WHAT CHANGED? Why is militant Islam on the rise? There are several reasons, including increased mobility (so jihad recruiters can travel to other countries, for example), the multicultural and liberal democratic desire to stop dividing and conquering even militant countries, and letting them be, and new technologies like roadside bombs that allow small groups to inflict damage on larger groups.
There is also the added benefit of oil money, which is a large factor in global influence.
But let's look at one of the most interesting causes of the new rise of militancy: A side-effect of media technology such as radio, television, and the internet — unfavorable comparisons.
As long as Muslims lived in their own little village and didn't see much of what was happening in other villages or other countries, they had nothing to compare their situation with, and they could rest content with the fact that their religion was clearly superior, and Islam was the greatest thing ever.
But when they got television, radio, and the internet, they could clearly see something disturbing: Compared to the rest of the world, Muslim countries are backward, poor, third-world nobodies.
Now you would think that when someone sees their beliefs called into question, they would abandon them. And some certainly will. But an entirely different and perhaps counter-intuitive response is also possible: To become zealous believers.
An interesting experiment shows this surprising response from the inside (read more about it in the book, Influence). Two researchers joined a little cult undercover (in other words, the other members of the cult thought these two researchers were genuine believers). This cult had a leader who prophesied that aliens would come take them away right before the earth was destroyed. And the prophesy had a specific date and time.
On the night of the big event, the believers (including the two undercover researchers) sat around in the home of the Prophet, waiting for their alien taxi to pick them up.
Time ticked on. No taxi.
The researchers chose this group because the prophecy had a specific date. They wanted to find out what the believers would do with this obvious invalidation of the core belief of their "religion" (when the prophesy didn't come true).
What happened was fascinating. The believers up until the big event had pretty much kept their religion to themselves. They didn't try to push it on anyone or try very hard to recruit new believers.
But afterward, they went on an evangelistic rampage, working tirelessly to recruit new believers.
The researchers theorized that the recruiting was for the purpose of bolstering their flagging faith. In other words, they had doubts, and you can dispel doubts with numbers. If you and two other people believe in The Great Flying Spagetti Monster, you can be justifiably considered a nutcase. But if 10,000 of you believe the same thing, you will feel a lot more comfortable in your belief. It will bolster your faith. It will give you confidence.
I believe that's what is happening now with Islam.
Islam is going in two directions. There is a strong push to secularize and modernize Islam by some, as Muslims realize one of the reasons they are economically and culturally backward compared to the rest of the world is that their religion has limited them. So they want to change it. They want to alter the religion.
But another push is going in the opposite direction: Rampant recruiting, and upping the ante. Becoming more zealous and trying to follow the dictates of the religion more strictly. Unfortunately, it is a militant religion at its core, and so we see the recent rise of Islamic militancy.
Read more about the specific beliefs of Islam: The Terrifying Brilliance of the Islamic Memeplex.