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British Jihadis: The better things are, the worse it gets.

FOR SOME YOUNG European jihadists in Syria and Iraq, their new cause has been proving a big let down. Instead of machine-gunning hundreds of prisoners and waving black flags from the tops of captured tanks, they’ve ended up handing out food and clothes, moving dead bodies and doing the washing up. Some of them have even had to clean the toilets. It’s worse than being at home, where at least your iPod works.

I suppose we can assume that one motivation for their going off to join the Jihad Legion is the common desire among young males to imbue their lives with meaning by devoting themselves to a great cause, however monstrous or ridiculous. For many that would just mean going on demos and spouting a few idiocies from The Communist Manifesto — or, if they’re British, becoming Russell Brand, who seems to be the current embodiment of the establishment’s tame counter-culture hero.

THE OTHER MOTIVE may be one that’s far more common and long-lasting. It’s the idea that not only is the grass greener on the other side of the hill (bloodstained as it may be), but that the grass on our side is not only less green but also flattened with oppression and injustice.

Herbert Spencer pointed this phenomenon out long ago. He noted that one of the ways social perceptions are contradicted by events is when “the more things improve the louder become the exclamations about their badness.” By the time he was writing this (1891) the condition of women (particularly in America) had improved, for instance, and yet “the proclaiming of their grievances daily strengthens,” while the provision of education simply increased the demands for more – and on a compulsory basis. So it is that despite the great improvements in the lives of the masses, “there swells louder and louder the cry that the evils are so great that nothing short of a social revolution can cure them.”

But what is it Jihadi Johnthat so many young Muslims are crying out against? Is it marginalisation, oppression, crushing poverty? Well, no. Homegrown jihadists come from a variety of backgrounds, but as Sameer Rahim says in Prospect, deprivation is not necessarily the main breeding ground. Which is a pity, because it’s the usual excuse from the left, that being disadvantaged permits any kind of brutality. Rahim agrees with the idea that many jihadists suffer from an identity problem which causes them to direct their rage at “those who have managed to hold multiple selves together—European and Muslim.” This rather leaves unanswered the question why it just seems to be Muslims who have this multiple identity problem and no one else. Or why the “social revolution” Islam offers them is always violence.

Whatever it is that attracts them, one thing is for sure: most of them have no idea how well off they are in even the lower reaches of western society. They take their comforts for granted, they expect their iPods to work and their mothers to order pizzas for them, do the cleaning up and wash their clothes, just as they expect their fathers to pay for their gadgets and the state to keep them alive if they’re jobless.

Their dissatisfaction, just like that of the extreme left, is based on a stubborn blindness to the comfortable reality of everyday existence guaranteed by a system they can’t acknowledge is overwhelmingly benevolent. It’s what the rest of us know as civilisation.

Some of those young jihadists may end up being grateful to be doing the washing up and cleaning toilets back in the safety of their European homes. Others will never return to civilisation. It’s the ones that come back, still uncivilised, that we need to worry about.

Michael Blackburn.

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