In Time, Ayaan Hirsi Ali advises that, from the White House on down, U.S. policy makers come to grips with the reality that Muslims who become jihadis don’t necessarily do so because they’re victims of poverty, bad education, or bad governance.
President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have argued in recent days that economic grievances, a lack of opportunities, and countries with “bad governance” are to blame for the success of groups such as ISIS in recruiting Muslims to their cause.
But Hirsi Ali points out that there are plenty of countries where those conditions are all but absent, and they still have to contend with homegrown jihadists.
Both Denmark and the Netherlands have “good governance.” Denmark and the Netherlands not only offer free health insurance but also free housing to Muslim refugees, along with high-quality education for their children. This should produce an outpouring of gratitude by young Muslims towards the host society, and no Jihadists.
Yet there are dozens of Jihadists hailing from the Netherlands, and a recent attack in Copenhagen was committed by a man who was raised in Denmark and had effectively enjoyed years of Danish hospitality.
The question is not limited to Europe. Minnesota, for instance, is hardly a state with “bad governance.” Minnesota offers ample opportunity for immigrants willing to work hard. Yet more than a dozen young men from the Twin Cities area have joined the Jihadist movement in recent years.
I have been arguing the same thing for years (since long before ISIS arrived on the scene), based on the observable fact that jihadists — both leaders and foot soldiers — include lots of well-educated, often middle-class young men with degrees and/or bright prospects, such as Faisal Shahzad, Anwar-al-Awlaki, Nidal Malik Hasan, Mohamed Atta, Ziad Jarrah, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and, most famously, Osama bin Laden, who was born into wealth and privilege.
That’s not to say that economic or social alienation plays no part in the radicalization of some young Muslims. America’s endless, cloddish meddling in the Middle East, including militarily, must also come in for a good share of the blame (I elaborated on that here). I wish Hirsi Ali would acknowledge that Islam is usually not the only factor.
But she is completely correct about shining a merciless light on the role of the Muslim faith, and about saying that Obama and his cabinet ought to finally acknowledge the proverbial elephant in the room.
It is worth remembering Aafia Siddiqui, the M.I.T.-educated neuroscientist who could have enjoyed a prestigious and lucrative career in the bio-tech industry but instead chose to embrace radical Islam, eventually becoming known as “Lady Al-Qaida.”
Or think of the three Khan siblings who recently sought to leave Chicago in order to go live in Syria under the rule of ISIS. The Khan sister, intelligent and studious, had planned to become a physician. The siblings were intercepted before they could fly out of the country, and prosecutors argue they wanted to join armed Jihad. Defense attorneys have a different explanation, stating the siblings desperately wanted to live under a society ruled by Shariah law — under the rule of Allah’s laws, without necessarily wanting to commit acts of violence.
It is this motivation — the sincere desire to live under Islamic religious laws, and the concomitant willingness to use violence to defend the land of Islam and expand it — that has led thousands of Western Muslims, many of them young and intelligent — and not the oft-described “losers” — to leave a comfortable professional and economic future in the West in order to join ISIS under gritty circumstances.
This closely tracks with what Sam Harris has been saying. Two years ago ago, Harris rejected Obama’s view of Islam as an overall force for good:
I cannot help wondering when this scrim of pretense and delusion will be finally burned away — either by the clear light of reason or by a surfeit of horror meted out to innocents by the parties of God. Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas — jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy — reliably lead to oppression and murder? It may be true that no faith teaches people to massacre innocents exactly — but innocence, as the President surely knows, is in the eye of the beholder. Are apostates “innocent”? Blasphemers? Polytheists? Islam has the answer, and the answer is “no.”
It’s doubtful that that message is getting through; all the more reason why we should continue to spread it.