‘Whosoever shows enmity to a friend of mine, then I have declared war against him.”
That was one of the last texts Mohammad Yousuf Abdulazeez sent before he went on a shooting rampage in Chattanooga that has now claimed the lives of five men. With the massacre of US Marines in Tennessee a familiar media cycle is playing itself out in America. “Was it terrorism” is one refrain.
Then there are the other stories about the murderer’s “depression” and how he was “angry about conflicts in the Middle East.”
Then there is the excuse lobby, like popular Twitter account @Delo_Taylor, a “citizen journalist” who claimed that America should “wake up” and “address trauma” of young Muslims “forced to grow up in Post 9/11 [sic].” He claimed: “the fact that we are surprised when disenfranchised young people gravitate towards the ideology of groups like ISIS [Islamic State, or IS] is the height of arrogance.”
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Disenfranchised. Angry. Given that profile, one would expect to see tens of thousands of Abdulazeezes in the West, millions throughout the world. But in fact there are just a handful of “lone wolves” like Abdulazeez. They almost all fit a profile.
It isn’t the profile of “disenfranchised” youth, but rather of enfranchised, spoiled, middle class men with university degrees who are recent converts to Islamist-style extremism and have little grounding in a normal Muslim community. They create a false narrative of victimhood for themselves that has more in common with the likes of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine school killers, than any actual suffering in their own lives.
Let’s look at the typical profile of the “lone wolf” in the West. Abdulazeez was born in Kuwait in 1990 to a Palestinian father, and he carried a Jordanian travel document, not Kuwaiti citizenship.
After Saddam Hussein was ejected from Kuwait in 1991 the Kuwaiti government cracked down on Palestinians living there, who were seen as having supported Iraq.
Abdulazeez’s family left the country and found refuge in the United States in 1996.
He grew up in Chattanooga and attended a mediocre high school. In his yearbook, according to The Chattanooga Times Free Press, he complained that his name “causes national security alerts.” But neighbors recalled an “all-American” boy who got involved in wrestling and mixed martial arts.
In 2012 he graduated with a degree in engineering from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He had no trouble securing work, interning at the Tennessee Valley Authority, a large federally owned corporation, and had internships at several other firms. After graduation he even briefly secured a job at Perry Nuclear Power Plant, in May 2013. He failed the background check for the job.
But his life became more erratic in the past year. In 2014 he traveled to Jordan, where friends claimed he “changed.” In April 2015 he was arrested for driving under the influence after an officer smelled marijuana and alcohol on him when he was stopped.
This wasn’t a “disenfranchised” American suffering under the weight of poverty and racism. His family lived in the bucolic upper middle class neighborhood of Colonial Shores. This is classic America, with manicured lawns, gates and nice houses.
Abdulazeez received ample opportunities in life, with chances at decent jobs that many poor Americans can only dream of.
Compared to the hundreds of millions of actually disenfranchised people in the Middle East, he was a member of the wealthiest one percent of the world’s population.
Moreover, apparently he wasn’t a “devout” Muslim, but a drinker and drug-user.
Abdulazeez fits the pattern of basically every single “lone wolf” terrorist in the West in the past decades. Remember Dzokhar Tsarnaev? The Tsarnaevs, like Abdulazeez, were also welcomed to America.
Born in 1993, Dzokhar moved to the US with his family at age eight. They lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts and eventually became naturalized US citizens. He was also a wrestler in high school and worked as a lifeguard at Harvard University.
He received scholarships and support in his studies. He studied marine biology at the University of Massachusetts. People recalled that “he was not perceived as foreign, and spoke English well.” Like Abdulazeez, at some point he became angry, and together with his brother planned the Boston Marathon Bombings of April 2015.
What of Anwar al-Awlaki? Born in New Mexico to parents from Yemen, his father had been a Fulbright scholar with a doctorate.
Awlaki lived in Yemen when he was young but returned to the US to get a degree in civil engineering from the University of Colorado. He was a frequenter of brothels and prostitutes between 1996 and 2002, arrested once for soliciting. Despite his increasing radicalism, he served as imam at a mosque in Falls Church, Virginia and was even invited for academic discussions with the FBI’s director of counter-intelligence.
He was a Muslim chaplain at George Washington University. Eventually he left the US, moving to the UK and then back to Yemen where he was killed in an air strike in 2011.
Every profile of a lone-wolf killer, or even cells of Islamist-inspired terrorists such as the educated doctors involved in the Glasgow bombing in 2007, fits a similar pattern. Whether it is Mohammed Merah, the Toulouse killer, or Major Nidal Hasan, of the Fort Hood massacre, you will find privilege, often university education and a relaxed middle-class background. Often integrated and considered “good students” and “normal,” these men seek radicalism not because of disenfranchisement, but particularly because they are so enfranchised.
They find radicalism online or on vacation because they are seeking an outlet for their energies.
Far from meeting with racism in daily life, they have almost all benefited from numerous opportunities. Compare their lives to those of minorities, such as African- Americans. ‘Lone wolf’ terrorists are rarely pious and devout Muslims, but rather people who use the framework of Islam to channel their anger. They invent perceived victimhood, watching media about wars in the Middle East or some other cause, and channel their aggression into it. It isn’t that the wars in the Middle East cause their radicalism; if there was no war in the Gaza Strip, they would be angry over something in Nigeria, Myanmar or China.
If wars in the Middle East caused terrorism among Western Muslims, then you would find more terrorists among recent immigrants from the Middle East.
But you never find mass killers described as “poor recent immigrant who worked hard and grew up religious.” You find the opposite: “He wore shorts and a T-shirt, he liked driving fast cars. We didn’t know he was from the Middle East. We thought his name was Greek.” The guy who grows up attending mosque his whole life and works in his family’s shop doesn’t become a terrorist. No, it’s the wrestling champion and engineer who everyone thought was a “normal American” or “well adjusted English immigrant.” Car mechanics don’t become murderers, wealthy spoiled youth do. The privileged youth tend to have no compassion. Their treatment of women tends to bear this out. How often do you find “he frequented strip clubs and prostitutes” in the profile of these terrorists? Major Hasan; the 9/11 hijackers – Abu Hamza, the British hate preacher, even ran a strip club in London. And what did Abu Hamza study? Engineering.
If you want to stereotype lone-wolf terrorists and self-radicalized cells of extremists, you are more likely to find them at high school wrestling events or engineering faculties than in your neighborhood mosque.
It’s not that they aren’t “real Muslims,” it is that almost all of them are recent converts to Islam or recently “found faith” – and their false faith is merely a veneer. Most of them were coddled in their radicalism, like Mon Haron Monis of the Sydney café terror attack; their obvious self-radicalization purposely ignored by people who don’t want to discriminate. But people should be cognizant of someone who appears normal one day and then begins to send them doom and gloom quotes like “life is bitter and short” or “I have declared war against those who show me enmity.”
Follow the author @Sfrantzman