THE SPINE MAY 11, 2010
A dazzling essay by Fouad Ajami in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal made the point, apropos Faisal Shahzad, that the bestowal of citizenship “gave him the precious gift of an American passport but made no demands on him.” It also allowed him to travel 13 times to Pakistan and back over the last seven years—just one exemplar of the hundreds of thousands (more likely millions) of youngish men who have both domicile and liberties in the West but burn with fire for the perilous fevers of the Old Country. This was not generally as it was when your people came to America.
This piece by Ajami is titled “Islam’s Nowhere Men,” and nowhere is exactly where they are. Not simply in the geographical sense. But in the psychological sense, as well. There is, I suppose, no precise prototype of them. Still, the last two failed miscreants—the would-be Christmas bomber of Northwest Flight 253 and the mass killer-presumptive of Times Square—were both children of rank and wealth. Poor boys! Unlike the aristocratic narodniki of 19th century Russia, their aims are not to relieve the economically distressed—murderous Islamic jihad is in that sense hardly a social movement at all—but to bring all human beings to the sublime truths of Allah.
Which, to be sure, for Shahzad included the seediest of existences. As it was for the 19 spectacularly successful butchers of 9/11, a few of whom went to school in America, like the dim-witted Pakistani immigrant who was given a student visa with the idea that he would make a contribution somewhere.
Like Shahzad almost certainly, the young male immigrants and, for that matter, many sons of immigrants from the Muslim orbit are not born with their rancor for America (and the West) but grow into it. Ajami argues that this is actually a new phenomenon.
In an earlier age ... the world was altogether different. Mass migration from the Islamic world had not begun. The immigrants who turned up in Western lands were few, and they were keen to put the old lands, and their feuds and attachments, behind them. Islam was then a religion of Afro-Asia: it had not yet put down roots in Western Europe and the New World...
The new lands, too, made their own claims, and the dominant ideology was one of assimilation. The national borders were real, and reflected deep civilizational differences. It was easy to tell where “the East” ended and the Western lands began. Postmodern ideas had not made their appearance. Western guilt had not become an article of faith in the West itself.
Nowadays the Islamic faith is portable. It is carried by itinerant preachers and imams who transmit its teachings to all corners of the world, and from the safety and plenty of the West they often agitate against the very economic and moral order that sustains them. Satellite television plays its part in this new agitation, and the Islam of the tele-preachers is one of damnation and fire. From tranquil and banal places (Dubai and Qatar). satellite television offers an incendiary version of the faith to younger immigrants unsettled by a modern civilization they can neither master nor reject.
Ajami unaccountably omits the role of the Internet and its furtive and flamboyant messengers of Mecca in this revolution. But he is surely aware of it.
There are also “the secular parents and the radicalized children” which is “a tale of Islam, that broken pact with modernity, the mothers who fought to shed the veil and the daughters who now wish to wear the burqa in Paris and Milan.”
Here is Ajami’s summation, which I believe is the essence of the argument—an argument to which I subscribe:
The young man who would do his best to secure an American education before succumbing to the call of the jihad is a man in the grip of a deep schizophrenia. The overcrowded cities—from Karachi and Casablanca to Cairo—and those cities in Europe and North America where the Islamic diaspora is now present in force have untold multitudes of men like Faisal Shahzad.
This is a long twilight war, the struggle against radical Islamism. We can’t wish it away. No strategy of “hearts and minds,” no great outreach, will bring this struggle to an end. America can’t conciliate these furies. These men of nowhere—Faisal Shahad, Nidal Malik Hasan, the American-born renegade cleric Anwar Awlaki now holed up in Yemen and their likes—are a deadly breed of combatants in this new kind of war. Modernity both attracts and unsettles them. America is at once the object of their dreams and the scapegoat onto which they project their deepest malignancies.
The Obama administration has banished both the appellation and the essence of radical Islam from its workbooks and strategic planning. But it cannot eliminate them from the real world. The more the president indulges himself in his prettified recreation of the Muslim dominion the more his blueprints will fail.