April 17, 2004


MADE IN THE WEST?: The Islamic fundamentalists who found their faith in Paris, London and New York. (Josie Appleton, 4/17/04, sp!ked)

Western towns and cities do seem to be particularly fertile ground for nurturing the kind of nihilistic terrorism that we saw on 9/11. A number of the hijackers, and the plot leader Mohammed Atta, met while students in Hamburg, Germany. Before he went to Germany, Atta had been involved in the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which opposed the government and aimed to build an Islamic state in the country. It appears that it was in Hamburg, rather than Cairo, that Atta developed a more terrifying, anti-Western brand of terrorism. Meanwhile, the 'twentieth hijacker', Zacarias Moussaoui, was a French-born Muslim who fell in with fundamentalists at a mosque in Brixton, London; and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the key planners of the 9/11 attacks, studied at university in North Carolina. Richard Reid, the 'shoe-bomber' who tried to blow up a plane over the Atlantic, was brought up in Bromley, south-east London, and also met fundamentalists at the Brixton mosque.

Al-Qaeda is often seen as hailing from the mountains of Afghanistan, but many of those who carried out al-Qaeda-style attacks in the 1990s had Western connections. The World Trade Centre bomb of 1993 was organised by a 25-year-old Pakistani, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who went to college in the Welsh city of Swansea - and he found his volunteers for the job in a mosque in Brooklyn, New York. Meanwhile, Ahmed Ressam, the 33-year-old Algerian who was caught trying to plant a bomb at Los Angeles international airport in 1999, had left Algeria when he was 25 to escape the rising violence caused by radical Islamists. He drifted around the ex-pat community in France for a while, then moved to Canada - and it was in a Canadian mosque that he became attracted to Islamic extremism. A group arrested for planning an attack on the US embassy in Paris included an Algerian-born man, who had lived in France and married a French woman before moving to Leicester, UK; and a Tunisian who had converted to radical Islam in Belgium.

This evidence has often been passed over, perhaps because it raises uncomfortable questions for the West. There has been a tendency to externalise terrorism, to see it as an assault by enemies from foreign lands - after all, it is much easier to bomb Afghanistan for 'harbouring terrorists' than Brooklyn or Hamburg. While the issue has been brought to attention in Europe, Americans still seem to want to believe that it doesn't affect them. A recent article in the Washington Post discussed home-grown fundamentalism as a European problem, saying that while 'Europe is on alert at home', 'America is at war abroad': 'Muslim communities in the United States are not seen as the breeding grounds for Islamic extremism.'

That some individuals are turning to fundamentalism in the West points to a malaise at the heart of our societies. This terrorism can't be blamed on the peculiarities of Islam or particular ethnic groups - on 'foreign elements' brought in from outside. Instead, it suggests a failure of mainstream institutions to cohere society and provide individuals with a sense of identity. These issues affect everybody, rather than only immigrants. Across the board we see a growing atomisation, confusion about personal identity and a cynicism about public life.

When individuals are more isolated, they often find change and development disorientating, rather than exciting. Western cities that in the past would have seemed exciting and ripe with opportunities may today just inspire unease. There is a tendency for individuals to kick against society, and lash out against change - something that we see in anti-globalisation protests' brand of anti-modern rejectionism as much as in the terrorism of 9/11.

It is difficult to imagine the globalised, nihilistic mentality of a Mohammed Atta developing in a Pashtun village or Palestinian refugee camp, communities which tend to be more preoccupied with local struggles over power and religion. In Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror, Jason Burke insists on the distinction between Islamic movements such as the Taliban, and al-Qaeda-style groups. While the Taliban had an incredibly narrow worldview, focused on the intricacies of religious behaviour and deeply rooted in rural Pashtun tradition, al-Qaeda's attacks against Western interests tend to be carried out by worldly freelancers. Operatives' detachment from traditional Islamic communities is almost a precondition for their terrorism: rather than building an Islamic society, they are lashing out at symbols of the West, wherever in the world they might find them.

Al Qaeda is no threat to us; we threaten ourselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 17, 2004 8:11 AM

the politically correct anti anti-Muslim tact the left took after 9-11 is over, thank goodness. Most definetely our country is now developing an undercurrent of anti-Muslimism that will sweep the country over the next few years which will be far more powerful than anything we saw with the Jews and Blacks, who now don't even register a speck of anti-anything with the rest of our Christian brethren.

I'm not sure what do with all the mosque's, a similar question to how to punish the woman who receives an abortion.

Posted by: neil at April 17, 2004 9:19 AM

Another explanation would be that in a Pashtun village, Muslims don't feel the threat of Western civilization so acutely, if at all. There, Islam is part of the air they breathe; Western culture and values are a distant rumor. There is nothing to fight against.

However, Muslims living in Paris or Canada are a small minority within a huge, powerful, dynamic, overwhelmingly diverse and sophisticated culture which is completely uninterested in Islam. Muslims daily feel both their insignificance as Muslims and the enormous attraction of the West. This is frightening and humiliating. It is not at all surprising that there would be at least a significant minority among them who would make a strong attempt not only to resist but to destroy this threat to their identity.

Posted by: L. Rogers at April 17, 2004 9:26 AM

And in the city of Detroit and the University of Miami, the morning call to prayer is blared over loudspeakers.

Posted by: Paul Cella at April 17, 2004 10:23 AM

Which is why the Islamists and the anti-globalists sound and act so much alike. The major difference is that the Islamists have shown a willingness to follow that philosophy to it's logical conclusions and act on them, and the anti-globals can't get beyond the occasional riot (yet).

The best thing that could happen to the Muslims is for the West to ignore them, but they seem deteremined to get our attention, like the tantrums of a selfish two-year-old in the toys aisle at Target who's just been told "No."

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at April 17, 2004 10:24 AM

What Rogers and Ortega said ... and this takes us down a dangerous road.

The fools against the war who cry about sharing the deficit with their progeny seem willing to to leave the dangers to them.

The second coming of the "Greatest Generation" has been limited to those who support and take part in the W.O.T. Perhaps more will join in the future; those who finally look forward to reality rather than back to adolescent dreams of a self centered, nihilistic Utopia.

The Belmont Club has an interesting related post up.

Posted by: genecis at April 17, 2004 11:12 AM


Better Islam than nihilism.

Posted by: oj at April 17, 2004 1:23 PM

"Better Islam than nihilism." Yet another false dichotomy.

From the article: "That some individuals are turning to fundamentalism in the West points to a malaise at the heart of our societies." is a load of hooey.

First, all those individuals seem to belong to precisely one religion: Islam. The malaise isn't ours, it is their inability to come to terms that the absolute truth claimed by their religion is absolutely not the truth.

If they can't come to terms with that, perhaps they should use their return tickets.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 17, 2004 5:50 PM

So it seems that virtually ALL the terrorists have become terrorists in Western settings. Perhaps, if you want to stop terrorism, you need to force assimilation.

If Western societies were to make a real push to assimilate foreigners, as they once did before multiculturalism became all the rage, there would be no terrorist problem.

France, of all countries, seems to be trying to force assimilation. It bears watching...

Posted by: EO at April 17, 2004 6:43 PM


Yes, it is false, but Europe isn't going to return to Christianity, is it? So Islam is preferable to its current secular nihilism.

Posted by: oj at April 17, 2004 8:22 PM

Jeff's got it.

There are Muslim terrorists everywhere. The ones in the west have -- duh -- western connections.

The ones in Kashmir, Sinkiang and Mindanao are just as violent, just as Muslim, but they attack Indians, Chinese or Filipinos.

There is no malaise anywhere in the West except in Orrin's imagination, who is just sure that us nihilists are miserable failures.

The malaise is in the religion, not in the West.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 17, 2004 10:30 PM


So if there is no malaise in the West, maybe you can explain why therapists and drug manufacturers are doing so well.

Posted by: Peter B at April 18, 2004 10:15 AM

and population and economies declining and no meaningful reaction to terror, no art, no products anyone buys...

Posted by: oj at April 18, 2004 10:30 AM

Ditto Jeff and Harry

What we have here is a case of culture shock. Rich, priviledged Arabian brats who are used to being waited on by Filipino servants and ordering their mother and sisters about come to dynamic society where women don't take orders and noone cares about their royal lineage. It's not our problem, it's theirs.

Malaise isn't the issue, nihilism is. Malaise is just a hangover from prosperity. Prosperous societies get malaise, poor societies don't. In a poor society, all of the threats to your well-being are front and center - one week of unemployment, or a bad storm, and your family starves. In wealthy societies, like ours, we don't worry about those kinds of threats anymore, yet we still aren't happy because humans didn't evolve to be happy, but to survive. All of our threats are floating around in the higher levels of Maslow's needs, somewhere between self-esteem and self-actualization. It's a fog. Some people can deal with the fog, others, like the writer, need immediacy and certainty. Thus all the carping about malaise.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at April 18, 2004 11:00 AM

Declining birth rates, wealth, economies...

Posted by: oj at April 18, 2004 11:04 AM

I think there is indeed a malaise in the West and the decline of population, etc. that have been mentioned above are symptoms. I feel, however, it's a separate problem.

Islamic fundamentalism is not primarily a product of this malaise but a result of the weaknesses of Islam itself which have been brought into relief by its need to confront the modern world.

One weakness is the fact that the triumph of Islam is a supreme article of faith so that when the ummah is seen as suffering a defeat or being inferior or weak, it prompts a crisis of faith that would never occur in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, etc.

Another is the fact that jihad is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, requiring all Muslims to see non-Muslims as enemies who must be either subdued (dhimmis) or converted by any means possible, including force, trickery, intimidation, etc. Therefore, the ability to negotiate, trade with, live with other cultures is drastically inhibited.

Another is the fact that Islam is supremely a religion of observance, with strict and specific prescriptions for food (halal), clothing, professions, and all other aspects of life. There is a prescribed way to eat (right hand only), go to the bathroom, make love, etc. This makes it very difficult to be a truly pious and observant Muslim in a non-Muslim society. Thus, Islam is not very adaptable.

By contrast, Christianity provides its adherents with only general guidance about daily life which makes it supremely adaptable to any culture or climate. In Christianity, all food and drink are acceptable; there is only the instruction that believers eat moderately and healthily. Same for clothing; believers can dress in any way as long as it's modest and healthy. All professions that are not outright criminal are respected, etc., etc. This approach has provided Christians and Christian cultures with enormous freedom of action.

Well, the list of weaknesses, in my view, is much longer, but that's enough.

So, again, I feel that Islamic fundamentalism is a hysterical response to the overwhelming challenge of the West. It was inevitable because of the very weaknesses of Islam itself.

Posted by: L. Rogers at April 18, 2004 3:04 PM

Declining birth rates are a cocomitant of industrialisation. As for wealth and economies, I read elsewhere just a couple days ago that the economies of all of Islam, minus oil, matter less to the world than Nokia.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 18, 2004 3:47 PM


That was good, but I think we are talking about something more profound than "boredom with prosperity" malaise. I don't think the Valley Girls alone can explain the modern Western tendency to blame ourselves for every past and present wrong in the world, the brainwashing by therapeutic theories, the fracturing of the family, the collapse of art (insofar as it connects in any way with the general population), postmodernist thinking and all the gifts it has brought, the decline of civility and the advent of a pornographic culture.

Posted by: Peter B at April 18, 2004 6:10 PM

Populations are not declining.

Orrin likes to dump on the French. Remember the phrase "40 million Frenchmen"?

How many are there now?

The malaise, if any, is more readily to be seen in the jeremiads of the radio preachers, who were condemning, in the same strident terms, the decay of American morality when I was a boy in the 1950s, when, in popular culture, husbands and wives slept in separate beds.

No one complains more about immorality, and does less to clean up its own mess, than the Catholics.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 18, 2004 7:35 PM

For its intellectuals, France falters (John Vinocur/IHT IHT, October 2, 2003)

A growing sense of France's decline as a force in Europe has developed here.
The idea's novelty is not the issue itself. Rather it is that for the first time in a half century that the notion of a rapid descent in France's influence is receiving wide acknowledgment within the French establishment.
At its most hurtful and remarkable, and yet perhaps its most honest, there is the start of acceptance by segments of the French intellectual community that French leadership, as it is constituted now, is not something Europe wants - or France merits.
Several current books, three on the bestseller lists, have focused discussion on the country's incapacities, rigidities and its role, they say, in the context of the Iraq war, in dividing the Western community and fracturing notions of Europe's potential unity.
The books, with titles that translate to phrases like "France in Free Fall" or "French Arrogance," are merciless in their accusations of the fantasy-driven ineffectualness of French foreign policy and the extent of the country's economic breakdown. Or they more specifically target what one of books, "Le Pouvoir du Monde," by Bernard Poulet, regards as the implosion of the newspaper Le Monde, mirror of the French establishment, from one-time symbol of rectitude to self-appointed "universal mentor and Great Inquisitor"; or what another, essentially a short essay, called "Au Nom de l'Autre" by Alain Finkielkraut, contends is the rise in France of a new kind of anti-Semitism in proportions greater than anywhere else in Europe.
Together, they project the image of a decadent France, adrift from its brilliant past, incapable of inspiring allegiance or emulation and without a constructive, humanist plan for the future.

Posted by: oj at April 18, 2004 8:23 PM


"I don't think the Valley Girls alone can explain the modern Western tendency to blame ourselves for every past and present wrong in the world"

How deep is that tendency, really? Only a small elite indulge in it.

"... the brainwashing by therapeutic theories"

Again, how deep does this go? In a free culture, people will experiment with nonsense, but we are also very good at exposing nonsense. Is anyone still practicint EST?

"...the fracturing of the family:

This is bad. Not hopeless, but bad.

"the collapse of art (insofar as it connects in any way with the general population)"

I would put it as the collapse of "official" art. Art as defined by the academies and the "experts" has been coopted, as has most scolarship, by leftist political ideologues. I think that there is plenty of good art out there, but you have to look to the marketplace, not the museums.

"postmodernist thinking and all the gifts it has brought"

Every age has its idiocies.

"the decline of civility and the advent of a pornographic culture."

It is very easy to overblow the decline in civility. Most of the people that I meet in public settings are generally very civil, though I do live in Minnesota. I think that store clerks are more civil today than in the 'old' days, primarily because people don't tolerate crappy service anymore. I remember as a kid going with my dad to the neighborhood gas station/garage to get our car fixed. The jerk who owned it ignored us for about 10 minutes while he blabbed with his buddies, then dealt with us in a very abrupt manner. That's how it was in the age of 'Mom & Pop' businesses, little in the way of competition to drive out the jerks.

As for the culture of pornography - I think that a backlash will inevitably develop to keep the worst of it segregated from public view. It won't go away though, as it has gained widespread acceptance among even the churchgoing crowd. It's a vice, but nothing that will bring society crashing down.

So if this is malaise, then I'll take it over the alternatives. What are the alternatives anyhow, to live like Puritans? We have it good, don't complain too loudly.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at April 19, 2004 2:53 PM


We don'tt have the malaise, though we were sliding into it pre-Reagan.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2004 3:10 PM

I'm sure the Europeans are anguished because they cannot go back to the golden days of 1944, 1848 and 1648.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 20, 2004 7:40 PM

In 1648 they were rising. They've been falling since the revolutions of 1848.

Posted by: oj at April 20, 2004 7:56 PM