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The full documentary from which this clip is extracted is at the Frontline website. I wasn’t really excited about watching this, but I made myself do it. The topic is very disturbing. Most of the film is about the modern day “underground railroad” out of ISIS territory of Yezidi women and children escaping slavery. The scene above is of what looks like a three year old girl who was captured by ISIS along with her mother and one year old brother describing beheadings, which she obviously witnessed. Apparently in disputes with her brother she threatens to cut his head off. The mother of the children tells of her time in one of the slave houses filled with women, and attempting to intervene when one of their ISIS guards started raping a nine year old. Apparently the guard declared that “this was allowed” by his religion. The narrator did not elaborate that the dominant accepted Hadith tradition is that the Prophet Muhammed consumated the marriage to his favorite wife Aisha when she was nine years old.*

Later on in the documentary there is a scene with teenage foreign fighters kicking back and just shooting the shit. The general implication is that they were all raised in Europe. They’re basically horsing around and joking like young men are wont to do. First, they amusedly describe mass killings of Yezidi men. Then later they start making lurid humorous references to Yezidi slave girls.

The truly disturbing aspect is that the body language and the overall mien are so startlingly familiar, but the topics are depraved. I think this goes to the heart of the fact that though we like to dismiss ISIS fighters as sociopaths, they really aren’t. Rather they are motivated by existential and ideological factors. An analogy to Nazi-dominated Germany is probably warranted. Most Germans did not start out as Nazis, but during the early conquest years most seem to have conformed to the new dispensation. There are documented instances, for example, of nurses who were known to toss Jewish children out of the upper stories of hospitals as a way to kill them quickly and free bed up beds for non-Jews, who after World War II went right back to their old profession.

The-Black-Book-of-Communism ISIS seems nihilistic because its aims and means are so alien to the norms of modern civilization, broadly construed. But the same could have been said of the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s, or the the Nazi dominion in World War II. And, unlike these two groups international Commmunism for decades managed to appeal to Western intellectuals who believed in its ultimate goals, even if they blanched at the methods of Lenin and then Stalin. They had a dream, and what’s a hundred million broken eggs to make that beautiful omelette?

* No matter if this is true or not, the problem for us in the year 2015 is that many ISIS fighters take this hadith at face value to justify the rape of nine-year-old girls.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: ISIS 
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  1. Yes, I just watched the documentary “The Salt of the Earth” about the life of Sebastio Salgado https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sebasti%C3%A3o_Salgado

    He basically spent his life documenting genocides and other atrocities and, in the film, there are moments where he describes how banal things can be even during those times. One example was a man who was running a small currency exchange gig for American dollars amongst Tutsis hiding in the middle of the jungle during the Rwandan genocide. Another was during the Serbian massacre: a father casually throwing his dead son onto a pile of corpses for the bulldozer. He continued chatting with his friend as if nothing had happened. The movie compiles so many horrors in one sequence it made me internalize that they aren’t that rare – it made them seem normal.

  2. Please stop saying ISIS is nihilistic. They are the opposite. Nihilism is the rejection of cultural traditions. ISIS is at least partly motivated by a literal interpretation of the Qur’an.

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    did you read my post? or is english not your first language so you are weak on reading comprehension? i specifically said it wasn't nihilistic.

    read the full posts or i'll ban you.
  3. @Anonymous
    Please stop saying ISIS is nihilistic. They are the opposite. Nihilism is the rejection of cultural traditions. ISIS is at least partly motivated by a literal interpretation of the Qur'an.

    did you read my post? or is english not your first language so you are weak on reading comprehension? i specifically said it wasn’t nihilistic.

    read the full posts or i’ll ban you.

  4. “Later on in the documentary there is a scene with teenage foreign fighters kicking back and just shooting the shit. The general implication is that they were all raised in Europe. ”

    I don’t think the analogy to Nazi Germany holds up that well concerning those foreign ISIS fighters. Someone who was a 19- or 20-year old recruit in the Wehrmacht in 1941 had grown up in Nazi Germany where the moral frame of reference had been systematically moved towards acceptance of mass violence step by step since 1933. It’s not surprising that someone who had spent his formative years in a Nazi-controlled education system would have acquired a Nazi world view. And by the end of the 1930s there weren’t any legal alternatives to that world view, there was no legal opposition, no legal media etc. that could have given voice to anti-Nazism. And though there was a very large element of consensus to Nazi rule in German society (especially during the early war years), it’s not as if there wasn’t compulsion as well…fighting in the Wehrmacht was not something an able-bodied male could opt out of.
    I don’t think that applies for ISIS volunteers who have grown up in Western countries…they have lived in democracies with free flow of information, with lots of options other than Islamism, no one forced them into it (in fact the culture at large strongly discourages such actions)…and yet they still choose to join such a monstrous movement and murder for it. I think that’s puzzling and disturbing.

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    in some ways i think the analogy to late 19th century anarchists works better for many islamic radicals who come form the west.
    , @CupOfCanada
    I'm not sure the comments re: education and all that really wash. Sudeten Germans living in Czechoslovakia had some of the highest rates of membership in the Nazi party of any group - more than twice that of Germany's national average even. That can hardly be blamed on the lack of legal alternative worldviews or on the education system, as both remained outside of Nazi hands until 1938. The Nazis were effective at persuading people to adopt their worldview, just as ISIS is effective at persuading people to join their cause today. Not a majority of course, but enough to wreak untold havoc.
    , @April Brown
    I know this has gotten trotted out quite a bit over the years, but I still find it uncannily relevant, like, all the time. "True Believer" covers as one of its chapters the tendency of the children of immigrants, whose parents left a flawed location (for economic, religious, or idealogical reasons), to romanticize and rejoin, in the most inappropriate ways possible, the very thing their parents worked so hard to get away from in order to give their kids a better life. The London underground bombings really illustrated this, as do the defections of the children of immigrants to places like Europe to join the Daesh. Highly recommend reading this book.

    (Also uncanny how well Eric Hoffer called the likely outcome of places like Palestine, writing in the early 50's)
  5. @German_reader
    "Later on in the documentary there is a scene with teenage foreign fighters kicking back and just shooting the shit. The general implication is that they were all raised in Europe. "

    I don't think the analogy to Nazi Germany holds up that well concerning those foreign ISIS fighters. Someone who was a 19- or 20-year old recruit in the Wehrmacht in 1941 had grown up in Nazi Germany where the moral frame of reference had been systematically moved towards acceptance of mass violence step by step since 1933. It's not surprising that someone who had spent his formative years in a Nazi-controlled education system would have acquired a Nazi world view. And by the end of the 1930s there weren't any legal alternatives to that world view, there was no legal opposition, no legal media etc. that could have given voice to anti-Nazism. And though there was a very large element of consensus to Nazi rule in German society (especially during the early war years), it's not as if there wasn't compulsion as well...fighting in the Wehrmacht was not something an able-bodied male could opt out of.
    I don't think that applies for ISIS volunteers who have grown up in Western countries...they have lived in democracies with free flow of information, with lots of options other than Islamism, no one forced them into it (in fact the culture at large strongly discourages such actions)...and yet they still choose to join such a monstrous movement and murder for it. I think that's puzzling and disturbing.

    in some ways i think the analogy to late 19th century anarchists works better for many islamic radicals who come form the west.

  6. @German_reader
    "Later on in the documentary there is a scene with teenage foreign fighters kicking back and just shooting the shit. The general implication is that they were all raised in Europe. "

    I don't think the analogy to Nazi Germany holds up that well concerning those foreign ISIS fighters. Someone who was a 19- or 20-year old recruit in the Wehrmacht in 1941 had grown up in Nazi Germany where the moral frame of reference had been systematically moved towards acceptance of mass violence step by step since 1933. It's not surprising that someone who had spent his formative years in a Nazi-controlled education system would have acquired a Nazi world view. And by the end of the 1930s there weren't any legal alternatives to that world view, there was no legal opposition, no legal media etc. that could have given voice to anti-Nazism. And though there was a very large element of consensus to Nazi rule in German society (especially during the early war years), it's not as if there wasn't compulsion as well...fighting in the Wehrmacht was not something an able-bodied male could opt out of.
    I don't think that applies for ISIS volunteers who have grown up in Western countries...they have lived in democracies with free flow of information, with lots of options other than Islamism, no one forced them into it (in fact the culture at large strongly discourages such actions)...and yet they still choose to join such a monstrous movement and murder for it. I think that's puzzling and disturbing.

    I’m not sure the comments re: education and all that really wash. Sudeten Germans living in Czechoslovakia had some of the highest rates of membership in the Nazi party of any group – more than twice that of Germany’s national average even. That can hardly be blamed on the lack of legal alternative worldviews or on the education system, as both remained outside of Nazi hands until 1938. The Nazis were effective at persuading people to adopt their worldview, just as ISIS is effective at persuading people to join their cause today. Not a majority of course, but enough to wreak untold havoc.

    • Replies: @German_reader
    I'm hardly an expert about this but there are studies claiming that younger Wehrmacht soldiers who were teenagers or even children during the 1930s were much more willing to commit atrocities than older soldiers whose formative years had been in pre-Nazi Germany (and a lot of lower- or mid-ranking members of the SS etc. were fairly young too of course). There was a general reframing of what was morally acceptable or desirable during Nazism, and supposedly younger people who never had had another frame of reference, internalized Nazi ideology to a greater degree.
    But we probably shouldn't get off-topic...concerning ISIS, I just don't get what makes people who have grown up in Western democracies join a movement whose members openly brag about having re-introduced slavery.
  7. i always remember this video when anyone mentions how ISIS is Nazi like: http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=788_1424967335
    there’s no gore but it’s just so terrifying for me to watch them appear over the horizon. reminds me of so many movies when Nazis would be in the street below deciding which houses to enter.

  8. @CupOfCanada
    I'm not sure the comments re: education and all that really wash. Sudeten Germans living in Czechoslovakia had some of the highest rates of membership in the Nazi party of any group - more than twice that of Germany's national average even. That can hardly be blamed on the lack of legal alternative worldviews or on the education system, as both remained outside of Nazi hands until 1938. The Nazis were effective at persuading people to adopt their worldview, just as ISIS is effective at persuading people to join their cause today. Not a majority of course, but enough to wreak untold havoc.

    I’m hardly an expert about this but there are studies claiming that younger Wehrmacht soldiers who were teenagers or even children during the 1930s were much more willing to commit atrocities than older soldiers whose formative years had been in pre-Nazi Germany (and a lot of lower- or mid-ranking members of the SS etc. were fairly young too of course). There was a general reframing of what was morally acceptable or desirable during Nazism, and supposedly younger people who never had had another frame of reference, internalized Nazi ideology to a greater degree.
    But we probably shouldn’t get off-topic…concerning ISIS, I just don’t get what makes people who have grown up in Western democracies join a movement whose members openly brag about having re-introduced slavery.

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    But we probably shouldn’t get off-topic…concerning ISIS, I just don’t get what makes people who have grown up in Western democracies join a movement whose members openly brag about having re-introduced slavery.


    they're in the country, but not of it. they feel marginalized. islamism provides a cultural exit strategy to being members of a society that can't/won't/isn't able to absorb them or the way they insist on being (the second is key, because there are plenty of people of muslim background who are assimilating into european norms). a lot of the radicals of the late 19th century were from jewish backgrounds. they were outsiders, and millenarian political radicalism offered a way to make an end around the system.
    , @Anonymous

    But we probably shouldn’t get off-topic…concerning ISIS, I just don’t get what makes people who have grown up in Western democracies join a movement whose members openly brag about having re-introduced slavery.
     
    The slavery actuaaly created a bit of a rift among the Daesh rank and file..

    Personally, there is nothing mysterious there to me. The modern mass culture and attitudes are revolting or at least spiritually lacking. People look elsewhere for a purpose to their livex.

    EU youth unemployment is quite high. If I spoke Kurdish I'd be over there too, after all, live targets and military rifles are much more satisfying to shoot than .22s against paper. Plus there is the whole fighting for a better world angle.
    , @CupOfCanada

    I’m hardly an expert about this but there are studies claiming that younger Wehrmacht soldiers who were teenagers or even children during the 1930s were much more willing to commit atrocities than older soldiers whose formative years had been in pre-Nazi Germany
     
    I'd expect this is true of young people everywhere, whether their formative years were under Nazi rule or not. Young people, and young men in particular, have a skew towards some of the unsavory parts of human nature compared to humanity as a whole.

    I think where ISIS and the Nazis (and other similar groups) are similar is in their reverence of an abstract idea (be it a specific conception of the German Volk or a specific conception of Islam), and a near-absolute belief that the ends justify the means in the service of those beliefs.
    , @Twinkie

    I’m hardly an expert about this but there are studies claiming that younger Wehrmacht soldiers who were teenagers or even children during the 1930s were much more willing to commit atrocities than older soldiers whose formative years had been in pre-Nazi Germany (and a lot of lower- or mid-ranking members of the SS etc. were fairly young too of course).
     
    Actually that's not quite accurate... or, rather, it is a bit misleading. Youth tends to internalize the conditions of their upbringing, so there is no surprise there about the radicalism, on and off the battlefield, of the Hitlerite youths who grew up post-1933.

    What historical examination of Nazi leaders (both upper and middle tier) shows, however, is that many of them were "betweens" - meaning they were old enough to be aware, but too young to participate in World War I. Heinrich Himmler is a classic example. His older brother Gebhard served on the Western Front in World War I and won the Iron Cross for valor while he was still undergoing cadet training in Bavaria. The war ended in defeat for Germany before the young Himmler had a chance to serve. Similarly, Reinhard Heydrich was around 14 when the war ended. By 15, he joined a rightist Freikorps and participated in the suppression of communists.

    Such "betweens" were often the most ideologically extreme and "clinical" in their approaches to real life conduct (atrocities) in World War II as they tended to lack the moderating influences of personal battlefield experiences yet keenly felt the sting of defeat that created very difficult post-war conditions, which in turn justified their extremism toward "the enemy" in pursuit of total victory. It was apparently a common sentiment among that age cohort that they somehow missed out in the glory of war (and perhaps felt that, had they been allowed to participate, the First World War might have turned out differently for Imperial Germany). This romanticism of sorts lent itself easily to orientation toward "Aktion" - extremism and brutality toward enemies, including domestic ones.

    It was said in Nazi circles before and during the war that the German Navy (Kriegsmarine) was royalist, the Army (Heer) conservative, and only the Air Force (Luftwaffe) was "truly revolutionary" (meaning Nazi).
  9. @German_reader
    I'm hardly an expert about this but there are studies claiming that younger Wehrmacht soldiers who were teenagers or even children during the 1930s were much more willing to commit atrocities than older soldiers whose formative years had been in pre-Nazi Germany (and a lot of lower- or mid-ranking members of the SS etc. were fairly young too of course). There was a general reframing of what was morally acceptable or desirable during Nazism, and supposedly younger people who never had had another frame of reference, internalized Nazi ideology to a greater degree.
    But we probably shouldn't get off-topic...concerning ISIS, I just don't get what makes people who have grown up in Western democracies join a movement whose members openly brag about having re-introduced slavery.

    But we probably shouldn’t get off-topic…concerning ISIS, I just don’t get what makes people who have grown up in Western democracies join a movement whose members openly brag about having re-introduced slavery.

    they’re in the country, but not of it. they feel marginalized. islamism provides a cultural exit strategy to being members of a society that can’t/won’t/isn’t able to absorb them or the way they insist on being (the second is key, because there are plenty of people of muslim background who are assimilating into european norms). a lot of the radicals of the late 19th century were from jewish backgrounds. they were outsiders, and millenarian political radicalism offered a way to make an end around the system.

    • Replies: @yaqub the mad scientist
    islamism provides a cultural exit strategy to being members of a society that can't/won't/isn't able to absorb them or the way they insist on being (the second is key, because there are plenty of people of muslim background who are assimilating into european norms).

    Now that's a way to place blame everywhere and nowhere.

  10. ” There are documented instances, for example, of nurses who were known to toss Jewish children out of the upper stories of hospitals as a way to kill them quickly and free bed up beds for non-Jews, who after World War II went right back to their old profession.”

    How about a source for that Razib . You don’t put up with any BS from your commenters so don’t put any BS up in here .

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    i'll look it up later. need to create the appropriate google query... it was in a newspaper, and not a book ;-(
  11. @donut
    " There are documented instances, for example, of nurses who were known to toss Jewish children out of the upper stories of hospitals as a way to kill them quickly and free bed up beds for non-Jews, who after World War II went right back to their old profession."

    How about a source for that Razib . You don't put up with any BS from your commenters so don't put any BS up in here .

    i’ll look it up later. need to create the appropriate google query… it was in a newspaper, and not a book ;-(

  12. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @German_reader
    I'm hardly an expert about this but there are studies claiming that younger Wehrmacht soldiers who were teenagers or even children during the 1930s were much more willing to commit atrocities than older soldiers whose formative years had been in pre-Nazi Germany (and a lot of lower- or mid-ranking members of the SS etc. were fairly young too of course). There was a general reframing of what was morally acceptable or desirable during Nazism, and supposedly younger people who never had had another frame of reference, internalized Nazi ideology to a greater degree.
    But we probably shouldn't get off-topic...concerning ISIS, I just don't get what makes people who have grown up in Western democracies join a movement whose members openly brag about having re-introduced slavery.

    But we probably shouldn’t get off-topic…concerning ISIS, I just don’t get what makes people who have grown up in Western democracies join a movement whose members openly brag about having re-introduced slavery.

    The slavery actuaaly created a bit of a rift among the Daesh rank and file..

    Personally, there is nothing mysterious there to me. The modern mass culture and attitudes are revolting or at least spiritually lacking. People look elsewhere for a purpose to their livex.

    EU youth unemployment is quite high. If I spoke Kurdish I’d be over there too, after all, live targets and military rifles are much more satisfying to shoot than .22s against paper. Plus there is the whole fighting for a better world angle.

  13. I think the NAZI analogy works on two levels. The first is the visceral reaction to people so ideologically-blinkered that they’ve lost their basic humanity. It’s not about how this happened, but an outsider’s assessment of what they are doing.

    At the second level, the causal framework is not that different, though certainly debatable. NAZI ideology was built upon a European-wide anti-semitism, racial “science” of the era, and the search for a third-way distinct from communism and liberalism. What brings NAZI ideology to the next level is the alienation and fear from the inexplicable defeat from WWI (the stab in the back), and the increasing fear of Communism from the middle-class. There was a good deal of social support for what is now unacceptable, that was radicalized by circumstances to something that was horror.

    Islamists similarly arise from a wide-spread acceptance within the Muslim community of the justice of the Prophet and the righteous Caliphs. A medieval time of conquest and treasure, that doesn’t reflect what Westerners see as modern values. This is the bedrock from which some Muslims are radicalized to imagine themselves in a greater age. Youth are far more acceptant of the glory of violence than the aged.

    • Replies: @Numinous

    Islamists similarly arise from a wide-spread acceptance within the Muslim community of the justice of the Prophet and the righteous Caliphs. A medieval time of conquest and treasure, that doesn’t reflect what Westerners see as modern values.
     
    Didn't the Nazis also look back to a glorious mythical past, a primordial Garden of Eden inhabited (and ruled) by Nordic "Aryans"?
    , @vinteuil
    "...they’ve lost their basic humanity..."

    Or is it that they've regained their basic humanity?

    Personally, my opinion of basic humanity is rather lower than Winston Churchill's opinion of the Royal Navy.
  14. @PD Shaw
    I think the NAZI analogy works on two levels. The first is the visceral reaction to people so ideologically-blinkered that they've lost their basic humanity. It's not about how this happened, but an outsider's assessment of what they are doing.

    At the second level, the causal framework is not that different, though certainly debatable. NAZI ideology was built upon a European-wide anti-semitism, racial "science" of the era, and the search for a third-way distinct from communism and liberalism. What brings NAZI ideology to the next level is the alienation and fear from the inexplicable defeat from WWI (the stab in the back), and the increasing fear of Communism from the middle-class. There was a good deal of social support for what is now unacceptable, that was radicalized by circumstances to something that was horror.

    Islamists similarly arise from a wide-spread acceptance within the Muslim community of the justice of the Prophet and the righteous Caliphs. A medieval time of conquest and treasure, that doesn't reflect what Westerners see as modern values. This is the bedrock from which some Muslims are radicalized to imagine themselves in a greater age. Youth are far more acceptant of the glory of violence than the aged.

    Islamists similarly arise from a wide-spread acceptance within the Muslim community of the justice of the Prophet and the righteous Caliphs. A medieval time of conquest and treasure, that doesn’t reflect what Westerners see as modern values.

    Didn’t the Nazis also look back to a glorious mythical past, a primordial Garden of Eden inhabited (and ruled) by Nordic “Aryans”?

    • Replies: @PD Shaw
    Yes, there was the Cult of Wagner and after the failure to subvert the Churches, an attempt to promote pre-Christian paganism, but I don't think these were as significant contributors to NAZI ideology as the Racial "Science," although glorifying all aspects of the history of German people certainly contributed.

    My somewhat banal point was that many of the key elements of NAZI ideology were widely held at the time inside and outside of Germany, and it was from this base of anti-Semitism, loss of faith in Democracy and a form of social Darwinism that the German People became radicalized to another level. I'm not familiar with the particular instance of nurses murdering Jewish children, but at Hadamar, sixty-eight children under the age of three were killed because their mothers were Jews (who had resisted pressure to abort), and therefore classified as mentally defective. The mentally-ill were being "treated" with sterilization elsewhere and the NAZIs had relied more on sterilization for genetic hygiene, but as the war progressed the medical establishment moved towards murdering the undesirables.

    I'm not suggesting Islam is comparable to say, anti-Semitism, but I agree with the Graeme Wood's article "What ISIS Really Wants," in that ISIS is a radicalized Islamic expression.
  15. Wouldn’t the volunteers for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade be a better fit?

  16. @German_reader
    "Later on in the documentary there is a scene with teenage foreign fighters kicking back and just shooting the shit. The general implication is that they were all raised in Europe. "

    I don't think the analogy to Nazi Germany holds up that well concerning those foreign ISIS fighters. Someone who was a 19- or 20-year old recruit in the Wehrmacht in 1941 had grown up in Nazi Germany where the moral frame of reference had been systematically moved towards acceptance of mass violence step by step since 1933. It's not surprising that someone who had spent his formative years in a Nazi-controlled education system would have acquired a Nazi world view. And by the end of the 1930s there weren't any legal alternatives to that world view, there was no legal opposition, no legal media etc. that could have given voice to anti-Nazism. And though there was a very large element of consensus to Nazi rule in German society (especially during the early war years), it's not as if there wasn't compulsion as well...fighting in the Wehrmacht was not something an able-bodied male could opt out of.
    I don't think that applies for ISIS volunteers who have grown up in Western countries...they have lived in democracies with free flow of information, with lots of options other than Islamism, no one forced them into it (in fact the culture at large strongly discourages such actions)...and yet they still choose to join such a monstrous movement and murder for it. I think that's puzzling and disturbing.

    I know this has gotten trotted out quite a bit over the years, but I still find it uncannily relevant, like, all the time. “True Believer” covers as one of its chapters the tendency of the children of immigrants, whose parents left a flawed location (for economic, religious, or idealogical reasons), to romanticize and rejoin, in the most inappropriate ways possible, the very thing their parents worked so hard to get away from in order to give their kids a better life. The London underground bombings really illustrated this, as do the defections of the children of immigrants to places like Europe to join the Daesh. Highly recommend reading this book.

    (Also uncanny how well Eric Hoffer called the likely outcome of places like Palestine, writing in the early 50’s)

    • Replies: @German_reader
    Wow, interesting that Eric Hoffer dealt with that problem of alienation among immigrants' children, that's pretty perceptive given he wrote in the 1950s when there was relatively little immigration to the US (and mass immigration of Muslims to the West was beyond most people's imagination). "True Believer" is on a list of books I want to look into when I have the time anyway, but thanks for the reommendation!
    , @Twinkie

    “True Believer” covers as one of its chapters the tendency of the children of immigrants, whose parents left a flawed location (for economic, religious, or idealogical reasons), to romanticize and rejoin, in the most inappropriate ways possible, the very thing their parents worked so hard to get away from in order to give their kids a better life.
     
    I can speak to this concept very personally for two reasons. First, as an immigrant to the United States, I too have felt the tensions of an immigrant, especially a young one. The first generation immigrant tends to be very practical - he seeks to improve his material circumstances and provide security for his family. He wants to avoid trouble, make money, and put his kids through school.

    The 1.5 or second generation tends to be different. Those of that generation only have faint or second-hand memories of the old country. So they tend to crave acceptance by the host society - to be considered a peer of the native citizenry. Inevitably, there tends to be some degree of disappointment in this quest for acceptance, and alienation can set in from it.

    There are often two divergent responses to this sense of disappointment and alienation. One is to re-double efforts at assimilation, to become super patriotic - to study very hard, go to the right schools, master Americanisms, intermarry with a native, and even perhaps volunteer to serve in the armed forces and in war. A classic example is that of the US Army 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. Almost entirely composed of Japanese-Americans, this legendary unit, with the motto of "Go for Broke" became the most decorated unit of its size in all of American military history for its extreme valor and sacrifice (and to put the icing on the cake, it even welcomed an ethnic Korean into its ranks in a spirit of the American melting pot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young-Oak_Kim).

    The other response is to recoil from assimilation, to avoid "corruption" into a "degenerate, materialistic" Western mainstream and to seek purity and authenticity through what one's parents abandoned. One becomes obsessed about one's co-ethnic language, history, religion, culture, and people. In extreme cases, one tends to see oneself as a victim of one's parents weakness and craven surrender to Western dominance. Thus family ties are frayed and the subsequent bonding with another "family" of choice that offers clear answers, a sense of purpose, and feelings of grandeur - being a part of a world historical process of a civilizational war.

    Now the second part of my personal experience. Although I cannot go into detail, there is no doubt in my mind that many "Jihadis" from the West fit this second category exactly. Interview after interview with captured detainees and suspects who are nominally and legally citizens of Western countries reveal this tendency very strongly. And even once they become somewhat disenchanted with Jihadi groups they joined, they end up not leaving because of the fear of punishment and/or a sense of camaraderie that inevitably occurs when sharing hardship (Valdet Gashi's case is instructive: http://www.bloodyelbow.com/2015/7/21/9010519/ISIS-kickboxer-valdet-gashi-escape-executed).

    What has changed from, say, 50 years ago in this dynamic isn't simply the types of migrants who come to the West. The massive technological changes, the fraying of the traditional family and tribal life everywhere, the increasing urbanization, and the ever-present mass communication infrastructure (mobile phones, internet, etc.) have made assimilation weaker and alienation easier. 50 years ago, an Italian-American youth unhappy with the mainstream Anglo-American society might join a local Italian-American fraternal organization, become devoted to (Italian-oriented) local Catholic Church, or at the worst join an Italian-American gang to derive a sense of camaraderie and purpose. Now, it is all too easy for an alienated Muslim youth to be recruited by the so-called "Virtual Ummah" and become radicalized by targeted remote indoctrination. And just like that within 24 hours he could be overseas being trained to mass-murder his fellow countrymen.
  17. @German_reader
    I'm hardly an expert about this but there are studies claiming that younger Wehrmacht soldiers who were teenagers or even children during the 1930s were much more willing to commit atrocities than older soldiers whose formative years had been in pre-Nazi Germany (and a lot of lower- or mid-ranking members of the SS etc. were fairly young too of course). There was a general reframing of what was morally acceptable or desirable during Nazism, and supposedly younger people who never had had another frame of reference, internalized Nazi ideology to a greater degree.
    But we probably shouldn't get off-topic...concerning ISIS, I just don't get what makes people who have grown up in Western democracies join a movement whose members openly brag about having re-introduced slavery.

    I’m hardly an expert about this but there are studies claiming that younger Wehrmacht soldiers who were teenagers or even children during the 1930s were much more willing to commit atrocities than older soldiers whose formative years had been in pre-Nazi Germany

    I’d expect this is true of young people everywhere, whether their formative years were under Nazi rule or not. Young people, and young men in particular, have a skew towards some of the unsavory parts of human nature compared to humanity as a whole.

    I think where ISIS and the Nazis (and other similar groups) are similar is in their reverence of an abstract idea (be it a specific conception of the German Volk or a specific conception of Islam), and a near-absolute belief that the ends justify the means in the service of those beliefs.

    • Replies: @PD Shaw

    Young people, and young men in particular, have a skew towards some of the unsavory parts of human nature compared to humanity as a whole.
     
    Oh definitely. Youth were certainly indoctrinated by the NAZIs, but the most successfully indoctrinated were those who volunteered to join the Hitler Youth (before it became compulsory); these were the type of children that would report their parents to the authorities for jokes about Hitler or terrorized their school teachers for lack of enthusiasm for the new textbooks. Young people can be the type of romantic idiots that are attracted to ideology and hate hypocrisy.
  18. @Numinous

    Islamists similarly arise from a wide-spread acceptance within the Muslim community of the justice of the Prophet and the righteous Caliphs. A medieval time of conquest and treasure, that doesn’t reflect what Westerners see as modern values.
     
    Didn't the Nazis also look back to a glorious mythical past, a primordial Garden of Eden inhabited (and ruled) by Nordic "Aryans"?

    Yes, there was the Cult of Wagner and after the failure to subvert the Churches, an attempt to promote pre-Christian paganism, but I don’t think these were as significant contributors to NAZI ideology as the Racial “Science,” although glorifying all aspects of the history of German people certainly contributed.

    My somewhat banal point was that many of the key elements of NAZI ideology were widely held at the time inside and outside of Germany, and it was from this base of anti-Semitism, loss of faith in Democracy and a form of social Darwinism that the German People became radicalized to another level. I’m not familiar with the particular instance of nurses murdering Jewish children, but at Hadamar, sixty-eight children under the age of three were killed because their mothers were Jews (who had resisted pressure to abort), and therefore classified as mentally defective. The mentally-ill were being “treated” with sterilization elsewhere and the NAZIs had relied more on sterilization for genetic hygiene, but as the war progressed the medical establishment moved towards murdering the undesirables.

    I’m not suggesting Islam is comparable to say, anti-Semitism, but I agree with the Graeme Wood’s article “What ISIS Really Wants,” in that ISIS is a radicalized Islamic expression.

  19. @CupOfCanada

    I’m hardly an expert about this but there are studies claiming that younger Wehrmacht soldiers who were teenagers or even children during the 1930s were much more willing to commit atrocities than older soldiers whose formative years had been in pre-Nazi Germany
     
    I'd expect this is true of young people everywhere, whether their formative years were under Nazi rule or not. Young people, and young men in particular, have a skew towards some of the unsavory parts of human nature compared to humanity as a whole.

    I think where ISIS and the Nazis (and other similar groups) are similar is in their reverence of an abstract idea (be it a specific conception of the German Volk or a specific conception of Islam), and a near-absolute belief that the ends justify the means in the service of those beliefs.

    Young people, and young men in particular, have a skew towards some of the unsavory parts of human nature compared to humanity as a whole.

    Oh definitely. Youth were certainly indoctrinated by the NAZIs, but the most successfully indoctrinated were those who volunteered to join the Hitler Youth (before it became compulsory); these were the type of children that would report their parents to the authorities for jokes about Hitler or terrorized their school teachers for lack of enthusiasm for the new textbooks. Young people can be the type of romantic idiots that are attracted to ideology and hate hypocrisy.

  20. @April Brown
    I know this has gotten trotted out quite a bit over the years, but I still find it uncannily relevant, like, all the time. "True Believer" covers as one of its chapters the tendency of the children of immigrants, whose parents left a flawed location (for economic, religious, or idealogical reasons), to romanticize and rejoin, in the most inappropriate ways possible, the very thing their parents worked so hard to get away from in order to give their kids a better life. The London underground bombings really illustrated this, as do the defections of the children of immigrants to places like Europe to join the Daesh. Highly recommend reading this book.

    (Also uncanny how well Eric Hoffer called the likely outcome of places like Palestine, writing in the early 50's)

    Wow, interesting that Eric Hoffer dealt with that problem of alienation among immigrants’ children, that’s pretty perceptive given he wrote in the 1950s when there was relatively little immigration to the US (and mass immigration of Muslims to the West was beyond most people’s imagination). “True Believer” is on a list of books I want to look into when I have the time anyway, but thanks for the reommendation!

  21. Michael Shermer’s new book, ‘The Moral Arc’, covers the topic of how seemingly normal, everyday people can be made to commit atrocities. Simon Baron-Cohen’s book, ‘The Science of Evil’, goes into this topic even deeper.

    • Replies: @Twinkie

    Michael Shermer’s new book, ‘The Moral Arc’, covers the topic of how seemingly normal, everyday people can be made to commit atrocities.
     
    Hannah Arendt controversially covered this topic of "the banality of evil" in the case of Adolf Eichmann in 1963.
  22. @PD Shaw
    I think the NAZI analogy works on two levels. The first is the visceral reaction to people so ideologically-blinkered that they've lost their basic humanity. It's not about how this happened, but an outsider's assessment of what they are doing.

    At the second level, the causal framework is not that different, though certainly debatable. NAZI ideology was built upon a European-wide anti-semitism, racial "science" of the era, and the search for a third-way distinct from communism and liberalism. What brings NAZI ideology to the next level is the alienation and fear from the inexplicable defeat from WWI (the stab in the back), and the increasing fear of Communism from the middle-class. There was a good deal of social support for what is now unacceptable, that was radicalized by circumstances to something that was horror.

    Islamists similarly arise from a wide-spread acceptance within the Muslim community of the justice of the Prophet and the righteous Caliphs. A medieval time of conquest and treasure, that doesn't reflect what Westerners see as modern values. This is the bedrock from which some Muslims are radicalized to imagine themselves in a greater age. Youth are far more acceptant of the glory of violence than the aged.

    “…they’ve lost their basic humanity…”

    Or is it that they’ve regained their basic humanity?

    Personally, my opinion of basic humanity is rather lower than Winston Churchill’s opinion of the Royal Navy.

  23. @German_reader
    I'm hardly an expert about this but there are studies claiming that younger Wehrmacht soldiers who were teenagers or even children during the 1930s were much more willing to commit atrocities than older soldiers whose formative years had been in pre-Nazi Germany (and a lot of lower- or mid-ranking members of the SS etc. were fairly young too of course). There was a general reframing of what was morally acceptable or desirable during Nazism, and supposedly younger people who never had had another frame of reference, internalized Nazi ideology to a greater degree.
    But we probably shouldn't get off-topic...concerning ISIS, I just don't get what makes people who have grown up in Western democracies join a movement whose members openly brag about having re-introduced slavery.

    I’m hardly an expert about this but there are studies claiming that younger Wehrmacht soldiers who were teenagers or even children during the 1930s were much more willing to commit atrocities than older soldiers whose formative years had been in pre-Nazi Germany (and a lot of lower- or mid-ranking members of the SS etc. were fairly young too of course).

    Actually that’s not quite accurate… or, rather, it is a bit misleading. Youth tends to internalize the conditions of their upbringing, so there is no surprise there about the radicalism, on and off the battlefield, of the Hitlerite youths who grew up post-1933.

    What historical examination of Nazi leaders (both upper and middle tier) shows, however, is that many of them were “betweens” – meaning they were old enough to be aware, but too young to participate in World War I. Heinrich Himmler is a classic example. His older brother Gebhard served on the Western Front in World War I and won the Iron Cross for valor while he was still undergoing cadet training in Bavaria. The war ended in defeat for Germany before the young Himmler had a chance to serve. Similarly, Reinhard Heydrich was around 14 when the war ended. By 15, he joined a rightist Freikorps and participated in the suppression of communists.

    Such “betweens” were often the most ideologically extreme and “clinical” in their approaches to real life conduct (atrocities) in World War II as they tended to lack the moderating influences of personal battlefield experiences yet keenly felt the sting of defeat that created very difficult post-war conditions, which in turn justified their extremism toward “the enemy” in pursuit of total victory. It was apparently a common sentiment among that age cohort that they somehow missed out in the glory of war (and perhaps felt that, had they been allowed to participate, the First World War might have turned out differently for Imperial Germany). This romanticism of sorts lent itself easily to orientation toward “Aktion” – extremism and brutality toward enemies, including domestic ones.

    It was said in Nazi circles before and during the war that the German Navy (Kriegsmarine) was royalist, the Army (Heer) conservative, and only the Air Force (Luftwaffe) was “truly revolutionary” (meaning Nazi).

    • Replies: @German_reader
    Yes, you're right about the Nazi leadership, many of them were of the generation that had been just too young to fight in the Great War but had consciously experienced the defeat in 1918 and the revolutionary disturbances afterwards. I was referring rather to the lower levels however, to people who actually did the killing themselves, be it in the Wehrmacht or in the SS, and many of them were quite strikingly young.
    Not sure about the Luftwaffe, from what I have read it actually was regarded as the least Nazified of the armed services, but I may be mistaken about that.
  24. @April Brown
    I know this has gotten trotted out quite a bit over the years, but I still find it uncannily relevant, like, all the time. "True Believer" covers as one of its chapters the tendency of the children of immigrants, whose parents left a flawed location (for economic, religious, or idealogical reasons), to romanticize and rejoin, in the most inappropriate ways possible, the very thing their parents worked so hard to get away from in order to give their kids a better life. The London underground bombings really illustrated this, as do the defections of the children of immigrants to places like Europe to join the Daesh. Highly recommend reading this book.

    (Also uncanny how well Eric Hoffer called the likely outcome of places like Palestine, writing in the early 50's)

    “True Believer” covers as one of its chapters the tendency of the children of immigrants, whose parents left a flawed location (for economic, religious, or idealogical reasons), to romanticize and rejoin, in the most inappropriate ways possible, the very thing their parents worked so hard to get away from in order to give their kids a better life.

    I can speak to this concept very personally for two reasons. First, as an immigrant to the United States, I too have felt the tensions of an immigrant, especially a young one. The first generation immigrant tends to be very practical – he seeks to improve his material circumstances and provide security for his family. He wants to avoid trouble, make money, and put his kids through school.

    The 1.5 or second generation tends to be different. Those of that generation only have faint or second-hand memories of the old country. So they tend to crave acceptance by the host society – to be considered a peer of the native citizenry. Inevitably, there tends to be some degree of disappointment in this quest for acceptance, and alienation can set in from it.

    There are often two divergent responses to this sense of disappointment and alienation. One is to re-double efforts at assimilation, to become super patriotic – to study very hard, go to the right schools, master Americanisms, intermarry with a native, and even perhaps volunteer to serve in the armed forces and in war. A classic example is that of the US Army 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. Almost entirely composed of Japanese-Americans, this legendary unit, with the motto of “Go for Broke” became the most decorated unit of its size in all of American military history for its extreme valor and sacrifice (and to put the icing on the cake, it even welcomed an ethnic Korean into its ranks in a spirit of the American melting pot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young-Oak_Kim).

    The other response is to recoil from assimilation, to avoid “corruption” into a “degenerate, materialistic” Western mainstream and to seek purity and authenticity through what one’s parents abandoned. One becomes obsessed about one’s co-ethnic language, history, religion, culture, and people. In extreme cases, one tends to see oneself as a victim of one’s parents weakness and craven surrender to Western dominance. Thus family ties are frayed and the subsequent bonding with another “family” of choice that offers clear answers, a sense of purpose, and feelings of grandeur – being a part of a world historical process of a civilizational war.

    Now the second part of my personal experience. Although I cannot go into detail, there is no doubt in my mind that many “Jihadis” from the West fit this second category exactly. Interview after interview with captured detainees and suspects who are nominally and legally citizens of Western countries reveal this tendency very strongly. And even once they become somewhat disenchanted with Jihadi groups they joined, they end up not leaving because of the fear of punishment and/or a sense of camaraderie that inevitably occurs when sharing hardship (Valdet Gashi’s case is instructive: http://www.bloodyelbow.com/2015/7/21/9010519/ISIS-kickboxer-valdet-gashi-escape-executed).

    What has changed from, say, 50 years ago in this dynamic isn’t simply the types of migrants who come to the West. The massive technological changes, the fraying of the traditional family and tribal life everywhere, the increasing urbanization, and the ever-present mass communication infrastructure (mobile phones, internet, etc.) have made assimilation weaker and alienation easier. 50 years ago, an Italian-American youth unhappy with the mainstream Anglo-American society might join a local Italian-American fraternal organization, become devoted to (Italian-oriented) local Catholic Church, or at the worst join an Italian-American gang to derive a sense of camaraderie and purpose. Now, it is all too easy for an alienated Muslim youth to be recruited by the so-called “Virtual Ummah” and become radicalized by targeted remote indoctrination. And just like that within 24 hours he could be overseas being trained to mass-murder his fellow countrymen.

    • Replies: @iffen
    Excellent comment.
    , @PD Shaw
    Some interesting observations. Your comment about Italian-Americans brought to mind my understanding that Italians may have compromised the largest group of American-immigrants that returned. I assume multiple push-pull factors in these decisions, but in terms of the Arab World, I'm not sure many immigrants have a land to return to. For example, the Tsarnaev's were Chechens that were moved from place to place before Boston. No doubt immigrating can be tough across generations, but the Italians had a place to return to when their expectations weren't met. OTOH the Arab world is a mess; some of these people cannot return because of the government, nor wish to return in any case, but the desire to return is expressed in an idealized Islamic state.
    , @Reg Cæsar

    The other response is to recoil from assimilation, to avoid “corruption” into a “degenerate, materialistic” Western mainstream and to seek purity and authenticity through what one’s parents abandoned.
     
    Why the scare quotes? The corruption and degeneracy aren't figments of these kids' imaginations, but facts on the ground. Rejecting these is a sign of mental health.
  25. @Andrew Selvarasa
    Michael Shermer's new book, 'The Moral Arc', covers the topic of how seemingly normal, everyday people can be made to commit atrocities. Simon Baron-Cohen's book, 'The Science of Evil', goes into this topic even deeper.

    Michael Shermer’s new book, ‘The Moral Arc’, covers the topic of how seemingly normal, everyday people can be made to commit atrocities.

    Hannah Arendt controversially covered this topic of “the banality of evil” in the case of Adolf Eichmann in 1963.

    • Replies: @German_reader
    But Arendt was totally wrong about Eichmann; Eichmann's self-representation as an average bureaucrat who just did his "duty" was merely an (unsuccesful) attempt to escape the death penalty. In fact it's clear now that he was a committed Nazi and eliminationist antisemite who bragged about his deeds after the war and only regretted that not all Jews had been killed. There's a book by Bettina Stangneth about this ("Eichmann before Jerusalem") which seems to be pretty good.
    In general there may be something to Arendt's thesis about "normal" people committing atrocities just because of conformism, but it hardly fits for Eichmann who was a genuine fanatic.
  26. @Twinkie

    Michael Shermer’s new book, ‘The Moral Arc’, covers the topic of how seemingly normal, everyday people can be made to commit atrocities.
     
    Hannah Arendt controversially covered this topic of "the banality of evil" in the case of Adolf Eichmann in 1963.

    But Arendt was totally wrong about Eichmann; Eichmann’s self-representation as an average bureaucrat who just did his “duty” was merely an (unsuccesful) attempt to escape the death penalty. In fact it’s clear now that he was a committed Nazi and eliminationist antisemite who bragged about his deeds after the war and only regretted that not all Jews had been killed. There’s a book by Bettina Stangneth about this (“Eichmann before Jerusalem”) which seems to be pretty good.
    In general there may be something to Arendt’s thesis about “normal” people committing atrocities just because of conformism, but it hardly fits for Eichmann who was a genuine fanatic.

    • Replies: @Twinkie

    In general there may be something to Arendt’s thesis about “normal” people committing atrocities just because of conformism, but it hardly fits for Eichmann who was a genuine fanatic.
     
    Yes, this is very true, but 1) Arendt's thesis about ordinary bureaucrats/people conforming to "the banality of evil" appears correct in light of subsequent human history (e.g. the Yugoslav wars) and 2) even "genuine fanatics" are people whose fanaticism emerges under very specific circumstances. It's doubtful, for example, that Himmler would have been a mass murderer extraordinaire growing up in modern-day Germany. He'd likely had become an "odd" farmer.
  27. @Twinkie

    I’m hardly an expert about this but there are studies claiming that younger Wehrmacht soldiers who were teenagers or even children during the 1930s were much more willing to commit atrocities than older soldiers whose formative years had been in pre-Nazi Germany (and a lot of lower- or mid-ranking members of the SS etc. were fairly young too of course).
     
    Actually that's not quite accurate... or, rather, it is a bit misleading. Youth tends to internalize the conditions of their upbringing, so there is no surprise there about the radicalism, on and off the battlefield, of the Hitlerite youths who grew up post-1933.

    What historical examination of Nazi leaders (both upper and middle tier) shows, however, is that many of them were "betweens" - meaning they were old enough to be aware, but too young to participate in World War I. Heinrich Himmler is a classic example. His older brother Gebhard served on the Western Front in World War I and won the Iron Cross for valor while he was still undergoing cadet training in Bavaria. The war ended in defeat for Germany before the young Himmler had a chance to serve. Similarly, Reinhard Heydrich was around 14 when the war ended. By 15, he joined a rightist Freikorps and participated in the suppression of communists.

    Such "betweens" were often the most ideologically extreme and "clinical" in their approaches to real life conduct (atrocities) in World War II as they tended to lack the moderating influences of personal battlefield experiences yet keenly felt the sting of defeat that created very difficult post-war conditions, which in turn justified their extremism toward "the enemy" in pursuit of total victory. It was apparently a common sentiment among that age cohort that they somehow missed out in the glory of war (and perhaps felt that, had they been allowed to participate, the First World War might have turned out differently for Imperial Germany). This romanticism of sorts lent itself easily to orientation toward "Aktion" - extremism and brutality toward enemies, including domestic ones.

    It was said in Nazi circles before and during the war that the German Navy (Kriegsmarine) was royalist, the Army (Heer) conservative, and only the Air Force (Luftwaffe) was "truly revolutionary" (meaning Nazi).

    Yes, you’re right about the Nazi leadership, many of them were of the generation that had been just too young to fight in the Great War but had consciously experienced the defeat in 1918 and the revolutionary disturbances afterwards. I was referring rather to the lower levels however, to people who actually did the killing themselves, be it in the Wehrmacht or in the SS, and many of them were quite strikingly young.
    Not sure about the Luftwaffe, from what I have read it actually was regarded as the least Nazified of the armed services, but I may be mistaken about that.

    • Replies: @Twinkie

    Not sure about the Luftwaffe, from what I have read it actually was regarded as the least Nazified of the armed services, but I may be mistaken about that.
     
    You are incorrect. The Luftwaffe was the most Nazified, starting with its leader, Hermann Goering and down. Nazis revered technological progress and "action," and the Air Force was seen as containing both aplenty and drew more of those with "revolutionary fervor."

    The Heer/Army continued to be quite traditional and conservative outside a few technical branches, most notably the Panzerwaffe/tank arm. Most of the generals, for example, opposed the Rhineland reoccupation fearing a conflict with the Western allies they thought they'd lose. They were also very skeptical about the emphasis on the technical branches aside from exceptions such as Heinz Guderian.

    There is a reason why the Waffen-SS, the armed wing of the SS, was developed by the Nazi leaders from a simple party bodyguard force to a formidable competitor force of the Heer. The Nazis simply didn't trust the army to the end.

    After all the leaders of the attempted assassination of Hitler were in the main army officers. And of course Wilhelm Canaris was an admiral.
  28. @Twinkie

    “True Believer” covers as one of its chapters the tendency of the children of immigrants, whose parents left a flawed location (for economic, religious, or idealogical reasons), to romanticize and rejoin, in the most inappropriate ways possible, the very thing their parents worked so hard to get away from in order to give their kids a better life.
     
    I can speak to this concept very personally for two reasons. First, as an immigrant to the United States, I too have felt the tensions of an immigrant, especially a young one. The first generation immigrant tends to be very practical - he seeks to improve his material circumstances and provide security for his family. He wants to avoid trouble, make money, and put his kids through school.

    The 1.5 or second generation tends to be different. Those of that generation only have faint or second-hand memories of the old country. So they tend to crave acceptance by the host society - to be considered a peer of the native citizenry. Inevitably, there tends to be some degree of disappointment in this quest for acceptance, and alienation can set in from it.

    There are often two divergent responses to this sense of disappointment and alienation. One is to re-double efforts at assimilation, to become super patriotic - to study very hard, go to the right schools, master Americanisms, intermarry with a native, and even perhaps volunteer to serve in the armed forces and in war. A classic example is that of the US Army 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. Almost entirely composed of Japanese-Americans, this legendary unit, with the motto of "Go for Broke" became the most decorated unit of its size in all of American military history for its extreme valor and sacrifice (and to put the icing on the cake, it even welcomed an ethnic Korean into its ranks in a spirit of the American melting pot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young-Oak_Kim).

    The other response is to recoil from assimilation, to avoid "corruption" into a "degenerate, materialistic" Western mainstream and to seek purity and authenticity through what one's parents abandoned. One becomes obsessed about one's co-ethnic language, history, religion, culture, and people. In extreme cases, one tends to see oneself as a victim of one's parents weakness and craven surrender to Western dominance. Thus family ties are frayed and the subsequent bonding with another "family" of choice that offers clear answers, a sense of purpose, and feelings of grandeur - being a part of a world historical process of a civilizational war.

    Now the second part of my personal experience. Although I cannot go into detail, there is no doubt in my mind that many "Jihadis" from the West fit this second category exactly. Interview after interview with captured detainees and suspects who are nominally and legally citizens of Western countries reveal this tendency very strongly. And even once they become somewhat disenchanted with Jihadi groups they joined, they end up not leaving because of the fear of punishment and/or a sense of camaraderie that inevitably occurs when sharing hardship (Valdet Gashi's case is instructive: http://www.bloodyelbow.com/2015/7/21/9010519/ISIS-kickboxer-valdet-gashi-escape-executed).

    What has changed from, say, 50 years ago in this dynamic isn't simply the types of migrants who come to the West. The massive technological changes, the fraying of the traditional family and tribal life everywhere, the increasing urbanization, and the ever-present mass communication infrastructure (mobile phones, internet, etc.) have made assimilation weaker and alienation easier. 50 years ago, an Italian-American youth unhappy with the mainstream Anglo-American society might join a local Italian-American fraternal organization, become devoted to (Italian-oriented) local Catholic Church, or at the worst join an Italian-American gang to derive a sense of camaraderie and purpose. Now, it is all too easy for an alienated Muslim youth to be recruited by the so-called "Virtual Ummah" and become radicalized by targeted remote indoctrination. And just like that within 24 hours he could be overseas being trained to mass-murder his fellow countrymen.

    Excellent comment.

  29. @German_reader
    But Arendt was totally wrong about Eichmann; Eichmann's self-representation as an average bureaucrat who just did his "duty" was merely an (unsuccesful) attempt to escape the death penalty. In fact it's clear now that he was a committed Nazi and eliminationist antisemite who bragged about his deeds after the war and only regretted that not all Jews had been killed. There's a book by Bettina Stangneth about this ("Eichmann before Jerusalem") which seems to be pretty good.
    In general there may be something to Arendt's thesis about "normal" people committing atrocities just because of conformism, but it hardly fits for Eichmann who was a genuine fanatic.

    In general there may be something to Arendt’s thesis about “normal” people committing atrocities just because of conformism, but it hardly fits for Eichmann who was a genuine fanatic.

    Yes, this is very true, but 1) Arendt’s thesis about ordinary bureaucrats/people conforming to “the banality of evil” appears correct in light of subsequent human history (e.g. the Yugoslav wars) and 2) even “genuine fanatics” are people whose fanaticism emerges under very specific circumstances. It’s doubtful, for example, that Himmler would have been a mass murderer extraordinaire growing up in modern-day Germany. He’d likely had become an “odd” farmer.

  30. @German_reader
    Yes, you're right about the Nazi leadership, many of them were of the generation that had been just too young to fight in the Great War but had consciously experienced the defeat in 1918 and the revolutionary disturbances afterwards. I was referring rather to the lower levels however, to people who actually did the killing themselves, be it in the Wehrmacht or in the SS, and many of them were quite strikingly young.
    Not sure about the Luftwaffe, from what I have read it actually was regarded as the least Nazified of the armed services, but I may be mistaken about that.

    Not sure about the Luftwaffe, from what I have read it actually was regarded as the least Nazified of the armed services, but I may be mistaken about that.

    You are incorrect. The Luftwaffe was the most Nazified, starting with its leader, Hermann Goering and down. Nazis revered technological progress and “action,” and the Air Force was seen as containing both aplenty and drew more of those with “revolutionary fervor.”

    The Heer/Army continued to be quite traditional and conservative outside a few technical branches, most notably the Panzerwaffe/tank arm. Most of the generals, for example, opposed the Rhineland reoccupation fearing a conflict with the Western allies they thought they’d lose. They were also very skeptical about the emphasis on the technical branches aside from exceptions such as Heinz Guderian.

    There is a reason why the Waffen-SS, the armed wing of the SS, was developed by the Nazi leaders from a simple party bodyguard force to a formidable competitor force of the Heer. The Nazis simply didn’t trust the army to the end.

    After all the leaders of the attempted assassination of Hitler were in the main army officers. And of course Wilhelm Canaris was an admiral.

    • Replies: @German_reader
    I'm somewhat sceptical...in any case it's not as if there weren't some fairly fanatical Nazis among the top leadership of both army (e.g. Walter von Reichenau) and navy (Dönitz).
    But as I wrote, I may well be mistaken...and since I don't have the time to look into this now (and it's somewhat off-topic anyway), I'll just leave it at that.
  31. @Twinkie

    Not sure about the Luftwaffe, from what I have read it actually was regarded as the least Nazified of the armed services, but I may be mistaken about that.
     
    You are incorrect. The Luftwaffe was the most Nazified, starting with its leader, Hermann Goering and down. Nazis revered technological progress and "action," and the Air Force was seen as containing both aplenty and drew more of those with "revolutionary fervor."

    The Heer/Army continued to be quite traditional and conservative outside a few technical branches, most notably the Panzerwaffe/tank arm. Most of the generals, for example, opposed the Rhineland reoccupation fearing a conflict with the Western allies they thought they'd lose. They were also very skeptical about the emphasis on the technical branches aside from exceptions such as Heinz Guderian.

    There is a reason why the Waffen-SS, the armed wing of the SS, was developed by the Nazi leaders from a simple party bodyguard force to a formidable competitor force of the Heer. The Nazis simply didn't trust the army to the end.

    After all the leaders of the attempted assassination of Hitler were in the main army officers. And of course Wilhelm Canaris was an admiral.

    I’m somewhat sceptical…in any case it’s not as if there weren’t some fairly fanatical Nazis among the top leadership of both army (e.g. Walter von Reichenau) and navy (Dönitz).
    But as I wrote, I may well be mistaken…and since I don’t have the time to look into this now (and it’s somewhat off-topic anyway), I’ll just leave it at that.

  32. @Twinkie

    “True Believer” covers as one of its chapters the tendency of the children of immigrants, whose parents left a flawed location (for economic, religious, or idealogical reasons), to romanticize and rejoin, in the most inappropriate ways possible, the very thing their parents worked so hard to get away from in order to give their kids a better life.
     
    I can speak to this concept very personally for two reasons. First, as an immigrant to the United States, I too have felt the tensions of an immigrant, especially a young one. The first generation immigrant tends to be very practical - he seeks to improve his material circumstances and provide security for his family. He wants to avoid trouble, make money, and put his kids through school.

    The 1.5 or second generation tends to be different. Those of that generation only have faint or second-hand memories of the old country. So they tend to crave acceptance by the host society - to be considered a peer of the native citizenry. Inevitably, there tends to be some degree of disappointment in this quest for acceptance, and alienation can set in from it.

    There are often two divergent responses to this sense of disappointment and alienation. One is to re-double efforts at assimilation, to become super patriotic - to study very hard, go to the right schools, master Americanisms, intermarry with a native, and even perhaps volunteer to serve in the armed forces and in war. A classic example is that of the US Army 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. Almost entirely composed of Japanese-Americans, this legendary unit, with the motto of "Go for Broke" became the most decorated unit of its size in all of American military history for its extreme valor and sacrifice (and to put the icing on the cake, it even welcomed an ethnic Korean into its ranks in a spirit of the American melting pot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young-Oak_Kim).

    The other response is to recoil from assimilation, to avoid "corruption" into a "degenerate, materialistic" Western mainstream and to seek purity and authenticity through what one's parents abandoned. One becomes obsessed about one's co-ethnic language, history, religion, culture, and people. In extreme cases, one tends to see oneself as a victim of one's parents weakness and craven surrender to Western dominance. Thus family ties are frayed and the subsequent bonding with another "family" of choice that offers clear answers, a sense of purpose, and feelings of grandeur - being a part of a world historical process of a civilizational war.

    Now the second part of my personal experience. Although I cannot go into detail, there is no doubt in my mind that many "Jihadis" from the West fit this second category exactly. Interview after interview with captured detainees and suspects who are nominally and legally citizens of Western countries reveal this tendency very strongly. And even once they become somewhat disenchanted with Jihadi groups they joined, they end up not leaving because of the fear of punishment and/or a sense of camaraderie that inevitably occurs when sharing hardship (Valdet Gashi's case is instructive: http://www.bloodyelbow.com/2015/7/21/9010519/ISIS-kickboxer-valdet-gashi-escape-executed).

    What has changed from, say, 50 years ago in this dynamic isn't simply the types of migrants who come to the West. The massive technological changes, the fraying of the traditional family and tribal life everywhere, the increasing urbanization, and the ever-present mass communication infrastructure (mobile phones, internet, etc.) have made assimilation weaker and alienation easier. 50 years ago, an Italian-American youth unhappy with the mainstream Anglo-American society might join a local Italian-American fraternal organization, become devoted to (Italian-oriented) local Catholic Church, or at the worst join an Italian-American gang to derive a sense of camaraderie and purpose. Now, it is all too easy for an alienated Muslim youth to be recruited by the so-called "Virtual Ummah" and become radicalized by targeted remote indoctrination. And just like that within 24 hours he could be overseas being trained to mass-murder his fellow countrymen.

    Some interesting observations. Your comment about Italian-Americans brought to mind my understanding that Italians may have compromised the largest group of American-immigrants that returned. I assume multiple push-pull factors in these decisions, but in terms of the Arab World, I’m not sure many immigrants have a land to return to. For example, the Tsarnaev’s were Chechens that were moved from place to place before Boston. No doubt immigrating can be tough across generations, but the Italians had a place to return to when their expectations weren’t met. OTOH the Arab world is a mess; some of these people cannot return because of the government, nor wish to return in any case, but the desire to return is expressed in an idealized Islamic state.

  33. @Twinkie

    “True Believer” covers as one of its chapters the tendency of the children of immigrants, whose parents left a flawed location (for economic, religious, or idealogical reasons), to romanticize and rejoin, in the most inappropriate ways possible, the very thing their parents worked so hard to get away from in order to give their kids a better life.
     
    I can speak to this concept very personally for two reasons. First, as an immigrant to the United States, I too have felt the tensions of an immigrant, especially a young one. The first generation immigrant tends to be very practical - he seeks to improve his material circumstances and provide security for his family. He wants to avoid trouble, make money, and put his kids through school.

    The 1.5 or second generation tends to be different. Those of that generation only have faint or second-hand memories of the old country. So they tend to crave acceptance by the host society - to be considered a peer of the native citizenry. Inevitably, there tends to be some degree of disappointment in this quest for acceptance, and alienation can set in from it.

    There are often two divergent responses to this sense of disappointment and alienation. One is to re-double efforts at assimilation, to become super patriotic - to study very hard, go to the right schools, master Americanisms, intermarry with a native, and even perhaps volunteer to serve in the armed forces and in war. A classic example is that of the US Army 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. Almost entirely composed of Japanese-Americans, this legendary unit, with the motto of "Go for Broke" became the most decorated unit of its size in all of American military history for its extreme valor and sacrifice (and to put the icing on the cake, it even welcomed an ethnic Korean into its ranks in a spirit of the American melting pot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young-Oak_Kim).

    The other response is to recoil from assimilation, to avoid "corruption" into a "degenerate, materialistic" Western mainstream and to seek purity and authenticity through what one's parents abandoned. One becomes obsessed about one's co-ethnic language, history, religion, culture, and people. In extreme cases, one tends to see oneself as a victim of one's parents weakness and craven surrender to Western dominance. Thus family ties are frayed and the subsequent bonding with another "family" of choice that offers clear answers, a sense of purpose, and feelings of grandeur - being a part of a world historical process of a civilizational war.

    Now the second part of my personal experience. Although I cannot go into detail, there is no doubt in my mind that many "Jihadis" from the West fit this second category exactly. Interview after interview with captured detainees and suspects who are nominally and legally citizens of Western countries reveal this tendency very strongly. And even once they become somewhat disenchanted with Jihadi groups they joined, they end up not leaving because of the fear of punishment and/or a sense of camaraderie that inevitably occurs when sharing hardship (Valdet Gashi's case is instructive: http://www.bloodyelbow.com/2015/7/21/9010519/ISIS-kickboxer-valdet-gashi-escape-executed).

    What has changed from, say, 50 years ago in this dynamic isn't simply the types of migrants who come to the West. The massive technological changes, the fraying of the traditional family and tribal life everywhere, the increasing urbanization, and the ever-present mass communication infrastructure (mobile phones, internet, etc.) have made assimilation weaker and alienation easier. 50 years ago, an Italian-American youth unhappy with the mainstream Anglo-American society might join a local Italian-American fraternal organization, become devoted to (Italian-oriented) local Catholic Church, or at the worst join an Italian-American gang to derive a sense of camaraderie and purpose. Now, it is all too easy for an alienated Muslim youth to be recruited by the so-called "Virtual Ummah" and become radicalized by targeted remote indoctrination. And just like that within 24 hours he could be overseas being trained to mass-murder his fellow countrymen.

    The other response is to recoil from assimilation, to avoid “corruption” into a “degenerate, materialistic” Western mainstream and to seek purity and authenticity through what one’s parents abandoned.

    Why the scare quotes? The corruption and degeneracy aren’t figments of these kids’ imaginations, but facts on the ground. Rejecting these is a sign of mental health.

  34. @Razib Khan
    But we probably shouldn’t get off-topic…concerning ISIS, I just don’t get what makes people who have grown up in Western democracies join a movement whose members openly brag about having re-introduced slavery.


    they're in the country, but not of it. they feel marginalized. islamism provides a cultural exit strategy to being members of a society that can't/won't/isn't able to absorb them or the way they insist on being (the second is key, because there are plenty of people of muslim background who are assimilating into european norms). a lot of the radicals of the late 19th century were from jewish backgrounds. they were outsiders, and millenarian political radicalism offered a way to make an end around the system.

    islamism provides a cultural exit strategy to being members of a society that can’t/won’t/isn’t able to absorb them or the way they insist on being (the second is key, because there are plenty of people of muslim background who are assimilating into european norms).

    Now that’s a way to place blame everywhere and nowhere.

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