After 9/11, The Last English Prince embarked on a rigorous research path regarding Islam. Books were purchased from dusty bookshelves and mosque bookstores. There was no desire for “Islam for Dummies” on my part. One book was checked out from the library. Finding it needful for my private collection, unavailable by any other means, led to the lie: “I cannot find it.” Followed by, “But I will be happy to pay for it.” Compensated theft. And it was a heavily compensated theft, considering the actual worth of the slightly tattered selection, printed in Saudi Arabia, and approximately 100 pages in length. Other selections, were gifted to me from Shar’iah lawyers.
The Last English Prince does not walk into a room. She drives. A truck. At least, that is what my husband tells me. So partially armored, I drove straight into the living room of an Al-Qaeda loyalist, a PhD biochemist living in the Chicago area. Our living experience was connected via the internet. But I soon discovered that a forensic conversation that spanned approximately 18 months was insufficient. I was missing some things and I was acutely aware of it.
So I physically drove to Southern Methodist University where a robust gathering of Islamic luminaries were hosting Dr. John Esposito at their event. This opened the door to a decade-long very delightful friendship with a man who made the Georgetown University list for the “Five Hundred Most Influential Muslims”. This is a yearly publication which lists the top academia and geopolitical leaders of Islam.
I drove to various mosque events. Established a friendship with a former Pakistani ambassador. Met him for an event at one mosque. Met other Muslims for events at their mosques. One event, opened the door to a friendship with a man with close ties to Chechen rebels. Held a close relationship with a Palestinian Muslim with a law degree from Damascus. Fascinating man. He has since moved to the Hashemite Kingdom. I have attended Eid meals and eaten things which do not bear discussion. And forget the three cups of tea. Gallons of tea, cups of Turkish coffee, and a good time had by all!
Even this was not enough. With the first spate of suicide bombings I made a prediction based on my prior reading of the Articles of Confederation for Hamas. The ideology would begin to infiltrate the family units. First, we would see women take up the task. And then the task would fall to children of younger and younger ages.
It became apparent there was a need to embed with a family unit to observe the dynamics which played out to create child terrorists. So I searched. And I found. And I embedded and observed. The tales from the mother tongue have a strong hold on the neuroplasticity in a small child. The customs and behaviors in the home also seal the deal.
One of the hadith which is beloved by Muslims has to do with fate. Allah first created the pen and told it to write the destiny of all mankind. But what if it is not just “the pen” but it is also “the tongue”? After all, Arabic proclaims a distinction. There is jihad of the pen and jihad of the tongue. But for tribal regions with high rates of functional illiteracy it will be the tongue which writes the “destiny” of the children. A bomb has been installed inside the head long before they know how to activate the switch. So the installation did not necessarily come from a Tweet. Activation came from the Tweet. Twitter is more about activation than installation. The cultivation and installation was already there. We just don’t want to admit it. It would be impolite.
Our Western psychological models and metrics are deficient because… because… they are Western models. I am not advocating starting all over. Just consider upgrades to existing platforms.
Regarding the cultivation, I am pondering a simple model – that of soil acidity. Ammonium, nitrate and urea all have play in soil acidity. But on a basic level, it is the concentration of hydrogen ions in solution – on a negative logarithmic scale – which also determines soil acidity. (the greater the hydrogen ions, the lower the pH). But what many do not understand is that with the aforementioned logarithmic scale a soil pH of 3.0 is TEN TIMES more acidic than a 4.0.
As we monitor adolescent Muslim children and their social media platforms, a Western metric with a nudge from a “4 to a 3” may not seem that worrisome. But what if, just what if, the 3 is really a 10 on the acid-trip jihad logarithm? I continue to sort these things out. But there is little doubt in my mind that we face challenges for which we are unprepared.