After every attack by Islamic Terrorists on a target in the Western world, an inevitable deluge of commentary emerges which urges both solidarity with the victims as well as a robust defense of any symbols which may have also been attacked. You can now add Michael Brendan Dougherty’s recent piece at National Review to this ever-burgeoning genre. Yet Dougherty’s article is far from formulaic and ends up raising profound questions, perhaps inadvertently, about the nature of the very West many claim to be defending.
Dougherty’s contention seems to be that the Islamic radicals who conspired to attack the Manchester concert hall were motivated, not by a desire to enact revenge against a West which had wronged them (the “blowback” thesis), but rather that such acts are actually outbursts of ressentiment:
These terrorist acts strike at one of the great monuments of our civilization, one as important to us as the Eiffel Tower or London Bridge: our freedom to choose what we do for its own sake. What could offend a radical more than the fact of humans freely choosing to do something trivial, or merely fun?...
Calling someone a loser may seem like nothing compared to the divine wrath burning in the heart of a jihadi. But Trump has instinctively landed on a truth: Islamist terrorism is motivated by a twisted sense of loss. Why should the West enjoy prosperity and freedom while the nations in the Dar al-Islam are governed by brutal and corrupt regimes? Why would God let the decadent infidels send their pop culture and the signs of their wealth and power into the heart of Islamic lands, if not to humiliate Muslims, making them aware of their condition as losers?
And what does a loser, who dwells on his misfortunes and low status, hate most of all? The popular, the wealthy, the heedless, and the free. That is why the terrorist attacks concert-goers and other soft targets. Because their indifference and freedom remind the jihadi of what he is and what we are.
Dougherty’s comparison of the sexually explicit lyrics and gyrations of an Ariana Grande concert to the Eiffel Tower and London Bridge is most striking for what it reveals. Namely the extent to which licentiousness and perversity have become associated with the idea of “Western Civilization” more broadly.
While Dougherty and others may take comfort in ridiculing Islamic terrorists as losers, there is an undeniable air of obnoxious self-congratulation to such utterances. One could certainly imagine the sophisticated-but-decadent Persians of the 7th century hurling similar insults towards the illiterate Arabian tribesman they had just encountered. Tribesmen who spoke fanatically about some strange new God called Allah. After all, what chance could such rabble have against the might and majesty of the Persian empire? An Empire which had stood for centuries, and not only stood but stood against the mightiest empire of all: Rome. Yet within decades this same Persian Empire was not only conquered but completely extinguished as a civilization. And extinguished, not by a mighty rival Imperium, but by a group of low-status desert raiders; by a group of losers.
The very real ressentiment Dougherty correctly identifies at work in the lives of these “losers” is a profoundly powerful force when properly harnessed by the right Ideology, in this case, Wahhabism. Dougherty and the rest of the Western commentariat may comfort themselves with such dismissive declarations but they don’t change the fact that the cultures they claim to be defending are both decadent and dying. As Peter Hitchens recently admitted about Britain itself, which he described as an obviously doomed society with absolutely no future. So bleak is his outlook that when he was asked to give advice to young Britons his response was simple: immigrate. The fact that such observations are made, not only by the West's friends but also by its enemies, including the most loathsome of jihadis, does not, contra Dougherty, negate their accuracy.
This point was recently made by the high profile theologian John Milbank in a recent series of tweets (Yes, Milbank Tweets):
Yet is this trap not the very one Dougherty falls into? In his haste to defend "The West", he ends up merely defending its worst aspects: its licentiousness and degeneracy.
Pointing out the obvious fact that Arianna Grande is little more than a prostitute who is paid handsomely for her effectiveness at inspiring little girls to imitate her does not diminish the horror of the attack in Manchester. Indeed, it actually heightens it. For not only were 22 people literally blown apart but, even more frighteningly, their last moments were spent raptly observing the gyrations and moans of a talentless
whore "musician." Now that is horror in its most crystalline visage.
This horror is the very "Freedom" Doughtery and the rest of the commentariat speak of so longingly. The Freedom Huxley described as "the freedom to daydream under the influence of dope and movies and the radio"; the freedom which enables modern men to reconcile themselves to the "servitude which is their fate."
Alexander Solzhenitsyn described the West's society as one where:
destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society has turned out to have scarce defense against the abyss of human decadence, for example against the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. This is all considered to be part of freedom and to be counterbalanced, in theory, by the young people's right not to look and not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.
In reality, it is this very "freedom", which Dougherty defends in spite of knowing better, which is killing the Western World he claims to love. In the name of universal "freedom" millions of members of a dangerous Arab death cult have been imported to serve as a servant class for the wealthy. In the name of "freedom" family structures have been utterly destroyed and sexual deviancies, which in times past would have been recognized for what the pathologies they are, have been legitimized. It is the "freedom" with which fifty-two thousand people used to bring their lives to a premature end in 2015 via the voluntary injection of opioids.
The Islamist murderers who infest the European continent may be properly considered losers by the socio-economic and cultural standards of the Global SWPL bourgeois, but this dismissive categorization doesn't change the fact that they are willing to die for their cause while the SWPL is not. No amount of technological, military or economic sophistication can surmount what, for the Jihadis, is a distinct existential edge.
In economic and military terms the Western World may be the elephant to Radical Islam's flock of vultures. But even the mightiest creatures become vulnerable to scavengers when they are sick and close to death. Like vultures, the Islamists have sensed that the West is terminally ill and have flocked to it in hopes of feasting on the bounty of its corpse, potentially for centuries to come.
The unpleasant reality is that it is the irrational embrace of freedom for its own sake, epitomized by the embrace and idolization of exhibitionist whores like Grande, which has led the Western world to its current diseased and dying state. A state which no amount of empty platitudes can obscure, regardless of how earnestly and incessantly they are deployed, like mystical incantations warding off evil spirits.
The real question Dougherty and the rest of the commentariat should be asking themselves after the events of the past several weeks is, to quote a certain iconic film noir character: "If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?"