In lieu of enthusiastic local support, or of anything resembling a coherent ideology, the new globally minded, violence loving Islamic sects rely for their existence on the fame and notoriety granted to them by a monster-hungry Western media.
Indeed, over the past decade and more we”ve developed a mutually vampirish relationship”between Westerners bereft of a mission and Islamists lacking a grassroots audience, with the former relying on the latter to provide us with something medieval we can all be outraged by, and the latter relying on the former’s outrage as evidence that it is successfully striking at the heart of the Satanic West.
On one side the Western feminists, secularists, and politicos are elevating this vile kidnapping into evidence that our pet causes are still vital: evidence that women are still second-class citizens, that religious backwardness still stalks the planet, that the Western way of life is threatened by dark, bizarre groups (albeit small, badly equipped ones). And on the other side a gang of Islamists is milking this Western fury for all it’s worth, desperate to replace Al Quaeda as holders of the title “Evil Group the Infidels Most Love to Hate.”
But we are strikingly similar: Both sides are fundamentally in the business of selfies. Michelle Obama looks sad for Nigeria; Boko Haram looks angry for Allah. We pose with doe eyes to show how upset we are while they pose with wagging fingers and phony Arabic accents so everyone knows they”re badass. It’s a war of facial expressions, of emotions, of media postures dressed up as ideological positions. It wants to be a cosmological battle between good and evil, but in truth it’s a pictorial catfight between different kinds of losers, with each side trying to out-face, to out-emote, the other.
In his book Landscapes of the Jihad, Faisal Devji analyzes modern Islamists” tendency to dress and talk in a way that Westerners expect them to”that is, in a chilling, super-foreign, spooky fashion”describing their jihad as “an offspring of the media, composed as it is almost completely of pre-existing media themes, images, and stereotypes.”
In short, the jihadists mold themselves around our outrage”just as we mold our political activism around their statements and behavior. We need each other. And those poor girls? They”re just fodder for Islamists who want to rile the West, and for Westerners who want to register their emotional decency on the Internet.
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