The New York Times reports that a return of history is unfolding in many parts of the world, only these histories often bear little resemblance to the histories and traditions out of which they grew.
In ISIS-controlled portions of the Middle East, for example, the tolerance evinced for Shiites and other religions by Harun al-Rashid, the 8th century Abbasid Caliph who apparently relished freewheeling debates about faith and loved wine, music and men, is blithely ignored.
In South Asia, a radical Buddhist nationalist movement, Badu Bala Sena, admonishes women to be more sexually prudent, even though the original teaching of Buddha depict a man who was concerned with sexuality only to the degree that it eroded men’s spirituality.
What appears to be driving these disparate movements is a sense of anomie (normlessness), a sense that tradition and community are being eroded, largely by the digital tide that has washed into every corner of the planet. The traditionalism is partly about restoring a sense of order and balance in a world that seems caught up in permanent upheaval.
But in the Middle East, I think that phenomenon an be traced back to a issue that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has explored time and again. As Friedman sees it, this sense of normlessness stems from another factor: the widespread and troubling realization among young Islamic men that their culture is not only perceived as a backwater but also that it is materially and technologically eclipsed by the West. And this drives a sense of incandescent rage among many of these young men. After all, if God established the “true religion” in the Middle East, why is it not serving as a shining beacon for an apostate world?
Think about the sense of anomie and rage that gripped young men in post-Imperial Germany in the 1920’s and 1930’s, and you get a sense of what is driving this.