Ho, hum. Another videotaped beheading of another Western do-gooder. What is up with all these white American men just sort of showing up in the Middle East hoping to do good, but inevitably becoming captives of one of the warring factions? There have lately been three (if my recall is accurate) Americans whose beheadings were videotaped for public consumption by ISIS, which probably means there are three hundred or so out there waiting to be similarly rewarded for their “altruism” (as the word “altruism” describes something that doesn’t exist, the word always requires quotation marks when being used so that no one misses the irony, which is also why it should never be used in conversation unless both hands are free to make the air quote marks). Do-gooders are like cockroaches—if you see one on the kitchen counter, there’s probably a hundred in the woodwork. And one imagines, if ISIS had only one or two white American men left in captivity, it would be less willing to sacrifice them to the cause of dying for Allah for which their “altruistic” hearts were unwittingly devoted. They probably have dozens. The latest victim, Peter Kassig, had converted to Islam and even taken a Muslim name, Abdul-Rahman. So much for doing well by doing good and trying to assimilate.
All these videotaped beheadings remind me of the scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” where Indiana Jones is being chased down a narrow alleyway or corridor in a crowded Arabian city by some locals. It appears Jones is trapped in a sort of box canyon of a street. When he turns to face his pursuer, the big, stereotypically scary (bushy eyebrows, facial hair, maniacal eyes, etc.) Arabian guy pulls a scimitar from the waist belt around his robe, and starts waving it around menacingly, like a ninja twirling nunchucks. Things look rather dire for Mr. Jones, but only for a moment, until he reaches in his own belt (holding up regular old Western rugged-wear pants), pulls out a pistol, and unceremoniously shoots the dangerous-looking Arab.
I recall my fellow theater patrons actually applauding after Jones killed the guy. I may have, too, but I don’t remember for sure. I was just a teenage kid at the time.
But I wasn’t too young to get the lesson for the scimitar-wielding Arab—don’t come to a gun fight with a knife. The lesson for the executioner in the ISIS videos is along the same lines—don’t come to a drone/smart bomb fight with a knife and a video camera. The US could destroy ISIS in a New York minute if it so desired. ISIS only exists because the West lets it exist. The more poignant question is why it chooses to do so.
A CNN opinion piece written by Fawaz Gerges claims that the beheadings are acts of desperation by an organization that finds itself on the run in the face of American and European (aka, Western) air bombardment. Perhaps. But like the stock market can stay irrational far longer than investors can stay solvent, ISIS can stay irrationally committed to the Levant much longer than the West has the will to keep at the task of hunting it down. In a way, ISIS is less of a military organization and more of an abstraction made concrete. ISIS stands for the idea that the West is corrupt and weak and immoral and decadent. And it has a point. In fact, the continued existence of ISIS proves the point. But there are other markers of Western decadence that help prove ISIS’s points. Take, for instance, female sexuality.
Western women, particularly American women, are more or less afforded complete freedom to do what they wish with their sexuality, to the point that they can have the unintended consequences of their sexual activity siphoned from their bodies without legal penalty or moral sanction. Given all that freedom, what have American women done? Arguably, they have used their hard-won freedom to become even more sexually depraved than men. It is instructive that Kim Kardashian, Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus (and legions of other American women famous for their hyper-sexualized personas) are all poignant examples of American women expressing their sexual freedom in a lowest-common-denominator fashion, competing to see who can be the most outrageously sexualized, as if the only dimension to American women is their sexuality.
American women have, by and large, proved incapable of handling sexual freedom. Instead of using the opportunities presented by equality and freedom to civilize and harmonize the culture as only women are capable of, they have vulgarized it, dragging the whole culture through the gutter of sexual depravity. They adamantly refuse to acknowledge the responsibility that comes with the power of a womb, preferring to pretend that the power of the womb they attempt to exploit through exhibitions of their sexual attractiveness should have no consequences except their enhanced social status. But no power has ever been wielded that didn’t come with responsibility.
The refusal of young American women to take positive and responsible charge of their own sexuality is why American colleges now feel compelled to define as sexual assault every casual sexual contact without which a provable consent was rendered. The “Yes means yes” movement, now codified into law in California and elsewhere, is the rough equivalent of the rules in Muslim and other “backward” cultures regarding the interactions of unrelated males and females. The West, facing a crisis of female irresponsibility in dealing with sexual equality and freedom, has been forced to vastly expand the definition of rape to protect the virtue of its women. It is little wonder that the notion of modesty in female dress and behavior as touted by ISIS and other Islamic fundamentalist organizations has found purchase, particularly among African and Muslim cultures, outside the vulgarized West.
People in the West would say that Muslims and Westerners treat women quite differently. In reality, the West pretends the problem of female sexuality does not exist, until it inevitably does, at which point it imposes strict behavioral codes enforced with draconian punishments, much as Muslim cultures do. The difference is that Muslim cultures realize that female sexuality has always been problematic to civilization, and requires modesty in dress and behavior to attempt to forestall bigger problems later on. Which is the better and more “progressive” solution? It would be hard to argue that the West, exemplified by outrageous campus rape statistics, by the likes of Miley Cyrus and others, and hyper-sexualized femininity, has things better figured out.
Taking female sexuality as one cultural touch point, the basic premise of ISIS is correct. The West is grown morally bankrupt and decadent. ISIS serves a valuable purpose in pointing out as much. Perhaps that’s why it has thus far been allowed to survive.