Ed Driscoll

'I Was a Liberal Atheist. And Then My Stepson Found Radical Islam'

Unexpectedly.

“Two years ago this week, my stepson came home wearing an Arabic black thawb. He walked into the sitting-room, smiled defiantly at me and at his father, and asked us how he looked. We were a little shocked, but being English of course we said he looked very nice,” an author writing under the pseudonym of “Claire Stevens” in the UK Spectator notes:

Over the next few months we saw the boy we knew become buried beneath a spiritual totalitarianism. The word Islam means submission. It allows you to love nothing else; to be a good Muslim, you must surrender yourself completely. Under the informal tutelage of his new friends, our boy eagerly took on the attitudes of his Muslim ‘brothers’ in place of his former personality. Why, he protested, didn’t I cook every night? Why didn’t I ‘look after’ him and his dad like a good (Muslim) woman would? I was lazy, I was ‘irresponsible’, he would say, a smug little smile on his face. I felt angry and sad.

To keep the peace, I tried to take it as a joke, informing him that I had a career that involved more than just having babies. Gradually though, I found myself worn down by his attitude.

It wasn’t just women who found themselves at the sharp end of our boy’s new found sagacity. A news story about Afghanistan prompted him to join in our discussion of politics, something which in the past had been of no interest to him. He informed us that the problems in the region were the fault of ‘The Jews’; everything bad in the world could be laid at the door of ‘The Jews’. The Holocaust never happened, he insisted, but in the same breath he would say that ‘the Nazis should have finished them off’. ‘The Jews’ had caused the world financial crisis and, of course, ‘The Jews’ were the reason why he couldn’t find work. It was not because he had neither qualifications nor work experience, although that was probably their fault too.

See also upbringing of John Walker Lindh among the arch-leftists of Marin County. As my fellow PJM columnist Claudia Rosett wrote in December of 2001 in the Wall Street Journal:

John–a k a “Sulayman,” a k a “Abdul Hamid”–is from Marin County, Calif., a place where it is, like, totally uncool to make value judgments.

From Marin, the young Mr. Walker’s parents spot him on the TV news and hustle to share with the world the alternative reality that shaped this self-described jihadi in the first place. Their son John is a spiritual, questing guy, we are told, a pacifist at heart, young and maybe susceptible to brainwashing. John’s mother, Marilyn Walker, tells the press that her son is just a “sweet, shy kid,” “totally not streetwise,” a peaceful, scholarly type who wanted to help poor people. His father, Frank Lindh, announces that John “is a really good boy” even if he does deserve “a little kick in the butt for not telling me what he was up to.”

A Marin musician, Neil Lavin, tells the Associated Press that Mr. Walker was in Afghanistan on a spiritual quest, quite possibly a rewarding one: “I imagine he lost himself there. Or found himself.” A family friend, Bill Jones, tells the San Francisco Chronicle that fighting for bin Laden was just “a youthful indiscretion.”

Even outside Marin, a lot of folks just don’t seem to get it. In one account after another, there is the same perplexed tone: How could it happen that John Walker Lindh, the second of three children reared by broad-minded parents in the emotionally supportive 1990s, in a 3,000-sqare-foot home in one of the wealthiest enclaves on the California coast, ended up questing away with an assault weapon on the enemy side in Afghanistan? Newsweek quotes Mr. Lindh, his father, as saying, “I can’t connect the dots between where John was and where John is.” The magazine concludes: “Neither, it seems, can the rest of the world.”

Unexpectedly.

40 years ago in “The ‘Me’ Decade and the Third Great Awakening,” writing in New York magazine, Tom Wolfe explored the “unexpected” result in America in the 1970s, after the “New Left” began running the culture starting in the mid-1960s, in much the same way that England’s left had dominated its culture since the post-war era:

Ever since the late 1950s both the Catholic Church and the leading Protestant denominations had been aware that young people, particularly in the cities, were drifting away from the faith. At every church conference and convocation and finance-committee meeting the cry went up: We must reach the urban young people. It became an obsession, this business of “the urban young people.” The key—one and all decided—was to “modernize” and “update” Christianity. So the Catholics gave the nuns outfits that made them look like World War II Wacs. The Protestants set up “beatnik coffee-houses” in church basements for poetry reading and bongo playing. They had the preacher put on a turtleneck sweater and sing “Joe Hill” and “Frankie and Johnny” during the hootenanny at the Sunday vespers. Both the priests and the preachers carried placards in civil rights marches, gay rights marches, women’s rights marches, prisoners’ rights marches, bondage lovers’ rights marches, or any other marches, so long as they might appear hip to the urban young people.

* * * * * * * * * *

Today it is precisely the most rational, intellectual, secularized, modernized, updated, relevant religions—all the brave, forward-looking Ethical Culture, Unitarian, and Swedenborgian movements of only yesterday—that are finished, gasping, breathing their last. What the Urban Young People want from religion is a little Hallelujah! . . . and talking in tongues! . . . Praise God! Precisely that! In the most prestigious divinity schools today, Catholic. Presbyterian, and Episcopal, the avant-garde movement, the leading edge, is “charismatic Christianity” . . . featuring talking in tongues, ululation, visions, holy rolling, and other nonrational, even antirational, practices. Some of the most respectable old-line Protestant congregations, in the most placid suburban settings, have begun to split into the Charismatics and the Easter Christians (“All they care about is being seen in church on Easter”). The Easter Christians still usually control the main Sunday-morning service—but the Charismatics take over on Sunday evening and do the holy roll.

This curious development has breathed new life into the existing Fundamentalists, theosophists, and older salvation seekers of all sorts.

It shouldn’t be very surprising that after England’s left had hollowed out its religious roots that many teenagers, adrift and searching for answers would want to have a “great awakening” with the most charismatic religion they could find.

Pay no attention to the horrible aftertaste, though.