Before the jetliners made their fateful rendezvous with the World Trade Center, like most Americans I was relatively ignorant about Islam. I knew Muslims had a Book and considered themselves “children of Abraham”. I knew they prayed towards Mecca, and worshipped in mosques. I knew their Prophet was called Mohammed. I remembered that Malcolm X was a Muslim, and that the Crusades were initiated to liberate Jerusalem from Islam during the Middle Ages. I knew that Islamic fundamentalists had taken over the government of Afghanistan in the 1990s. But that was about it.
I’ve learned a lot about Islam since September 11th, 2001.
As soon as the second plane hit the WTC, when it was obvious that the incident was a deliberate attack and not an accident, the idea of Islamic terrorists came into my head. After all, there was a precedent to recall, the first attack in 1993 and the “blind sheikh”. Just because our racial profiling after the Oklahoma City bombing was proved wrong didn’t mean that Muslims weren’t involved in this one.
And I’d heard of Osama bin Laden before — he figured prominently in the reporting on the US embassy bombings in 1998, after all — so when his name came up, it made sense.
But there were so many other names to learn, so many other factions! All those terrorist groups — there were more than just Hamas and Hizbullah: Al Qaeda, Ansar Al-Islam, Jamaat ul-Fuqra, Jemaah Islamiyah, Mujahedin-e Khalq, Abu Sayyaf, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba… A seemingly endless list of unpronounceable names.
I learned that Osama bin Laden was a Sunni, a member of a particular branch of Islam, and that there were other branches, each with its own terrorist leaders. Sufism is often considered a peaceful and enlightened form of Islam, but Sheikh Syed Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani is a Sufi, and also the head of a brutal terrorist organization with an extensive network right here in the United States of America.
The main rival to the Sunni branch is that of the Shi’a, who recognize the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law Ali as his successor rather than the Four Caliphs. Iran is the most prominent Shi’ite country in the world, and with the accession to power in 1979 of the Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran became the world’s first Islamic terrorist regime. Khomeini and his successors have fed an assortment of terrorist groups across the world, the most notorious being Hizbullah in Lebanon.
If these fellows were military leaders or the capos of crime families, one would expect that killing or incapacitating them would seriously damage the functionality of their organizations. But Osama bin Laden has been dead or holed up in a cave somewhere for more than four years. And despite the cheesy audio tapes he purportedly issues from time to time, he is no longer in operational control of Al Qaeda. Even so, the organization continues to function; combating it requires ongoing ingenious low-level counterintelligence and interdiction.
In fact, dangerous Islamic terrorists already operate outside of Al Qaeda’s structure. Consider the latest incident in the United States, the arrest of the Sears Tower conspirators. By all accounts these are strange and marginal Al Qaeda wannabes, and were captured in a sting when trying to make contact with Osama’s people. The recently arrested Canadian terrorists seem to be similarly home-grown, as were the members of the California terrorist cell that was accidentally exposed by sloppy practices during the robbery of a convenience store.
Then we have John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, inspired by Osama bin Laden and possibly relying on Sheikh Gilani’s people for help, but acting alone while terrorizing an entire metropolitan area for weeks. Sunni or Sufi? And taking orders from whom? Either question is hard to answer.
The notorious Richard Reid, a.k.a. the “Shoe Bomber”, was loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda through various mosques and radical Islamic organizations in Britain. But a definitive chain of command, with a hierarchical terrorist structure passing orders to its operative, has never been fully established. Richard Reid converted to Islam, became devoted to the cause, got on a plane, and tried to blow it and himself up. That’s all we really know.
So what’s going on here? Where does all this come from? How do all the pieces fit together?
Osama bin Laden and many Sunni terrorists have looked to Sayyid Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood for inspiration and guidance. The Brotherhood originated in Egypt in 1928, but has opened chapters in other countries in the years since. In its structure and modus operandi it resembles Al Qaeda. Once again, however, there is no central authority giving orders or asserting control.
Not all the violent Shi’ite groups take orders from the Iranian mullahs, and not all the Sufi terrorists pay homage to Sheikh Gilani in Pakistan. Ultimately the only things all these people have in common are the Prophet and the Koran. Islam’s holy book demands violent jihad on behalf of the faith; it sanctions any means whatsoever to achieve the spread of Islam. Violent thugs blowing up children and beheading captives all over the world are simply carrying out the basic catechism of their religion.
But why now? Where are all these mujahideen coming from, and what’s fueling all this Koranic bloodshed?
To start with, there’s the explosion of Salafist funding. Thanks to the price of oil and the nefariously corrupt regime in Saudi Arabia, the Great Islamic Jihad devours a surfeit of resources the likes of which have not been seen for five hundred years or more. It’s no longer necessary to breach the walls of Constantinople and loot the cathedral, or send pirates out on a razzia to plunder wealthy merchant vessels: all the Saudis have to do is hire infidels to drill for the black goo and then sell it to other infidels. The proceeds from this lucrative racket have been plowed back into Sunni jihad activities across the globe, always disguised as “charity”.
So this is what pays for operations, but whence the cannon fodder to carry them out? All these disparate and disconnected people, training to carry out violence and willing to die in the process — where do they come from?
The Great Jihad goes trolling for potential shahids among convicted felons, particularly in the prisons of the United States, Canada, Britain, and Australia. The enlightened rehabilitative regimes in these countries install Islamic chaplains for their inmates. These religious functionaries are selected and funded by Saudi missionary organizations. Not to be outdone by the Sunnis, Sheikh Gilani’s Jamaat ul-Fuqra has an extensive prison-recruitment operation.
Islam has an impressive record of converting criminals, and this is where we find the key to unlock our mystery. The theology and ideology of Islam are eminently compatible with criminal behavior, and an operational jihad organization is functionally indistinguishable from a criminal enterprise. The Koran explicitly sanctions any method whatsoever to spread the faith, and forbids nothing when subjugating the infidel. Thus lying, stealing, rape, murder, torture, and genocide are not only acceptable, they are laudable and even mandatory when undertaken on behalf of the Ummah.
When a converted Muslim convict finishes his sentence, he not only returns to his accustomed lifestyle, he now has the protection, security, and camaraderie of his new brothers-in-jihad. In addition he has the assurance that his actions carry out the will of Allah! Who could ask for anything more?
The Chechen terrorists, then, are like the Russian mafia with a jihad ideology grafted on. Back in the 1980s Jamaat ul-Fuqra behaved like a criminal mob that occasionally blew up Hindu temples. Theft, fraud, battles over turf, the distribution of booty, the murder of rivals — all the standard elements of criminality are there, but gathered under the comforting blanket of ideology. There’s plenty of room for a cynical mobster to join in — after all, the rules and catch-phrases are few and easy to memorize; all he has to do is obey the boss, give up bacon, and hide his whiskey bottle. He can still abuse his moll; in fact, the Koran conveniently requires it.
When an Islamic terror group moves into a lawless area, we can expect it to absorb existing criminal structures — as has recently occurred in Somalia. This doesn’t mean that Al Capone would necessarily convert to Islam and submit to a more powerful emir as his new capo; the head of a traditional criminal enterprise might well choose to go down with all guns blazing. But much of his organization could be converted to jihad operations; there’s no reason a low-level gunsel wouldn’t find life under the new sheikh congenial to his taste.
But what about the non-cynical converts, the ones who really are willing to die for the cause? What about the true zealots like John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban”? Where do they come from?
I had a friend in my college days who was attracted to radical politics. “Power to the People”, “Smash the State”, “Revolution Now” — it was always about sticking it to the Man, questioning authority, and resisting all instances of state power. Nowadays he’s studying the Koran and talking about the power of the Jews, and is seriously considering converting to Islam.
There are probably psychological explanations for this constellation of behaviors — childhood abuse by a tyrannical father and so on — but the point is that such a person is going to find Islam, especially radical Islam, attractive.
A century and a half ago the same person would have embraced Anarchism. Instead of Mohammed, my friend would have gravitated towards Mikhail Bakunin. The same behaviors and motivations are there: absolute lawlessness coupled with absolute ideology. Push nihilism far enough in that direction, and you get a zeal that exceeds all others in its ferocity.
That’s where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi comes in. Simple criminal impulses cannot explain his behavior — the ordinary criminal would never have endured the life he had to live. Only dedication to an all-encompassing ideology of destruction could have produced such monstrous behavior.
And so we have what might be called a Demonic Convergence, a confluence of destructive impulses that Islam gathers unto itself. In the terms of Chaos Theory, Islam is a “basin attractor”, an asymptotic solution to all the differential equations of nihilistic human behavior.
Any impulse that longs to destroy Western Civilization — which, for the modern world, means all civilization — will gravitate towards Islam. The criminal gets ideological justification for his behavior, the sadist gets to rape and murder to his heart’s content, and the hippie radical gets to stick it to the Man for all eternity.
This is what we’re up against: the Big Tent of ideological nihilism. The closer any given society gets to the behavioral sink, the more Islamic it tends to become. Just look at the death-cult that is “Palestine”, voluntarily living under the yoke of the sadistic murderers of Hamas. Or the chaos of Somalia, now turning from the rule of the warlords to the rule of Shari’ah.
Or consider the banlieux of Paris, with their burning cars and rampaging “youths”. Those destructive and lawless kids are only marginally ideological, but they do know their identity, and it is most assuredly Islamic.
The West is scarcely equipped to deal with this Demonic Convergence. Our own ideology for the last century or so has coddled and encouraged the nihilistic outcasts of modernity, showering them with self-esteem and all the benefits of the welfare state.
When a glimmer of realization finally begins to show through, as formulated by the artists whose drawings ignited the Danish Mohammed cartoon crisis, it is quickly squelched by the keepers of the conventional wisdom. The violence engineered to create the crisis must be our own fault; after all, the grievances of any disaffected and marginal people are always our own fault.
The protesting Muslims reinforce the West’s suicidal tendencies, threatening violence in ways that an average law-abiding citizen would never be allowed to express. The shakedown always works; the protection racket has the desired effect. “Give us X — censorship of your publications, more social programs, government-funded mosques, the wearing of headscarves for our schoolgirls, separate swimming pools for men and women, an endless list — and we won’t bomb your transportation facilities or poison your water supply.” The craven, democratically-elected authorities (with the notable exception of the Danes) always cave in to the demands, and thus the ratchet gets turned up another notch, to rest there until the next crisis.
The final element of the Demonic Convergence, the coup de grace for Western Civilization, is provided by our own news media. Absolutely determined to end the administration of a particular American president and a particular political party, there is no limit to what they will do, no tactic to which they will not stoop, no secret they will not divulge, and no principle they will not betray in order to accomplish their purpose. The Saudis are better funded, but the Mainstream Media are more powerful, and together they provide a synergy that is capable of destroying us all.
These are the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle called “The 21st Century”, scattered on the table and the floor around you. How might they appear when they’re finally assembled?