PHILADELPHIA (BP)–John Walker’s case may seem eccentric and unique. How many 20-year-olds from Marin County, Calif., end up in a dank cellar in Afghanistan fighting with the most fanatical of al Qaeda terrorists?
Obviously, not many. But Walker illustrates three important and troublesome trends.
One concerns the powerful lure of militant Islam for alienated Westerners. What Walker, also known as Abdul Hamid, told his Islamic teacher in Pakistan — “In the U.S. I feel alone. Here I feel comfortable and at home” — is a sentiment others share.
David Hicks, for example, is a 26-year-old Australian whom a friend described as someone who “didn’t like the way things were going,” so he also turned to militant Islam.
Now called Mohammed Dawood, he has fought since 1999 for no less than three extremist groups — the Kosovo Liberation Army against Serbia, Lashkar-e-Taiba against India and al Qaeda against the world. Like Walker, Hicks was apprehended in Afghanistan.
Isanu Dyson, a 24-year-old resident of Portland, Maine, and recent follower of militant Islam, never got to Afghanistan because of family obligations, but he sure wishes he had, telling the New York Post he wants to get “out of the country, renounce my citizenship, end up in Afghanistan, pick up a gun and fight alongside everyone else against the enemy — American soldiers.”
These young men are sending a message: Green (militant Islam) has replaced brown (Nazism) or red (communism) as the ideology of choice for Westerners who loathe their own societies. They revel in militant Islam’s opposite outlook on everything from eating utensils to female modesty to the role of religion in the state.
Most of all, however, they cherish militant Islam’s deep hatred of the West. They cheered the Sept. 11 attack (Walker: “Yes, I supported it”) and dream to see the forces of Islam defeating their home countries.
Second, the alienation of these wild-eyed converts reflects sentiments found among militant Islamic elements — converts and immigrants alike — in Western Muslim populations. Specifically, survey research found that as many as 10 percent of the Muslims in Holland sympathized with the Sept. 11 assault.
More broadly, militants vociferously oppose the war on terrorism. Reuters reported in September that many Muslims in the United States “say they would send financial help to any Arab nation attacked by U.S. forces, especially if civilians come under fire.”
It quoted Mohammed Batal, an 18-year-old Syrian immigrant living in Brooklyn, that if American forces “attack my Muslim brothers, I will help my brothers. First, I’m a Muslim, then a Syrian and then an American.”
In Great Britain, about 200 Muslims protested in October at the central London mosque in Regents Park, chanting slogans (“Tony Blair, burn in hell”), torching the U.S. flag, and burning pictures of U.S. and British leaders.
In London, militant Islamic organizations openly solicited young Muslim men to fight for the Taliban, with some success: some 200 British nationals of Middle Eastern and South Asian origins (as well as 80 French nationals) joined Walker and Hicks in Afghanistan.
Third, even non-militant Muslims living in the West reject the war on terror. Whereas some 90 percent of Americans consistently support their president’s handling of the hostilities, nearly the same proportion of Muslims dissent.
An unscientific poll on a U.S. Islamic website in October registered 74 percent opposition to the airstrikes — roughly the same as in Kuwait, where a November survey there found 82 percent opposed the war effort in Afghanistan.
After the Taliban regime was tottering, a more scientific poll conducted by Zogby International found the percentage of U.S. Muslims opposed to the war had dropped to 43 percent — still four times higher than the national average. A Market & Opinion Research International survey found 64 percent of British Muslims in late November opposing the war effort in Afghanistan.
That Western Muslims view the war on terrorism like their coreligionists abroad indicates how politically estranged they are from their non-Muslim neighbors.
All three of these trends are worrisome, to put it mildly. But the delicacy of the issues involved causes Western leaders and institutions to shy away and pretend all is well.
This is a mistake, for the longer this estrangement festers, the more difficult it will eventually be to address.
Daniel Pipes, director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, is author of numerous books on the troubled region. His website is DanielPipes.org.