Monday, June 21, 2004

American Decadence and the Marginal Terrorist

The preliminary report of the 9/11 Commission included many disturbing revelations, but there was one detail I found heartening. The following is from the print version of an L.A. Times article from last Thursday (abbreviated version, without the portion below, available online with registration)
The report also revealed that some of the conspirators grew skittish about the plans in the final weeks and days of preparation and may have considered dropping out.

Among the possible defectors was Ziad Samir Jarrah, the suspected pilot of the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, whose frosted hair, taste for Beirut discos and beer drinking apparently caused friction with plot leader [Mohamed] Atta. [emphasis added]

The report indicates that Jarrah reconsidered withdrawing after “an emotional conversation” with [Ramzi] Binalshibh, who “encouraged Jarrah to see the plan through.”
Why is this heartening? Because it indicates that American-style decadence very nearly induced at least one terrorist to abandon his murderous plans. American culture does not always triumph, and it did not triumph here – but it is still, I contend, a force for good in the world. Contrary to the popular all-or-nothing model of the terrorist mind, according to which one is either a terrorist or not, what we see here is the marginal terrorist, who can potentially be turned from terror by the enjoyment of material pleasures. And material pleasures are what America does best.

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