ISIS and the Climate of Fear: A Political-Psychology Perspective
What is the fundamental contradiction of our time by which we must understand the terrorist attacks occurring in recent years, and the backlash they evoke in the West against Muslims, though not them alone? There was a time when class struggle was considered the fundamental contradiction; then came the clash of ideologies or, if you will, economic systems, during the Cold War years that spanned much of the second half of the past century. But that contradiction too came to an end with the fall of one wall, the one in Berlin, that symbolized the fall of all the walls that sustained it. What now would be the fundamental contradiction of our time then, the one that divides humanity into two camps, and on which depends the prospects for war and peace, and around which we must organize?
This essay regarding the threat of ISIS (aka, IS, ISIL) and its meaning for our time is written with the view that our present fundamental contradiction is neither one of a clash of ideologies – an intolerant and “fanatical” Islam against an ecumenical and “democratic” West – nor a “clash of civilizations,” as Samuel Huntington would have it. But rather it is a clash between two visions of the future, two attitudes towards where our world is heading. On the one hand, there is a vision that sees the growing universalization of life and its meaning with hope and anticipation. And on the other, there is a reactive vision that looks with fright at the increasing erasure of the borders and barriers that divided humanity, the growing “de-localization” of all identities, and the intensification of the processes by which, in the continually prophetic words of Karl Marx, “all that is solid melts into air.” As such this is a clash inside our world. It is an immanent contradiction in a globalized and increasingly globalizing world that cuts across civilizations, rather than pitting one against another. It divides one humanity into two camps: one of hope on the side of universalism and a global commonwealth, and one of fear on the side of particularism and a siege mentality.