Anomie and the Return to “History”


Islamist Protester in London (Photo: Courtesy of Voyou Desoeuvre)

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.


About Jim Langcuster

A Southern late-Baby Boomer whose post-retirement focus is on building a post-racial, post-Confederate Southern regional identity. If the election of 2016 underscored one thing, it is that this country is intractably divided and that radical devolution of power to localities and states is the only way to save the American Union.
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