The Corner

The Islamist Pull

Although information is still too sketchy to draw any comprehensive conclusions (other than that the Boston killings are not, as recently suggested, fall out from sequestration, the NRA, lack of gun control, climate change, right-wing tea-party zealots, etc.), there emerges a familiar profile to the suspects that we have seen before. In articles in 2002 and 2007, I touched on the dangers of isolated Islamic-driven terrorists without direct connections to organized terrorist networks, calling it a sort of “al-Qaedism.”

In other word, single and usually young American resident males, often originating from the Muslim world (and not always from the Arab Middle East), sometimes citizens, sometimes resident aliens, can at some point not square the circle of being attracted to American popular culture, often failing to assimilate or succeed in the United States, and ostensibly seeking to remain (or return to being) a devout Muslim that alone gives them moral redemption and guidance.

The result is a dead soul who kills the vulnerable and innocent, and who is a psychological and social mess: consumed by fury at the country that embraced him in extremis, coupled with romance toward the country he or his family fled (and no longer has to endure), and a reliance upon, and yet lack of respect for, the tolerant liberal culture that allows him a freedom of action impossible in the land of his birth.

Like some, I question the standard American conceit that ignorance of the U.S. explains anti-American behavior in the Islamic world. It often seems just as likely the very opposite case: The more Islamists are exposed to our affluence, popular culture, informality, self-critique, lack of hierarchy, sexual liberality, tolerance of homosexuality, parity between the sexes, and tolerance of all religious observance, and see that such American values may contribute to the world’s attraction to the United States, the more they end up hating it, not the least because of fears that America’s nature erodes one’s own zealotry.

We are told that both these isolated attacks and failed plots (well over 40 since 9/11) do not pose a direct threat to the U.S. Perhaps. But “threat” is a relative concept: Destroying the idea of this year’s Boston Marathon and shutting down an entire American city, attacking a pedestrian zone at the University of North Carolina, murdering at a Jewish center in Seattle, or targeting military recruiting stations can add up, and alter the behavior of millions.

What to do with these misfits like Tamerlan Tsarnaev or Major Hasan and home-born killers such as the late John Allen Muhammed (who idolized bin Laden), other than to pay attention to footprints on social networks and patterns of behavior that suggest a radical-Islam-generated propensity for extremism, instead of avoiding such scrutiny in fear of illiberal intolerance?

I don’t think the therapeutic and euphemistic approach (the effort to change the language to win adherents by fantasies such as “workplace violence”/“overseas contingency operations”/ “man-caused disasters”) works. Avoidance of the word terrorism, especially in the context of Islam, or worry over the loss of the diversity in the military after the Hasan killing, is not the right way to drive home to would-be killers the image of a society collectively vigilant and unforgiving of terrorism.

These Orwellian terms came from the easy caricaturing of the Bush-Cheney-era anti-terrorism protocols, an indulgence that became popular as Iraq heated up, 9/11 fears lessened, and politics returned with a vengeance. But those measures were in response to real threats about which we were initially both confused and unprepared, and soon had forgotten. The irony of the Patriot Act measures was that they largely worked and therefore gave some the luxury to insist that the measures were unnecessary all along.

If we are intent on accepting persecuted “refugees” from religious-based conflict in the Islamic world — whether Chechens to Boston or Somalis to Minnesota — then it is probably not a wise idea to grant, without close scrutiny, those without citizenship periodic visas to return to their supposedly dangerous countries of origin. If their homeland was so perilous to begin with, why would a resident alien risk going back to a place whose danger was the primary reason for his original request for asylum in the U.S.? Assembling anti-personnel IEDs is not the sort of skill that one acquires without first-hand mentoring — it cannot not simply be learned by downloading plans from the Internet, at least not without a lot of personal risk. 

Finally, why is it so easy to enter the United States and so hard to be deported from it, especially after being arrested or violating its laws?

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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