The Terrorists Among Us
by Theodore Dalrymple
"Western Europe is in a strangely neurotic condition of being smug and terrified at the same time. On the one hand, Europeans believe they have at last created an ideal social and political system in which man can live comfortably. In many ways, things have never been better on the old continent. On the other hand, there is growing anxiety that Europe is quickly falling behind in an aggressive, globalized world. Europe is at the forefront of nothing, its demographics are rapidly transforming in unsettling ways, and the ancient threat of barbarian invasion has resurfaced in a fresh manifestation."
While I was on a visit to Toronto recently, police arrested 17 men, the oldest of them 43 but most much younger, on charges of plotting a terrorist attack. They wished, apparently, to blow up the parliament in Ottawa and publicly behead the prime minister. Cops caught them in the process of buying three times as much material for explosives as Timothy McVeigh used in the Oklahoma City bombing. Reporting the arrests, the New York Times called the men “South Asians”—though one of them was an Egyptian, two were Somali, and most had been born in Canada—thus concealing by an inaccurate euphemism the most salient characteristic of the alleged plotters: that they were all Muslims. The Canadian police, emasculated and even stupefied by the exigencies of political correctness (the modern bellwether of virtue), said that the 17 came from such diverse backgrounds that they were unable to discern anything in common among them.
Canadians, on the whole, reacted to news of the plot with a mixture of outrage and disbelief. A few responded more vigorously, smashing the windows of a Toronto mosque, which the press swiftly denounced as un-Canadian. But many wondered, why us? when Canada had been among the most tolerant and accommodating countries to its immigrants in the world, and where celebration of diversity for its own sake had been made almost an official fetish. Could it be that no liberal policy goes unpunished?
It rapidly became clear that no single sociological factor of the kind usually invoked to explain outrageous behavior—poverty, say, or racial discrimination—could explain the adherence of all 17 to the plot (assuming that the charges against them are true). The Somalis involved were born in Somalia in the midst of the chronic civil war there and came to Canada as refugees, where they soon fell into unideological delinquency before catching the Islamist bug; they were not economic success stories. Other alleged plotters, however, emerged from the well-integrated middle classes, such as the son of a successful doctor of Indian origin who had emigrated to Canada from Trinidad. The pictures of the houses in which some of the plotters lived and grew up must have made more than a few newspaper readers envious. Whatever explained the resort of the 17 to the scimitar and the bomb, raw poverty or the hopelessness of insuperable discrimination was not it.
It so happened that the Toronto arrests coincided with the publication in America of a novel by the distinguished writer John Updike, calledTerrorist. This novel is an attempt to enter the mental world not of a young Canadian but of a young American would-be Islamist bomber.
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