Re-primitivized Men and the Global Jihad

Mark Steyn notes the recent spate of discoveries of jihadi terrorist cells among natives of civilized countries:

Writing about the collapse of nations such as Somalia, the Atlantic Monthly‘s Robert D. Kaplan referred to the “citizens” of such “states” as “re-primitivized man.” When lifelong Torontonians are hot for decapitation, when Yorkshiremen born and bred and into fish ‘n’ chips and cricket and lousy English pop music self-detonate on the London Tube, it would seem that the phenomenon of “re-primitivized man” has been successfully exported around the planet. It’s reverse globalization: The pathologies of the remotest backwaters now have franchise outlets in every Western city. You don’t have to be a loser Ontario welfare recipient like Steven Chand, the 25-year-old Muslim convert named in the thwarted prime ministerial beheading. Omar Sheikh, the man behind the beheading of the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl, was an English “public” (i.e., private) schoolboy and graduate of the London School of Economics.

Five years after 9/11, some strategists say we can’t win this thing “militarily,” which is true in the sense that you can’t send the Third Infantry Division to Brampton, Ontario. But nor is it something we can win through “law enforcement” — by letting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the FBI and MI5 and every gendarmerie on the planet deal with every little plot on the map as a self-contained criminal investigation. We need to throttle the ideology and roll up the networks. These fellows barely qualify as “fifth columnists”: Their shingles hang on Main Street. And, even though the number of Ontarians prepared actively to participate in the beheading of the prime minister is undoubtedly minimal, the informal support of the jihad’s aims by many Western Muslims and the quiescence of too many of the remainder and the ethnic squeamishness of the modern multicultural state provide a big comfort zone.

This week the jihad lost its top field general, but in Somalia it may have gained a nation — a new state base after the loss of Afghanistan. And in Toronto and London the picture isn’t so clear: The forensic and surveillance successes were almost instantly undercut by the usual multicultural dissembling of the authorities. If you think the idea of some kook beheading prime ministers on video is nutty, maybe you’re looking at things back to front. What’s nutty is that, half a decade on from Sept. 11, the Saudis are still allowed to bankroll schools and mosques and think tanks and fast-track imam chaplaincy programs in prisons and armed forces around the world. Oil isn’t the principal Saudi export, ideology is; petroleum merely bankrolls it. In Britain, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and elsewhere, second- and third-generation Muslims recognize the vapidity of the modern multicultural state for what it is — a nullity, a national non-identity — and so, for their own identity, they look elsewhere. To carry on letting Islamism fill it is to invite the re-primitivization of the world.

Justice Robert Jackson informed us nearly six decades ago that, “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” Americans have a right to worship as they please and to hold unpopular political views. They do not, however, have a right to plan war against their fellows or to indoctrinate recruits for that war.

UPDATE: Here’s an extended excerpt from the passage where Kaplan introduces the concept in “The Coming Anarchy,” a rather prescient article from February 1994, below the fold.

Loose and shadowy organisms such as Islamic terrorist organizations suggest why borders will mean increasingly little and sedimentary layers of tribalistic identity and control will mean more. “From the vantage point of the present, there appears every prospect that religious . . . fanaticisms will play a larger role in the motivation of armed conflict” in the West than at any time “for the last 300 years,” [Martin] Van Creveld writes. This is why analysts like Michael Vlahos are closely monitoring religious cults. Vlahos says, “An ideology that challenges us may not take familiar form, like the old Nazis or Commies. It may not even engage us initially in ways that fit old threat markings.” Van Creveld concludes, “Armed conflict will be waged by men on earth, not robots in space. It will have more in common with the struggles of primitive tribes than with large-scale conventional war.” While another military historian, John Keegan, in his new book A History of Warfare, draws a more benign portrait of primitive man, it is important to point out that what Van Creveld really means is re-primitivized man: warrior societies operating at a time of unprecedented resource scarcity and planetary overcrowding.

Van Creveld’s pre-Westphalian vision of worldwide low-intensity conflict is not a superficial “back to the future” scenario. First of all, technology will be used toward primitive ends. In Liberia the guerrilla leader Prince Johnson didn’t just cut off the ears of President Samuel Doe before Doe was tortured to death in 1990—Johnson made a video of it, which has circulated throughout West Africa. In December of 1992, when plotters of a failed coup against the Strasser regime in Sierra Leone had their ears cut off at Freetown’s Hamilton Beach prior to being killed, it was seen by many to be a copycat execution. Considering, as I’ve explained earlier, that the Strasser regime is not really a government and that Sierra Leone is not really a nation-state, listen closely to Van Creveld: “Once the legal monopoly of armed force, long claimed by the state, is wrested out of its hands, existing distinctions between war and crime will break down much as is already the case today in . . . Lebanon, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Peru, or Colombia.”

If crime and war become indistinguishable, then “national defense” may in the future be viewed as a local concept. As crime continues to grow in our cities and the ability of state governments and criminal-justice systems to protect their citizens diminishes, urban crime may, according to Van Creveld, “develop into low-intensity conflict by coalescing along racial, religious, social, and political lines.” As small-scale violence multiplies at home and abroad, state armies will continue to shrink, being gradually replaced by a booming private security business, as in West Africa, and by urban mafias, especially in the former communist world, who may be better equipped than municipal police forces to grant physical protection to local inhabitants.

Future wars will be those of communal survival, aggravated or, in many cases, caused by environmental scarcity. These wars will be subnational, meaning that it will be hard for states and local governments to protect their own citizens physically. This is how many states will ultimately die. As state power fades—and with it the state’s ability to help weaker groups within society, not to mention other states—peoples and cultures around the world will be thrown back upon their own strengths and weaknesses, with fewer equalizing mechanisms to protect them. Whereas the distant future will probably see the emergence of a racially hybrid, globalized man, the coming decades will see us more aware of our differences than of our similarities. To the average person, political values will mean less, personal security more. The belief that we are all equal is liable to be replaced by the overriding obsession of the ancient Greek travelers: Why the differences between peoples?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Amplez says:

    It’s a gang. Toronto was a drug bust and gang bust, then terrorists.

    I got in trouble with a man this morning. He is an habitual offender and ‘used’ to be in a gang. I reported the problem to the authorities. He was ejected and, as most gang members do, ‘I’ll see you on the street.’ This does not mean just him; why am I not nice?

    I wait, he comes back and yells about rats and squealers, just like his pal did after he was ejected. So, I wait. I leave and there he is in front of the building with one friend standing by him and another circling the block, yes I went down the other street.

    This is where the terror started. This is who got the terrorists to committ. This is who they ‘work’ for and respond to, not that it’s their fault.

    This problem is going to go away? These never do and they operate in groups.

    Police won’t do their jobs and put these in prison. So, everybody does’nt really care when the terror happens, they just acknowledge these types have always been there and the new ones are no different.

  2. Andy Vance says:

    Oh, how I wish Ambrose Bierce were with us.

    CIVILIZATION, n.
    The difference between the sole of a sandal and a can of Raid�.

  3. McGehee says:

    Re-primitivized?”

    Nobody is born civilized. It’s a learned trait. If no one ever teaches them, they’re not re-primitivized; they’re just plain primitive.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Kevin:

    In this context, I think Steyn is arguing that these are civilized Westerners who are being de-civilized by the Islamist institutions.