What is the ‘Incel Revolution’ and Why Should I Care?

(Illustrative Photo: Flickr/Tatiana T/https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode)
(Illustrative Photo: Flickr/Tatiana T/https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode)

The suspected Toronto van killer, Alek Minassian, posted a Facebook comment before his attack praising Elliot Rodgers and stating that “the Incel revolution has begun.”

So what is the Incel Revolution? What does it have to do with Islamism? And why should you care?

 

What is the Incel Revolution?

Incel stands for “involuntarily celibate.” It is an online community of men who have not had sex and believe they are doomed to fail with women because they are naturally unattractive or have uncharismatic personalities.

Incel.me, a major messaging board for the community has this short introduction posted explaining who they are and what they want. The site claims Alex Minassian has never been a member. However, another post says women should “have sex with an incel” in order to “stop the next Alex Minassian,” so his ideas are clearly germinating there.

The revolution part was inspired by Elliot Rodgers’ decision to murder six people before killing himself in 2014. It seems like an attempt to inspire copycat attacks by other incels in the future. One commenter chillingly posted (correctly), “You can’t ban hatred, hate is all it takes to go do a mass killing event.”

It remains to be seen whether this will further snowball into a broader phenomenon.

 

What Does This Have to Do With Islamism?

Observing the Incel phenomenon, we see many of the same patterns as exist in jihadi rhetoric. There is an exaggerated concern with masculinity and strength. There are hateful ideas about women and sex.

There are also anger issues surrounding exclusion and shame. If you listen to jihadi nasheeds, many of them deal with humiliation and dignity.

Polygamy, which is commonly practiced in many Muslim countries, can also be a driver for terrorism. This is because richer, older men take most of the women for themselves, leaving large sections of the male population with no way of finding a bride. On the other hand, Malam Muhammadu Sanusi II, of the most senior Islamic leaders in Nigeria, the Emir of Kano, said that polygamy was a serious problem in his country. He blamed it for exacerbating the violence, leading to men having more children than they can support, who are then easy prey for extremist recruiters.

 

Identity Politics

But there is a broader psychological pattern whereby a person takes the internal pain and self-pity that they feel and externalizes it against an outside group. In the incel narrative, it’s women and their refusal to provide sex that causes pain. In the case of jihadis, it’s the kuffar, non-believers, who conspire against Muslims to bring them down.

Clinical psychologist and academic Dr. Jordan Peterson explains the process in a post on his blog relating to anti-Semitism.

“Firstly, psychologically speaking: why do the reactionary conspiracy theorists even bother? This is a straightforward matter. If you’re misguided enough to play identity politics, whether on the left or the right, then you require a victim (in the right-wing case, European culture or some variant) and a perpetrator (Jews). Otherwise you can’t play the game (a YouTube video I made explicating the rules can be found here).

Once you determine to play, however, you benefit in a number of ways. You can claim responsibility for the accomplishments of your group you feel racially/ethnically akin to without actually having to accomplish anything yourself.

That’s convenient. You can identify with the hypothetical victimization of that group and feel sorry for yourself and pleased at your compassion simultaneously. Another unearned victory.

You simplify your world radically, as well. All the problems you face now have a cause, and a single one, so you can dispense with the unpleasant difficulty of thinking things through in detail. Bonus.

Furthermore, and most reprehensibly: you now have someone to hate (and, what’s worse, with a good conscience) so your unrecognized resentment and cowardly and incompetent failure to deal with the world forthrightly can find a target, and you can feel morally superior in your consequent persecution (see Germany, Nazi for further evidence and information).”

Islamism provides Muslims who are angry with the world a clear cut ideology that enables them to feel righteous in blaming all their problems on others. This ideology is important, because it provides the framework that justifies this toxic psychological pathway.

Incels seem to have formed a toxic identity around their perennial virginity and are lashing out against the populace at large. It is no surprise that many in the incel community use openly racist rhetoric as well.

 

Where Is This Nihilistic Rage Coming From?

Both incels and Western jihadist recruits seem to be motivated by variations on the same theme of rootless rage. “The answer is not simple. We end up talking about, say, gun laws and all these very surface things,” Angela Nagle, author of Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right told The Guardian.

“But in America in particular, the root of this is very, very deep. It’s my view that the kind of cultural revolution that came to fruition in the 60s, where people were questioning older institutions, was very successful in the breaking down of those institutions.

“But I think it’s fair to say, if you look at contemporary American society, that there has been a failure to replace those institutions with anything new to hold society together. So they would say: ‘Women are just out for themselves, so the way to respond to that is to get some muscles and trick them.’ Love never enters into it. Trust in other people, it’s all gone. It’s a very, very bleak worldview. And they’re not getting that from nowhere.”

There is a clear parallel with Islamism. Second and third generation immigrants struggling to integrate and hold to their identity at the same time — in psychological terms, trying to negotiate the process of acculturation — find a ready solution in Islamism: blame the kuffar.

“For those who find themselves at odds with the culture of their parents, and yet are met with hostility from the culture of the society they live in, exiting the acculturation paradigm to embrace a third culture that provides them with a sense of belonging may be an appealing option,” psychiatrist Kamran Ahmed wrote in The Guardian.

“In this case their minds become fertile ground for radicalization. This is akin to the pathway into gang culture for young people around the world – a sense of alienation from family and society at large delivers them into the hands of older gang leaders. The counterculture for young Muslim men at odds with society nowadays is not gang culture but radical extremist factions that offer self-esteem and identity in exchange for allegiance to a violent and morally bankrupt manifesto. Once they are members of the subversive peer group, alarming ideas and behaviors can become normalized very quickly indeed.”

Both of these are examples of a failure to transition successfully from puberty to adulthood and become a part of a healthy society. When a whole society becomes like this, as the Islamists want to see, it becomes authoritarian and extremely unjust. The Taliban’s Afghanistan and the rule imposed in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State are prime examples.

 

So What Can Be Done?

Feminists often identify this problem as Vice Canada did today, arguing Toxic Masculinity is at the Heart of This Darkness. The notion of toxic masculinity is that an unhealthy obsession with strength, not expressing emotions, sexual conquest, power and wealth come to be identified with what it means to be a man. The impossibility of living up to this unrealistic and inhuman ideal causes all sorts of repressed emotional problems.

Some feminists argue, essentially, that this means that masculinity itself is the problem and that men need to talk about their feelings and stop competing. This is to miss the point. Trying to further repress one’s masculinity isn’t a recipe for health, it’s a recipe for more neuroses. Toxic masculinity isn’t an excess of it, it’s a mishaped, half-formed version. Muslim youth attracted to jihadism are joining that movement in the absence of flourishing, well integrated, positive versions of how to be a Muslim and an American or Brit and a man at the same time.

There is a proverb that says, “If you do not initiate the young men into the tribe, they will burn down the village just to feel its warmth.” There are several organizations seeking to hit this problem from a positive masculinity angle, training men to find a healthy sense of purpose and acculturation, in an absence of those traditional structures.

Alchemy Inc teaches young men in Ohio “to develop a sense of purpose in life and to thrive as members of a family, school and community.” They do this through use of drumming and mythological storytelling as a way of teaching the young men how to process emotions. They have helped over 1,500 young men since 2003.

Dr Peterson collaborated on the Self Authoring program, which works to give troubled young people a sense of ownership of their own futures. In his lectures, he attests to the transformative power this program has had on the lives of previously disenfranchised young men.

Nihilism in disenfranchised young men is a national security issue. If efforts to counter extremism are serious, we would do well to compare and contrast different forms of extremism and investigate further when common themes such as toxic masculinity emerge and study programs that have been successful in dealing with it.

 

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Elliot Friedland
Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.

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