THE HOLY-WARRIOR MATRIX- Muslims in America—
part 3 of 3
In Europe and the United States, counterterrorist officials spend little time tracking the followers of established fundamentalist movements, especially the Brotherhood. Above all else, they are trying to figure out how to spot young men and women who have shown no or few signs of accelerating radicalism but then, in a flash, go jihadist. Youth who have been overcome with a fascination for death and destruction, with killing and martyrdom, are much more likely to come from households where religious traditions and paternal authority have weakened and identities are in flux. A case like Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood killer, whose gradual radicalization really should have drawn closer attention from the FBI and military counterintelligence, isn’t common. France’s internal security services, unquestionably the best counterterrorist forces in Europe, had several Islamic militants under surveillance who later became terrorists. This is true for both jihadists who returned from Syria and “homegrown” terrorists. Without seeing the case files, it’s difficult to assess whether the decisions to drop surveillance were reasonable, but it is entirely understandable how officers, who are constrained by finite resources, must pick and choose among militants who might go rogue. As a German interior-ministry official once remarked to me, the vast majority of the hundreds of German Muslims who’ve returned from Syria have come home for the right reasons: The Islamic State wasn’t what they expected; in the rear-view mirror, they realized Germany was their home. This pattern has surely been true for most of the returnees, regardless of their European origins. Internal security and intelligence services, however, can’t be 100 percent sure about their personality profiles, hence the need to deploy surveillance assets widely and the need to move those assets to new targets frequently. Good intelligence will sometimes preempt; often, it just won’t matter.
Homegrown Islamic terrorism surely springs forth, to an extent, from these troubles, but it is up in the air how much emphasis to give to these factors. The external factors, especially the rise of a charismatic, militarily successful Islamic movement that has explicitly created a modern version of early Islam’s conquest society, have been significant in inspiring a few thousand Westernized Muslims to dream of self-sacrifice and holy war. The Islamic State, and the ongoing war between Shiites and aggrieved Sunnis, has captured the imagination of Westernized Sunni Muslims much more effectively than al Qaeda, with its overriding anti-Americanism, has so far done.
We have no idea now how many of the West’s Muslims who have gone to fight in Syria actually want to become anti-Western holy warriors. If the experience of the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-1989) and the second Iraq war (2003-2011) offers lessons, the number who volunteer to fight in a hot war against infidels is exponentially greater than those who transition into a terrorist war against the West. Syria may be different. The Sunni rebellion against the Shiite Alawite dictatorship in Syria has obviously echoed among Sunni Muslims in the West more powerfully than any previous affront to Sunni pride. The carnage has been unparalleled. Nonradical Sunni Muslims, especially Arab Sunni Muslims, might seek to fight the Assad regime and its allies in the same way that American and European leftists went to fight alongside deplorable Communists against Francisco Franco and his fascist allies.
It has become a common view among Arab Sunnis that the United States and Europe have aligned themselves with Iran and its Iraqi and Syrian Shiite allies. (Given the Iranian nuclear deal, Barack Obama’s retreat from his chemical-weapons red line in 2013, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s Syrian diplomacy, that view isn’t without foundation.) The pro-Shiite American conspiracy theories, which now drive so many Sunni Muslim conversations, depict the United States as an eager enabler of Iranian imperialism.
This toxic brew, which is destined to get worse if Assad pushes beyond Aleppo deeper into Sunni territory, could continue to galvanize Sunni Muslims in Europe and the United States even if the Islamic State’s Syrian capital Raqqa and its Iraqi stronghold in Mosul fall. The Islamic State could implode, collapsing into an organization like al Qaeda, a more tight-knit group whose preeminent aspiration is to kill Americans. Some of its fractured parts could even rejoin al Qaeda. Chastened and chased, its Iraqi core could refocus its effort to rally Iraqi Sunnis to hold fast against the Iraqi Shiite-Iranian-American assault. A guerre à outrance between Sunnis and Shiites is the likely future in Syria, barring Western intervention. Continuing sectarian war in Iraq is a certainty if Iran maintains its Iraqi militias. Revolutionary ecumenicalism, which used to be the guiding faith of Iran’s ruling clergy, has evolved into cold-blooded sectarianism, which has so far successfully exploited the 50-50 population split between Sunnis and Shiites in the Near East. Could the Islamic State collapse, the Sunni-Shiite struggle intensify, and the jihad among Western Muslims against the United States and Europe relent? Possibly. But when Sunni-Shiite antagonism superheats, virulently anti-Western propaganda on both sides rises. The odds are decent that the collapse of the Islamic State—the fall of Raqqa and Mosul, and the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the new “caliph”—won’t cripple the appeal of anti-Western terrorism among militants who live to kill. The death of Osama bin Laden has had no lasting effect on al Qaeda’s efforts to rebuild its forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan and form alliances with radical groups throughout the Greater Middle East.
We do know that violent radicalism among Europe’s disenchanted young has a long history. In Europe are today’s Muslim disenchanted—those willing to kill and die—more numerous than the hard-left, violent European youth of yesteryear? Muslim families, with their hitherto resilient patriarchal structure, have weakened in Europe. They have weakened in the Middle East, if not collapsed in lands destroyed by decades of pulverizing authoritarian rule, rebellion, and war. Young Muslim men now act in ways that would have been unthinkable—unspeakable—for their grandfathers. In Europe this volatility has been made worse by Merkel’s decision to allow in more than a million refugees without regard to gender: Many more young men have come to Europe than women. Integrating young men shorn from families and culturally adrift, men who will find it difficult to find European women willing to become their partners, will prove challenging. A new wave of mail-order wives from the Middle East seems unavoidable. Creating stable family structures for the new immigrants, especially in a Europe where marriage is declining, may prove daunting.
Roughly a quarter of America’s Muslims are black Americans whose immediate ancestors were native-born Christians. They have proven nearly impervious to jihadism. Assessing the character of their faith is difficult because “Black Islam” began as a highly heterodox, antiwhite movement and has become more orthodox and less racist as it has aged. Given how bigoted and conspiratorial Black Islam has been, how easily some of its members have thought the worst of America, one might have thought that they would have been on the cutting edge of the holy war against the United States.
And in that surprise we should take hope. The upside of Americanization has held its own against Islamic militancy, the rare toxic combination of factors that turn nonjihadist radicals into killers. There are good reasons to believe that Americanization will eventually extinguish the potential for domestic jihadism.
And we don’t know whether the most recent wave of refugees, and their children, will prove less, more, or similarly susceptible to Islamic militancy. Europe’s absorptive capacity may actually be as great as Merkel thinks it is. If jihadism jumps from the second to third generation, even after the Islamic State’s geographic and theological pretensions have been felled, then we can downgrade the influence of external factors on the generation of Western holy warriors.
There are certainly disturbing elements in the Muslim-American experience. Many American mosques have Saudi funds flowing into them, and that is never good. But the milieus created by these mosques usually don’t radiate the infidel hostility that one finds frequently around their Western European counterparts. Although one can find Muslim communities in the United States that have self-ghettoized, it’s trivial compared with what one sees in Europe (and in Canada). My son’s first and most beloved nanny isn’t probably atypical for devout Muslims who enter America’s cultural blender. Born in the Philippines, after years in Saudi Arabia, she eventually made her way to America and evolved. Married to a working-class Republican, she had no qualms and abundant, affectionate curiosity about caring for a Jewish-American family.
One of the lasting side-effects of Trump’s obnoxious campaign is that he has likely guaranteed Muslim Americans and Muslim immigrants, when they become citizens, will vote Democratic. The familial and personal ethics of faithful Muslims, similar to the mores of orthodox Christians and Jews, don’t incline them to vote for a political party that champions gay marriage, transgenderism, and other expressions of sexual liberation. Anti-Muslim sentiment, perhaps more so than even anti-Hispanic anger, is the canary-in-the-coal-mine of conservative American self-confidence. It’s an important part of the Small America mentality that will mean the electoral irrelevance of the Republican party if it persists.
The United States could absorb hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Muslim immigrants and refugees, without challenging the country’s ability to homogenize even the most refractory, sharia-loving newcomers. Would it increase the chance of Islamic terrorism? Yes. More Muslims in the United States mean more possible targets for recruiters, more chances for a radicalized Muslim to go rogue. America, unlike many European countries that made their choice decades ago by allowing large-scale Muslim immigration, can still choose to turn off the spigot by making family reunification more difficult, raising the bar on skills sought (higher education seems to degrade, if not eliminate, the appeal of becoming a suicidal jihadist), and just saying no to refugees. Washington has, of course, been quietly taking a polite variation of this approach since 9/11.
Islam and the West are in a globe-altering civilizational struggle, which the Muslim world has been losing for over two hundred years. Islamic terrorism has become so savage in part because hundreds of millions of Muslims, faithful Muslims, have adopted so many Western values and habits. The principal enemy, as radical Muslims always warn, is within.
Muslims in the West are on the cutting edge of this tumultuous transformation, as Muslims everywhere come to terms with their identities in a modernity that has shredded accepted norms, fractured families, and often brutalized politics. The millions of Muslims who have and will seek sanctuary in the West are overwhelmingly on our side of the divide—between those who loathe and fear the West’s unstoppable individualism and those who are willing to admit, however reluctantly, that infidels have created a better world in which to raise children. These Muslims may not be our friends, but they are not our enemies. They may well be key to a victory over jihadism. We should have the confidence in our civilization that they do.
source-marc gerecht, albert camus, jyllands-postens, captain humayun khan, al-ikhwan al-muslimun, yusuf al-qaradawi, olivier roy,