FROM THE BOOK NOMAD
by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2010)
I would say it is not exaggerated to say that probably 95 percent of Americans [I would include Canada as well] have no knowledge about the facts presented by Ayaan Hirsi in this chapter of her book. All black lettering is mine - Keith Hunt
Islam in America
The more I traveled around the United States, talking to people about my life, the more I was struck by other differences between the two sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The American audiences clearly felt a sense of outrage at the injustices committed against girls, apostates, and infidels in the name of Islam, just as Europeans did, but Americans seemed much more interested in finding solutions, volunteering, mobilizing—and taking action.
On the other hand, although American audiences were hungry with curiosity—everywhere I went, people had to be turned away because the rooms were too small—they also seemed far less aware than Europeans of the problems that I was talking about.
To take one example: in Europe more or less everyone has heard about Muslim families who punish and murder women who trespass their boundaries of custom and faith. Such stories are featured regularly in the newspapers. People in almost every European audience to which I have spoken had heard of at least one brutal murder of a young girl. Thus most European audiences already understand that Muslim immigrants create specific social problems in their countries and that they often involve the oppression of women on European soil.
But in America I was constantly surprised that most people in my audiences perceive Islam as largely about foreign policy—an important question for America's national security, maybe, but essentially about people living overseas. Whenever I spoke, American listeners gasped in indignant surprise at the very concepts of child marriage, honor killing, and female excision. Rarely, if ever, did it occur to these audiences that many women and girls suffer precisely these kinds of oppression in houses and apartment buildings all over the United States.
Roughly 130 million women around the world have had their genitals cut. The operation is inflicted on an estimated six thousand little girls every day. If 98 percent of Somali women are cut, 95 percent of women from Mali, and 90 percent of Sudanese, how many women does that make in every subway car in New York, on every freeway in Colorado and Kansas? If 97 percent of Egyptian girls are genitally mutilated, what percentage of Egyptian girls born in the United States are cut? None? I don't think so.* But my audiences couldn't believe that.
I had encountered this kind of incredulity before, of course. Ten years earlier, when I began speaking out in Holland against genital mutilation, Dutch people were just as horrified as Americans to learn about it. I was constantly told that immigrants to Europe knew that this practice was against the law in Europe, so it just didn't happen to children once they got to Holland.
I did not believe that was true. In fact once I became a member of Parliament and helped to pass a law requiring the authorities to actually look into the situation, we confirmed that little girls' genitals were being cut, without anesthetic, on kitchen tables in Rotterdam and Utrecht.
There are already many genitally mutilated women and girls in America, and many others at risk of mutilation. To take the culture I know best, it is a rare Somali family that will refrain from cutting their daughters, wherever they live. All but the most assimilated parents want their children to marry within the Somali community, and they believe that an "impure" girl, one whose clitoris and vagina are intact, will not find a husband.
They may perform the "lesser" circumcision, which involves cutting only the skin of the clitoris, but most of them will do just as our fathers (and mothers and grandmothers) have always done: they will cut off the clitoris and cut the lips of the vagina so that it scars shut, to create a built-in chastity belt. They do not always need to fly back to Africa to do this. Every Somali com-
*A11 figures come from Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective/Violence Against Women (2003), Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Its Causes and Consequences, Radhika Coomaraswamy, submitted in accordance with Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2002/52/.
munity has members who can provide this service close to home, or who know someone, somewhere nearby, who will.
There are already Muslim schools in America where girls learn all day long to be subservient and lower their eyes, to veil themselves to symbolize the suppression of their individual will. They are taught to internalize male superiority and walk very softly into the mosque by a back door. In weekend Quran schools girls learn that God requires them to obey, that they are worth less than boys and have fewer rights before God. This too is happening in America.
But on one point my audiences were insistent. Surely honor crimes, the systematic beatings and even murder to punish a daughter or sister or wife whose "misbehavior" casts shame on the family, could not possibly happen in the United States, the land of the free?
As a newcomer to the country, I had no idea whether that was true.
But I was soon to find out that this aspect of Islam's dysfunctional culture had already made its way into the American heartland.
Even though I outraged some Americans with the stories I told about institutionalized Islamic misogyny, I was haunted by the fear that I might instead inspire them merely to pity me. The whole point of my memoir, I tried to explain, is that I have been extraordinarily lucky. I managed to make it out of the world of dogma and oppression and into the sunlight of independence and free ideas. I did escape, and at every stage of that process of escape I was assisted by the goodwill of ordinary non-Muslims, just like the people in those audiences.
It's true that I have had to pay a price for leaving Islam and for speaking out. For instance, I have to pay for round-the-clock security because of the death threats against me. But because Islam demands that anyone who leaves the religion be punished by death, this constant fear is to some extent shared by all Muslims who leave the faith as well as those who practice a less strict form of it.
In my books and talks I want to inspire readers to think of the others, those who are still locked in the world I have left behind. I use anecdotes from my life and the stories of women I know or who have e-mailed me or stepped up to speak to me. By drawing verbal pictures of them I try to help audiences relate to them as real people. Behind the veil are human beings of flesh and blood, mind and soul, and once you perceive the suffering that lies behind that veil, it is harder to turn away.
These are little girls who love learning, but who are taken out of school when they begin to menstruate because their families fear that they may meet improper influences in school and sully their purity.
Children are married to adult strangers they have never met.
Women long to live productive, working lives, but are instead confined within the walls of their father's or husband's house.
Girls and women are beaten, hard and often, for a sidelong glance, a suspicion of lipstick, a text message; they have nowhere to turn because their parents, community, and preachers approve of these deadening punishments.
Most American audiences reacted, first, with astonishment, and second with compassion to stories of the routine horrors of a Muslim woman's life, even as they struggled to believe it was happening in their own country.
There was one exception to this reaction.
This was on college campuses, exactly the kind of environment where I had expected curiosity, lively debate, and, yes, the thrill and energy of like-minded activists.
Instead almost every campus audience I encountered bristled with anger and protest. I was accustomed to radical Muslim students from my experience as an activist and a politician in Holland. Any time I made a public speech, they would swarm to it in order to shout at me and rant in broken Dutch, in sentences so fractured you wondered how they qualified as students at all.
On college campuses in the United States and Canada, by contrast, young and highly articulate people from the Muslim student associations would simply take over the debate. They would send e-mails of protest to the organizers beforehand, such as one (sent by a divinity student at Harvard) that protested that I did not "address anything of substance that actually affects Muslim women's lives" and that I merely wanted to "trash" Islam. They would stick up posters and hand out pamphlets at the auditorium. Before I'd even stopped speaking they'd be lining up for the microphone, elbowing away all non-Muslims. They spoke in perfect English; they were mostly very well-mannered; and they appeared far better assimilated than their European immigrant counterparts. There were far fewer bearded young men in robes short enough to show their ankles, aping the tradition that says the Prophet's companions dressed this way out of humility, and fewer girls in hideous black veils. In the United States a radical Muslim student might have a little goatee; a girl may wear a light, attractive headscarf. Their whole demeanor was far less threatening, but they were omnipresent.
Some of them would begin by saying how sorry they were for all my terrible suffering, but they would then add that these so-called traumas of mine were aberrant, a "cultural thing," nothing to do with Islam. In blaming Islam for the oppression of women, they said, I was vilifying them personally, as Muslims. I had failed to understand that Islam is a religion of peace, that the Prophet treated women very well. Several times I was informed that attacking Islam only serves the purpose of something called "colonial feminism," which in itself was allegedly a pretext for the war on terror and the evil designs of the U.S. government.
I was invited to one college to speak as part of a series of lectures on Muslim women. I was amazed and delighted that an American university would devote an entire lecture series to this subject, but when I received the poster for the series, I was downcast.
The veil, honor killings and female genital mutilations are now commonly seen, in the West, as signs of Muslim women's oppression.
So far, so good. But then it went on:
Muslim women's liberation has served as a justification for interventions in the War on Terror. But this is not new. Since the days of British colonialism, the women question has been used to justify rule. This is what Leila Ahmed termed colonial feminism—the selective concern for Muslim women's plight, focusing on the veil rather than education, while opposing women's suffrage back home in imperial England. Why the veil and not education, or health, sexuality, economic and legal rights, religious and gender equality? These latter issues are admittedly messier than a cultural iconic one. They belong to a complex web of historical and political dynamics and interactions, which challenges us to, in the words of Lila AbuLughod, "consider our own larger responsibilities to address the forms of global injustice that are powerful shapers of the world in which [Muslim women] find themselves."
And so on. As soon as it made an interesting point, this little poster veered off into academic nonsense. All its assumptions were either morally or factually empty.
First, the term colonial feminism carries a snide implication that this alleged brand of feminism somehow subjects women rather than frees them. Concern for the plight of Muslim women was not remotely related to the original European colonization of what is now called the developing world. The scramble for Africa was a brazen competition openly motivated by gold, God, and glory, not a gracious attempt to emancipate little girls.
One great side effect of colonization, however, was that European countries brought their political and legal infrastructure to many Muslim countries, which did improve the situation of women in significant ways. Ignoring this, and beating constantly on the monotonous drum of colonial oppression and bigotry, excuses formerly colonized peoples from scrutiny and criticism for their own failings. For after the colonizers left, many countries reintroduced Shari'a law—always, first, as "Family Law" (in other words, women's law)—and the situation of women in every case became worse.
The idea that something called colonial (or sometimes neocolonial) feminism was a pretext for George W. Bush's war on terror does not stand up to scrutiny either.
It is akin to the suspicion that there are Jewish conspiracies: an attempt to displace blame. I was a member of the Dutch Parliament at the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, serving a party that was in government, and when we debated the question of whether to vote for or against the war (I voted in favor), the arguments were about weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein's unwillingness to admit international atomic inspectors into the country. Just as with the invasion of Afghanistan, nobody mentioned Muslim women and their liberation as a reason to go to war. Moreover, when the United States put new constitutions in place in both Afghanistan and Iraq, they indulged the Muslim clerics, making family law subject to Shari'a.
The argument that by criticizing Islam you defame believing Muslims is also specious.
If I criticize George Washington, I am not defaming Americans; if I deplore Abraham's lying to Pharaoh about his wife being his sister I am not slandering other Jews—or, for that matter, Muslims, who also recognize Abraham as a Patriarch.
But a religion, Islam, based on a book, the Quran, that denies women basic human rights is backward, and to say so is not an insult but an opinion. If it is a valid criticism, then ignoring the book's view and the practice of victimizing women that stems from it adds to the harming of the victims. My view does not defame Muslims who do not have this belief or do not themselves oppress women.
Similarly, many of the defenders of Islam on campuses also magnified the horror of America's record on civil rights: the extermination and displacement of Native Americans, the slave trade, absurd and cruel laws of segregation. These records are a fact.
However, it is also a fact that, especially compared to other developed nations, the United States has led the way in promoting the notion, first at home and to this day in foreign lands, that all people are born free and equal. It is also a matter of record that the American civil rights movement ultimately succeeded in peacefully overcoming the many forms of discrimination against African Americans that persisted long after the end of slavery. From the vantage point of a relative newcomer to the United States, this is not a bad record at all. Yet apparently this was not what many college students were learning.
On campus after campus I would stare in despair at these confident young men and women, born in the United States, who had so manifestly benefited from every advantage of Western education yet were determined to ignore the profound differences between a theocratic mind-set and a democratic mind-set.
I once resembled them myself, in the days when I too wore a headscarf and strove to obey and submit with all my mind rather than to question and speak out.
But I believe there is a difference between these students and my younger self. These students seemed to lack a basic human empathy for other Muslim women—women who are just like they are but who cannot speak in public or even go to school. If they lived in Saudi Arabia, under Shari'a law, these college girls in their pretty scarves wouldn't be free to study, to work, to drive, to walk around. In Saudi Arabia girls their age and younger are confined, are forced to marry, and if they have sex outside of marriage they are sentenced to prison and flogged.
According to the Quran, their husband is permitted to beat them and decide whether they may work or even leave the house; he may marry other women without seeking their approval, and if he chooses to divorce them, they have no right to resist or to keep custody of their children.
Doesn't this matter at all to these clever young Muslim girls in America?
I would look around the well-furnished auditoriums of the elite American colleges, rich in so many ways, and think of the many small tragedies they contained. These young people, who had experienced only personal freedom, a liberal education, and economic opportunity, could become the vectors of democratic values, the standard-bearers of a new, more modern Islam, blending Muslim characteristics with Western openness. Yet although they are clearly exposed to education of the highest quality, they refuse to look reality in the face, to see that just because something is written, it is not necessarily right.
Instead they insist on a black-and-white view of Islam. They concentrate on defending the image of the Prophet Muhammad, a dead man, from "insults."
Why, I asked, did they not organize to defend other Muslims, other women? Even though many were attending colleges where the entire educational ethos was constructed around the need for justice and solidarity with the poor and displaced, the sufferings of women under Islam were simply overlooked.
There are activist groups of every stripe on campus, yet nothing for girls fleeing Islam, no group fighting for the rights of Muslim women. When violence is committed in the name of Islam these student activists are silent.
Even when Muslims blow up other Muslims who differ in their interpretation of this supposedly peaceful religion; even when children are used as suicide bombers; even when a devout Muslim woman is raped, goes to the authorities, and is sentenced to be stoned on the grounds that she has had sex outside of marriage—even then, these students are silent.
There is a problem with Islam, I would tell the Muslim students who hectored me. By ignoring it, you, student or adult, do a disservice to your community. If your goal is to seek the truth, which education is supposed to do, then we cannot deny that a strict interpretation of Islam is preparation for bigotry, violence, and oppression.
You cannot deny that the failure of Muslim societies in the world today to provide peace, prosperity, and opportunities to their inhabitants is linked to these beliefs. Whether your country of origin is Pakistan, Morocco, or Somalia, you are not living there for a reason. Please, embrace what you and your parents bought that airplane ticket to America for: fair justice and a better life, in a place where you can be safe from tyranny, keep the fruits of your labor, and have a say in the running of the country. And if you believe that there should be Shari'a law in America, please, fly back home and take a look at what it's really like.
I would cite the Quran, chapter and verse, where it specifically mandates unequal and cruel treatment of women.
For instance, chapter 4, verse 34 instructs men to beat the women from whom they fear possible disobedience.
In response, some would become angry and shout that other religions also have passages in their holy books that are not friendly to women. Others argued, absurdly, that beating merely referred to a symbolic tap with a tiny stick the size of a toothbrush. Most would soon segue back into their favorite theme: my exceptionally traumatized youth, my vengeful, personal vendetta against all Muslims.
Such encounters with small but vocal antagonists were seldom fun.
But every now and then I realized that my arguments were achieving something.
Perhaps I was not changing the minds of the self-appointed defenders of Islam, but I was opening the eyes of the majority of non-Muslim students in the audience. Often I glimpsed the horror on their faces as they realized that these veiled and bearded youngsters, with whom for years they had shared cups of coffee, books, and classes, did not share their most basic values.
At one speech at Scripps College, a women's liberal arts school in Claremont, California, the auditorium was packed, and even before my talk ended a long line of Muslim girls began to form in front of the microphone to ask questions. But before anyone could make the first comment, a girl in a headscarf called out from the audience, "WHO THE HELL GIVES YOU THE RIGHT TO TALK ABOUT ISLAM?"
A red-haired kid standing in the line yelled back, "THE FIRST AMENDMENT!"
That was inspiring.
In March 2008 the New York Times ran a piece headlined "Resolute or Fearful, Many Muslims Turn to Home Schooling." I read, appalled, that 40 percent of Pakistani and Southeast Asian families in the Lodi district east of San Francisco have opted for home schooling for their daughters.
Many possible reasons for this decision were listed in the article: so that Muslim children will not be teased or mocked, exposed to pork, "corrupted" by American influences—but mainly so that the girls do not engage in behaviors that would "dishonor" their families and render them unsuitable for marriage.
Smiling, Vermeer-like photos of young girls in veils, reading and playing with their yo-yos, softened the shock that this information might otherwise elicit. But why should American citizens or future American citizens be taught that girls must cover their hair and even their faces? That boys and men are entitled to boss girls around? That loyalty to another, higher law is more important than loyalty to the U.S. Constitution? That a minimal education and an arranged marriage to your cousin is all that a female American Muslim needs? Why live in the United States if you want to keep girls culturally illiterate?
It is important to remember that Muslim schools are different from so-called regular Christian or Jewish schools. By "regular" I mean schools that are Christian or Jewish in identity but have secular curricula. Muslim schools, by contrast, are more or less like madrassas, which emphasize religion more than any other subject. Students are taught to distance themselves from science and the values of freedom, individual responsibility, and tolerance. The establishment of a Muslim school anywhere in the world, but especially in the West, gives Wahabis and other wealthy Muslim extremists an opportunity to isolate and indoctrinate vulnerable groups of children.
When I was growing up in Kenya, my best friend, Amira, was from a Yemeni family. They lived in Nairobi as if they were still in Yemen. Although Amira was at least permitted to attend school—a Muslim school—she had to marry a man from Yemen who couldn't read or write and showed absolutely no respect for her. Her cousin Muna was spectacularly smart—when she was eleven she ranked seventh in a nationwide exam—but when she was fifteen she was married to a pudgy man twice her age who took her away with him to Saudi Arabia.
Amira and Muna, like so many Muslim girls, were seen by their families as little more than incubators for sons. They had no intrinsic value and few choices. That is what lies behind the soft-focus photograph of those three little girls in jilbabs on their sofa in America.
Today most Muslims in America are unquestionably different from most Muslims who live in Europe. Because they come mainly through airports, and thus have visas, they have undergone a kind of preselection process based on their educational level, their prosperity, and their language skills. In America this process is far more critical, more attentive to an immigrant's skills and the benefits he will bring to the host country, than in Europe, where the focus is on the benefits the immigrant will gain. Because of simple geographical proximity, Muslims in Europe may arrive illegally and in any case almost always cheaply, looking for menial jobs. This difference doesn't necessarily keep Muslim girls from being oppressed in America, but it does mean that Muslims here are more likely to be middle-class, English-speaking professionals who have made a conscious choice to assimilate some basic American values.
In the United States, because visa requirements are so strict, it is much harder for a male immigrant to later bring in a new bride from his home country, as is commonly done in Europe. So the constant importing of docile, fresh brides from the distant countryside of Morocco or Turkey is less flagrant than in Europe. American Muslims marry other American Muslims; this is another reason why Muslim women's position is better here.
Veiled schoolgirls are one very evident marker of the rise of revivalist, purist Islam, however. They are much less numerous in America than they are in most European cities, but their numbers are visibly growing. And it is now a common sight to see young women in full-length dresses or robes and heavy headscarves, often pushing strollers, in the streets of American cities. The increase in the number of Muslims (whether they are tourists, American residents, or citizens) determined to display their piety is both a measure of their conviction and a measure of growing attempts at social control of those Muslim women who might easily be distracted from the straight path. As more immigrants come to the United States from Muslim countries, they maintain enclaves of tradition that are far stronger than those of other, comparable immigrant groups. And as more dawa, missionary work, is done by revivalist groups financed by Saudi Arabia, Muslims in America are becoming much more hard-line.
Probably half the mosques in America have received Saudi money, and many (perhaps most) teachers and preachers of Islam have been supported by Saudi charities such as the Muslim World League. Through the Islamic Society of North America, Muslim student associations, the Islamic Circle of North America, and the Saudi-sponsored World Muslim League, the Saudis have financed summer camps for children, institutes for training imams, the distribution of Islamic literature, mosque building, lectures, and dawa work throughout the United States. According to a survey by the Muslim lobby Council on American-Islamic Relations, 33 percent of the mosques in America do not permit women on their governing boards and 66 percent seclude women behind a wall, where they can listen to the sermon through loudspeakers but cannot see the imam speaking. That last figure has actually risen since 1994, when it was "only" 54 percent.
I believe it would be a grave mistake to be complacent about Islam in America.
According to the Mosque Study Project 2000, regular weekly attendance at mosques almost doubled between 1994 and 2000, and active association with mosques quadrupled.
Young Muslims born or raised in the United States are often much more observant of Islamic practice than their parents are. In the United States 50 percent of Muslims age eighteen to twenty-nine say they attend a mosque every week, far more often than the older generations.
And the poll didn't mention what kind of mosque. I suspect that, just as I once succumbed to radical Islam when I was a teenager in Kenya, young Muslims in America are drawn to preachers who are young, attractive, intelligent, who seem to echo their sense of being misunderstood outsiders, who give them a shot of self-esteem and the sense of a special purpose in life.
They reject their grandparents' Islam of jinn and mumbling imams, more folk tradition than quranic dogma, and seek the imagined intellectual purity of the Prophet's true path.
At college they join Muslim students associations, which transcend ethnic differences. They are far more likely to worship in an ethnically mixed mosque, one that is not just a kind of cultural club, but that joins together young Somalis and Pakistanis and Yemenis under the banner of the Prophet.
Europeans ignored a similar trend for decades, and young Muslim citizens of Europe were steadily radicalized without any concerted attempt to persuade them into less toxic attitudes. Now they are almost a fifth column.
Can you be a Muslim and an american patriot? You can if you don't care very much about being a Muslim. If you squint and look away, you can avoid thinking about the very basic clashes between the submissive, collectivist values of Islam and the individualist, libertarian values of the democratic West.
In a 2007 poll by the Pew Center, 63 percent of U.S. Muslims said they saw no conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.
But 32 percent conceded that, yes, there is such a conflict, and almost 50 percent of the Muslim Americans questioned in that poll said they think of themselves as Muslims first, Americans second. Only 28 percent, little more than a quarter, considered themselves Americans first.
Asked whether suicide bombing can be justified as a measure to defend Islam, 26 percent of American Muslims age eighteen to twenty-nine said yes. That is one quarter of the adult American Muslims under the age of thirty, and no matter how you count the number of Muslims in America (estimates vary from 2 million to 8 million), that is a lot of people.
We are still at an early stage in the radicalization of Muslim youth in America, but the first symptoms of the disorder are already manifesting themselves, just as they did in Europe.
There have already been numerous reports of young American Muslims—many of them Somali, others converts—leaving the United States for training in violent jihad abroad. For example, at least two dozen Somali youths from Minnesota are said to have gone to Somalia to fight in the civil war there. Nothing illustrates more clearly my point that the threat posed by radical Islam is both internal and external.
On a few occasions I was invited to speak at offices of the U.S. government about cultural aspects of Islam, what military people call ”cultural intelligence." My questioners wanted to know more about Muslim customs and habits to be able to distinguish traditional and harmless customs from the new practices of politicized Muslims, so they could detect where something dangerous to U.S. interests might be brewing.
They asked me a lot about my teenage years.
When I was sixteen my religious studies teacher in Nairobi, Sister Aziza, began encouraging me and my schoolmates to reject our grandmothers' Islam of amulets and superstitious prayers to our forefathers. She introduced us to a literal interpretation of the Quran. Sister Aziza persuaded us to wear the veil and to seek to emulate in all matters the original intention and behavior of the Prophet Muhammad and his followers. The Pentagon wanted to know more about how this movement affected the people around me, how they changed from "normal Muslims" into politically active Muslims, actively hostile toward Jews and the West. These military analysts were interested not just in jihadi combatants but also in the process that radicalizes whole communities so that they will aid, abet, support, and accommodate jihadi attackers.
First, I told them how mosques have changed. In the old-style mosques in Nairobi—in Eastleigh, in Juja Road, in Park Road—only men attended and the sermon was chanted once a week in Arabic, which almost no one understood, in a monotonous, almost soporific tone. In the 1980s a new kind of worshipper and teacher infiltrated those old-style mosques and set up new mosques in living rooms and basements. Sermons were not limited to Fridays, and study groups were set up for young people, where we read and analyzed the Quran and the Hadith. The tone of the sermons became shrill and loud, with a revivalist edge and dramatic climaxes and whispers. And their content was political. The vocabulary of the sermons changed; the new imams would shout out words like Yahud (Jew), kaffir (unbeliever), and munafirq (hypocrite), by which they meant Muslims who did not agree with them.
I described a visit I made to Cyprus as a member of the Dutch Parliament in 2006. We visited the office of Archbishop Chrysostomos. Right next door there was a mosque, and hearing these words shouted during the sermon, I knew it was not a "normal," traditional imam who preached there but a political, radicalized Muslim teacher. When I said this to the archbishop, he sighed and told me that the change had happened years ago. Before that, he said, the sermons were a peaceful drone, but afterward the tone became louder and more hostile.
Another feature of a revivalist mosque, I explained, is that women, who almost never attended the old mosques, now flock there.When I was growing up, women's presence was neither necessary nor particularly desirable, unless it was a special day, such as the Eid festival after Ramadan. But in radical mosques special classes involve women in the lesser and greater jihads for the glory of the Prophet. If you see women flocking to the mosque to pray, perhaps you should be suspicious.
The U.S. government officials to whom I spoke wanted to analyze how Islam is used as a political tool to mobilize masses of young men to do harm; they wanted to understand how proselytizing, dawa, operates. Their hope was that I could help them to distinguish a peaceful, regular practice of Islam from something more harmful. It was the same kind of question I had heard in Europe many times before: How do people cross that line? How can you tell when they have done so?
My answer was that they should stop focusing so exclusively on the action of a few proselytizing radicals.
By this I don't mean they should no longer pay attention to radical individuals who are preaching Islamism. I mean that, in trying to understand why so many young Muslims are susceptible to the persuasions of the radical agents one must first study the content, the context, and the methods by which almost all Muslims are reared to become practicing Muslims: the agent utilizes an existing memory, reawakens the recollections of the classes from early childhood. At first he or she reinforces those memories, then moves on to the next stage of politicization, and only later violence or martyrdom.
If you are a Muslim, from the time you are born your mind is prepared.
You are instructed to submit, not to question. Then, when preachers speak to you about returning to the pure, true path of jihad and personal morality laid down by the Prophet Muhammad, they're not introducing you to something new or alien. They're building on layers of a mental structure that you have imbibed from your parents, your community, your childhood Quran teacher. Thus the stage preceding radicalization in the Muslim mind, the stage when "regular" Islam is taught, is very important. Although the teachings are at first focused on prayer, charity, and fasting, the method by which Muslims learn is rote, and believers are not allowed to question the text or the sayings of Muhammad.
After years of an uncritical attitude toward Islamic teachings in general and a demand for obedience, the Muslim mind is ready, prepared when the radical agent shows up. Moreover the mechanism of reward and punishment in Islamic teaching, reinforced by the tribal demand for unquestioning loyalty to the group, makes it difficult for an individual Muslim to resist or even recognize the radical agent as suspect.
All who are concerned with the relative ease with which young Muslims follow the radicals must focus on these preceding stages. Because most politicians and academic researchers define Islam as a harmless religion and view the radicals as deviant, they overlook the importance of delving into the socialization process of the Muslim.
American agencies and academics and social psychologists make a big mistake when they try to understand a brainwashed mind only from the time it becomes radical.
Radical Islam is sold in steps, and this is true in America too.
At first it is marketed as a program for virtuous behavior, for goodness. Then you are encouraged to seek out other Muslims, to befriend only each other. The whole rancid subject of violent jihad is broached only in the later stages. But the prehistory of radicalism is a soft brainwashing in submission—the real meaning of the word Islam—from birth.
In early November 2009 I was in New York for a series of meetings. It was exactly five years since the murder of my friend Theo van Gogh by a jihadi youth in Amsterdam.
On Thursday of that week I was on my way from a lunchtime meeting when the news came through on the car radio of a shooting at an army base in Texas. American soldiers had been killed in America. There was confusion about the killer's identity: Was he a psychiatrist or a psychiatric patient? Was he killed or still alive? I was intrigued by the combination of his name, Nidal Malik Hassan, and his military rank of major.
As soon as I was done with my meetings I hurried to go online, eager for more details of the story. The television reports I saw clarified a good deal. The killer had been captured and was in the hospital; he was a psychiatrist and not a mental patient; the number of victims was thirteen. As I watched the clips I couldn't help thinking, Islamic martyrdom has come to America. Not only that, but it has penetrated the U.S. military itself.
The story of Nidal Malik Hassan is in many ways similar to that of Mohammed Bouyeri, the murderer of Theo van Gogh. There are also some glaring differences, to be sure. Bouyeri was born in Amsterdam; his father had moved from Morocco to the Netherlands as a guest worker, initially intending to go back home after he earned enough money. Morocco is a poor country but relatively peaceful. Malik Hassan, by contrast, was born in the United States to parents of Palestinian origin, who settled in Virginia and opened a restaurant. The Palestinian territories are in perpetual war, and families are exposed to the upheaval of that war. Malik Hassan's parents had chosen to begin a new life in America and to become Americans.
Bouyeri was only twenty-six when he embarked on his martyrdom mission, while Malik Hassan was thirty-nine. This difference is interesting because it challenges the well-accepted theory that men of Malik Hassan's age are more likely to enable a suicide mission than to take action themselves. Bouyeri's career did not go beyond demanding a government subsidy for a community center where he volunteered, while Malik Hassan made it all the way to the rank of major and earned a degree in psychiatry. Malik Hassan killed thirteen people; Bouyeri poured all his homicidal passion into killing just one man, though he also declared his intention to kill me.
The similarities, however, were uncanny. Both men were introduced to radical Islam not in a Muslim country (Morocco or the Palestinian Territories or Jordan) but in secular democracies: America and the Netherlands.
Both came to detest their home nation, to the extent that they wanted to kill their fellow citizens.
Both invoked the name of Allah as they killed and said that they were motivated to kill as a service to Allah.
Both thought they would be killed in the process and become shaheed, or martyrs.
But both men woke up in hospitals in the hands of the infidel.
One is now in a Dutch prison for the rest of his life, and the other will likely end up on death row.
An even more striking similarity between the two is the astonishing reaction to the incidents in both the Dutch media in 2004 and the American media in 2009—astonishing because it seemed as if all explanations were plausible except the one explicitly stated by the killer, namely his religion.
In both countries the murderers were presented as being fed up with offensive discriminatory behavior.
Bouyeri was said to have been compelled to act by Theo van Gogh's reference to Moroccan youth as "goat fuckers."
In America a similar significance was attached to the military slang terms for Arabs in Iraq, such as "camel jockeys."
In both countries analysts sought answers in the psychological imbalance of the killers.
Serious meaning was attached to the fact that just days before Bouyeri committed the murder his mother had passed away of natural causes; the shock and grief he felt at her death were seen as possible motivations to kill van Gogh. Similarly the case of Malik Hassan, allusions were made to post-traumatic stress due to combat, until it emerged that he had not been anywhere near combat.
In both countries the debate then turned to whose fault it was that the murderer was not prevented from killing.
In Holland the Dutch Intelligence and Security Agency was investigating a radical Islamic cell called the Hofstad Group, but the investigators overlooked Bouyeri's role in that group. It transpired only after the murder that he was in fact the leader.
In America there was information that the FBI had intercepted e-mails between Malik Hassan and his mentor, Imam Al Awlaki, but no action had been taken.
Why, I asked myself, was there such a conspiracy to ignore the religious motivations for these killings?
And then I began to understand.
First, there is a desperate need for intelligence agencies to recruit Muslim agents and sources in order to penetrate the radical Islamist networks. As all Muslims are offended by the charge that Islam is a violent religion, it is official policy not to say so.
The same applies to the military:
American and allied soldiers do not go into places like Iraq and Afghanistan simply to fight men in uniform whom they can easily identify as the enemy. Their mission is now a complex mixture of fighting, policing, social work, and "nation building." They too are in desperate need of cooperation from the locals, and that overwhelmingly means Muslims. Thus the military takes the same line as the intelligence services: It is not Islamic scripture, the Prophet, or the Quran that presents a coherent argument and activism for jihad, but a misguided few who have usurped the pure and peaceful teachings of Islam.
On the Thursday after the shooting I was catching a flight from New York to Boston. The TV screens at the departure gate were dominated by the image of Nidal Malik Hassan. A woman sitting next to me was staring at the screen.
"Are you worried about terrorism?" I asked.
"I am," she replied, "but this is America they are messing with, and they won't succeed."
"But he was in the military," I said, "an enemy from within."
She fidgeted a little and then gave me a line that I would have expected to hear from a policymaker. "We cherish our diversity in this country," she told me just before we were interrupted by the call to board the aircraft.
Diversity is a wonderful concept, I thought, and E pluribus unum, "Out of many, one," is one of the mottos proudly displayed on the Great Seal of the United States (and therefore on every dollar bill).
But Americans still have a long way to go before they really understand the challenge posed to their country by radical Islam, a religion that rejects not only those core principles of the Enlightenment that so inspired the founding fathers, but also the very notion that the diverse many should become one united people.
WE HAVE MANY WHO SAY “ISLAM NATIONS GAVE US THIS AND GAVE US THAT, WONDERFUL THINGS IN SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS.” THEY WILL SAY WE SHOULD NOT SPEAK BADLY ABOUT 1.7 BILLION PEOPLE, ABOUT 1/4 OF THE WORLD’S POPULATION.
THEY WANT US TO LOOK AT THE POSITIVE SIDE OF ISLAMIC HISTORY. AND THEY LEAVE IT AT THAT. JUST FINISHED WATCHING SUCH A SPEECH AS THAT ON THE CANADIAN - CBC - “THE NATIONAL” [APRIL 4TH 2017].
IT’S LIKE TAKING A WHITE PAINT BRUSH AND PAINTING "ISLAM” NICE AND WHITE. THEY WILL NOT TELL YOU WHAT AYAAN HIRSI ALI HAS TOLD YOU IN HER BOOKS ON ISLAM LIFE AND RELIGION, THE QURAN [KORAN], AND MUHAMMAD.
SHE WOULD BE PAINTED AS ONE WHO HAS ISALMOPHOBIA, AND THE SAME BRUSH WOULD PAINT ME ALSO AS IN THE SAME APPLE CART AS AYAAN ALI, FOR UPLOADING ALL THAT I HAVE UPLOADED ON ISLAM THEOLOGY AND CULTURE, ONTO MY WEBSITE.
MOST PEOPLE HAVE NOT, WILL NOT, AND COULD NOT BE BOTHERED TO READ THE QURAN. THEY WILL PROBABLY SAY, “AS LONG AS THAT ISLAM PERSON/S DOES NOT COME INTO MY SPACE TO DISTURB ME IN WORDS OR ACTIONS, LET THEM BE.” BUT THAT ATTITUDE IS FOLLY, AND A DETRIMENT TO THEM AND OUR NATIONS OF THE WESTERN WORLD, FOR THE ENEMY HAS AN OPEN DOOR TO SLOWLY GROW FROM WITHIN OUR VERY BORDERS.
THE QURAN IS VERY CLEAR ON CERTAIN MATTERS, AS I HAVE BROUGHT TO YOU FROM THAT BOOK ITSELF, AND THERE WILL BE A PERCENTAGE OF ISLAMIC PEOPLE WHO WILL FOLLOW ALL OF WHAT THEY CALL THEIR HOLY BOOK.
FOR WHAT WE HAVE CHOSEN TO DO, WE SHALL FACE PERILOUS TIMES IN THE YEARS TO COME.