Magazine | May 20, 2013, Issue

American Dawa

(AP/The Boston Globe/David L. Ryan)
The radicalization of the Tsarnaev brothers

Deep-blue, multi-culti Boston is the latest target of jihadist terror. The spree began on April 15, when terrorists remotely detonated two improvised explosive devices near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three spectators: two young women, Krystle Campbell and Lu Lingzi, and eight-year-old Martin Richard, who was waiting for his dad to complete the race. Four days later, with a major American city paralyzed by fear, the siege ended with a series of wild firefights in the streets, during which the terrorists killed MIT police officer Sean Collier and critically wounded transit-authority police officer Richard Donahue (who, thankfully, is expected to make a full recovery).

The terrorists were a pair of brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, originally from Chechnya. Their family had immigrated to the United States beginning in 2002. Dzhokhar, 19 years old at the time of the bombing, had been naturalized, in perverse irony, last September 11. He was captured hiding in a boat and faces a capital trial in federal court. His 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan, a green-card holder who bore the name of a legendary 14th-century jihadist warrior, was killed during the manhunt.

The Tsarnaevs seemed well assimilated, at least until recent years. Thus the pressing question: How did this happen? The answer begins with that simple, chilling admonition from Muslim leaders: Integrate but do not assimilate. For those Muslims who have begun assimilating, there is this corollary: Turn away from Western wickedness and embrace the cloister of Islamic piety — as construed by Islamic-supremacist leaders, whose ideology glorifies violent jihad even as it pretends to moderation.

The strategy has been called “voluntary apartheid.” The idea is to provide Muslim immigrants in the West — particularly, energetic young Muslims like the Tsarnaevs — with cultural, psychological, and even physical insulation from Western mores, traditions, and institutions. It was the bedrock of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna’s framework for ground-up revolution. In every city and town, the Egyptian academic taught, Muslim leaders must establish a mosque–cum–community center. These, he explained, would become “the axis of our movement,” serving as the “House of Dawa” — that is, of Islam’s particularly aggressive form of proselytism — and providing “the base for our rise . . . to educate us, prepare us, and supply our battalions.”

“Our battalions,” indeed. “Battalions of Islam” was the honorific applied by Omar Abdel Rahman, the Egyptian intellectual, Banna admirer, and convicted terrorist better known as “the blind sheikh,” to the jihadists who answered his summons to savagery in Cairo and New York. That these battalions will emerge from the dawa mission stressed by Muslim leaders is inevitable. It is why atrocities such as the rampage in Boston are bound to happen.

Robert Spencer, a sharp critic of Islamic supremacism, fittingly describes dawa as “stealth jihad.” Dawa can include charitable fundraising (part of which is, under sharia guidelines, quite intentionally diverted to jihadist groups), intimidation of detractors, cultivation of sympathizers in the media and the universities, exploitation of legal systems and religious liberty, infiltration of political systems, and the portrayal of any scrutiny of Islamic doctrine as Islamophobia. The defining feature of dawa in the West, though, is resistance to assimilation.

“One cannot expect you to assimilate,” Turkey’s Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told a throng of Muslim immigrants to Germany in 2008. “Assimilation,” he exclaimed, “is a crime against humanity!” The Brotherhood’s leading sharia jurist, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who boldly promises that it is through dawa that “we will conquer Europe, we will conquer America,” is perhaps the most influential champion of the “integrate but never assimilate” principle. The key to “our quest for an Islamic state,” he instructs, is to “convince Western leaders and decision-makers of our right to live according to our faith.”

#page# Of course, the right to live according to one’s faith is a fundamental guarantee in the United States. When Qaradawi and other Islamic supremacists say “faith,” however, they are not talking merely about what we would understand as religious tenets; they are talking about sharia’s socio-political strictures, its suffocating regulation of human life’s every detail. What the supremacists demand is something quite the opposite of an Islamic seat at America’s ecumenical table. It is the establishment of autonomous Muslim enclaves within a society to which they are irrevocably hostile.

The supremacist’s interpretation of sharia rejects liberty and equality, casting women as chattel and non-Muslims as contemptible. It thus instills in young Muslims the animating belief that Western culture is not just to be resisted as corruptive but disdained as beneath human dignity. It is true enough that most adherents to this ideology will not become terrorists; but it is equally certain that some will — and many have.

Though Brotherhood leaders and Islamist intellectuals in the West purport to renounce violence except in self-defense, they concurrently beatify violence and preach that Islam is always under attack. The Hamas terrorist organization, one should never forget, is the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch; raising global alarms about supposed tidal waves of anti-Muslim bias and aggression is the supremacist’s stock in trade. The young Muslim who hears terrorism occasionally condemned also hears it constantly rationalized, excused, and endorsed — by revered role models.

For Banna, there was no contradiction in this. Combat, including terrorism, was something young Muslims had to train and be prepared for. The revolution, he taught, could not ultimately succeed without it. But though violence had its place, that place was not necessarily central. Like strategic deception, it was one option on a very extensive dawa menu, resorted to only when its benefit to the movement outweighed its drawbacks.

Decades later, it has become the fashion to abide, even to admire, Muslim leaders who temper their effusive praise for jihadist violence in the Middle East with vague denunciations of attacks in the West. This explains Sheikh Qaradawi. With a huge international television following courtesy of his weekly sharia program on Al Jazeera, Qaradawi is probably the most influential Islamic scholar alive today. Consequently, despite his infamous fatwas endorsing suicide bombings against Israel, terror war against American troops in Iraq, and the death penalty for homosexuals, he is a darling of Western chancelleries and academics, who present him as a leading “moderate” intellectual.

He is a ubiquitous figure, sitting on a scholarly congress here, an advisory board there. They include the original board of trustees at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. The ISBCC’s founder was Abdurahman Alamoudi, the bipartisan Beltway’s favorite Muslim moderate — until he was convicted, in 2004, of complicity in a plot to help Libya recruit jihadists to kill the Saudi crown prince. The investigation had revealed that he was a major al-Qaeda financier, as well as a champion of Hamas and Hezbollah. 

Naturally, none of that derailed the ISBCC enterprise, which includes a mosque in Cambridge, only a few blocks from the Tsarnaev family home. In the last three years, both brothers attended the mosque, as well as other mosques in the area. Tamerlan, the older and more fervent, was more of a fixture than Dzhokhar.

Prior to this recent phase, the brothers seemed like unexceptional young American males, decent students who were active in sports — Tamerlan became a champion boxer who dreamed of Olympic fame, Dzhokhar a top wrestler. The call of supremacist ideology was never far away, though, most immediately in the influence of their mother. As the years went by in Cambridge, Zubeidat Tsarnaev increasingly withdrew into Islamic piety. Tamerlan followed her, gradually distancing himself from American acquaintances, expressing disdain for American life, and lacing his conversation with allusions to Allah’s will.

#page# This is symptomatic of the process of becoming “radicalized,” to borrow the popular, politically correct term that sanitizes Islam of its scriptures’ supremacist dictates. Tamerlan’s wife, an American Christian named Katherine Russell, abruptly converted to Islam, donning the veil and similarly isolating herself from American acquaintances in favor of spending time with other Muslim women. Tamerlan took to studying Sheikh Feiz Mohammed, an Australian, a former boxer like himself, and a notorious sharia hardliner who spews bile against non-Muslims and endorses jihadist violence. Tamerlan even began maintaining YouTube playlists glorifying jihad, including a list he called “Terrorists” and one featuring a song entitled “I Will Dedicate My Life to Jihad.”

By 2011, Tamerlan’s radicalism had come to the attention of Russian intelligence. Based on intercepted conversations between the young man and his mother, the spy service concluded he was poised to travel to Dagestan, a republic that has long endured a brutal Islamic insurgency. The Russians brought him to the attention of both the FBI and the CIA. But while the latter entered his name in an anti-terror database (the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment), the former, after interviewing Tamerlan, reasoned that being a follower of radical Islam did not necessarily make one a terrorist threat. In the face of a lethal, ideologically driven threat, our government’s policy is to turn a blind eye to ideology. Only criminal activity, it insists, may properly be investigated — even if that means the investigation happens only after the activity has killed innocent people.

Tamerlan did indeed embark on a six-month journey to Dagestan in 2012, evidently making contact with — and perhaps receiving training from — jihadists. When he returned to the U.S., only two days after a July firefight in which several Muslim militants were killed, he was clearly seething. But the insouciant investigators were not in a position to know this, having already closed the case after finding “no derogatory information.” When post-bombing video pointed to Tamerlan as a suspect, they had to ask the public’s help in identifying him.

Dzhokhar was clearly enthralled by Tamerlan’s exploits, but his turn to Islam was not as pronounced — such that, as his grades cratered at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, friends attributed his lethargy to his hard-partying ways. But the signs of withdrawal into a Muslim identity were there. Invited to describe his “outlook” on the Facebook page he maintained, Dzhokhar succinctly responded, “Islam.” The Washington Post reports that he played soccer with members of the Muslim Students Association and, for a time, attended a Muslim prayer group. Just two weeks before the bombing, he told a friend that he no longer cared about his classes because Islam and God were the only true things in life.

At the moment, it is unknown whether the brothers Tsarnaev had technical help from any international terrorist organization. It is known, however, that they drank deeply the ideology that creates terrorism by insulating its adherents and dehumanizing non-believers. Far from regarding Islamic supremacism with dread and suspicion, our government appeases supremacist agitators. We avert our gaze as the House of Dawa supplies the battalions of Islam. As America retreats, the war comes home again.

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