Jihadists in America: The Media's Narrative

Shortly after the terrorist attack in Chattanooga on July 16, 2015 and before the dead were even interred, the mainstream media commenced their time-honored search for clues as to what could have possibly caused a young Muslim man from an affluent family, Mohammad Abdulazeez, to commit a terrorist attack. As with the Fort Hood shootings in November of 2009 by army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan, and the Boston Marathon bombing in April of 2013 committed by the Tsarnaev brothers, many of these amateur psychoanalysts deduced that there were underlying psycho/social causes involving alienation from society which promoted pathological feelings of isolation and anger.

The subscript, of course, was that America had failed in its outreach to those wounded souls. If only ours was a welcoming society based on multiculturalist values and a sincere appreciation of the “other,” we wouldn’t suffer such tragedies.

After the Fort Hood attack ABC News reported on 11/9/09 that Major Hasan’s aunt stated: “He was single, without a girlfriend and did not make friends fast.” His cousin, Nader Hasan added that, “He was harassed about his Islamic faith and had been called a camel jockey.” Some suggested that a combination of stressors in Hasan’s life, especially his role as military psychiatrist could have led him to a breakdown.

The network, in its search for clues, then interviewed professor of psychiatry at George Washington University, Dr. Amir Afkhami, who stated: “The stress of hearing war stories from returned soldiers to a mix of someone who has a feeling of being persecuted in the military because of his background – whether he had a real perception or a false one...”

But it was in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings that much of the media exited the realm of the hopelessly naïve and stepped into the zone of the bizarre. Rolling Stone led the charge. Just days after the murders, the magazine placed on its front cover an airbrushed photo of a handsome Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  His long, wavy tresses and frilly shirt was reminiscent of rock legends which graced the magazines cover innumerable times – Dzhokhar as the quintessential example of rebellious, misguided youth.

Once again, we were deluged with articles seeking underlying causes as to what could have driven the brothers to commit such an atrocity. We were informed that the brothers, raised in poverty, felt alienated from society and angered at their inability to assimilate into the American cultural fabric. Some pundits proffered that this sense of isolation led to an emotional detachment, causing the brothers to psychologically implode.

In the aftermath of the Chattanooga shootings, the media faithfully picked up where we last left them. Typical is a Washington Post report on July 18: “The portrait emerging of Mohammad Abdulazeez isn’t one of a committed Muslim or vengeful jihadist, but rather an aimless young man who came from a troubled home and failed to hold down a job after college…” The Post goes on to inform us that like Major Hasan, he was never known to date. (I haven’t seen any analysts opine that the business of jihad and the promise of seventy-two virgins in the afterlife left little room or interest in their lives for dating.)

The irony, of course, is that our postmodern media analysts, while preaching the gospel of cultural relativism, are themselves entirely blind to the moral values, cultural underpinnings and ethical standards of those who adhere to different sets of guiding principles. Rather, their search for answers are steeped in their own narrow mindsets, nurtured at the universities they attended and reinforced in the scholarly journals they read and in the social circles they embrace. The attempt by the media elites to paint a portrait of these men as alienated, disaffected youths is symptomatic of such a mindset. Their faux sophistication is belied by the narrow Western lens with which they view the motivations of these Islamists living in the West

In essence, they are guilty of the analytic omission which they accuse others of: an honest attempt to understand events beyond the context of their own cultural biases and narrow frames of reference. If they did, they might find the anger and alienation of these young jihadists have nothing whatsoever to do with the familiar narrative of youthful rebelliousness depicted in iconic American cinematic and literary touchstones such as Rebel without a Cause or The Catcher in the Rye.

Hence, the multiculturalist thinkers, plagued by Western guilt, seek conflict resolution through understanding and compromise. For the jihadist (lone wolf or otherwise) those are alien notions. They have already determined that there is no place in the worldwide caliphate to come for those who do not submit to the laws of Allah – Western commentators included.