Jonah Goldberg

When Ramzi Mohammed, one of the failed bombers in the second wave of attacks on London, was surrounded by representatives of the decadent, infidel West, he didn't shriek, "Allahu Akbar!" and throw himself at his captors in a suicidal lunge for martyrdom. No, instead he whined, "I have rights! I have rights!"

I was willing to bet we'd be arguing about this odd plea for weeks. One side would complain, "Can you believe the chutzpah?" The other side would applaud how even alienated Islamic youth have learned to respect the majesty of our criminal justice system.

Of course, I'm squarely in the "Can you believe the chutzpah?" column. Murderous goons like Mohammed tempt God's wrath to the point of assuming the form of human lightning rods when, the moment they get caught, they suddenly stand firm on the principle that everyone be treated with dignity.

But the shocking part was that the tidbit vanished almost without comment. A couple of my colleagues at National Review noticed, but that was about it. The "I have rights!" hissy-fit wasn't even mentioned in the news pages of the New York Times.

If hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, then Ramzi Mohammed has paid his weight in gold. Would a terrorist in remotely similar circumstances think to come out with demands for due process from the Saudi or Iranian police? Would the appropriate authorities under the Taliban quickly holster their guns the moment a suspect invoked his Miranda rights?

Now, some overly pedantic types might say, "Shows what you know! Islam has a very rich tradition of human rights."

To which I might reply, bully for Islam. The French have an ancient tradition of military bravery, but what have they done for me lately? Traditions are only impressive or useful if they actually shape conduct in the here and now. And in the here and now, the ideal states these nutjobs glorify have a much more vibrant tradition of cutting off heads, stoning women, and jailing nonbelievers simply for nonbelieving. If the Koran recognizes civil liberties, they must be using a "living" Koran in places like Saudi Arabia, the way we've got a "living" Constitution here, because the ideal societies of the Bin Laden crowd aren't sticking much to the original text.

But this raises the real significance of Mohammed's "I have rights!" tantrum. A sizable faction of the Islamists aren't so much pro-Islam as anti-Western.

Consider Hussain Osman, another of the alleged conspirators, Osman spent his youth as an enormous fan of all things American. "He had a fixation with America," his girlfriend explained, particularly with hip-hop. The Somali refugee went to the discos all the time and "worshipped" Tupac Shakur, the murdered rapper and son of a Black Panther. Now, it should be made clear that Mr. Osman is what some experts in the field call a "moron." Explaining to Italian authorities that he "preferred" not to be extradited to Britain - isn't that special? - Osman insisted that he was no "terrorist." After all, "We didn't want to kill, just sow terror."

But idiots are often very useful in illustrating the appeal of fascistic cults. Intellectuals are too good at covering their real psychological motivations with verbiage. It turns out that the famously "homegrown" terrorists of the London bombings were much more like John Walker Lindh or even the Patty Hearst types of the 1960s and '70s. Radical chic may be as a big a part of the story as radical Islam.

We've always understood this was the case to a certain extent. Osama Bin Laden's prattling about the Crusades, for instance, merely shows how poisoned Islamism is by Western Marxism and anti-imperialism. Muslims used to brag about winning the Crusades. It was only after the West started exporting victimology that Islamic and Arab intellectuals started to whine about how poorly they'd been treated.

To a certain extent, radical Islam in Europe has taken the place of Third World Marxism - hardly a big leap when you think about how many Vietnamese "revolutionaries" were trained in Parisian salons. It's all about fighting capitalism, American "imperialism," modernism, etc. Marxism no longer provides a workable model, but the Islamists think sharia might. At the same time, like fascism and communism before it, radical Islam provides a sense of purpose and meaning for losers and misfits who blame their misfortunes on "the system" (variously defined as the ruling class, the Jews, the capitalists, Col. Sanders, etc.). In this sense, Islamism is less about religion than ideology, and less about ideology than it is about alienation and low self-esteem.

This is just one reason why poverty is such a silly explanation for terrorism. Most of the 9/11 attackers, like the London bombers, were squarely middle class, and the leadership of Al-Qaida is downright wealthy.

My guess is that most of these losers would be miserable living in the utopia they're fighting for. And should it ever arrive, they shouldn't bother replying to the knock on their door by yelling, "I have rights!" Their kind of people don't bother knocking.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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