There is a long history of popular struggles against colonialism and empire. While such movements often used violent means to pursue their ends, they were rarely “anti-western” in any existential sense. Rather they worked within a universalist moral framework that stressed freedom and emancipation for all humanity.

Over the past few decades these anti-imperialist traditions have unravelled. The new movements that have emerged in their place are often rooted in religious or ethnic identity, and are sectarian or separatist in form. This shift is linked to the wider decline of progressive social movements, the loss of faith in universalist values, and the replacement of ideological politics with the politics of identity. Moral norms have increasingly become tribal rather than universal. Political struggle for a better world has given way to inchoate identity-driven rage.

Why has radical Islam become the lightning rod for such rage? In part because of the conditions that have allowed Islamism to flourish; and in part because of the nature of fundamentalist faith in an age in which politics ideals have eroded. The failure of secular regimes in Muslim-majority countries, and their degeneration into brutal authoritarianism, has led many to associate secularism with repression, giving greater credibility to Islamist opposition. The cynicism of the west in backing authoritarian regimes when it suited them has inflamed anti-western passions. Misguided military interventions have helped destroy civil society, so hollowing out the space for Islamists to flourish, while also exacerbating hostility towards the west.