Razib Khan has several posts on the Islamic State. The commenters seem bemused and baffled by it all. Similarly, the threatened massacre of an obscure gnostic sect has briefly attracted the attention of Tyler Cowen, who has otherwise maintained a sphinx-like silence on the tectonic shifts in a region with millions of people. As I noted here,
Speaking of Syria, what is it with the whole world's radio silence on that region? Two countries drawn up by the British and French last century are disappearing, and ... nothing. I thought it was kind of a big deal when two states where millions of people live start disappearing. Maybe this is just me.
The explanation I think is that Westerners are just too cerebral at this point. We think nations are propositions, religion is poppycock, people are all the same, and on and on. Cerebral people in their exquisite mental constructs don't know how to deal with tangible things like biology and geography. Western culture has actually morphed into a bizarre inversion: the ideas, the computer models, are the reality, and the facts of life--gender, the iron laws, genetics--are just vestigial abstractions. Take our "rule of law," for example. This is getting kind of existentialist for me, but the older I get the more I think the "rule of law" just means a polity where the more intelligent and refined have the superior firepower. That's why we can enforce our Lockean property rights over a Robert Mugabe-type's vision of property rights: the right to take your stuff and give it to my family and friends. I promise you that Robert Mugabe is as sincere in his beliefs as Ron Paul is in his.
I've mentioned before about my encounters with Syrian immigrants: intelligent, refined people who cannot believe their country evaporated in a matter of months. They lash out, insisting that before American and Jewish interference Syria's sects were all in peaceful co-existence. They paid their bribes, worked their own patronage networks, famously did not pay taxes, and thought their Mediterranean lifestyle of clubs and cafe's and elaborate dinner parties would continue forever. Meanwhile, in Reality Land, their lifestyle was only enabled by the Assad family working very hard to brutalize and suppress Wahabbists, who in the meantime were having 4 to 6 or 8 children for the Alawites' and Christians' 1 to 2 or 0. Then everybody noticed the Alawites and Christians were outnumbered 5 to 1. Fin. Shocking, just shocking.
Cerebral Westerners keep telling themselves Dar al-Islam can’t be real, and yet this bit of unreality has forced the cession of large chunks of two populous states, complete with infrastructure. This neo-Caliphate which we assure ourselves cannot persist just keeps on persisting. The civil order appears intact, and everybody seems to have enough food and water. (Time, of course, will tell.)
Speaking of unreality and radio silence, libertarians are strikingly silent about the Middle East as well, other than to bleat about "fascism!" and "imperialism!" Over and over, we see what happens when the State's civil order breaks down: the soldiers and police run off to protect their families, and people start forming creedal and kinship networks for a new civis.
Actually, what you get every single time the secular order breaks down is patriarchy.
The Middle East is where a lot of libertarian and liberal ideals get mugged by reality. Israeli Jews don't promote open borders because they know it would be national suicide. Muslims fight Jews and Christians and other Muslims because they know there's only so much arable land and potable water to go around.
Westerners have been in the realm of ideation for too long. The soldiers of Dar al-Islam are monsters: they crucify and behead people and put the heads on fence posts. But as Bob Wallace notes, monsters are an instruction, a portent. The monsters are telling us it's all about blood and soil, and always will be, and "Rule of law" just means, "This is where the nice people live."