Anomic Youth and the New Terrorism
Displacement from one’s native culture as a result of migration, as with other sources of exposure to rapid cultural change, can result in a psychological condition given the name “anomie” by the 19th century sociologist Durkheim, who linked it to high rates of suicide. Anomie essentially results from lack of support for one’s natal culture by the surrounding cultural environment, and of conflict of one’s natal culture with the wider social environment. One lives, then, in a permanent condition of conflicting values and of their disparate embeddedness in quotidian living and ritual practices, resulting in a condition of uncertainty as regards personal identity, social belonging, and reading of the social environment.
When Australia opened its doors to cultural diversity in the 1960s and ‘70s, albeit of a rather limited scope (essentially limited to Eastern and Southern European nationalities), no thought was given to the pathology identified by Weber. The concern was rather for the possibility of resentment or hostility in the host population which it was sought to combat by extolling “multiculturalism” for its potential to add variety and diversity to many aspects of cultural life. This programme was essentially successful, or perhaps, rather, was essentially unnecessary, in an Australia already, like the rest of the Western World, multicultural at the higher levels of the Arts and Sciences, and welcoming of the novel (especially in cuisine) so long as fundamental principles like our democratic and legal systems were not challenged. The only significant cultural conflicts that erupted were between immigrant groups who brought long-standing hostilities with them from their homelands, and these tended to subside given no support from the surrounding society.
It therefore came as a rude shock to me to encounter a collection of essays written by the Australian-born daughters of the first “New Australians”, as they were at first called to prevent the derogatory overtones the word “migrant” had developed elsewhere. The contributors to Who Do You Think You Are: Second generation immigrant women in Australia (1992) expressed almost unmitigated hostility towards, even hatred of, their compeers of Australian descent, taking offence at even the friendliest of interested enquiries about their culture and contemptuous of the ignorance displayed. (Charges of discrimination and insult were not laid.) After reading it I could only feel that the multicultural aspiration had been a fantasy and, despite the best intentions, had been doomed to failure.
Only one essayist offered any reflection on this obviously illegitimate belligerence: her father, a first generation migrant, was, she said, comfortable with himself as an Italian and also as a new Australian, while she was neither. This contrast suggests that the blight of anomie falls, not on those who make the migrating initiative, but on their children.
Samantha Ellis in her book How to be a Heroin describes the experience of growing up as the child of Iraqui Jews in London in the 1990s, and identifies the problem for herself as one of ambivalent identity. Unlike the NESB (non-English-speaking background) Australian women, she does not sublimate it as hatred of the English, but sets about achieving a sense of self by emulation of the quests for identity of the many heroines of English novels who faced similar challenges, though for different reasons.
These stories throw light, I think, on the unexpected, puzzling and ungrateful present phenomenon of second generation immigrant Muslim young men turning to domestic terrorism and to foreign warfare. In the 1980s and 1990s the dominant sources of immigration changed and the influx, both in Australia and Western Europe, was primarily from South East Asian and Middle Eastern countries. While the former imported types of crime not previously familiar in Australia, those not so engaged appear to have assimilated well and with goodwill – perhaps already half assimilated as a result of a century or more of British Imperial rule. Middle Eastern immigrants came without benefit of this cultural familiarity and with the added dissonance of febrile difference of religion (many SE Asian immigrants are Christian). As the 21st century progressed and their children reached adolescence and young adulthood, in all probability the same resentments born of cultural dislocation as were revealed in the essays of the far more culturally similar Eastern European women smouldered in the breasts of these young people.
The random cruelty of terrorism and the brutality of Islamic State (IS) warfare are, of course, a long further step from the miseries of anomie . “What makes a terrorist?” was the question investigated by psychometrician Dr Lazar Stankov (now at the Catholic University, Sydney) with two colleagues, in an international survey and analysis. Their findings were that, in practising terrorists there is a conjunction of three factors, roughly representing the personal, the sociological and the political.
Firstly, the terrorist is inherently Nasty. In this he does not differ in any essential way from the common criminal, whose defining personality characteristic is an absence of sympathy for the suffering of others, which liberates him to inflict it at will. Inflicting physical and emotional harm and pain on others is of no consequence to him – or her, but more commonly, him. (The solitary-acting domestic terrorist commonly already has a violent criminal record.)
The second factor, the authors call Grudge. This is the conviction of having been hard done by, disadvantaged, unappreciated, or unfairly treated by those around them, or by society generally. Nastiness can, of course, cause this of itself, but it is plausible that anomie, the sense of social misfit of the second generation immigrant is a source of grudge as a factor in the terrorist profile.
The third element in the making of a terrorist they named Excuse. The grudge is liberated into action if an external justification can be found and nastiness permits it in a violent form. The excuse can be various – historical, religious, ideological, political … Additionally, the urge of the isolated individual for social inclusion can be satisfied if he can join a group or movement in which his personality traits are acceptable or even an advantage, such as the terrorist project, which offers self-respect under the guise of commitment to a worthy or heroic cause.
It has been recognized with dismay that the ranks of the Islamic State armies are filled with Muslim youth who were born and have grown up in European countries and are fully attuned to the electronic and digital communication of the West. For today’s young terrorists, the harms and humiliations visited by Western powers on their countries of origin, where their loyalties and patriotism must still in part lie, can function to excuse hostile and violent action against their host cultures. The military interference in the Middle East by Western powers provides these young men and women with both an explanation and focus for their anomic anger, and the means to clothe their propensity for random brutality, without compunction, in virtue by terrorism at home and by fighting abroad. The animosity of the second generation Australian women migrants who contributed to that essay collection provides a template for understanding its leaping of a generation, to the bewilderment and often horror of their first generation parents.
The explanations offered by childhood associates of recent recruits to IS from Wales, reported by Denis Staunton in an article in The Irish Times (7/11/15), corroborate Stankov and his colleagues’ anatomy of the terrorist. “They look around the street [at home] and they’re nobody,” said one. “But now, all of a sudden, they’re in this video around the campfire and they’re broadcasting to millions of people watching.” “[It’s] not so much fundamentalist Islam,” said another. “What they are trying to do is revive the Dark Ages period of politics which is one of kings, battles, warfare as the norm, expansion of empire, capturing land, dominion, conquest, enslavement, pillaging … ”
One of the suggested responses of Western nations to the absconding of these warrior youths is to deny them return. But it should be borne in mind that not all will bear the first and fundamental trait of both terrorist and criminal – nastiness. It is a characteristic of youth to be drawn to extreme causes, and by the lure of adventure. Like the young man in the participating audience of an Insight (SBS) programme who had joined IS, and returned, some will be shocked and appalled at what they encounter – “Awful people, dreadful people,” he said. It would be wrong to deny a return to those for whom the reality is a disillusionment.
Germany in the first half of the twentieth century gave nationalism a bad name, so much so that for the first half of my life we ceased to use the word “nation” and said “country” instead. So I was quite shocked when Keating’s reintroduction of the word, in all the fuss about who was our “head of state”, did not call down adverse comment.
“Nationalist” is a much used term today, retaining its sinister characterisation, a moral denigration invoking Hitler’s Germany, although the reality to which it is applied is a far cast from that era’s territorial expansionism based on race. The human spirit in today’s resistance to multiculturalism is closer to Walter Scott’s expression of love of country in his “The lay of the Last Minstrel.”
Breathes there a man with soul so dead
Who never to himself has said,
‘This is my own my native land’.
Whose heart has ne’er within him burned
As home his footsteps he has turned
From wandering on a foreign strand.
Nationalism of this kind, love of one’s own country, one’s own people, one’s heritage, need not imply chauvinism, jingoism, and disdain for other cultures, but it does imply the impulse to protect and preserve the characteristics of what is one’s own. Recognised as such, it is easy to allow the same sentiments to members of another nation, another culture, and respect its elements. This does not mean one wants them in one’s own.
A nationalism based on race, which seeks to make the nation territorially identical with the race, has shown itself irrefutably pernicious in Europe, where there are no clean-cut territorial lines able to be drawn between race, language and religion of the peoples. It was on this basis that Germany invaded neighbouring countries – Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria, Poland – with (part-) German-speaking populations. This form of nationalism persists today on the rim of Europe – for example Kurdish and Basque terrorism in pursuit of a racial territory. The nationalism of which England and the US are accused in response to recent political developments bears no relation to this.
A recent analysis, provoked by the sentiments revealed by the ballot box, helps us look more steadily at the good and the bad in forms of nationalism more apposite to our times. In an essay in the Times Literary Supplement (27/01/17), Paul Collier differentiates ‘inclusive’ and ‘exclusive’ nationalism, as defining two approaches to the nation state’s treatment of its residents/citizens. In the inclusive state, all residents, regardless of origin, language, race, and religion enjoy equal rights and benefits, and restraint, under the law, and their nationality is recognised as that of the nation where they reside. Controlled immigration is necessary for this model to function benignly for all. It is the model practised in most Anglophone countries – the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand etc, and the United States since the 1960s. (Australian commitment to inclusive nationalism is manifest when TV News reports that an Australian has been arrested in Indonesia for drug dealing, and only his photo later reveals him as of East Asian origin.)
The malign form, ‘exclusive’ nationalism, Collier continues, is divisive within the society. One group of citizens claims exclusive title to the nation and vilifies other citizens as lacking the characteristics that entitle them to belong to that nation. This type is emerging in response to multiculturism in Europe, in France and Holland most spectacularly, with policy proposal of banning the building of mosques and the wearing of certain ethnic clothing, and other denials of equal rights and freedoms.
Collier comments, ” ‘multiculturism’ and ‘global citizenship’ as alternatives [to nationalism] a pure romanticism. Multiculturism needs to be bounded. The belief of the left that any questioning of the benefits of further rapid inflows of migrants would license hostility to past immigrants may be precisely wrong: only by removing recent fears of future uncontrolled immigration will natives again be relaxed about those already here.”
The Australian’s experience bears this out. The burst of public concern over immigration in the early 1990’s, that Pauline Hanson was brave enough to champion, came after two decades of rapidly rising multicultural population injections, rising from 75,000 (0.58% of population) in 1972, to 123,000 (0.82% of population) in 1982, to 152,000 (0.95% of population) in 1988. Australia’s population in 1988 was 16 million, While parliamentarians and the press continue to excoriate Hanson for xenophobia, the annual number of immigrants was quietly reduced by bureaucratic means to 34,000 (0.2%) by 1993, without official acknowledgment, and public concern subsided “spontaneously”.
In 1988 population growth by immigration was actually greater than natural increase (births). Over the period birth rates fell and rose in inverse proportion to immigration rates, suggesting that the economic pressures of immigration deter native family formation.
As for the Internationalists and Globalisers, Scott has words for them too:
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth. . .
The wretch concentred all in self
Doubly dying shall go down
To the vile dust from which he sprung
Unwept, unhonoured and unsung.