Holden Caulfield was the literary embodiment of adolescent existential angst. He was familiar to all of us who grew up privileged in America. We were blessed with freedom and amazing wealth compared to every prior generation, but suffered from a paucity of meaning. The baby boomers grew up in an era where God and country were slowly becoming less important and central than the aggrandizement of the Self. The 1960s were a time where John F. Kennedy's stirring Inaugural speech on January 20th, 1961:
"Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."
Morphed into Grace Slick singing, in 1967's After Bathing at Baxter's:
Steven won't give his arm
to no gold star mother's farm;
War's good business so give your son
and I'd rather have my country die for me. [Emphasis mine-SW]
The processes that fed the anomie that led to the large scale "rebellion" of youth in the 1960s have not gone away. As the Western elites have become more and more secular and entitlements and the entitlement mentality have grown (with Europe far in advance of America in their dissolution) hedonism has replaced selfless devotion as a major core dynamic. "Just do it" is far easier to follow as a commandment than the original Ten Commandments. Yet, the turn away form traditional religion means that for a significant cohort there is no replacement for the meaning derived form religion. This is not to suggest that it is impossible to live a life imbued with meaning without believing in God or organized religion; it is to imply that living a life filled with meaning is more difficult without a Deity; the Existentialists have done us no favors by devaluing a structure that has worked for several thousand years. As a result, once the joys of the hedonistic life have paled, there is often a turn toward spirituality to fill the void.
Perhaps the most ironic aspect of all the media attention in the latest criminal allegations against "Jihad Jane" is that Colleen LaRose of Pennsylvania is only the latest example of this odd emerging trend in homegrown terrorism. Indeed, LaRose is hardly alone in this category, whether we speak of London resident Samina Malik, an active user on jihadi social networking forums who busied herself with transcribing Al-Qaida training manuals into English during spare time at her job working in secure areas of Heathrow Airport--or Canadian citizen Beverly Giesbrecht (a.k.a. Khadija Abdul Qahhar), who was taken hostage by the Taliban during rather suspicious travels through North Waziristan. Both men and women who were once written off as hapless wannabes and mere "jihobbyists" are unexpectedly rising to the occasion, in often quite desperate bids to prove their total commitment to the cause.
These individuals are, more frequently than not, English-speaking with only a cursory knowledge of Arabic or the Middle East. Their pedigree is less than elite, and they lack the traditional connections back to Al-Qaida's central leadership. Yet, even Al-Qaida's senior echelon now openly recognizes the critical value of these potential "lone wolf" operatives. In several prominent publications--including both the latest video from American Al-Qaida spokesman Adam Gadahn and the most recent official magazine from Al-Qaida in Yemen--the terror group has openly broadcast its pleasure and interest in the actions of such independent actors as Ft. Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan and Jordanian webmaster and CIA bomber Humam al-Balawi (a.k.a. Abu Dujanah al-Khorasani).
Without meaning in one's life, without the sense that there is a purpose to our existence that transcends our petty appetites, one can develop a terribly skewed view of the world. If the world is merely a result of chance and we are only born into comfort or deprivation because of random luck, guilt and rage are to be expected. Instead of appreciating the bounty with which we are blessed, the anxious and uncertain young person views the unfairness around him and, in the absence of an overarching schema, invents one or adopts one. At that point, since there is no Satan to supply the evil, it can only be a derivative of man's behavior. From there, it is a short step to externalizing all one's discontents. Scapegoating depends upon such Psychological processes. If you see successful people and a vibrant society, where you do not feel you fit in anywhere, resentment and an exaggerated sense of grievance flow naturally from one's personal psychology to a(n imagined) societal induced anomie.
Toady our young people, and those who have become fixated or regressed to more infantile positions, can find meaning in such attractive alternatives as the struggle for social justice or for the environment (both offspring of Communism/Socialism, ie collectivism) while others may find meaning in a return to traditional religion or to a new iteration of traditional religion; still others may seek out less restrictive religions (how many Catholics reject Catholicism because of its attitudes toward sex and procreation?) or find solace in a religion which is self confident (at least superficially, though it hides a deep seated sense of insecurity under its violet and aggressive bravado) and growing in strength while filled with an absolute certainty, ie Islam. By submitting to Islam, all the difficult questions and problems in life are resolved.
Islamism offers a framework, an external structure, that supports the externalization of one's problems, and supplies a ready response to difficulties in one's internal and external life.
John Robb reports on testimony before Congress that supports this as one of the predisposing factors in home grown terrorism:
Last year, open source warfare received some exciting validation in the form of a scientific study that reached the cover of Nature Magazine (although the theory reached the pinnacle of scientific validation, nobody in the DoD noticed -- wow, seriously, is there anybody with a working brain still working there?). Now Scott Atran, a sharp anthropologist that has been studying terrorism scientifically (although from his narrow area of specialization), has noticed some shifts in terrorist behavior that align more closely to Global Guerrillas using open source warfare than traditional Jihadis. Here's a summary from some Congressional testimony he recently gave.
Entry into the jihadi brotherhood is from the bottom up: from alienated and marginalized youth seeking out companionship, esteem, and meaning, but also the thrill of action, sense of empowerment, and glory in fighting the world's most powerful nation and army.
Although lack of economic opportunity often reliably leads to criminality, it turns out that some criminal youth really don't want to be criminals after all. Given half a chance to take up a moral cause, they can be even more altruistically prone than others to give up their lives for their comrades and cause.
Read the whole thing; this relates to the alienated foreign born terrorists as well as the Western born. While you are at it, check out Jim Hoft's posts on an American born al Qaeda who has not been conspicuous in the MSM:
All societies have their marginalized individuals. Such people have traditionally borne their failures and their inner despair by themselves. By offering a way out of a life of failure and/or meaninglessness (since even materially successful people can suffer from inner emptiness) radical Islam solves their internal and external, Psychological and social, problems. Once invested in Islamism, one's life is suffused with meaning and nobility; such a Siren call has a powerful allure.