An extremist by any other name

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There was a piece on NPR this morning about young Somali-American men disappearing from the MSP area. The young men's families, and now the FBI, believe that some or all of them have gone to Somalia to join al-Shabab, a "Muslim terrorist" organization. Apparently one of them drove a suicide bombing car in Somaliland last fall and killed 28 people, which made him what the piece called the "first American citizen to become a suicide bomber."

Most of the focus of the story was on how these young men are being recruited. Mostly, it sounds as if they are being convinced that undertaking these types of actions will make them good Muslims. This is, one interviewee said, "some extreme interpretation of the Koran." While they are not being physically kidnapped at gunpoint, many of the young men's families believe that they are being brainwashed, using their religious insecurity, into becoming terrorists.

The first thing that came to mind for me when listening to this part of the story was not the bearded Muslim terrorist Americans have been indoctrinated into fearing these past years. Rather, the image that popped into my head was of Edward Furlong in American History X. A young, insecure man in a bad situation, being brainwashed into activities I'd consider terrorist. In Furlong's case, the organization brainwashing him wasn't Muslim, it was white supremacist (and yes, I realize it's a movie and he's a fictional character, but it's not like those organizations don't really exist). I then thought of a half dozen more examples of places and times in which young men have been indoctrinated into becoming killing machines for old men's' causes, destroying themselves, their families, their communities, and anybody who gets in the way. None of the examples that came to mind were Muslim. You can find non-Muslim examples of terrorist indoctrination looking back as far as you'd like (The Crusades?) or as recently as this week in Northern Ireland.

Our media and our government may be interested in having us believe that terrorism is the province of strange dark people who worship a different God than we do and their rules laid down in a different, unholy book, but that's no more true than it's true that a Somali-American boy who drove a car loaded with bombs on the Horn of Africa this fall was the first American suicide bomber. Fanaticism is a province of religion in general, not just religions that aren't yours. The same set of circumstances--poverty, unemployment, disenfranchisement, poor education--lead to a white terrorist as a brown one. There is just as much blood on the Bible as the Koran.


Excellent points. I saw that movie 'Religulous' (sp?) this weekend and it re-enforced the same point - if you just eat what they're feeding you without thinking...

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