Why would Albanian-speaking Muslim refugees from the Balkans try to murder American soldiers? After all, the United States — not bin Laden's rag-tag jihadists — saved Bosnia and Kosovo? And we did that by bombing the capital of a Christian European nation.
But then, why did a mixed-up Albanian Muslim in Salt Lake City, one Sulejman Talovic, go on a shopping-mall shooting spree? Five innocents were killed in the attack before the murderer himself was shot and killed.
And why, after pouring billions of dollars into Afghanistan, did poor, mixed-up Omeed Aziz Popal, an Afghan Muslim, try to run over several innocents in San Francisco near a Jewish center in September 2006?
Or, for that matter, why did an angry Muslim Pakistani gun down Jews in Seattle?
Or, again, why earlier last year, did a 22-year-old Iranian-American Muslim drive his sport utility vehicle into a crowded pedestrian zone at the University of North Carolina?
The Phenomenon of al Qaedism
About a year after 9/11, I made use of a word "al Qaedism" in a National Review Online essay to describe such seemingly isolated terrorists, both amateurs and the more organized, both the deranged and the more focused. At that time we were all discussing the careers of those like John Williams, John Walker Lindh, Jose Padilla, or Richard Reid (or rather John Mohammed, Abdul Hamid, Abdullah al-Muhajir, or Abdel Rahim).
Yet, both then and now, we waste our time wondering whether such terrorists are al Qaeda-controlled or not. The question is academic. It matters little whether they were explicitly ordered to kill by central terrorist command (they probably were not) or were inspired by CDs, the Internet, or the local mullah.
The point is simply that, for purposes of harming America, lone-wolf jihadists need only to feel the same rage and perceived grievances — al Andalus, Israel, Iraq, Chechnya, Kashmir, etc. — as their pin-up heroes like bin Laden or Zawahiri.
But, again, why do these residents in our midst, who have voluntarily come to America, and some of whom have had America itself spend billions abroad on their brethren, wish to kill us?
Such questions are nonsensical. The aggrieved Islamist, whether born here or abroad, lives in a world of emotion, never reason, in which pride, envy, and a sense of inferiority always trump logic.
When, as an individual or collectively, he constructs someone or something culpable for his own — or his people's — sense of failure, then a primordial urge to lash out follows. His mind returns to the seventh-century never-never land of scimitars and sharia law mixed in with rote chanting of "Allah Akbar!" while his body and material appetites are stranded in our cosmos of Baywatch reruns and professors on the BBC and CNN whining on about the dangers of Islamaphobia. What, then, are the catalysts for the al Qaedist that turn him from hothouse anti-Americanism to deadly violence?
The Creation of an Al Qaedist
The first is the goad of radical Islamic indoctrination through globalized communications. A nut in New Jersey can feel as close to a Wahhabi megaphone in Jeddah as a Bedouin just a desert away. Fiery sermons of hate-filled imams on the West Bank (now they employ Mickey Mouse as a prop), or videos of Americans losing limbs in Iraq, or sit-coms from Iran depicting Satanic Americans and Jews, are as cheaply disseminated as they are cheaply produced.
To the degree that capital for such Goebbels-like hatred is required — opening radical mosques, printing propaganda, funding madrassas — we should remember that, with recent oil-price spikes, there are annually another $500 billion floating around the Middle East from Shiite Iran to the Sunni Gulf monarchies.
Second is the nature of the assumed grievance that goes unexamined and unchallenged by Westerners. Instead, we seek with the logic and reason of the 21st century to sort out why they hate us — a phenomenon well known to crybaby Islamists who can produce new complaints as fast as the old ones are shot down.
So sympathetic Western observers must damn Israel for not giving up all of the West Bank (never asking why Cyprus, the Kuriles, or Tibet have not fostered suicide bombers).
Or is it our presence in Iraq (as if it predated 9/11)? Or is it that we have demonized poor Muslims (as if we have not saved the starving, enslaved, and targeted in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Somalia, or subsidized the failed in Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine; or as if the Chechen-killing Russians or Muslim-burning Hindus are as targeted as we are).
Always we forget that the jihadist mind is of the 7th century, nursed on illusions of ancient grandeur lost to purported Zionism, capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism.
It is not easy, after all, for a region to turn twenty million $65-barrels of oil sold each day — found, developed, and handed over by someone else — into a recipe for utter catastrophe.
Worse still, not only does the jihadist place the blame on those who are more successful, he learns much of his strategy of victimization from our own postmodern Western Left. We saw that clearly enough in the videos of the clownish Zawahiri and bin Laden that cite by title and author leftwing attacks on the United States by kooky Chomskyites. Nothing is more absurd than a bearded, robed imam dryly reciting from his mud-brick hideout why America needs to implode — due to our sins of global warming, environmental desecration, and our lack of campaign-finance reform.
The third impetus for the idiosyncratic jiahdist is the lack of any consequences. Or rather, he shares a general perception — never mind whether it is a misconception — that the European and American criminal-justice systems will not promptly find, arrest, indict, try, convict, and sentence wannabe jihadists. Our popular culture instead emphasizes more the injustice of Guantanamo Bay, our shame over the sexual grotesqueries of Abu Ghraib, and the worry over the excesses of the Patriot Act than the need to show no mercy to the radical Islamist on our shores.
Indeed, the jihadist believes the West in general cares little about its own sense of citizenship. He knows that we ask of the legal immigrant little familiarity with our language, history, or culture, and even less of the illegal immigrant.
With 12 million here illegally from Mexico, why would any visitor think we could or should enforce the law? A jihadist must think it an ideal spot a country where it was deemed more illiberal to turn in an illegal alien than to be one.
A Three-Tiered War
There are many theaters in this global war. The nation-states of Afghanistan and Iraq are now foci. Eventually hearts and minds inside Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia must be persuaded — by varying means — that it makes no moral, and still less practical, sense to subsidize the hatred and killing of Americans. All that is an impossible task unless we can stabilize Iraq and restore the sense of American prowess and unpredictability.
At the second tier, organized terrorist cells, whether al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, or the various other appendages, have to be cut off from their sanctuaries and cash through counterinsurgency, better intelligence, and constant pressure on their state sponsors. The sooner we get over the fact that a Hamas or Hezbollah differs from al Qaeda only in method and capability, but not in venom or desire, the better off we will be.
But there is also a third war that we saw at Fort Dix, at this more insidious al Qaedistic level. Thousands of seething Muslims in Europe and America — fill in the blanks for the reasons for their anger — must come to learn that shooting up a mall, or driving an SUV into students, or killing soldiers, is going to ensure long incarceration for the guilty.
More importantly, such serial provocations are also creating a larger culture of anger and, with it, zero tolerance for any activity deemed a precursor to Muslim extremism — whether flying imams flaunting airline protocols or demands for special dispensations deemed at odds with traditional American custom and practice.
A Tested Patience
So, in the end, what are we to make of Fort Dix — yet another post-9/11 straw on an increasingly tired camel's back?
We know that CAIR will neither seriously admonish Muslims charged with terrorist crimes nor introspectively examine the larger Islamic culture that seems to so incite the jihadist.
Such organizations will not do so as long as they can far more easily play on the self-doubt and guilt of the affluent and leisured citizen, who is supposed to believe that the dangers of radical Islam, both at the state and individual level, are mostly fictions inspired by our own prejudices. The sermonizing here in the United States by an Ayatollah Khatami, readily received by complaint listeners, and the satellite-beamed sophistry of Tariq Ramadan prove that well enough.
Most Americans will not remember Fort Dix in a week — just as they have forgotten Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, Lodi, Portland, and all the rest; just as they want out of Fallujah now and probably Kandahar tomorrow.
Yet, at some point, the jihadists will go too far. Many of us, erroneously as it turned out, thought that, after twenty years of serial provocations, radical Islam had done precisely that on 9/11.
Apparently not. But such forbearance, even at this late hour in the post-West, is still not limitless.
The more a Palestinian imam promises us our death, the more the Iranian president promises a world without America, the more these al Qaedists, like the most recent keystone clowns at Fort Dix, do their small part in trying to reify such mad rhetoric, and the more the sophisticated apologists assure us that we, not they, are the real threat, the more likely the sofa-sitting, channel-surfing American will some day very soon blow up, rather than be blown up.
By Victor Davis Hanson
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online