What makes the Islamist movement tick

When you look around the globe, the Islamist movement is far from defeated. On the contrary. The movement is strong materially, in its ability to inflict harm, to control territory, to subjugate people. And, what’s more significant: it is strong in its morale, exhibiting an astounding confidence.

In Paris and in Copenhagen earlier this year, jihadists carried out brazen, in-broad-daylight killing sprees. Then came the attack in Garland, Texas.

In the Middle East, the Islamic State rampages. The group has conquered large parts of Iraq and Syria — roughly equivalent to the size of the UK — and it has distinguished itself through barbarity. You might expect that to put people off, but in fact the Islamic State is a magnet for foreign fighters. Four plus years after Bin Laden’s death, the Al Qaeda network lives on. The Taliban in Afghanistan has reconquered about as much territory as it held prior to the war. And Iran’s jihadist regime, the leading state sponsor of terrorism, avidly seeks to go nuclear.

The Islamist menace persists, yet remains little understood in the West.

What drives it? Given the infighting among jihadist factions, should we even think of it as a “movement”? What impact has the “war on terror” had on jihadists? What attracts new fighters to join this cause? Economic hardship? Political grievance? Solidarity with the plight of Palestinians?

Pushing back against the dominant perspectives on the issue, what I show in the following talk is that the Islamist movement is animated by a fundamental religious goal of subjugation and conquest.

I gave this talk in July at the Objectivist Summer Conference 2015, a forum for fans and scholars of Ayn Rand’s philosophy and its applications to life and culture. My analysis of the Islamist movement is informed by Rand’s philosophic framework, though the talk assumes no prior knowledge of her writings.

Share your thoughts, reactions, and questions on Twitter: @elanjourno

About the Author
Elan Journo is a fellow and director of policy research at the Ayn Rand Institute. His most recent book is What Justice Demands: America and the Israeli Palestinian Conflict (2018). He is co-author of Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism (2016), a contributor to Defending Free Speech (2016), and editor of Winning the Unwinnable War (2009). His articles have appeared in a wide range of publications, from Foreign Policy and Middle East Quarterly to The Hill and the Los Angeles Times. He has been interviewed on numerous television and radio programs, and he often speaks at conferences and universities.
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