Following the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, John Walker Lindh, also known as Suleyman al-Faris and Abdul Farid, got his 15 minutes of fame the hard way. Or perhaps it is more proper to say that he was the object of a Two Minutes Hate by many on the right, even as his arrest brought on a knee-jerk defense reflex from many on the left. Some observers I respect made a case that Lindh/Al-Faris/Farid was not really guilty of treason, as many thought him to be (he eventually was sentenced to 20 years for, according to a CNN report, “supplying services to the Taliban” and fighting against U.S.-backed Northern Alliance forces; a “conspiracy to kill US nationals” charge was dropped), but the question that was barely explored may have been the most important one: Why did an American kid convert to Islam at age 16 and eventually join the Taliban?
Lindh spent his early years in Tacoma Park, Maryland. His father was a Catholic, working as a government lawyer. His mother worked in healthcare and became a Buddhist. John was one of three children, and his parents eventually separated and later divorced.
When John was ten, the family moved to ultraliberal Marin County, California, just north of San Francisco. John enrolled in what has been described as an “alternative school” for “self-directed students.” He later told the FBI that he became interested in Islam after seeing the movie Malcom X. He started attending a mosque in Mill Valley, California, and adopted a Muslim name. His father was proud of him. Frank Lindh called John a “sweet kid” and thought the conversion had been good for him.
From there, John studied Islam in Yemen, then left for Pakistan in October 2000. In Pakistan, he became a student at an Islamic school, a madrash, and later joined the Taliban in Afghanistan, where he trained in an Al Qaeda camp and met Osama bin Laden. He was in the Taliban ranks on September 11, 2001. The Lindhs did not know that John was in Afghanistan until they saw their dazed son in U.S. custody on CNN.
His lawyer later stated that Lindh was “a soldier in the Taliban. He did it for religious reasons. He did it as a Muslim and history overcame him.” His father said that “John loves America.” But it is questionable that John Walker Lindh ever had a strong American identity. The point that was missing in all the coverage was that Lindh’s saga can only be understood within the context of what the Nixon Center’s Robert S. Leiken has dubbed the West’s “adversarial culture.” Lindh is simply not worth hating. He is another pathetic example of a civilization that has lost confidence in itself and produces lots of people with a very shallow sense of identity. Apparently, Islam provided Lindh/Al-Faris/Farid with an identity, giving him something he had sorely lacked in his life—and that is the most troubling aspect of the “American Taliban’s” story.
Lindh’s parents were justifiably the objects of harsh criticism from conservative commentators, who blamed everything on liberalism, plain and simple. Lindh’s father could not have been much of a Catholic if he thought his son’s conversion to Islam was good for him, and the boy’s mother becoming a Buddhist (or “dabbling” in Buddhism, as some sources have it) indicates someone who has drifted pretty far afield from the historical norms of her society. However, “conservative” criticism never mentioned a capitalist culture, usually defended by the mainstream right, that inculcates a view of life as a series of consumer choices. It’s a culture in which CEOs are encouraged not to think of their firms as American but “global.” And Americans born and raised in the Good Ole U.S.A. replace their neighbors with “outsourced” foreigners and shop at “big-box” stores retailing Chinese-made goods, with hardly a pang of conscience.
In the 20th century, the West saw itself betrayed by the likes of Kim Philby, along with the other “Cambridge spies,” and such groups as the Red Brigades, the Red Army Faction, and the Weathermen. The radicals and traitors had legions of sympathizers and fellow travelers in the elites of their own countries. Western individualism and rationalism, radicalized by the decline of Christianity; the curiosity of the Western mind, which lost its sense of context as it lost its religion; and a fascination with things foreign that is not quite like any that has been seen in other civilizations all contributed to the growth of a rootless, self-hating “adversarial culture,” whose platform for attacking the civilization that produced it was Marxist-Leninist.
Whether or not Paul Sperry realizes it, the main point readers can take from his detailed, sometimes tedious (chiefly because of the Arabic names, which is not Mr. Sperry’s fault), and outraged account of American weakness in the face of Islamic infiltration is that Western self-hatred may have found the perfect vehicle to replace Marxism-Leninism in a militant, resurgent Islam.
Sperry is honest in telling us that Islam itself is violent and threatening to the West and to America. You see, Sperry has taken the trouble to read the Koran:
Islam does not mean “peace,” as some maintain. It means “submission,” a very different matter. And the core function of Muslims is to obtain submission from all for Allah, if necessary by force. Muslims are commanded to “fight” so the word of Allah can become supreme. It is just that simple. And the Quran clearly advocates violence against Christians and Jews. Wahhabism or Islamism is just Islam put into practice because it really does not advocate anything the Quran does not advocate itself.
“People,” as Sperry notes, “do a lot of things in the name of religion that their religion does not really call for. Unfortunately, most Muslim terrorists are not guilty of this . . . ”
Sperry enumerates what he calls the “Top Ten Myths of Islam,” which include the familiar slogan “Islam is a religion of peace,” as well as the misleading “Jihad means inner struggle against sin” and the truly disturbing “Allah is the same God of the Bible.” He questions the sincerity of U.S. Muslim leaders’ claims that Islam does not condone terrorism and points out that a “white lie” that furthers the Islamic cause is not considered a sin, which pertains to the statements of Muslims following September 11 that Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda broke the tenets of Islam. (Chronicles readers are already well informed on that score by Srdja Trifkovic, author of The Sword of the Prophet, which Sperry references in his book.)
The bulk of Infiltration details how overlapping Islamic networks, using “charities” (fronts financing radical groups), schools (bringing up a new generation of jihadists), foundations (another front), and mosques (recruiting grounds for jihadists) have infiltrated the United States and the U.S. government, including the White House, Congress, and the very agencies charged with defending our country.
The book contains chapters on the Washington-based “nerve center” of Islamic activity (“The Wahhabi Corridor”); the leveraging of political correctness to have Islam recognized as part of a bogus “Judeo-Christian-Islamic” tradition (“Interfaith Phoniness”); how Muslims have effectively lobbied Congress and how political correctness, especially the failure to use religious and ethnic profiling, has enabled radical Muslims to penetrate our legislature and American security and law-enforcement agencies (“Institutionalized PC”). The author does not spare the U.S. prison system, where Muslim imams are spreading the faith, or the U.S. nuclear program, which, according to Sperry, is vulnerable to Islamic infiltration.
Sperry takes on CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) and, to his credit, does not refrain from blasting the Bush White House, underscoring the President’s dangerous obsession with pretending that Islam itself is not a threat—perhaps because the best friend of his political Svengali Karl Rove is a pro-Muslim lobbyist and because of GOP strategist Grover Norquist, who may have convinced Bush that he won the 2000 election because of the “Islamic vote.” This is in addition both to the fact that Muslims have gained positions within the White House and to the Bush-friendly Saudi Arabian connections to militant Islam.
When Sperry likens questioning religiously and ethnically profiled government employees to the Cold War-era’s “Have you now or ever been a member of the Communist Party?” he cuts closest to the bone—yet misses the real point. The Washington Sperry describes sounds suspiciously like the one the Soviets infiltrated with sympathizers and outright spies. The Americans—native born and naturalized, many of them not of Middle Eastern origin—who champion Islam bear a marked resemblance to the fellow-traveler template, if not to Alger Hiss himself. Where once there was a “Red Menace,” there is now a Green Menace, but neither could have menaced us at all but for a spiritual disease that produces fellow travelers and Islamic converts in our own midst.
Sperry notes that Muslims often seek native-born Americans not of Middle Eastern origin to do their dirty work, so as to dodge future profiling. An alarming number of converts to Islam are American blacks. Sperry’s accounts of the Islamic recruitment of prisoners (mostly among blacks, but also among Latinos) and even of Asian-Americans points to the “adversarial” culture that produced John Walker Lindh. But the anecdotal evidence presented by Sperry points to another problem, which is the possibility of ethnic and racial minorities becoming a ready audience for the Islamic version of anti-American/anti-Western/anti-Christian and antiwhite ideology.
This brings us to the second dog that doesn’t bark in Sperry’s book: immigration. The question that is implicitly raised but not answered in Infiltration brings us full circle. Why are they here in the first place? Could Islamic jihadist ideology (and Sperry, following Srdja Trifkovic’s lead, does see Islam as an all-encompassing ideology) gain such a strong foothold in our country (or in any other Western state) already weakened by an identity crisis and an accompanying loss of resolve if a policy of nearly open borders were not operative? That question has already been answered. The hoards of immigrants are here in the first place because America and the West are in the midst of an identity crisis and have a weakened self-defense instinct. That Paul Sperry, who is appropriately outraged by what he sees, cannot bring himself to ask those questions tells us all we need to know about how we arrived at the point where a very informative book such as Infiltration can be written.
The social, spiritual, and structural problems inherent in modern societies have disrupted the socialization of our people, producing generations of Americans and Europeans alienated from their traditional cultures and civilization. How can we even hope to assimilate and socialize waves of immigrants from vastly different cultures and civilizations (a very dicey proposition in any case) when it is our own children who are in need of assimilation and socialization? If Al Qaeda can recruit John Walker Lindh, how many Third Worlders will sympathize with, or even join, the jihad?
In an article in the July/August 2005 number of Foreign Affairs (“Europe’s Angry Muslims”), Robert Leiken looks at the growth of militant Islam in Europe (where we have seen the results in the bombings that, last summer, shook “Londonistan”). Leiken points out that having been born and reared a citizen of Germany, France, the United Kingdom, or the Netherlands does not mean that the second- and third-generation Muslim citizen is especially loyal. Many of them are susceptible to jihadist indoctrination. In short, they are being integrated into the host country’s “adversarial culture.” But Infiltration underscores another alarming phenomenon at work: Adversarial immigrants are converting us to their own hostile ideology even as they colonize America and the West.
[Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington, by Paul Sperry (Nashville: Nelson Current) 328 pp., $24.99]