The Islamist Puzzle
Baron Bodissey over at Gates of Vienna has an interesting and very well-written post analyzing the rise of the modern Islamists. (HT The Belmont Club). While I don't necessarily agree with every point he makes, particularly some of the emphasis of his arguments, I definitely recommend that anyone interested in the topic take the time to read it.
In the piece, he rightly points out the increased funding available, the support of the media, the nihilism in our culture and the craveness of our leaders as all being contributing factors to the accelerating adoption of the Islamist creed around the world.
I would amplify this on at least two fronts. First, the issue of Saudi funding only became possible because the West allowed the product of Western knowledge, capital and effort to be nationalized by a gang of 7th century goons. It is yet another example of Ayn Rand's key identification that evil on its own is impotent; to become powerful evil must obtain both the moral sanction and the material wealth of the good. Conversely, to defeat evil, it is essential that the good withhold both (defending its property by force if necessary).
Also, I think that to understand the rise of Islam one must not just cite the nihilist element in the West, but more generally note that in today's culture there are few alternatives to the man looking for truth. There is essentially nobody with a positive and rational message to offer as an antidote to those who claim that only by faith can you find Truth. Who now defends the secular, pro-reason, pro-science Enlightenment tradition? Where can one find advocates of egoism? How many voices does one hear championing the only true alternative to faith- or authoritarian-based societies -- laissez-faire capitalism?
It is the intellectual vacuum of the modern West -- a vacuum not limited to the nihilist camp -- that so far has allowed Islam to advance relatively uncontested. Were enough people to stand up and proudly assert and explain that each man is an end in himself, that he must think to survive, that thinking requires freedom, and that success on Earth is both possible and his proper goal, then those looking for answers would truly have a positive alternative to Islam. If (or hopefully when) such voices appear, I think Islam and other faith-based societies will quickly lose their appeal and momentum -- while absent those ideas I see little hope of stopping them.