John on May 12, 2010 at 10:07 am
We’ll get there, but it’s not the only thing worth noting in this column.
Robert Wright’s first target is Daniel Pipes who wrote something for the Corner a week ago pointing out that the MSM seemed pretty desperate to avoid the obvious conclusion about the Times Square bomber. For proof, Pipes offers quotes from seven major media outlets, several of which say Shahzad’s motives are a mystery. It’s as if, this many years after 9/11, the idea of jihad hadn’t occurred to them. In response, Robert Wright offers this:
One fate the conservative commentator Daniel Pipes doesn’t have to worry about is drowning in conceptual complexity. He keeps his theories simple…In Pipes’s universe, apparently, these explanations are rivals to the “jihadi intent” explanation, and couldn’t figure in an account of how Shahzad came to have jihadi intent in the first place.
Actually, nothing in Pipes post says we can’t explore the antecedant motivations for someone becoming radicalized. What he says is “the default expectation should be ideological passion, not insanity. Spreading Islam and applying Islamic law are the goals.” In short, that’s Shahzad’s motive for building a car bomb.
Wright then goes on to offer his alternative explanation of Shahzad’s desire for mass murder:
A Pakistani guy moves to America, goes to college, gets a job, starts a family. He grows unhappy. Maybe he’s having financial problems…or maybe the problem is just that he doesn’t find his social niche. And maybe he was a bit unstable to begin with…
Anyway, for whatever reason, he feels alienated in America. He stays in touch with people and events back home in Pakistan, and this gives him another reason to dislike America: American drones are firing missiles into Pakistan, sometimes killing women and children…
eventually he comes into the fold of actual jihadis, a faction of the Taliban in Pakistan. They give him what he hadn’t found in America: a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose. The basic ingredients of bomb-planting behavior are now in place.
So just to break this down, Wright wants us to speculate about Shahzad’s bleak finanical situation, speculate about his feeling of insecurity, speculate that Shahzad may have been mentally unstable, and speculate about how being a jihadi filled him up with warmth and good feelings. He has no evidence for any of this. Nor does any of it change the fact that Shahzad apparently isn’t crazy but made a choice to become a jihadist. In Robert Wright’s universe speculation about someone’s innermost feelings is a substitute for pointing out their murderous choices.
But if you really want to talk about hidden motivations, let’s talk about Robert Wright’s motivation for writing this column. He gets to it in the next sentence:
Various things fuel “jihadi intent,” and they may include the policy of firing missiles into Pakistan.
We heard this a lot during the Bush administration. Any response on our part turns out to be a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda. Kudos to Wright for consistency, so let me be consistent as well and resist this argument even under Obama’s Presidency. No doubt there’s some truth to this claim, but what’s the alternative and how do we weigh one against the other? Wright assumes the downsides make the conflict untenable. I’m not so sure. It only works if being less aggressive benefits you in terms of reduced attacks from the jihadists. I’m not sure that’s in the cards for the US, no matter how nice we are.
This is really just another way to blame us (or more likely George Bush) for whatever the jihadists do. He says that’s not his point, but it really is what this boils down to. Wright intimates that the real cause of recent violence (Nidal Hasan and the underwear bomber) isn’t ideology so much as US foreign policy. We’re pushing these guys over the edge! He’s not ruling out their own choices in the matter entirely, just minimizing them dramatically.
But the real highlight of the piece comes near the end when Wright compares the US to Imperial Rome and Anwar al-Awlaki to Jesus:
doesn’t Obama see what a gift the killing of this imam would be to his cause? Just ask the Romans how their anti-Jesus-movement strategy worked out. (And Jesus’s followers didn’t have their leader’s sermons saved in ready-to-go video and audio files; al-Awlaki’s resurrection would be vivid indeed.)
Okay, I get that his point is about the effect martyrdom could have on followers, but comparing a preacher known to be behind three recent attempts at mass murder (one successful) to Jesus is offensive to a lot of Americans, myself among them. More than a bit actually.
Christians aren’t going to threaten the NY Times with car bombs or put a fatwa on Robert Wright’s head. And that’s the point, really. People have all sorts of motivations for the things they do and believe. The real question is, do those beliefs give them license (or encouragement) to do violence to others? In the case of radical Islam, the answer is decidedly yes.
This is what Daniel Pipes understands that Robert Wright does not. Jihad isn’t just a generic religious catch-all which obscures a variety of pedestrian motivations. It’s a specific set of beliefs with actual moral content. In the case of radical Islam that content teaches adherents that terrorism is the right response to whatever ails you. Not all religions teach that. In fact, most do not. But I suppose it should come as no surprise that the difference eludes someone who blithely compares Anwar al-Awlaki to Jesus.