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The Lure of Radical Islam, or ‘Boys Will Be Boys’

For many young Westerners, jihad is merely divine sanctioning for their otherwise violent and anti-social behavior.

Raymond Ibrahim


February 3, 2010 - 12:00 am
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John Walker Lindh especially seems to fit this paradigm. Precipitating his conversion to Islam was his teenage discovery that his father was homosexual — an event that appears to have traumatized and alienated Lindh. Islam’s masculine ideals and unequivocal condemnation of homosexuality may have lured young Lindh, who, soon after his father left his mother and moved in with another man, converted to Islam at age 16. Shortly thereafter, he went a-jihading.

This is all further exacerbated by Muslims mocking Western masculinity — such as Osama bin Laden, who ridicules homosexuality in the West and has characterized the American soldier as “a paper tiger” who is “too cowardly and too fearful to meet the young people of Islam face-to-face” (The Al Qaeda Reader).

Whatever position one may hold regarding these issues, one thing is clear: If traditional masculine virtues are upheld in Islamic culture, so too do traditional masculine vices abound — for it is often a very fine line that separates hyper-virtue from hyper-vice. Honor, courage, and patriarchic ethics can — and do — easily morph into destructive pride (e.g., “honor killings”), disdain for life (e.g., suicide bombings), and rabid misogyny.

Nonetheless, for those more “adventurous” young men looking to add a bit of “excitement” to their lives, Islam offers avenues. Based on the Koran and Muhammad’s biography, raiding, killing, and plundering infidels (i.e., the “other”), abducting their women, and enslaving their children are all permissible, so long as they are done in a jihadist context, that is, in the “service” of Islam. In fact, that is how the Islamic prophet and first Muslims spread Islam — a historical fact, not a slander — as attested to by Islam’s sacred texts and histories, written and compiled by pious, authoritative Muslims.

Of course, such behavior was “normal” in the seventh century. Then, wherever one looked, men of all races, creeds, and religions were raiding, pillaging, plundering, and enslaving their neighbors. For Islamists, however, the actions of seventh-century Muhammad, no matter how at odds with modernity, must be emulated today no less than yesterday. Moreover, any moral scruples a potential jihadist may experience over such “antiquated” practices — that is, should his conscience momentarily get the best of him — immediately dissipate in light of Allah’s explicit approval. For instance: “Married women are prohibited to you [Muslims] — except for those taken captive in war” (Koran 4:24; see also 23:6 and 33:50-52).

Little wonder, then, that Islam appeals to certain Western men over Christianity: Aspects of it better comport with man’s baser proclivities — for war, possessions, and women — than, say, the passive and inhibiting teachings of Jesus: “turn the other cheek,” “pray for those who persecute you,” and “he who lusts after a woman in his heart has already committed adultery.” Even Islam’s version of paradise is far more alluring. There, a river of wine and dozens of “voluptuous women” await the jihadist who dies battling infidels (see Koran 78:33).

And so, like mischievous little boys who find the pirate lifestyle fascinating — raiding, killing, plundering, abducting, hiding in caves — so do some Western men find the lifestyle of the jihadist captivating. So they convert. Nor is it any small irony that the physical appearance of today’s Islamist heroes is reminiscent of those wily pirates of old — from the furtive Taliban leader, “One-Eyed” Mullah Muhammad Omar, to London’s radical ideologue Abu Hamza, who not only boasts one eye, but also has a metal hook for a hand, which he took to shaking menacingly when referring to infidels. (Like Walt Disney’s Captain Hook, he was affectionately referred to by his followers simply as “The Hook.”)

It goes without saying, of course, that none of this is to imply that Muslims are piratical by nature. It is to say, however, that persons naturally inclined to such activities — including would-be converts — can and do find exoneration under the rubric of “sunna” and jihad legal theory: if it was okay for Muhammad and the first Muslims to wage war on, plunder, and enslave infidels — so the logic goes — surely it is okay today.

This phenomenon is further highlighted by the obvious intersection between prison incarceration and conversion to radical Islam. Indeed, most of the aforementioned proselytes had criminal records previous to their Islamic conversion: Reid and Abdullah had convictions for muggings, Padilla for gangster activity, and Lindsay for drug dealing. Patterson, Washington, and James began their “cell” while serving time in prison for committing over a dozen armed robberies. And, most recently, the three dozen converts-turned-potential-terrorists who just fled to Yemen were all, as the ABC report puts it, “criminals.”

Traditionally, one of the reasons ex-cons turned to religion was to change their evil ways. Not so these Western-men-turned-Islamic-terrorists. Consciously or unconsciously, it would seem they embraced the most radical form of Islam merely to receive divine sanctioning for their otherwise violent and anti-social behavior, being transformed in the process from petty criminals to major criminals — terrorists and traitors.

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Raymond Ibrahim, a Middle East and Islam specialist, is author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians (2013) and The Al Qaeda Reader (2007). His writings have appeared in a variety of media, including the Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst, Middle East Quarterly, World Almanac of Islamism, and Chronicle of Higher Education; he has appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, C-SPAN, PBS, Reuters, Al-Jazeera, NPR, Blaze TV, and CBN. Ibrahim regularly speaks publicly, briefs governmental agencies, provides expert testimony for Islam-related lawsuits, and testifies before Congress. He is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center; Judith Friedman Rosen Writing Fellow, Middle East Forum; and a Media Fellow at the Hoover Institution, 2013. Ibrahim’s dual-background -- born and raised in the U.S. by Coptic Egyptian parents born and raised in the Middle East -- has provided him with unique advantages, from equal fluency in English and Arabic, to an equal understanding of the Western and Middle Eastern mindsets, positioning him to explain the latter to the former.
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