The Myth of Modern Jihad

JUNE 29, 2010, 9:00 PM

By ROBERT WRIGHT

It would be an understatement to say that Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber, pleaded guilty last week. “I’m going to plead guilty a hundred times over,” Shahzad told the judge. Why so emphatic? Because Shahzad is proud of himself. “I consider myself a Mujahid, a Muslim soldier,” he said.

This got some fist pumps in right-wing circles, because it seemed to confirm that America faces all-out jihad, and must marshal an accordingly fierce response. On National Review Online, Daniel Pipes wrote that Shahzad’s “bald declaration” should make Americans “accept the painful fact that Islamist anger and aspirations” are the problem; we must name “Islamism as the enemy.” And, as Pipes has explained in the past, once you realize that your enemy is a bunch of Muslim holy warriors, the path forward is clear: “Violent jihad will probably continue until it is crushed by a superior military force.”

At the risk of raining on Pipes’s parade: If you look at what Shahzad actually said, the upshot is way less grim. In fact, at a time when just about everyone admits that our strategy in Afghanistan isn’t working, Shahzad brings refreshing news: maybe America can win the war on terrorism without winning the war in Afghanistan.

As a bonus, it turns out there’s a hopeful message not just in Shahzad’s testimony, but in Pipes’s incomprehension of it. Pipes exhibits a cognitive distortion that may be afflicting Americans broadly — not just on the right, but on the center and left as well. And seeing the distortion is the first step toward escaping it. Continue reading

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