Moussaoui Wins, America Loses

Almost everyone thinks Zacarias Moussaoui is mad except Zacarias Moussaoui, and now he will have a lifetime to ponder that fact. Those who believe he is insane got more evidence Wednesday, when he was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 9/11 attacks, and reacted as if he had been acquitted. He clapped his hands and shouted, “America, you lost. I won.” What sane person would react in such a way to being sentenced to life behind bars? As if to explain his bizarre behavior, CNN placed a video link immediately following its account of Moussaoui’s exclamation: “Watch how Moussaoui grew up surrounded by pain.”

Maybe Moussaoui did grow up surrounded by pain, and as an adult, driven insane by this pain, turned to jihad. His own lawyers, abetted by his sisters and some of his old friends, attempted to stave off the death penalty by mounting what has become known as the “Officer Krupke” defense: fans of West Side Story will recall how gang member Action explained his delinquency to Krupke: “Hey, I’m depraved on account I’m deprived.” If anyone was deprived, it was Moussaoui. According to his sister Jamilla, their father “poisoned our lives.” Moussaoui’s onetime friend Christophe Marguel testified that the future mujahid had a “very hard time” with racism in France. A clinical social worker, Jan Vogelsang, said that an upbringing like Moussaoui’s “would place someone at risk to wind up in serious circumstances later in life.”

Moussaoui dismissed all this as “a lot of American B.S.” Nevertheless, he was indeed spared the death penalty. He considered this a victory for several reasons:

  1. The verdict will be seen in the Islamic world as another manifestation of American cowardice and failure of will, akin to Bill Clinton’s withdrawal from Somalia after the Black Hawk incident—which convinced Osama bin Laden that America could be beaten. A man who believes that the Almighty commands him to be “merciful” to his fellow Muslims but “ruthless” to the unbelievers (Qur’an 48:29) does not readily understand acts of mercy or forbearance as anything other than weakness. In this view a strong America would execute Moussaoui; a weak America allows him to live on.
  2. Moussaoui’s trial has aggravated the fissures between the United States and Europe. France has offered Moussaoui, a French citizen, consular protection. A living Moussaoui will be able to continue to try to worsen the tensions between the emerging Eurabia, made up as it is of terrified governments desperate to placate their growing and restive Muslim populations, and a U.S. still pursuing the war on terror.
  3. A living Moussaoui could become the Leonard Peltier of the jihad movement. Moussaoui executed will cause outrage for a moment; Moussaoui imprisoned will provoke outrage for a lifetime. For the next fifty years Moussaoui could become a symbol of American injustice: a rallying point for protestors, a new occasion for the international Left and the global jihad to make common cause. He himself has a tendency to make extreme, inflammatory statements—so he will fit right in with the Left’s current crop of overheated rhetoricians.
  4. Moussaoui himself could become a heroic figure, most especially in whatever prison in which he is ultimately incarcerated. He will provide a new impetus for prison conversions to Islam, and a rallying point for jihad recruitment in his prison. This may be the most important reason of all why Moussaoui declared victory on Wednesday: he can see himself training up the next generation of mujahedin who will see his great battle for Allah through to final victory over the American Great Satan.

Of course, none of these reasons are likely to have been considered by anyone connected with Moussaoui’s sentencing. They were, in contrast, preoccupied with questions of Moussaoui’s sanity. It is unfortunate that they apparently did not understand or attach much weight to Moussaoui’s statement that suicide bombings were “not crazy but based on Islam.” If they had, they might have realized that by sentencing him to life in prison, they were only helping his cause.