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.
Killing is the easiest solution to most problems. Men kill over honor. Women kill themselves out of desperation. Children grow up torturing animals.
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.