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The Islamic Roots of Abdulmutallab's Suicidal Odyssey

In these circumstances, the most obvious torment that arises in the life of a young devout Muslim like Abdulmutallab is what he himself honestly describes: the tension between sexual desires and the Islamic mandate of, as he writes, “lowering the gaze” in the presence of women. “The Prophet (S) advised young men to fast if they can’t get married,” he agonizes, “but it has not been helping me much and I seriously don’t want to wait for years before I get married.”

It is precisely in this context that we see the origins of the Muslim suicide bomber’s journey into the heart of jihadi darkness.

For a pious Muslim who is attempting to obey the pleasure-denying mandates of his religion, the totalitarian and often sole choice available to him becomes purifying himself by extinguishing his own earthly sinful existence.

Thus, despite liberal fantasies, it is not Muslims’ lack of access to Western prosperity that spawns their terror, but exactly the opposite: it is Muslims’ contact with and ability to reap the benefits of Western values that end up serving as key inspirations for jihad.

Indeed, there is a morbid dilemma for the devout Muslim who has experienced and come into contact with the temptations of Western freedom. These Muslims end up feeling infected and fault America and the West for the excruciating guilt they feel over the desires that freedom plants within their hearts. To disinfect themselves, they end up lashing out violently at the tempter -- and then ultimately at themselves for the impurity and desires that the tempter instilled. In this light, Theodore Dalrymple brilliantly analyzes the impulses and motivations of the young suicide bombers who struck in London in July 2005. He demonstrates how they saw no way out of their confrontation with freedom and modernity except through death:

Muslims who reject the West are therefore engaged in a losing and impossible inner jihad, or struggle, to expunge everything that is not Muslim from their breasts. It can’t be done: for their technological and scientific dependence is necessarily also a cultural one. You can’t believe in a return to seventh-century Arabia as being all-sufficient for human requirements, and at the same time drive around in a brand-new red Mercedes, as one of the London bombers did shortly before his murderous suicide. An awareness of the contradiction must gnaw in even the dullest fundamentalist brain.

Furthermore, fundamentalists must be sufficiently self-aware to know that they will never be willing to forgo the appurtenances of Western life: the taste for them is too deeply implanted in their souls, too deeply a part of what they are as human beings, ever to be eradicated. It is possible to reject isolated aspects of modernity but not modernity itself. Whether they like it or not, Muslim fundamentalists are modern men -- modern men trying, impossibly, to be something else. … How to persuade themselves and others that their lack of faith, their vacillation, is really the strongest possible faith? What more convincing evidence of faith could there be than to die for its sake? How can a person be really attached or attracted to rap music and cricket and Mercedes cars if he is prepared to blow himself up as a means of destroying the society that produces them? Death will be the end of the illicit attachment that he cannot entirely eliminate from his heart. … By means of suicide bombing, the bombers overcome moral impurities and religious doubts within themselves and, supposedly, strike an external blow for the propagation of the faith.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that in the Islamic paradigm, the pleasures denied on earth are exactly the pleasures offered in heaven. For a typical Muslim male like Abdulmutallab who desperately yearns for sex but does not want to offend Allah, the only escape route becomes to die -- and kill -- for Islam.

Pierre Rehov, the French filmmaker of the documentary Suicide Killers, spent hours speaking with would-be martyrs in Israeli jails and with their families. He noted that they not only spoke about the obvious Islamic instruction to kill Jews and Christians, but also articulated a consistent theme of not being allowed to do anything pleasurable on earth; and so they sought death in order to do it in heaven. Rehov writes:

Imagine a world where separation between men and women is virtually absolute. Where not only sex is a taboo, but where a woman’s body is considered to be so impure that it must be hidden at all times. … In this chauvinistic land, a 16-or 18-year-old boy has a 99% chance of having never touched the hand of a girl or having spoken to one, except for his sister. At this age where libido is at its peak, a young male is in need of these beautiful and forbidden sensations. He needs to prove to himself that he is a man, a future man. But, in this arena, there is no hope -- only frustration. Dating and flirting are forbidden. Marriage is the only tolerated path to sex in the Muslim world. But without money there is no wife. Ironically, while women are the object of the highest contempt, while the temporal existence of flesh is considered despicable (“seek for death, and eternal life will be given to you” -- Prophet Muhammad), the promise of eternal life surrounded by 72 virgins is popularized daily through every arm of the Muslim media. The misguided kids I interviewed while shooting Suicide Killers spoke of the 72 virgins with total conviction. “No one knows how much Allah would have given me in heaven if I had succeeded,” said one of them, who described his ideal target as a mall, a school, or a hospital in Netanya.

Within the confines of this Islamic concentration camp, the young tormented Abdulmutallab desperately sought to purify himself. With his religion informing him of his sinful, despicable, Allah-negating, unwanted physical self, the only way out became to rid himself of his earthly flesh, ideally by taking some infidels along with him. Abdulmutallab hoped to annihilate all that was impure in his earthly existence -- and to gain in Islamic paradise everything that he had denied himself, ever so mercilessly, on earth.