What makes people terrorists: the Hollywood view versus reality
Stephen Gaghan, the screenwriter and director of Syriana, a new movie about CIA skullduggery in the Mideast, was interviewed on the Charlie Rose program Friday night. At first he did not seem (as I had expected he would be from what I had heard about the film) particularly anti-American or leftist; he showed sympathy or at least fair-mindedness to America in various ways. But then he said something that gave him away completely, and made me lose all interest in seeing the film. He talked about one of his characters, a suicide bomber. This character becomes a suicide bomber after being beaten up. It is the experience of being brutalized that turns him into a suicide bomber. Thus Gaghan’s view of terrorism is the standard liberal cliché: terrorism results from cruelty and oppression. Despite spending years researching the Mideast and terrorism, Gaghan is not even aware that the 9/11 hijackers and the London bombers were all of educated, middle class background. He evidently knows or cares nothing about the role of Islam in making people terrorists. Islam, after all, doesn’t make for pulse-pounding cinematic tensions with an obsessive overlay of U.S. guilt.
Speaking of what turns people into suicide bombers, just after seeing the Gaghan interview I read an article in the December 6 New York Times about a white Catholic Belgian woman, Muriel Degauque, who married a Muslim man in Belgium, became an extremely strict Muslim, and blew herself up in Iraq last month in an unsuccessful attempt to kill American GIs. Now, was it physical brutality that turned Degauque into a terrorist (the Gaghan explanation)? No. Was it a lack of democracy that turned her into a terrorist (the George W. Bush explanation)? No. Was it cultural displacement as a Muslim growing up in Europe that turned her into a terrorist (the Olivier Roy/Francis Fukuyama explanation)? No. Was it oppression by those horrible Israelis that turned her into a terrorist (the leftist explanation)? No. Was it hunger that turned her into a terrorist (the Episcopalian explanation)? No.
What turned Muriel Degauque into a terrorist? Islam turned her into a terrorist.