Islam’s Nowhere Men

Unlike third rate commentators such as Fareed Zakaria and Sassanad Dhume – inspired more by their national bias (both are fanatically anti-Pakistan Indian ultra-nationalists) to pin Pakistan down than any real objective analysis-  Fouad Ajami is a true academic.  His article in the Wall Street Journal hits the nail on the head.  Americans are well advised to read Ajami’s analysis carefuly and realize that the problem facing Pakistanis and Americans is the same.  However even Mr. Ajami hasn’t made the real connection i.e.  connection with Islamic extremist organizations operating on US Campuses. -YLH

By Fouad Ajami (Courtesy Wall Street Journal)

‘A Muslim has no nationality except his belief,” the intellectual godfather of the Islamists, Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, wrote decades ago. Qutb’s “children” are everywhere now; they carry the nationalities of foreign lands and plot against them. The Pakistani born Faisal Shahzad is a devotee of Sayyid Qutb’s doctrine, and Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, was another.

Qutb was executed by the secular dictatorship of Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1966. But his thoughts and legacy endure. Globalization, the shaking up of continents, the ease of travel, and the doors for immigration flung wide open by Western liberal societies have given Qutb’s worldview greater power and relevance. What can we make of a young man like Shahzad working for Elizabeth Arden, receiving that all-American degree, the MBA, jogging in the evening in Bridgeport, then plotting mass mayhem in Times Square?

The Islamists are now within the gates. They fled the fires and the failures of the Islamic world but brought the ruin with them. They mock national borders and identities. A parliamentary report issued by Britain’s House of Commons on the London Underground bombings of July 7, 2005 lays bare this menace and the challenge it poses to a system of open borders and modern citizenship.

The four men who pulled off those brutal attacks, the report noted, “were apparently well integrated into British society.” Three of them were second generation Britons born in West Yorkshire. The oldest, a 30-year-old father of a 14-month-old infant, “appeared to others as a role model to young people.” One of the four, 22 years of age, was a boy of some privilege; he owned a red Mercedes given to him by his father and was given to fashionable hairstyles and designer clothing. This young man played cricket on the eve of the bombings. The next day, the day of the terror, 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.” Two of the four, rather like Faisal Shahzad, had spent time in Pakistan before they pulled off their deed.


Ryan Inzana



A year after the London terror, hitherto tranquil Canada had its own encounter with the new Islamism. A ring of radical Islamists were charged with plotting to attack targets in southern Ontario with fertilizer bombs. A school-bus driver was one of the leaders of these would-be jihadists. A report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service unintentionally echoed the British House of Commons findings. “These individuals are part of Western society, and their ‘Canadianness’ makes detection more difficult. Increasingly, we are learning of more and more extremists that are homegrown. The implications of this shift are profound.”

And indeed they are, but how can “Canadianness” withstand the call of the faith and the obligation of jihad? I think of one Egyptian Islamist in London, a man by the name of Yasser Sirri, who gave the matter away some six years ago: “The whole Arab world was dangerous for me. I went to London,” he observed.

In Egypt, three sentences had been rendered against him: one condemned him to 25 years of hard labor, the second to 15 years, and the third to death for plotting to assassinate a prime minister. Sirri had fled Egypt to Yemen, then to the Sudan. But it was better and easier in bilad al-kufar, the lands of unbelief. There is wealth in the West and there are the liberties afforded by an open society.

In an earlier age—I speak here autobiographically, and not of some vanished world long ago but of the 1960s when I made my way to the United States—the world was altogether different. Mass migration from the Islamic world had not begun. The immigrants who turned up in Western lands were few, and they were keen to put the old lands, and their feuds and attachments, behind them. Islam was then a religion of Afro-Asia; it had not yet put down roots in Western Europe and the New World. Air travel was costly and infrequent.

The new lands, too, made their own claims, and the dominant ideology was one of assimilation. The national borders were real, and reflected deep civilizational differences. It was easy to tell where “the East” ended and Western lands began. Postmodernist ideas had not made their appearance. Western guilt had not become an article of faith in the West itself.

Nowadays the Islamic faith is portable. It is carried by itinerant preachers and imams who transmit its teachings to all corners of the world, and from the safety and plenty of the West they often agitate against the very economic and moral order that sustains them. Satellite television plays its part in this new agitation, and the Islam of the tele-preachers is invariably one of damnation and fire. From tranquil, banal places (Dubai and Qatar), satellite television offers an incendiary version of the faith to younger immigrants unsettled by a modern civilization they can neither master nor reject.

And home, the Old Country, is never far. Pakistani authorities say Faisal Shahzad made 13 visits to Pakistan in the last seven years. This would have been unthinkable three or four decades earlier. Shahzad lived on the seam between the Old Country and the New. The path of citizenship he took gave him the precious gift of an American passport but made no demands on him.

From Pakistan comes a profile of Shahzad’s father, a man of high military rank, and of property and standing: He was “a man of modern thinking and of the modern age,” it was said of him in his ancestral village of Mohib Banda in recent days. That arc from a secular father to a radicalized son is, in many ways, the arc of Pakistan since its birth as a nation-state six decades ago. The secular parents and the radicalized children is also a tale of Islam, that broken pact with modernity, the mothers who fought to shed the veil and the daughters who now wish to wear the burqa in Paris and Milan.

In its beginnings, the Pakistan of Faisal Shahzad’s parents was animated by the modern ideals of its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In that vision, Pakistan was to be a state for the Muslims of the subcontinent, but not an Islamic state in the way it ordered its political and cultural life. The bureaucratic and military elites who dominated the state, and defined its culture, were a worldly breed. The British Raj had been their formative culture.

But the world of Pakistan was recast in the 1980s under a zealous and stern military leader, Zia ul-Haq. Zia offered Pakistan Islamization and despotism. He had ridden the jihad in Afghanistan next door to supreme power; he brought the mullahs into the political world, and they, in turn, brought the militants with them.


This was the Pakistan in which young Faisal Shahzad was formed; the world of his parents was irretrievable. The maxim that Pakistan is governed by a trinity—Allah, army, America—gives away this confusion: The young man who would do his best to secure an American education before succumbing to the call of the jihad is a man in the grip of a deep schizophrenia. The overcrowded cities of Islam—from Karachi and Casablanca to Cairo—and those cities in Europe and North America where the Islamic diaspora is now present in force have untold multitudes of men like Faisal Shahzad.

This is a long twilight war, the struggle against radical Islamism. We can’t wish it away. No strategy of winning “hearts and minds,” no great outreach, will bring this struggle to an end. America can’t conciliate these furies. These men of nowhere—Faisal Shahzad, Nidal Malik Hasan, the American-born renegade cleric Anwar Awlaki now holed up in Yemen and their likes—are a deadly breed of combatants in this new kind of war. Modernity both attracts and unsettles them. America is at once the object of their dreams and the scapegoat onto which they project their deepest malignancies.

Mr. Ajami, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, is the author of “The Foreigner’s Gift” (Free Press, 2007).



Filed under Pakistan, Terrorism, War On Terror

24 responses to “Islam’s Nowhere Men

  1. Mr. Tambourine Man

    /Fouad Ajami is a true academic. /

    Funniest shit I’ve read all week.

  2. Majumdar

    Here is the proof of Mr Ajami being a true academic:

    ……In its beginnings, the Pakistan of Faisal Shahzad’s parents was animated by the modern ideals of its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.…..


  3. Majumdar

    They fled the fires and the failures of the Islamic world but brought the ruin with them.

    Well actually they fled the fires and failures of the Muslim world, not the Islamic world. Had the Muslim world been Islamic we do not know whether they wud have fled their countries or not.


  4. globetrotter

    To majumdar

    You cannot separate muslim failure from islamic failure. Nor should you. The muslim must be constantly reminded that his actions are advertisement (good or bad) for islam itself. Islam is what is practised by muslims – even by those whose muslim-ness is denied by other muslims.

    Don’t make life easy for those, who are arrogant and conceited or have a superiority-exclusivity-complex about their own religion or ideology.

  5. Majumdar

    Globetrotter/Vishwas bhai,

    In muslim societies all sons are complete underdogs of their fathers. The “rebellion-against-father” thing is absent.

    Aurangzeb??? Shahjahan??? Jahangir???

    Islam is what is practised by muslims

    You wud apply the same standards to Hindoos/Hindooism???


  6. Vajra


    Is this jackass the same as our unlamented G. Vishvas? How did you know? From the dreary monotony – and complete futility – of his arguments?

  7. Majumdar

    Globetrotter’s arguments remind me of Vishwasbhai, Tathagata da among many others. (I wud skip Ganpat bhai becuase he had a sense of humour which none of the others had)


  8. It seems there is something really wrong with Islam, why the religion is perceived negatively everywhere. How come even Muslims are unable to understand the message of peace?

  9. lal

    Praveen swami made an interesting point appearing in a TV show a couple of days ago.I think stratfor also have raised similar arguments.U feel pakistan is exonerated in the shahzad business as he was radicalised in the west.But as u very well know, anti americanism is rampant all over the 3rd world.u can even c in educated indians of all all political beliefs,but more with a leftist leaning,this radicalisation in ideas.ofcos muslims in india symapthise with the troubles of palestinians just like there counterparts all over the world.and these sort of ideas will continue to persist.they r not unhealthy in itself.i dont think any educated south asian identifies with american policies.but the problem with pakistan is that after travelling through pakistan,many of these ideas get the potential to is in transforming the ideas to action that pakistan has a key role.and that is something to look into,whether u like it or not
    Have a nice day

  10. globetrotter

    to majumdar

    “In muslim societies all sons are complete underdogs of their fathers.”

    Generalized statements in socio-political sphere do not exclude exceptions. Furthermore I was referring to rebellion towards (more) freedom from paternalism, tribalism, obscurantism etc. I had made that clear too.

    “You wud apply the same standards to Hindoos/Hindooism???”

    YES. But what do you intend by writing “oo” instead of “u” ?

    Your anger against some who you could not refute does not seem to end.

  11. Jamal

    Another perspective;

    Blasphemy laws: the root of Pakistani extremism

    The failed Times Square bombing raises important questions.

    As a U.S. Muslim of Pakistani descent, I have wondered why so many plots against America continue to be hatched in Pakistan. At least nine people with some connection to Pakistan have been charged with terror plots against the United States in the past two years. What is it that accounts for this disturbing trend?

    One can’t simply blame Islam. Were that true, Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, would be the epicenter of terrorist plots against America. But it’s not. One can’t simply blame fiery rhetoric. Were that true, Iran, the most vocally anti-American of Islamic nations, would be breeding terrorists. But it’s not. One can’t simply blame illiteracy. Were that true, Ethiopia, ranked 170th in literacy, would be at the forefront of terrorist activities. But it’s not. One can’t simply blame poverty, either. Were that true, Bangladesh, the poorest of Islamic nations, would be leading the charge against America. But it’s not.

    So, what makes Pakistan so uniquely conducive to extremism?

    The answer, I believe, is rather simple. Pakistan proudly prosecutes its own people for a crime that exists in few countries: blasphemy. Section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code, the so-called blasphemy law, states, “Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”


  12. Jamal

    Blasphemy laws are to Pakistan’s extremists what Miracle Gro is to one’s home garden.

    The alleged Time Square suspect, Faisal Shahzad, was a 5-year-old Pakistani citizen when these draconian laws were enacted. His generation knows only one way to deal with a difference of opinion in matters of religion: Shoot the opponent.

  13. globetrotter

    To jamal

    Blasphemy laws are the mainstay of islam everywhere – even where islam still is not the ruling ideology. No islam without blasphemy laws and no blasphemy laws (in practise) without islam today.

    More basically asked: how does islam treat ex-muslims? This tells us why islam will always be intolerant, closed-minded and narrow-minded in practise, i.e. in reality – no matter what grand declarations muslims make to glorify islam.

  14. Anwar

    YLH, I have a different opinion of this great academic… You see, both Fareed Zakaria and Sassanad Dhume are transparent and one can see through the nothingness easily. Fouad Ajami on the other hand is murky – just as murky as his mentor Bernard Lewis and it takes several readings to get to the context…. that is what eventually leaves a bad taste in the mouth…
    Much of the stuff he is referring to has been well discussed on this forum already.. The core issues and problems Pakistan is facing have been very well defined and it is about time our intellectual leaders start putting forward strategies to reverse the down-slide.

  15. Bin Ismail

    @ Jamal (May 11, 2010 at 5:07 pm)

    Let’s see what Pakistan has that the countries you’ve enlisted namely Indonesia, Iran, Ethiopia and Bangla Desh do not have.

    Pakistan stands uniquely distinct from Indonesia, Iran, Ethiopia and Bangla Desh in that:

    1. During its very inception and while going through its formative stages, the Muslim clergy of undivided India most vehemently opposed its creation. When Pakistan finally came into existence, these mullahs took a U-turn, claiming to be its sole custodians. Reason would suggest that they continue to oppose its existence.

    2. Pakistan is more multisectarian than any of these countries and it’s successive governments have a history of backing and patronising the clergy of one sect against the others – whichever suits the political agenda.

    3. Only Pakistan got entangled into the so-called Afghan Jihad, and has been unsuccessful in disentangling itself till now. The Pakistan Taliban are a sequel of the Afghan Taliban.


  16. globetrotter

    Anwar wrote:
    “it is about time our intellectual leaders start putting forward strategies to reverse the down-slide.”

    We are hearing this since decades and centuries in the islamic world. Can islam produce intellectual and honest leaders? If one such does get produced (no doubt by reading books other than kuran, books written by non-muslims) how long will he last in the islamic world?

  17. PMA


    My comments are not about this article by Fouad Ajami but about your comparison of Fareed Zakaria and Fouad Ajami. In my opinion both Freed and Fouad are real “kiss-ass”. Both bend backward trying to please their ‘pay masters’ only Freed does more so than Fouad.

    Fouad is academician alright but his print and electronic media articles and comments are to reinforce the viewpoint of those paying for his appearance. He seldom presents an independent opinion and is only there to provide a ‘middle eastern, muslim-arab’ face to the Western media bias regarding Muslims-Arabs. His infliction is common among many ‘middle eastern’ academicians in America whose careers depend upon their university employment.

    Freed on the other hand, who by the way prefers to be called ‘Za-ka-ria’ over ‘Zaka-ria’, is a brown-nose phony presenting himself as an American intellectual. I pity him when on his weekly show he tries to be more American than the Americans themselves. As a fellow Muslim it is so embarrassing to watch him on TV. His behavior is typical of Indian Muslims who often need to prove their ‘indian’ credentials by badmouthing Pakistan.

  18. Mustafa Shaban

    @PMA: Agreed with your analysis.

  19. Ashraf Lodhi

    I am oretty sure, Fasial Shahzad has’nt heard the name of Seyid Qutub let alone his philosophy. Taliban have their own philosophies….topak zama qanoon!….lol:)

  20. YLH

    On the contrary it is increasingly clear that he is your Syed Qutb type Islamist not your average tribal talib.

    I think he was Islamized and radicalized in the US by organizations directly impacted by Syed Qutb’s thinking.

  21. Yasir Qadeer

    I believe the term “Islamic failure” does not mean Islam failed as a religion. It was the people or the followers who failed. A system is not bad; the people in the system make it bad. Muslims made Islam rigid when in nature it’s flexible. That’s where the failure started I believe. The need is to understand the liberal elements of Islam in their true spirit.

  22. Prasad

    PMA: I can understand you saying ‘As a fellow Pakistani’ ( in the event you comment on your compatriot …. I have my doubts here as well note my comments below)

    However, I cannot understand you saying ‘ As a fellow muslim’

    Why is it that every observation, review, feedback, decision and every other possible human reaction needs to be viewed from the lenses of ‘religion’

    I just cannot fathom relating to this and passing a judgement on anybody with a ‘As a fellow Hindu’ or lets say ‘As a fellow Indian’

    What is so special ? you having an issue with Fareed Zakaria is perfectly fine. But why from a Muslim angle? Your kind of folks increasingly look like programmed Robots

  23. Zainab Ali

    The failure is the mistake of Muslims, not of those who brought the religion; we need to clear these doubts and improve our image in front of the whole world.

  24. PMA

    Prasad (May 12, 2010 at 1:45 pm):

    If you watch Freed “Zaa-Kaa-Ria” Zakaria, he often presents himself as a Muslim, an Indian Muslim, an American Muslim and as an expert on Muslim World. He knows all about what is wrong with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and on and on. It is he who brings in his credentials as a Muslim insider and therefore expert on Middle East politics. Watching him parroting the position of his masters on ‘all things Muslim’ is really embarrassing for his fellow Muslims. As I said, Freed Zakaria is a brown-nose kiss-ass.