In Political Pilgrims, the sociologist Paul Hollander exposes and excoriates the mentality of a certain kind of Western intellectual, who, such is the depth of his estrangement or alienation from his own society, is predisposed to extend sympathy to virtually any opposing political system.
The book is about the travels of 20th-century Western intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba, and how these political travelers were able to find in such repressive countries a model of “the good society” in which they could invest their brightest hopes. Hollander documents in relentless and mortifying detail how this utopian impulse, driven by a deep discontent with their own societies, led them to deny or excuse the myriad moral defects of the places they visited.
But the significance of Political Pilgrims extends far beyond its immediate subject matter, and its insights may help to illuminate the mentality of that most recent and disconcerting set of pilgrims: namely, the Western migrants to the Islamic State, whose estrangement from their own societies can prime them to idealize the so-called Islamic State and overlook or justify its terrible human-rights abuses.
It is estimated that around 4,000 people have left their homes in the West to migrate to ISIS. Many have become jihadist fighters in the apparent hope of achieving martyrdom. A significant number—over 550 women—seem to have gone to become mothers and raise the next generation of jihadist “lions.” Some have left to put their medical expertise to use, and others to help in whatever capacity they can. Their motives are as mixed as their backgrounds. Indeed, the striking fact about these new pilgrims is that they don’t fit any single profile. They represent a broad spectrum of humanity, from former rappers and gangbangers to grandparents and gifted students.