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The Islamic Hatred of Modernity

September 28, 2016

I have for you a very interesting and unusual piece for this week’s Outside the Box. It is not that I do not regularly send things by authors who see the world differently from me, but I rarely delve into the political and geopolitical world.

My friend Dr. Woody Brock is one of the most brilliant game theory specialists that I know. He studied with the most accomplished game theoreticians in academia, and he regularly applies game theory to economics and investing.

It is no understatement to say that ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism in general are a threat to the Western world, and it’s a threat against which we have so far not really developed any serious defense mechanisms. Rather, we are mostly just reacting to seemingly random events.

Woody sent this client memo out last April, and I have read and reread it. He analyzes the conflict between the West and ISIS in terms of game theory. And because of our very values, he says that we end up playing the “game” in a way that predisposes us to continual frustration.

I thought long and hard about whether to send this to you. I know I will lose a few readers over it, and I always hate that, but sometimes we have to think about the hard things. Woody is normally a mild-mannered guy with a patrician view of the world, but his conclusions here are neither mild-mannered nor anything less than what most people would consider radical. However, ISIS and radical Islam are at war with the entire modern world, not just Christianity. They are True Believers and are simply not interested in negotiating.

In game theory, there is a fundamental distinction between positive-sum bargaining games, and zero-sum games. In bargaining games, it is assumed that both sides can be better off by agreeing on a way to “divide the pie” instead of playing their optimal threat strategies and ending up with no pie – or worse. All such games are positive-sum in nature. In a zero-sum game, however, there is no pie to divide, and no bargaining compromise is possible.

If Woody is right, we in the West are playing the wrong game. That is something to think about as we go into elections not just in the US but all over Europe. What game theory will the leaders we elect operate under? Seems a reasonable question to me. And while I am personally extremely uncomfortable with some of Woody’s conclusions, especially when it comes to abrogating the rules of the Geneva Convention, it makes for a far more open discussion if everything is put on the table so that we can examine the issues from all sides.

Fall is in the air in the Northern Hemisphere, and I am sure spring is beginning to show itself in the Southern Hemisphere, making much of the world a more pleasant place weatherwise. I hope where you are is as pleasant as Texas has been. Long-range weather forecast services I subscribe to are projecting a cold winter for the United States. We have avoided seriously cold weather in Texas for the last few years, but it looks like that lucky streak may be over.

You have a great week.

Your hoping to see a day when we can put all the madness behind us analyst,

John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box

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The Islamic Hatred of Modernity

Dr. Woody Brock
Strategic Economic Decisions, Inc.
April 26, 2016

“Not free thought for those that agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate”
– US Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 1929

Terrorism is here to stay, and it is now beginning to impact the economic performance of many nations – in particular the performance of the service sector. In this brief Memo, we set forth a few thoughts about what underlies this phenomenon, and what to do about it.

ISIS versus Modernity and the West

Relative Power of ISIS versus Europe: The usual determinants of relative power (e.g. wealth or the size of an army) are not very relevant to assessing the struggle between ISIS and the West. [By ISIS we refer not only to ISIS proper, but to any of its affiliated groups as well.] For the conflict is less a militaristic one than it is a war of nerves between Jihadists who carry out scattered sting operations, and Europeans and Americans lacking both the will and the coordination to properly respond. An additional source of Jihadist power stems from their status as True Believers, making them a very dangerous kind of opponent. Their moral certainty immunizes them against normal threats such as being killed. The number who do not fear death is sufficient to spell trouble for decades ahead.

What is it that makes these extremists so morally superior, and so hateful of the West? In part, their superiority stems from their absolute faith in the truth of the teachings of the Koran. But this is only the tip of an iceberg of hatred. For their religious convictions are amplified by their detestation of the cultural, economic, ethical, and political values of Westerners. At a deep level, their terrorism stems from their hatred of modernity itself. We in the West are seen as weak and morally dissolute. For not only do we possess no religious fervor, but we lack moral resolve of any kind due to the anesthetizing effects of our materialistic, welfare-based social system. Such ethical values as we have stem not from fear of any God, but rather from an attachment to mushy concepts of “fairness” ranging from the “right” to nine weeks of vacation, to the right to never be drafted to fight a war. In the US, citizens’ erstwhile chant of “give me liberty or give me death” has morphed into “give me liberty or give me latte.” All in all, ISIS’ conviction of holding the moral high ground is a major source of their power over the West.

Reinforcing this power of fundamentalists is their strategy of implementing fragmented hit-or- miss strikes. They specialize in ongoing, unnerving terrorist attacks in public places. The West’s superiority in the number of security personnel and in intelligence-gathering does little to prevent these random attacks which can occur in hundreds of different emporia. In this regard, it is sobering that more than 5,000 EU-based fighters have already been to Syria for training in terrorist tactics, according to the US-based consultancy Soufan. This number will grow given the poor economic conditions in Europe where the unemployment rate of males under 30 exceeds 25% in many nations.

Finally, today’s ongoing Jihadist attacks are concurrent with the new European immigration crisis. Given the implications of soaring immigration for tighter border controls, the increasing threat of Brexit, and problems endemic to the Euro, it is likely that the EU as we have known it will cease to exist. There will then be no semblance of any “unified” EU stance against ISIS. Instead, we will observe fragmented and ineffectual responses as well as the suspension of many civil liberties now taken for granted.

This brief analysis suggests that the power of ISIS against Europe is much greater than might appear to be the case, despite Europe’s greatly superior power as traditionally measured.

A War against Modernity: The importance of the culture war underlying the Jihadists’ hatred of Westerners cannot be understated. In their eyes, we are modernist devil worshippers. Women should be kept at home, devoid of any rights. They should be virgins when they marry. Adultery is a sin punishable by death, as is homosexuality. The fact that many citizens of Muslim nations do not share these views does not seem to matter. Consider Iran: the majority of the people value democracy, and even look favorably on the US. But so what? The Mullahs and the Red Guard rule with an iron fist, as we have seen during the recent elections when the candidates favored by most voters were stricken from ballot list. Moreover, Iran’s autocratic leaders are out in front in an effort to fund terrorist groups, in one form or another.

Consider the words of the eminent Simon Schama in a recent March 26 Financial Times Op-Ed piece:

We are not talking fine points of Shia-Sunni theological controversy here. By every means possible Isis is at pains to let us know they will kill as many of us as it takes to sow such mayhem in the heartland of the kaffir world that it will be impossible to resist mobilising the “Crusader” army for the promised apocalyptic showdown out of which the Caliphate will emerge forever victorious.

Also consider the comments of Professor R. Vaidanathan of the IIMB in Bangalore:

Radical Islam is not fighting Christianity – which anyhow is dead in Europe – but it is fighting modernity. Islam is frightened of modernity destroying their religion and culture, however unacceptable this culture may be to European liberals.....

Europe thought – à la Merkel – that they can buy peace with radical Islam by “requesting” them to integrate. But integrate with what? Integrate with “immoral Europe” where women are exhibited as “open meat”[(in the words of the Australian Imam] who are “poisonous.” [https://rvaidya2000.com/2016/03/23/idea-of-europe-is-dead/]

Contrast ISIS’ moral resolve with the pusillanimous attitude of Westerners. Most assert their disapproval of fundamentalism, of course. But their live-and-let-live attitude sees it as a “right” for people to “express their views” and espouse any religion they wish – including the Religion of Hate. The problem with this view is that the Religion of Hate is unlike any other religion in espousing the murder of all non-believers. Excessive tolerance further undermines the will of the West to fight back against Jihadism in a resolute way.

How the West Can Best Deal with Fundamentalism – Insights from Game Theory

In game theory, there is a fundamental distinction between positive-sum bargaining games, and zero-sum games. In bargaining games, it is assumed that both sides can be better off by agreeing on a way to “divide the pie” instead of playing their optimal threat strategies and ending up with no pie – or worse. All such games are positive-sum in nature. In a zero-sum game, however, there is no pie to divide, and no bargaining compromise is possible.

Most of the analyses of how the West should confront fundamentalism fail to make this all-important distinction. Analysts implicitly assume that negotiation strategies exist, strategies that will somehow end up with an acceptable compromise. President Obama’s stance towards Iran, Russia and China offer examples of this approach. In all three cases, he turned the other cheek, and attempted to “reset” relations with these nations expecting they would reciprocate. All would end up better off. But his antagonists ended up taking full advantage of his weakness, reneged on many agreements, and made Obama look as incompetent at bargaining as he has proven to be.

Professor Schama is right in his comments above. He is stating that, in effect, we are playing a zero-sum game. ISIS wants nothing from us in exchange for something. They simply want to destroy us. Analogously, Iran has no intention of settling with Israel. Its stated goal is the elimination of Israel. In such cases, the optimal strategy (for the West) is to identify the enemy’s vulnerabilities, and having done so, to sow as much grief and pain as possible. The fact that the enemy are scattered and that some of their recruits are happy to blow themselves up does not relieve us of the responsibility to hit where it hurts: recruits that do not wish to die (the vast majority), all training camps (we know where some thirty of these are located), family members, etc. We must pursue such targets both on their home ground, as well as within the EU and the US. There is also the question of how to extract intelligence from terrorist murderers who are captured. Just as an intelligent economist does not believe in free trade for a nation unless other nations follow suit, likewise enemies should be treated in accord with the Geneva Conventions only if they themselves adhere to them, adherence enforced by, say, an effective United Nations if one ever exists. Saying this is, of course, politically incorrect in the extreme. But reality beckons.

The currently fashionable suggestion that what is needed is “for Europe to better ‘integrate’ immigrants” is as vacuous as the citations above assert. Most immigrants want to and are able to integrate over time. They end up great assets of the nations they immigrate to. But as a matter of faith, the bad guys will never integrate into that world of sinners they hate. The West needs a coherent, broad-based, long campaign dedicated to destroying every aspect of terrorist operations. This need not imply a decade with large numbers of troops on the ground. But there will be phases requiring such a presence. Just consider what Russia achieved in its recent and relatively mild strategy against the opposition to the Assad regime. They hit hard, it worked, and they have now pulled back – for the moment. Their effectiveness yet again renders the indecision of President Obama a national embarrassment.

Within Europe, security must of course be tightened, but not at the expense of the crippling day to day economic life of people – precisely the outcome ISIS seeks. Leaders should encourage a much more stiff-upper-lip response by citizens than they have.


Political Correctness and the Lack of Sense of Humor in All True Believers

There is one common denominator of all True Believers, namely a lack of sense of humor. This is as true of terrorists as it is of today’s political correctness police in the US, spearheaded by those who traffic in wooly ideas about gender and class. What is happening on US campuses is outrageous, and recalls the moral absolutism espoused by Jihadists overseas. Freedom of speech is being seriously abridged, as are rights of free association. To repeal the right to free speech, all that is needed is some belief that certain comments are “inappropriate,” to use the word of the moment. “Trigger notices” warning that eight Shakespeare plays should not be taught constitute a reductio ad absurdum on the part of university heads. As for the rights of male students to a fair hearing in the case of alleged sexual harassment, hyper-risk-averse “administrative panels” now serve as prosecutor, judge, and jury. There is often no way for an accused male student to receive a proper defense. When the right to self-defense is abridged, it is time to vacate the new status quo.

What US Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in 1929 about the all-important right of freedom of thought and speech (cited at the opening of this essay) remains as true today as it was eighty-seven years ago. Silencing people who say things you do not want to hear amounts to a surrender to oppression. If the PC police resent this reality, they should perhaps recall the words of President Truman: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Discuss This


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Ivan Jackson

Oct. 6, 2016, 1:56 p.m.

I found the article thought-provoking, agreeing with some points and disagreeing with others.  Hence the “outside the boxness” of it.  However, the postscript seems to have lifted the veil on Dr. Brock’s attitudes towards what I’d call modernity.  Fear of new ideas and cultural change are nothing new, this places some similarities between him and the purported True Believers in his essay.  New ideas and attitudes are generally created by and normalized by the youth in our society and adopted over time as norms.  While I have read some colleges pushing the boundaries on acceptable speech and behavior (the 1st amendment protects ugly behavior and speech because to do otherwise would taint the word “freedom”), it is not something to be placed beside terrorism as a lens with which to view it.  Disagreeing with the practices of some universities or colleges is acceptable, but somehow the fact that there are now collegiate repercussions to men who perpetrate sexual assault on college campuses stokes outrage in Brock.  To bring the example of sexual assault and how it’s unfair to the male in the equation, it’s a mystery to me how this came up when talking Islamic State and their lack of modernity.  The world is evolving, and he is clearly not part of that process.


Sep. 29, 2016, 10:29 p.m.

Judging by many of the comments, I would have to agree with the Jihadist about one point - Americans are weak.  That is,  at least many are weak minded.  I can only imagine the world we would be living in today had the current PC thinkers on the left been plotting our strategy to defeat the Germans.  People love to dream up similarities between Hitler and conservatives - part of the left’s new name calling strategy.  Ironically, it was the British conservatives of yesteryear that didn’t listen to Mr. Chamberlain and rallied to fight rather than appease and make excuses.  History seems to be repeating itself.  Let’s hope we have a similar conclusion when it comes to our current enemy.

Dallas Kennedy

Sep. 29, 2016, 3:40 p.m.

Pointed and appropriate. Terrorism doesn’t kill as many people as car accidents, but car accidents aren’t a political program. Terrorism is. It has a political point, to demoralize and derange political elites into concessions, collapse, or reacting in crazy ways, while panicking the population at large.

The Geneva conventions are inappropriate for ISIS and the like, because such conventions are agreed upon in a way that reflects the last war. Originally, it was about limited military technology; then, after World War II, to regulate treatment of civilian populations during war and occupation—all reflecting the world wars of the first half of the 20th century.

However, that doesn’t mean we need no rules around this conflict. They need to be considered afresh in light of the nature of the conflict. Pretending that this is a crime for civilian courts or like wars between armies and states is a crock and just increases the pressure for radical steps and exposes the current elites as bankrupt—in denial of plain facts. That bankruptcy and denial explain why politics in the Western countries is becoming more and more nutty.

Ski Milburn

Sep. 29, 2016, 1:56 p.m.

I like a lot of what Woody has to say, but what a hot mess this is.  And the PC Postscript, something from another planet.  Interesting, possibly even valid, but so beside the point.  I think ISIS has fried Woody’s brain, which is of course, their Big Plan.

The brilliance of it, is to take a few insignificant attacks, and blow them up in our Western minds as something existential, Woody’s reaction Exhibit Number One.

Seriously, automobile crashes kill the equivalent of a 737 full of people just about every day, and we’re not threatening to overturn our own liberal democracies over it.  Not to downplay 9/11, but we’d done it to ourselves, again, before the month was over.  Did we invade Detroit?  Or Stuttgart, or Nagoya?

Of course we didn’t, we just accept it as the price of our way of life.

So why does ISIS hate modernity?  I think the Koran is too easy to blame.  It’s more like, if you were living in Europe in the dark ages and the local Warlord-King suddenly got helicopters, walkie-talkies, and AK-47s, you’d hate modernity too.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss and a thousand times more deadly.

What I see is a common thread globally between the Taliban, Al-Gaeda and ISIS in the Middle East, and the Al-Right populists in the West is not so much a irrational or religious hatred of modernity, but the legitimate hatred of what the modern world has done to people not in the elite, and the fear of what it might do next.

Some days you wake up feeling like Sampson, and the best thing you can do is pull the temple down on yourself, and everyone.

Fearing ISIS is the distraction from solving the real problem, the chains that bind ISIS to the temple columns.


Sep. 29, 2016, 1:05 p.m.

I think that game theory could also be perfectly applied to the culture war going on in the US.  The lightening pace liberalism - which mandates absolution through such idealisms as political correctness on steroids, empathy as the cornerstone of political activism and governance, entitlement mentality gone mad, generosity without regard to affordability, an inability to argue or self-actualize the moral hazard in policy decisions - is fundamentally applying a new type of ‘logic’ (or non-logic) in our collective ‘conversation’.  On the other hand, the conservative establishment’s inability to bend to changing times is emblematic of pure absolutism (or a zero-sum game).  Indeed, both sides of the American politics and culture are playing a zero-sum game, with larger effects and impacts with each passing day.  The villain in all of this is Absolutism and zero-sum mentality:  winner takes all.  In the war on terror, only one side’s view is thru the prism of zero-sum.  I think that for our political polarization, both sides are playing a zero-sum game.  And this is so frightening.  And the new phenomenon defined as ‘trigger warnings’ on our college campuses is just the latest example of a strict adherence to an absolute zero-sum game.  Scary for sure.


Sep. 29, 2016, 11:40 a.m.

Actually when one studies Muslims, they come in all sorts of flavors and always have. The thing is that the Shia are not Luddites, in fact, it is the very sophistication of Iranian society and their desire to embrace technology that we see as so dangerous. The Sunni’s, especially the followers of Qtib and Wahabbis, who are anti-Western and want to return to some long dead bygone era.


Sep. 29, 2016, 10:42 a.m.

This to me says trump is the right candidate for president. His open dialogue comes directly from his brashness against PC.

William Hermann

Sep. 29, 2016, 9:10 a.m.

Thank you John for bringing this article to all your readers—it is important to consider.  Brock addresses the timeless continuum/spectrum of moral/religious beliefs that have sparked wars throughout human existence.  At times the spectrum enlarges; and, those who hold strongly to belief structures at the “poles” perceive a challenge to their preferred way of life and, predictable, serious consequences result.  Advances in technology and communication are the current catalysts to ignite this round.

On the moral spectrum, you see the same concerns in our election process between what is called the “religious right” and the “progressives”, of course this is a non-violent confrontation at the ballot box. However, I think we can agree the gap on the spectrum has widened this cycle with all the vitriol we experience.  This spectrum is why a single globalist agenda, free of moral judgment,as envisioned by many, will never be adopted on a peaceful basis.  Such an intellectual, human construct will only come about through brute force to collapse the spectrum under the guise of being all inclusive.  The maligned word “nationalism” is really a recognition of the moral spectrum, the need to respect the position of each community/state, and give it some “space” to be free to practice their beliefs without interference.  The settlers of our country sought such “space” at great risk and sacrifice but today we have pretty much run out of real estate.

Andrew O'Flaherty

Sep. 29, 2016, 7:57 a.m.

Brock has nailed the problem: we cannot negotiate with people who will never negotiate! There really is no grey area with them no matter how much the politicans, academia and other “elites” wish it. It is past time that the civilized world recognize these facts of life and take coordinated action to root these monsters out.

Cassim Jivraj

Sep. 29, 2016, 6:59 a.m.

The article is absolutely wrong on so many levels I question why you have given it any credibility by sending it out at all.  The daesh and queerda murderers have all not even read the Quran let alone subscribe to any of its ‘teachings’.  The author appears to have his own perverted agenda with back handed insults like calling the murdering psycopaths funded by various similarly warped vested interests (wait for it) - True Believers ?? really?
Yes there are many who for various reasons including religious, shun ‘modernity’.  For example I refuse to sign up to fessbook and do not wish to have a smartphone staying with my simple efficient ordinary cellphone but those who shun ‘modernity’ generally do it quietly and certainly do not need these inflammatory articles that are no less harmful for their power to incite than are the daesh and the al-queerdos of the world.

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