Roger L. Simon

Upstairs/Downstairs Among the Salafists

David Ignatius has an interesting column on the decidedly upscale profiles of many of the Islamic terror militants. He relates this to the upper middle class character of some of our more extreme sixties activists. [Is he talking about you?-ed. I wasn’t that rich.]

Reading some of the London bombers’ biographies, you realize the depth of their cultural confusion: “Shahzad Tanweer, 23, came from one of Beeston’s most respected families,” wrote The London Independent about one of the July 7 bombers. And according to The Washington Post, he had just received a red Mercedes from his dad.

This is not Patty Hearst or the Weather Underground – it’s a far more deadly revolt of privilege. But people who were students in the 1960s will remember the phenomenon: The kids from elite public and private schools who went to college, felt guilty about their comfort amid a brutal world, and joined the Progressive Labor Party to ally with oppressed Third World workers. There is a cult aspect to this jihad – an extreme version of the logic that has always drawn disaffected kids to self-destructive behavior.

Of course this goes against the theory (hate the word ‘meme’, sorry) that these terrorist activities are all about the anger of an economic underclass. It’s a lot more complicated that and I think stems in some degree from a form of projected cultural shame on the part of these rich kids. They and their families are indeed the true exploiters. Ignatius looks at this from another angle when he writes:

What will stop this revolt of privileged Muslims? One possibility is that it will be checked by the same process that derailed the revolt of the rich kids in America after the 1960s – namely, the counter-revolt of the poor kids. Poor Muslims simply can’t afford the rebellion of their wealthy brethren, and the havoc it has brought to the House of Islam. For make no mistake: The people suffering from jihadism are mostly Muslims.

I can’t imagine that the poor Egyptians who’ve been struggling to make a living in the resort towns around Sharm el-Sheik are too happy this week. The jihadists who came bumping over the mountains to detonate last weekend’s bombs may have been thinking of the 72 virgins that awaited them in heaven. But the Egyptian fella is thinking about where he’s going to get his next paycheck to feed his family.

And I can’t imagine that the poor Iraqis whose families are being blown away by daily suicide bombs feel a great kinship with the Saudi jihadists who have been slipping across the border via Syria, trying to slake their angst about modern life through martyrdom.

UPDATE: More from Austin of Austin on the Al Qaeda rich kids. [Aren’t you getting tired of that Austin joke?-ed. Call me the Milton Berle of the blogosphere.]

MORE: Of course not all these folks seem off the “playing fields of Eton.” But you never know.

AND: I don’t think the new IRA non-violence pledge is unrelated to the current situation. Blowing people up is losing popularity fast.