October 28, 2014
“A mass movement,” wrote Eric Hoffer in “The True Believer,” “appeals not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self.
“Their innermost craving is for a new life—a rebirth—or, failing this, a chance to acquire new elements of pride, confidence, hope, a sense of purpose, and worth by an identification with a holy cause.”
Such a man was Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a criminal with a decade-long record of drug-dealing, assault and robbery, who shot and killed a guard at Ottawa’s National War Memorial and then burst into Parliament and shot two others before being cut down.
A psychiatric evaluation of Zehaf-Bibeau in 2011 found, “He has been a devoted Muslim for seven years, and he believes he must spend time in jail as a sacrifice to pay for his mistakes in the past.”
Now Zehaf-Bibeau is known to his countrymen and the world. Now his deeds are celebrated by the Islamic State he sought to join.
To understand the appeal to such men of the Islamic State, despite its cruelties, beheadings, crucifixions, slaughter of prisoners, rape and sale into slavery of the daughters and wives of enemies, there are few better sources than the longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer.
Why do young men and women travel from a free prosperous West to fight in Syria and perhaps die in a suicide bombing? What do they seek?
What does ISIS offer? And a more alarming question—why do these jihadists and terrorists continue to gain ground and attract new recruits?
Bin Laden may be dead, but he is world famous and by no means universally loathed for slaughtering 3,000 Americans. During the Bush era, he was more popular in the Muslim world than the U.S. president.
Al-Qaida may have been obliterated in Afghanistan, but has spread to Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, spawning imitators, like ISIS, from the Maghreb across the Middle East into black Africa.
Why are almost all the suicide bombers, the martyrs, on their side?
Wrote Hoffer: “All mass movements generate in their adherents a readiness to die and a proclivity for united action. … All of them irrespective of the doctrine they preach and the program they project breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance; all … demand blind faith and singlehearted allegiance.”
Does this not fairly describe the Islamic State?
Still, what does ISIS offer the young?
A second chance at a heroic life. A cause to die for. A vision of a new world as Allah intended it. Communion and camaraderie. And should one die striking a blow against the infidel, there is martyrdom and a place of honor and happiness in the world to come.