The Corner

Sadly, Totalitarianism Is Exciting

Per the New York Daily News:

A suspect in the beheading of American journalist James Foley is a British-raised rapper who left his parent’s million-dollar London home last year to fight for radical Islam in Syria.

Homegrown jihadist Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, a 23-year-old rapper, may be the masked man who severed Foley’s head with a knife in a YouTube video in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes on ISIS in Iraq, according to reports in several British papers. . . .

In July 2013, he posted on Facebook, “The Unknown mixtape with my bro tabanacle will be the last music I’m ever releasing. I have left everything for the sake of Allah.”

On Aug. 13, he tweeted a photo of himself in Iraq holding a severed head with the caption, “Chilllin’ with my homie or what’s left of him,” The Times of London reported. His Twitter account was suspended soon afterward. It is unclear whose head he was holding.

Bary also tweeted a threat in June: “The lions are coming for you soon you filthy kuffs (infidels). Beheadings in your own backyard soon.”

Like many others, Bary has been taken in by an ideology — a disastrous, abhorrent, absolute, and apparently irresistible ideology. His discontent is not driven by poverty or oppression or historical experience. It’s driven by ideas, and by the human needs that those ideas seek to satiate. Bary, the Daily Mail reports, “grew increasingly radical and violent after mixing with thugs linked to hate preacher Anjem Choudary.” This, sadly, is too common a story. Look through the biographies of the 9/11 attackers. How many of them lacked food or healthcare?

Over the weekend, the New York Times’ Ross Douthat observed that the world’s uglier movements will always attract the bored, which is why, he suggested,

writing off the West’s challengers as purely atavistic is a good way to misunderstand them — and to miss the persistent features of human nature that they exploit, appeal to and reward.

These features include not only the lust for violence and the will to power, but also a yearning for a transcendent cause that liberal societies can have trouble satisfying.

As The Week’s Michael Brendan Dougherty argues, discussing the Europeans who have joined up with ISIS, liberalism’s “all-too-human order” — which privileges the sober, industrious and slightly boring — is simply “not for everyone.” Nor, most likely, will it ever be: in this century, the 22nd, or beyond.

Bary did not discover militant Islam over the Internet, but through his father:

Bary is one of six children of Adel Abdul Bary, an Egyptian militant who is facing terrorism charges in connection with Al Qaeda’s twin 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.

Nevertheless, he clearly found this lifestyle more appealing than the alternative, which was to live as an upper-middle-class musician in the West.

One reason that liberty can be difficult to preserve is that it so often lacks the romance, the heroism, and the sense of involvement that so many appear to crave. Bound by relatively few governmental or social constraints, citizens of free countries are obliged to make their own decisions, to establish and to participate in their own communities, and — crucially – to create their own sense of meaning. This can be tough — scary, even. To join a strictly defined and quasi-totalitarian movement such as IS, on the other hand, is instantly to feel a sense of belonging. As someone who is keenly motivated by a desire to leave people alone, it is distressing for me to acknowledge action-based collectivist philosophies are much, much more popular than I would wish. But they are. Why would Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary want to involve himself with a bunch of such extraordinary thugs? Well, at least they’re doing something.

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