If you are inclined toward profiling, you should read through the long and detailed study of the behavior of Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, in today's New York Times. Link here. The Times piece emphasizes the bomber's grievances against the United States and the West.
These approaches have value in some domains, but I doubt that they will really tell us much about the mind of a terrorist. Especially when the group of Islamist extremists within Western countries seems to be growing by the hour.
For my part I am more drawn to the psychosocial analysis offered by Fouad Ajami in the Wall Street Journal last week. Link here.
Ajami addresses a larger issue. How does it happen, he asks, that Western Muslims, seemingly integrated into Western societies, often second generation Westerners, reject their new national identity and reassert the value of their religious beliefs, turning themselves into warriors for Islam who are willing to martyr themselves in order to wreak havoc at the heart of Western civilization?
Ajami's analysis has many moving parts. Let's examine some of them.
He opens his essay with the crucial observation, namely, that Westernized terrorists have no real sense of national identity. They no longer belong to the country or culture of their ancestors, and they cannot adapt to their new culture. Ajami calls them "Islam's nowhere men." Thereby, he emphasizes the terminal anomie that seems to define their mindset and their being.
Let us stop for a moment and ask whether we all believe as much as we should in national identity. How many of us truly identify as proud Americans? Or else, do we consider ourselves to be citizens of the world, proud members of the human species. How many of us feel guilty or ashamed to be Americans? How many of us feel that patriotism is an outmoded virtue, and that loyalty to one's country is for fools and chumps?
You may know that many serious thinkers believe that having a national identity is outmoded in this globalized world. Marching behind the banner of cosmopolitanism, they assert the value of their worldly citizenship, and their membership in the human species.
All of which means that they are promoting anomie. They may themselves never have doubted that they were Americans, but their philosophy seems either to empathize with those who do not feel like they are fully part of the nation or to discourage people from trying.
With all the talk about high self-esteem, we often forget that being confident and proud of yourself has a great deal to do with whether or not you feel like belong to your country and are proud of it.
If you are not, you will feel lost, as though you are no one, having roots nowhere. And once you are nowhere you will be drawn to a universal ideology, a set of beliefs that will suck you into a fanatical group. And that, as Ajami explains, makes you either very miserable or very dangerous.
Among those Islamic men who have failed to assimilate into nations that are most adept at effecting assimilation, we can count Faisal Shahzad, Major Nidal Hasan, Mohammed Atta and the 9/11 terrorists, as well as the London Underground bombers, and many, many more.
They have not left their past behind and have failed to embrace a new nationality. As Ajami writes: "They fled the fire and the failures of the Islamic world but brought the fires with them."
In the 1960s people fled Islamic countries to find a better life, to put all of the blood feuds, political and economic failure behind them. Many of them did very well. They might not have risen to the pinnacle of Western society but they provided better lives for their children.
For which many of their children showed not a whit of gratitude.
It is almost too obvious to mention, but these immigrants joined the great American middle class. Of course, in the lands of their ancestors, the middle class was much smaller. These immigrants went from a social order where there were the very rich and the very poor, alongside a small and ineffectual middle class, into a world where nearly everyone was middle class.
You have to wonder how they lived their membership in the American bourgeoisie. Did they accept the virtue of having a very large middle class, or did they think that there was something undignified about it, almost as though the middle class was really a gussied up, sham version of lower class life?
In the 1960s the dominant American cultural force was assimilation. Immigrants were encouraged to assimilate into a flourishing nation, a nation that was proud of its achievements, a civilization that exuded pride and confidence.
Now, of course, as a consequence of the actions of these home-grown terrorists, the reputations of all patriotic Muslims has been tarnished, and full assimilation is going to be that much more difficult.
Now, also, Western culture has been infested with the anti-assimilationism of multiculturalism and postmodernism. In place of national and civilizational pride, we are burdened with a pervasive sense of guilt. Compared with the 1960's, guilt, in Ajami's words, has now become "an article of faith in the West itself."
In an interview accompanying the publication of his book, The Flight of the Intellectuals, Paul Berman offered an excellent summary of the Western guilt narrative.
In his words: "We look at ourselves in the Western countries and we say that, if we are rich, relatively speaking, as a society, it is because we have plundered our wealth from other people. Our wealth is a sign of our guilt. If we are powerful, compared with the rest of the world, it is because we treat people in the other parts of the world in oppressive and morally objectionable ways. Our privileged position in the world is actually a sign of how racist we are and how imperialistic and exploitative we are. All the wonderful successes of our society are actually the signs of how morally inferior we are, and how much we have to regret and feel guilty about." Link here.
This is likely not the first time you have heard this message. Our president often seems captive of it.
But try reading it through the eyes of someone who comes from one of the less powerful and successful regions of the world. If he assimilates into the West, he has become a co-conspirator with a culture and civilization that has oppressed his native culture, exploited its resources, and fostered its economic failures.
At that price, would you want to become a proud American? Could you be a proud American without feeling like you were betraying your ancestors? And at what point do you start to feel that American success is an offense against your God?
Neither here not there, you come to believe that it is your sacred duty, the basis of your honor as a man, to fight back against the oppressive colossus. And that means deconstructing the grand edifices that represent Western power and prosperity, showing the world that these ephemera do not contain eternal value.
If your God is the only true God, the greatest God, how could He have allowed those infidels to build great cities and to win great wars? He could not have. Your goal in life, the meaning of your existence, becomes a responsibility to reveal the fraud of Western civilization, and to convert the West to the religion of your God.
By this point the terrorist's thinking has simply gone off the rails. If you want to convert people to your religion, your best and most honorable path is to set an example of good and pious behavior, an example that will inspire others to emulate you and to embrace your God.
If Islam were a shame culture, as everyone seems to believe, and not a pseudo-shame culture, as it is, it would have encouraged its believers to counter Judeo-Christian civilizational successes with its own successes. If you have a sense of shame, thus a sense of dignity and propriety, you do not advance your cause by murdering innocent people in the interest of disseminating fear and terror.
In a guilt culture, your neighbor's success is a direct reproach to you and to your values. It is an offense against your God, an offense that requires immediate punishment.
The only way to assert the power of your God, to reveal the emptiness of the infidel's success, is to destroy his cities, murder his children, and punish him for his crimes.
If the role of the father involves protecting and providing for one's family, then an attack against one's children must be intended to show that the father is derelict in his duties.
Despite all the blather about shame culture, the terrorist makes himself judge, jury, and executioner.
Hi is trying to sow terror, but also to disembarrass us of our pride, pride in our achievements, our accomplishments, and even our victories.
Terrorism wants us to feel more guilt, to abandon our dignity and integrity, the better to join the worldwide guilt culture of Islam.
Those who believe that the best way to fight Islamic radicalism is to refuse to call it by its name, the better to adopt a posture of contrite appeasement... as though we really deserved what we got on 9/11... are responding to this challenge in the most abject fashion.
As the Times points out, Faisal Shahzad was outraged by the American response to 9/11. The notion that the Great Satan, having seen the monumental power of the God of Islam, would dare fight back, would dare defend itself, and would even dare to counterpunch by trying to implant its values, values of democracy and capitalism, in the heart of the Islamic world, was too much to endure.
No small number of Americans also thought that it was a severe breach of their moral principles. After all, if we fight back that means that we do not understand that it was our criminal ways that incited terrorism, and that the only way to defeat it would be to do penance for our sins.
Shahzad saw what was happening in America and decided to join the anti-war movement. But his was not the kind of empty protests involving political theater. He was better than all that. Like our own home grown terrorists did during the Viet Nam War, Shahzad wanted to bring the war home. He wanted to demoralize the polity to the point where they would give up, give in, and bow down to the greater God of Islam.
After all, he, and any terrorist worthy of the name, could smell weakness, and thus, eventual victory.