Thank heaven for the "terrorism experts." After Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov mowed down pedestrians and bicyclists in Manhattan on Halloween, murdering eight innocent people, what would we have done without Malcolm Nance, who, identified as an "MSNBC Terrorism Analyst," assured viewers of that cable network that Saipov's action was
"not Islam, whatsoever. None of this is condoned. Including the, you know, sacrificing and getting yourself killed at the end of a terrorist attack, none of that is Islamic, it's anti-Islamic."
Weirdly, Nance even chuckled partway through that last sentence, as if the idea that jihad is jihad were too absurd to take seriously.
Never mind that Saipov is an Uzbek Muslim; never mind that he shouted "Allahu Akbar" after his act of mass slaughter; never mind that the holy books of Islam quite clearly spell out the doctrine of jihad and the heavenly rewards that await jihadist martyrs. No, according to Nance, Saipov's butchery was "anti-Islamic," period. Nance explained: Osama bin Laden "corrupted Islam" and taught "multiple generations to follow what he believed." The Islamic terrorists of our time, in Nance's view, either have a "mental defect" or "some loss or vacuum in their world," and chose to act upon bin Laden's ideology because they believed their actions would "validate them once and for all in their life."
In short, do not blame the Koran -- blame Osama bin Laden, who, if you believe Nance, managed in a trice to effect a transformation in Islamic theology more comprehensive than the changes wrought in Christianity by several generations of followers of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Cranmer, Tyndale, and other Protestant reformers. According to Nance's theory, every Islamic terrorist in our time -- the 9/11 hijackers, the train bombers in Madrid, the concert attackers at the Bataclan Theater in Paris, Omar Mateen at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, the Tsarnaev brothers at the Boston Marathon, etc., etc. -- somehow overlooked the real lessons of Islam and instead made exactly the same flub, mistaking bin Laden's bloodthirsty lesson of murderous violence for the thoroughly peaceful tidings of the Koran.
What a fount of wisdom Nance is! In the same way, how would we have gotten along without CNN's own "terrorism analyst" Paul Cruickshank, who hypothesized that Saipov had been "triggered" to commit his heinous act of mass murder by a traffic citation he had received a year earlier in Missouri -- and that other "radicalized individuals in past cases" may also have been acting in response to similar "[h]umiliating brushes with law enforcement." For example, Muhammed Youssef Abdulazeez, who shot four Marines and a sailor to death at a U.S. Navy recruitment station in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in July 2015 (remember when it was possible actually to keep track of all these atrocities?), had been arrested for driving while intoxicated shortly before committing those murders and was "due in court soon after attack."
To be sure, Cruickshank was not as avid a whitewasher as Nance: at least he acknowledged that the police who issued traffic tickets to these men were only doing their jobs and that any humiliation involved was "of course a matter of... perception" on the part of the Muslims themselves, who presumably felt superior to "infidel" American police. Yet when you come right down to it, Cruickshank's effort to shift responsibility away from Islam was every bit as sincere, as desperate, and as absurd as Nance's. As one Twitter user commented: "I got stopped [by police] on Monday... strangely enough I haven't begun to plan my plot for revenge yet."
Plenty of us get traffic tickets. Plenty of us experience loss. Plenty of us feel a "vacuum" in our world from time to time. Such things do not ordinarily lead to bloodthirsty, conscienceless mass murder. Psychopathy on a ten-out-of-ten scale, combined with some lethal ideology or other, can do it -- think Timothy McVeigh. (Perhaps the Las Vegas killer will turn out to fall into this category as well.) But in modern times, nothing does anywhere near as reliable a job of turning people into mass murderers as Islam does.
To think that you need to get a traffic ticket in order to be fired up by Islam is to have no grasp of the nature and power of faith. A religion, truly, deeply and fully believed in, can lead a man to change his life entirely, whether for good or for ill. Christianity has turned bad men into saints. Islam has led apparently ordinary men to massacre children. It has led them in uncountable numbers to murder their own daughters to restore family honor after a conversation with a male stranger or a failure to wear hijab. Thousands of such Muslim "honor killings" have been documented; I have never seen a suggestion that a single one of them might be explained by a traffic ticket.
America is not alone in having such splendid "terror experts" as Nance and Cruickshank. France, for instance, has the estimable Olivier Roy, who after the Barcelona attack in August told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that most of the perpetrators of such atrocities, at least in Europe, are acting out of a sense of "dislocation." They are "second-generation Muslims who have lost their connection with their country of origin and have failed to integrate into Western societies." They have undergone a "process of deculturation." They may experience a "suicidal instinct" and a "fascination with death."
Roy's theory avoids answering, or even asking, why a Muslim son of immigrants in the Western world would be less likely to integrate successfully -- and more likely to be suicidal or fascinated with death -- than, say, a Hindu from India or a Buddhist from Thailand. The answer, of course, lies in Islam itself. When most people feel overcome by suicidal feelings, they commit suicide -- they don't bomb an Ariana Grande concert.
Roy maintained that we need to study "the Islamification of radicalism.... not the radicalization of Islam." Implicit in this statement is that it's a mystery why potentially radical and violent young people are turning to Islam. But what is the mystery? Islam is filled with prescriptions that are radical and violent. Roy rejected this plain fact, however, and strove, like Nance and Cruickshank, to uncouple Islamic terrorism from Islam itself, even in its most extreme form. "[W]hile ultraconservative Salafi Islam is certainly a problem," Roy told Haaretz, "it shouldn't be conflated with violent extremism." On the contrary: to fail to see a continuity between, on the one hand, the Islam of the terrorists, and, on the other, the Islam of forced marriages, honor killings, female genital mutilation (FGM) and the niqab is to engage in a total whitewash. But then, whitewashing Islam is the true area of expertise of so many of these so-called terrorism experts.
Olivier Roy, a prominent French "terrorism expert," strives to uncouple Islamic terrorism from Islam itself, even in its most extreme form. (Image source: Internaz/Leonardi e Parlamenti/Flickr)
Bruce Bawer is the author of the new novel The Alhambra (Swamp Fox Editions). His book While Europe Slept (2006) was a New York Times bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.