“We swear by the almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone: We must fight them as they fight us, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
This was Michael Adebolajo, age 28, born in the U.K. to a devoted Christian family of Nigerian background.
His hands covered with the blood of a young off-duty British soldier, he and a younger accomplice made no effort to flee the scene of the crime. The video of the attack, on a busy street in daylight, spoke of both derangement and audacity. “I apologize that women had to witness this today but in our land our women have to see the same,” Adebolajo said.
The reference to “our land” appeared to confound the first wave of commentary last week. Muslims had no trouble recognizing the reference. The man of British birth claimed the lands of Islam as his own. Many decades earlier, Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian thinker who was the Lenin of the political Islamists (and executed in 1966 by his country’s military dictatorship), resolved this tension for generations to come. We may carry their nationalities, he wrote of infidel nations, but we belong to our religion.
The coldbloodedness of the scene in London recalled another, in the streets of Amsterdam on Nov. 2, 2004. Mohammed Bouyeri, a 26-year-old Moroccan-Dutchman, had caught up with the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was riding his bicycle on a bleak Amsterdam morning. Bouyeri shot Van Gogh in the stomach, then cut his victim’s throat, as though slashing a tire, one witness said. Van Gogh had pleaded for mercy: “Don’t do it, don’t do it.”
There was no mercy on offer. Bouyeri wasn’t quite done. He pulled out a smaller knife and pinned it to Van Gogh’s body with a letter attached. Nor was there any remorse at his trial. Bouyeri didn’t recognize the authority of the court. He lived by the law of the Islamic Shariah, he said.
Fittingly for this disordered world, Bouyeri wore Nike sneakers under his black djellaba. He spoke no Arabic and very little if any Berber. He knew little of Islam. His turning to the faith was sudden. Until then, he had been “Mo,” cheerful and clever at school. (Ian Buruma gave a superb account of this crime in his 2006 book, “Murder in Amsterdam.”)
The assimilationist promise of the polyglot societies of the West has come under intense challenge. A second generation of disaffected Muslims has risen. The charges that MI5, the U.K. domestic intelligence agency, had failed to foresee the danger the assailants posed are predictable, but futile.
No liberal society could foresee the moment when true believers were going to give in to their derangement. Islam had put down roots in U.K. This was the backwash of empire. When the British empire pulled back from its far-flung dominions, its Muslim subjects followed. The growth in their ranks was phenomenal: There were 23,000 British Muslims in 1951, 369,000 in 1971, 690,000 in 1981 and 1.6 million by 2001.
Mosques multiplied: 10 in 1945, 329 in 1989, 1,493 by 2003. Radical preachers who quit the secular dictatorships of the Arab world made their way to London. There was freedom in London, and there were state welfare subsidies.
The preacher who now claims to have inducted Adebolajo to the ways of radical Islamism was a notorious bigot, Omar Bakri Mohammed, a man of Syrian birth, who gathered around him a group of bewildered, angry young men, Al Muhajiroun (the Emigrants). London gave Bakri all he could aspire for: welfare relief, followers, a soapbox. He hailed the Sept. 11 attacks, and described the death pilots who struck America as the “magnificent 19.” Lawyers sheltered him from deportation.
His luck ran out in 2005 when the authorities blocked his return to London, after a visit to Lebanon. He gave his sanction and approval to the killing in Woolwich. He justified it on the grounds that the victim was a man of the military and not a civilian.
Britain’s moment of grief at the hands of radical Islamists, its 9/11, came in 2005 with the 7/7 attacks. London’s transport system was struck by four jihadists and 52 people were killed. A parliamentary report later laid bare the world of these younger men who bore British society a dreadful hatred.
Three of the bombers had been born in West Yorkshire. The fourth was a Jamaican-born convert to Islam who was a “bright child, successful academically, at school, and good at sport.” The oldest of the four, age 30, with a 14-month-old child, was considered a role model for younger people.
One of the four, Shehzad Tanweer, 22, was particularly privileged. He led, by all appearances, a “balanced life,” the investigative report said. He owned a new Mercedes, given to him by his father, and was fond of fashionable hairstyles and designer clothes. Tanweer played cricket the night before the bombing. On the day of the horrors, a surveillance camera filmed him in a store: “He buys snacks, quibbles with the cashier over his change, looks directly at the CCTV camera and leaves,” according to the report.
Naturally, al-Qaeda’s leaders claimed the bombers. Yet one suspects they are the children of a more tangled trail, at once so familiar and so unrecognizable.
(Fouad Ajami is a senior fellow at the Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and author, most recently, of “The Syrian Rebellion.” The opinions expressed are his own.)
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