many of the violent Islamists in Europe were in fact “born-again Muslims” who adopted Islam not so much as a sincere religious conversion but as a radical pose against the West. In previous generations, they might have joined Marxist terror groups.
In other words, the ideology of radical Islamists is a convenient uniform in their crusade for power, sex, vengeance, excitement, whatever. The Telegraph’s Tim Stanley notes that one poll in France finds that more people in France support the Islamic State than residents of the Gaza Strip.
NBC News reports that since the release of the video showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley, some 28,000 pro-Islamic State twitter accounts were created.
There have always been isolated losers. But that isolation often inspired its own remedy. People want to belong to a community. That desire fuels assimilation and civilization. The horrifying challenge of today, is that thanks to the digital age and an ideology and a culture that often sees assimilation as incompatible with “multiculturalism” the losers no longer have to stop being losers to cure their sense of isolation. They can join a huge virtual rape gang on the web and have their evil desires confirmed and celebrated.
And some of them, weary of puncturing their self-pleasuring reveries by pecking out LOL on a keyboard, have the option of hopping on a plane.
Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a columnist for Tribune Media.