Media conveys immediacy, but it doesn’t convey culture. Its famous flattening effect makes shoppers at a Staples in D.C. or a Whole Foods in Berkeley feel like they’re right among the toppled buildings of Aleppo or Gaza, without actually giving them any insight into the motivations of the players.
They’re watching foreign movies in a language that they don’t understand and attributing their own motivations to the main characters. They assume that the differences are incidental, but if the differences really were incidental, America would look a lot more like Iraq.
It’s been a while since Westerners lived in a society in which human life was truly worthless, in which no one trusted anyone else and it was easier to kill than not to kill.
Outside of a few urban centers in the Middle East where the elites start the revolutions that end up stringing them from the gallows, life is cheap and worthless. Men kill their wives and daughters over petty suspicions. Clans murder each other in vicious brawls. Wedding celebrations begin with firing guns into the air and end with bodies on the ground.
Everything is worth more than people. A camel has value. A pickup truck has value. A smartphone has value. All these things are hard to make.
People are easy to make.
The birth rates are high. Everywhere there are too many people. Too many sons to inherit. Too many daughters to marry off.
The UN and a whole bunch of international organizations slop in enough aid to keep hunger and disease away, but not enough to make life livable or worthwhile. The wealthy have satellite dishes on which they watch American reality shows and Turkish soaps. The poor kidnap them and hold them for ransom. It’s not just life in the Middle East. It’s the whole Third World experience.
About the only reliable source of wealth comes out of the ground and the countries that have it are usually too lazy to get it themselves. That’s what the armies of Western engineers are for. They don’t build their own skyscrapers with the oil money. That’s what the disposable Asian workers are for.
Clerics settle religious questions with murder. It’s just easier that way.
Theological debates are complicated and impossible to settle, but fly the black flags, seize a village, kill the men and force the women to convert to the true faith of the machine gun and the sword and the debate is over.
ISIS is how Islam has been settling questions of theology since the 7th century. Why stop now just because you can order takeout from your smartphone? Westerners are innately fascinated by new technology. For the Middle East, technology is a tool for settling medieval disputes. Twitter is just a way of showing off your latest crop of severed heads. The pickup truck substitutes for a camel.
Politicians settle political debates with more murders. Elections are complicated. Democracy is messy. It’s easier for a colonel to take everyone out back and shoot them. And then spend the next twenty years building palaces with his people’s wealth. And the people mostly like it that way too.
The question isn’t why should they kill, it’s why should they stop? The peace proposals never get anywhere. If you reward violence with concessions, there’s no reason for it to ever stop. And if you don’t, what else is there to do?
When life is worthless, everyone has a gun and a grudge, it’s easier to kill than not to kill. You can see that phenomenon as readily in Chicago as in Iraq. Why not shoot the guy next door because he owes you money, because your daughter looked at him twice, because he’s on your turf or because he’s a Kurd.
Or because it’s Thursday.
Under crowded conditions, life is cheap but honor is expensive. Fights start over the pettiest things and escalate into relentless violence. You can see it in Yemen or in Ferguson. Everyone is just waiting for an excuse to be angry about something and to take it out on someone else.
The Western Urbanites who helicopter parent their 2.5 children into a Prozac prescription and lament their disposable society don’t understand what a truly disposable society looks like even though they probably live less than a mile away from one of those.
In a disposable society, people have no value. Children have no value. Human labor has no value. If you want something done, you force someone to do it. If you can’t have your own slaves, you can control an extended family. You don’t think in terms of what it costs to make something. The only cost that matters is the cost of imports. Everything else is inhumanely cheap.
Emotional reactions always trump rational ones. Everyone feels put upon and slighted from the biggest prince to the lowliest laborer. Everyone is filled with resentments that they channel through the Koran and the mad preachings of Islamic clerics promising holy wars and blaming everything on the CIA, the Freemasons and the Jews.
When it gets hot enough, the killings begin and they usually don’t stop until the weather cools down. The black flags fly. The yellow flags fly. The green flags fly. And you can either play the game or get beheaded on the evening news.
There’s no morality out here. The men are careful not to look at a donkey or a woman while praying to Allah. But they have no sense of ethics. They will casually kill, steal, rape, break oaths and a commit a hundred other crimes before breakfast.
If you’re not a member of their family, you’re fair game. If you are, you had better know your place and help with the stealing, kidnapping and assorted economic empowerment projects.
Killing is easy. Self-control is hard. If there’s no accountability, no local bigshot that wants infidel tourists and their dollars and will make the killer’s family suffer, then he has no reason not to beat you, steal from you or drag you into a home in some slum somewhere and wait for the fabled wealthy infidels to pay him a king’s ransom.
If not he always cut off your head to raise the price on the next one.
His life is cheap, but yours is even cheaper.
It’s best to understand that we are not dealing with a moral code that looks anything like our own. The nastier qualities of human nature, deceit, violence and greed, are practically virtues. Especially if they are directed at the right targets.
There’s a reason that Islam was born here. There’s a reason that it still thrives here largely in its unaltered form. There is no civilization where the black flags fly.
Daniel Greenfield is the Editor of Sultan Knish, where this article first appeared.