The new face of Islamic terrorism is a pudgy, long-haired American kid who appears to be locked in a desperate, losing struggle to grow a beard: Adam Yahiye Gadahn.
Just as they did in the cases of Gadahn’s fellow Muslim converts (John Walker Lindh, Richard Reid, and others), Western analysts have ascribed Gadahn’s involvement with Al Qaeda as a product of his alienation. Gadahn obligingly expresses this alienation in a written account of his conversion, revealing that he “had become obsessed with demonic Heavy Metal music” and even “eschewed personal cleanliness.” Around that time he discovered Islam by cruising the Internet.
Unfortunately, Gadahn’s conversion story ends before he landed in the Al Qaeda camp. All the talk of disaffected youth that has filled the airwaves over the last few days doesn’t even come close to explaining that. Gadahn could have just as easily become a Jehovah’s Witness, or a Mormon, or a follower of Phish. None of those choices, made daily by other disaffected youth, would have landed him in a terrorist training camp and made him the new face of Al Qaeda. Why did his choice of Islam do so?
Western converts must approach the Qur’an and other Islamic texts without the culturally ingrained ways of understanding them that Muslims pick up in Islamic societies. Thus they come to Islam more or less in a pure, abstract form. The force of any given passage of Qur’an or Hadith, not blunted by culture or familiarity, can be presented by whoever instructs the convert with any spin the teacher might favor. Gadahn and other Western converts were probably recruited by straightforward appeals to numerous passages in the Qur’an and Sunnah. Violent jihad is founded on numerous verses of the Qur’an — most notably, one known as the “Verse of the Sword”: “Slay the idolaters wherever ye find them . . . ” (Sura 9:5).
Such verses are not taken “out of context” to justify armed jihad by radical imams such as those who may have taught Gadahn; on the contrary, that’s how they have been understood by Muslims from the beginning of Islam. One manual of Islamic law, which in 1991 gained the approval of Cairo’s influential Al-Azhar University as conforming “to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community,” is quite specific about the meaning of jihad.
It is, it says, “war against non-Muslims.”
This manual stipulates that the Muslim community “makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians . . . until they become Muslim or pay the non-Muslim poll tax.” The requirement that non-Muslims first be “invited” to enter Islam and then warred against until they either convert or pay the jizya, a special tax on non-Muslims, is founded upon the Qur’an: “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (Sura 9:29).
This is the explanation that radical Muslim spokesmen around the world have given for what they’re doing: they are not terrorists, they are mujahedin, warriors of jihad. In this they are carrying on an illustrious tradition: violent jihad is a constant of Islamic history. Although after the Muslim siege of Vienna was broken in 1683 jihads became less common (at least in Europe), at no point did Islamic theology reject the doctrine of jihad. It can always be revived again where possible and necessary.
Yet the simple fact that violent jihad remained and remains today a vital component of Islamic theology is today smothered under a fog of political correctness. This plays into the hands of Islamic radicals by making it unnecessary for self-proclaimed moderates to renounce these doctrines, or even to acknowledge their existence. But unless or until a large number of Muslims around the world do so, the call to violent jihad will continue to inspire young people like Gadahn.
Thus whenever someone proclaims that Islam is a religion of peace that has been hijacked by a tiny minority of extremists (instead of a religion that contains a violent doctrine that sets it at odds with the rest of world and cries out for reform), they are helping to make sure that more and more disaffected youth like Adam Gadahn will end up in radical Muslim training camps — and will eventually carry their struggle back to their infidel homeland.