Revolt of Privilege, Muslim Style
When you read reports that the Muslim terrorists who bombed the London Underground may have gotten together for a pre-attack whitewater rafting trip in Wales, you realize that this is a very particular enemy -- and one that is recognizable to students of history.
This is the revolt of the privileged, Islamic version. They have risen so far, so fast in the dizzying culture of the West that they have become enraged, disoriented and vulnerable to manipulation. Their spiritual leader is a Saudi billionaire's son who grew up with big ideas and too much money. He created a new identity for himself as a jihad leader, carrying the banner of a pristine Islam from the days of the Prophet Muhammad. The zenith of his warped amalgam of ancient and modern was having holy warriors fly airplanes into skyscrapers.
Reading some of the London bombers' biographies, you realize the depth of their cultural confusion: "Shahzad Tanweer, 23, came from one of Beeston's most respected families," wrote the London Independent about one of the July 7 bombers. And according to The Post, he had just received a red Mercedes from his dad.
This is not Patty Hearst or the Weather Underground -- it's a far more deadly revolt of privilege. But people who were students in the 1960s will remember the phenomenon: the idealistic kids from elite public and private schools who went to college, felt guilty about their comfort amid a brutal world and joined the Progressive Labor Party to ally with oppressed Third World workers. There is a cult aspect to this jihad -- an extreme version of the logic that has always drawn disaffected kids to self-destructive behavior.
Take a tour of some of the jihadist Web sites and you'll see a kind of fantasy world -- in which angry, alienated Muslims are stewing in scenarios of revenge. Young Muslims can buy videos of Iraqi insurgents setting off roadside bombs and firing mortars in "Iraqi R.A.W." and "Iraqi R.A.W. 2: The Anger Brigade." Or they can travel with Chechen fighters in "Russian Hell," Vols. 1, 2, 3 and 4.
The Islamic extremists are often described as "Salafists," and it's interesting to explore just what this says about their spiritual moorings. The Arabic word salaf means "past," and the Salafists are often said to be trying to re-create the pure values of the ancient ones who were the prophet's companions.
According to Vincenzo Oliveti in his fine study of the Salafists, titled "Terror's Source," their religious teaching casts aside the traditional canon -- the "Sunna" that make up Sunni Islam -- in favor of a have-it-your-way smorgasbord. A favorite saying of the Salafists, according to Oliveti, is nahnu rijal wa hum rijal , which he translates loosely as "We are all men so why should we accept that anybody knows better than us?"
What will stop this revolt of privileged Muslims? One possibility is that it will be checked by the same process that derailed the revolt of the rich kids in America after the 1960s -- namely, the counter-revolt of the poor kids. Poor Muslims simply can't afford the rebellion of their wealthy brethren, and the havoc it has brought to the House of Islam. For make no mistake: The people suffering from jihadism are mostly Muslims.
I can't imagine that the poor Egyptians who've been struggling to make a living in the resort towns around Sharm el-Sheikh are too happy this week. The jihadists who came bumping over the mountains to detonate last weekend's bombs may have been thinking of the 72 virgins that awaited them in heaven. But the Egyptian fellah is thinking about where he's going to get his next paycheck to feed his family.
And I can't imagine that the poor Iraqis whose families are being blown away by daily suicide bombs feel a great kinship with the Saudi jihadists who have been slipping across the border via Syria, trying to slake their angst about modern life through martyrdom.
There is a ferment in the Islamic world that is pushing for change, not death. I had a glimpse into it last week at a fascinating compilation of recent Iranian films, sponsored by, of all things, a Pentagon strategy group called the Highlands Forum. It was described as an evening of "strategic listening," and we watched a stunning documentary called "Zinat: One Special Day," about an Iranian woman in a poor village who dares to run for her local council. The men of her village have talked and talked about paving the road and never gotten it done. She defies the traditionalists. She wins the election; she paves the road. That's the power that will turn back the jihad of the privileged.