When Islamists and Secularists Agree

Many commentators tried to implicate Christians in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Orlando. But might it not be true that Western secularists have more in common with Isis than Christians?

The two realities of Islamic extremism and Western consumerism are like shadowy doppelgangers showing up each other’s bankruptcy. Consider:

I. ISIS and secularists have both created aggressive sexual playgrounds for men.

At first glance, the two foes’ attitudes toward sex look utterly different.

In the West, the Sexual Revolution strains against any restriction on sexual expression. That loose attitude toward sexuality is one of the signs of decadence in the West that enrages Islamicists. But dig a little deeper and the picture starts to change.

First of all, terrorists’ porn problem has been well documented and stretches all the way to the top. The Christian Post even speculated about how porn drives the ISIS mindset. The porn is bad enough; far worse, though, are the ISIS protocols for capturing and trading sexual slaves.

These are not just men obsessed with political conquest; they are men obsessed with sexual conquest.

They share the Western frat-house moral assumption that women are for sexual pleasure and sexual pleasure is for men.

If this attitude leads to the much-hyped “rape culture” (or “hook-up culture” at any rate) on American campuses, it also leads to the harsher rape culture of ISIS.

II. ISIS and the secular West are both obsessed with high-tech presentations of violence.

There is an eerie similarity between the culture of violent entertainment in the West and ISIS’ culture of violent online media. While the American suburban fascination with violence usually stays on basement TV or computer screens, it sometimes breaks out into the light of day.

Columbine killer Eric Harris, for instance, imagined attacking New York City with airplanes two years before 9/11, mentioning the video games Duke Nukem and Doom as inspiration. “It’ll be like the LA riots, the Oklahoma bombing, WWII, Vietnam, Duke and Doom all mixed together,” he wrote. “I want to leave a lasting impression on the world.”

ISIS is Eric Harris with a hood and a computer graphics department. The group uses modern entertainment methods to promote its “victories” and attract new recruits, up to and including its own video game. ISIS may be primarily motivated by dreams of Islam’s glorious past, but it is energized by a slick digital images.

Alyssa Bereznak describes “How the Islamic State became a branding behemoth”:

IS knows how to package its extremist ideology in the form of well-produced videos, attractive graphics, polished magazines and strategic online posts. It’s also strikingly savvy at spreading them online, tailoring their presentation and message to media sites like Twitter, YouTube and Vine. The messages are hypercustomized in language, tone and content to reach as many people as possible and ultimately go viral. As Marshall Sella recently wrote in Matter, IS is ‘an entire brand family, the equivalents of the Apple logo’s glow … terrorism’s Coca-Cola.’

Osama Bin Laden’s grainy, wordy videos made Al Qaeda become a strong, but fringe, movement. Much better technology is attracting thousands—including thousands of Westerners—to the ISIS brand.

III. ISIS and the secularists both restrict Christians and remove Christian symbols.

A major reason the commentary blaming Christians for Orlando was so ugly is that we know that, apart from belief in God, Christianity’s true believers are nothing like ISIS’s devotees. For one thing, Christian commitment to non-violent political protest helped shape America as we know it. For another, Christians are ISIS’s usual targets for reasons that mirror the West’s opposition to Christians.

It is an awkward truth but it cannot be denied. ISIS claims an Islamic “tax” on Christians, demanding they “Convert, Pay or Die.” The Obama administration, of course, is not killing Christians. Far from it. But they do uphold a California rule requiring Catholics to provide abortions, pay crippling fines, or go out of business. The Little Sisters of the Poor had to go all the way to Supreme Court to avoid the government’s “convert, pay, or go away” tactics. Catholic adoption services were forced to close.

This isn’t the only coincidence between ISIS anti-Christianity and Western anti-Christian efforts. There is also the removal of Christian symbols from public places. ISIS smashes crosses with sledgehammers but Americans get the job done with intimidation, the courts, and government regulations.

IV. In literature, a Doppelganger is often a kind of evil twin or psychological counterpart that enters the hero’s life and reveals—or corrupts—him.

In The Atlantic Simon Cotee offered this take on why Westerners join ISIS: “it offers a bracing utopian alternative to Western secular society, speaks directly to those who feel their lives are worthless, spiritually corrupted, empty, boring, or devoid of purpose and significance, and who see no value in their own societies.”

This is the same malaise that leads Westerners to indulge excesses of all kinds in our entertainment-driven society: The need for escape, for excitement, for variety.

Christians exist to offer another alternative to both: radical love.

Tom Hoopes

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Tom Hoopes, former editor of the National Catholic Register and Faith & Family magazine, teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications Department, edits The Gregorian speech digest and is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. He is the author, most recently, of What Pope Francis Really Said (2016).

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