At least the British bombers were first-generation Brits who had grown-up in an Islamic subculture. Their actions might be, however perverted, seen as a reaction to discrimination against British Muslims.
But the people in Belgium have no such “consolation.” Their latest home-grown jihadist looked and talked just like the “girl next door” because she was the girl next door. Her story is a cautionary tale: not only about the spread of radical Islam, but about the kind of culture that makes that spread possible.
According to the Independent, “Murielle Degauque was, by all accounts, a normal child.” As a teenager, she dabbled in drugs and paid more attention to boys than to her schoolwork.
Nothing about her upbringing in southern Belgium suggested that she would do what she did last week: that is, strap explosives onto herself and detonate them near an American patrol in Iraq—killing herself, but fortunately, no Americans in the process.
In an attempt to make what happened seem like the product of a personal pathology, commentators point out that Degauque was attached to Muslim men: She married and divorced one; dated another; and finally went to Morocco with a third. And it was on this trip that she converted to the brand of Islam that led her to become a suicide bomber.
This shocking incident reminds us that Islam is no longer confined to oppressed and angry Arabs. It is in our midst and deadly dangerous. But there’s something else going on: that is, the cultural setting in which people like Degauque make their choices.
Commenting on this cultural setting in the December 12 issue of the New Republic, Editor Spencer Ackerman cites Europe’s “strident secularism” as contributing to the radicalization of European Muslims. European elites are so secularized, Ackerman writes, that they “view public expressions of religion, no matter how subtle or individualized, as subversive political statements.” So it is that young people who are searching are open to embracing a religious vision that takes that subversion of the political order to a new level: jihadist Islam.
The effects of European secularism, you see, are not limited to the children of Muslim immigrants. A culture where barely half the people believe in God, and far fewer practice any religion at all, cannot compete with Islam’s vitality. While Europeans have ceased believing in God, they and their children have not stopped needing Him: Their need for meaning and purpose has not gone away. They have just been convinced that these will not be found inside a Christian church.
And they certainly will not find them in the secular welfare state. So for many that leaves only one alternative: radical Islam, the alternative chosen by Degauque. It’s a choice that makes sense only when you realize that we are by design meaning-seeking creatures. That this young girl next door made that choice is a fearful warning about Islam, and a tragic reflection on our own culture.
Stephen Castle, “Girl Next Door Who Became a Suicide Bomber,” Independent (London), 2 December 2005.
Spencer Ackerman, “Why American Muslims Haven’t Turned to Terrorism,” New Republic, 1 December 2005. (Subscription required.)
Bruce Bawer, “Tolerance or Death!” Reason, 30 November 2005.
Bruce Bawer, “Not All Muslims Want to Integrate,” Christian Science Monitor, 17 November 2005.
Get a friend a copy of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity this Christmas!