Is a lone wolf any less a wolf because he is alone?  An eight-year-old boy could answer that question correctly, but many adults apparently cannot.

Here in Rockford, Illinois, on December 3, just as the “holiday shopping season” was in full swing, Derrick (a.k.a. “Talib Abu Salam Ibn”) Shareef was arrested by the FBI in the parking lot of Wal-Mart, where he was attempting to swap two stereo speakers for four hand grenades and a 9 mm handgun.  He intended to use the grenades—and, if necessary, the gun—just a mile down the road, at the CherryVale Mall, the largest shopping center in the Rockford area.  Unfortunately for him, the “seller” was an FBI agent.

Shareef’s plans were foiled (and partially sparked, at least in the details) by a “confidential source” who has worked with the FBI before and who (it seems reasonable to assume, based on details in an FBI affidavit entered at Shareef’s arraignment) came into contact with Shareef while monitoring the activities of Muslims in Northern Illinois.

The circumstances of the contact are important because, when the arrest was announced on December 8, federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and the FBI stressed that Shareef was a “lone wolf,” that he was not working with others locally, and that he was not receiving funding or direction from overseas.  The point was to reassure Christmas shoppers and others in Rockford that there was no further danger stemming from this particular plot.

And Fitzgerald and the FBI were probably right.

But the media and most commentators did not take those comments in the limited way in which they were intended.  If there was no Al Qaeda connection, they reasoned, then Shareef wasn’t really a terrorist, his stated desire to “wage violent jihad” notwithstanding.  Post-September 11, Al Qaeda has a monopoly: “If it ain’t Al Qaeda, it ain’t terror.™”

That’s why we’re continually informed that, “Since September 11, there have been no other acts of terrorism on American soil.”  Not the attack on the El Al counter at the Los Angeles International Airport by Hesham Mohamed Hadayet in July 2002; not the sniper shootings of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, which began in October 2002; not Naveed Afzal Haq’s assault on the Seattle Jewish Federation in July 2006.  Nor even the case of Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, who was convicted in November 2005 of plotting to assassinate President George W. Bush.

Moreover, if Shareef was not working with others locally, the logic ran (out), then local Muslims are just good, solid Americans, like Episcopalians and evangelicals.  Once Sheik Shpendim Nadzaku at the Rockford mosque has said that no one over there has had contact with Derrick Shareef, it’s unfair to discuss the views of the president of the mosque, Dr. Khalid Siddiqui, who looks forward to the day when sharia will be imposed in the United States and who expressed admiration for Osama bin Laden—five months after September 11.

Words are just words; if Siddiqui’s coreligionist attempts to translate the same words that Siddiqui uses into action, surely that’s no grounds for questioning Siddiqui’s loyalty to the United States.  Nor should we be concerned that Siddiqui has said that, if a jihad were declared against the United States, Muslims in America would have two options: Renounce their citizenship and go over to the other side or become conscientious objectors.  After all, that’s simply freedom of religion.  Isn’t that what made this country great?

And finally, if Shareef is a “lone wolf,” then, even if his religious beliefs were the force behind his action, those beliefs are his and his alone (or so the media “reported”).  He may claim to be a Muslim, and his growing interest in “violent jihad” may have coincided with his journey from Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam to “mainstream” Islam, but his Islam is not the Islam of any other Muslim because “Islam is a religion of peace.”  And all other Muslims understand that—except, maybe, for those other “lone wolves” who don’t.  And Hamas and Hezbollah and Al Qaeda.  And those Sunni “insurgents” in Iraq, and Ahmadinejad’s Shiites in Iran, and the Islamic Court militias in Somalia . . .

Of course, it is true that Shareef, and Shareef alone, is responsible for his actions, legally and existentially.  But that fact tells us nothing that justifies the conclusions to which the local media and commentators all too eagerly jumped.

The reality is that we Americans are good liberals, tolerant to a fault.  After Chronicles published my account of the visit Aaron Wolf and I made to the local Islamic school and mosque in February 2002 (“Through a Glass, Darkly,” The Rockford Files, April 2002), I went on Wisconsin Public Radio to discuss the article.  An angry caller accused me of misrepresenting Islam.  “You said that they want to impose sharia in the United States.  That’s not true.”  When I pointed out that Dr. Siddiqui told us that, “If you look at the Constitution, it is a pure Islamic constitution,” restricting the power of men and leaving room for the institution of sharia, the caller indignantly replied, “He may have said that, but he doesn’t mean it.”

Even the Christians among us want to regard Islam as just another religion—“like Catholicism, Lutheranism, Presbyterianism”—and welcome Muslim believers to take their place in the “broader faith-based community.”  Muslims may have advanced by the sword far into Europe before being turned back starting 500 years ago, but “We Christians burned witches and fought Crusades and tortured heretics.”  Who are we to point fingers?

Who are we, indeed.  That is the literal crux of the issue.  It does no good to blame Muslims for the actions of Derrick Shareef, even if the increased presence of immigrant Muslims eased his transition from the Nation of Islam to “mainstream” Islam, where he came to his understanding of jihad.  The fault lies entirely with us.  If we weren’t Americans in name only, we might have the strength of will to close our borders to those who come from a cultural tradition alien to ours.

And if we weren’t Christians in name only, we might be able to proclaim the truth that Islam is not an acceptable alternative to Christianity but a religious ideology which is perfectly willing to take advantage of the American tradition of religious freedom to establish a foothold here, in preparation for one day adding this continent to the Dar al-Islam.

How many lone wolves does it take to make a pack?