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Muslim Men and the Roots of Anger By: Salim Mansur
National Post | Friday, August 01, 2008


Before resting its recent case against Mohammed Momin Khawaja under Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act, the prosecution presented Momin’s former fiancée, Zeba Khan, as the final witness via a video link from Dubai. Ms. Khan reportedly stated in her testimony: “You will not meet a young Muslim man in the world who is not angry about something. Anyone who watches the news, if he wasn’t mad then, a) there’s something wrong with him, or b) he’s ignorant.”

Obviously, not all angry young Muslim men are engaging in violence — nor, of course, are all Muslims terrorists. But many terrorists are found to be Muslims. Ms. Khan’s remark purports to explain the linkage.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Mr. Khawaja has Pakistani roots. In recent years, Pakistan has become a haven for al-Qaeda terrorists. For longer than that, jihadis have recruited Pakistani boys and men to fight in Kashmir and Afghanistan. These brainwashed men may be volunteers headed out to fight infidel “invaders” and “occupiers” of Muslim lands, but it cannot be said that they are acting entirely on their own initiative.

These Muslims are responding to the political values and religious ideology promoted and financed by influential radicals. These values — reflected in Ms. Khan’s comment — provide the framework for the wider political discourse in Pakistan and across much of the Arab-Muslim world, as well.

I know Pakistani society quite intimately from studying and living among the Pakistani people. The Pakistani culture is based on collective loyalty to faith, history and politics. This makes it difficult for the country to keep up with the demands of the modern world.

I have also travelled in various other Muslim nations — from Algeria to Indonesia. Many of these societies, I’ve come to understand, are essentially failed states. Their cultures are mostly closed, authoritarian and patriarchal. While Muslim men of all ages can be genuinely friendly to strangers, theirs is a culture of boasting and quick tempers.

But when one engages them individually (especially younger men) in polite discussions of politics and history — even in a place such as Qom, Iran, whose most famous product is the late Ayatollah Khomeini — the mask falls and there is much sorrow expressed over how greatly the Muslim world has degenerated into a pathetic shadow of its past.

What is privately admitted cannot be publicly affirmed or discussed. The character of Muslim society is exemplified by the mosque culture, whereby the authority of the man on the pulpit is final and public dissent is disallowed.

Similarly, inside of homes, most discussions flow in one direction from the patriarchal centre of power and influence downwards. Any critical review or independent examination of controversial subjects is frowned upon, if not repressed. Anger in such circumstances is mostly an effect of the pent-up resentment bred of life in a society without any sort of freedom.

Khawaja Momin’s former fiancée is likely just as immersed in this culture as are the angry young Muslim men she speaks of. These men are their parents’ “jewels,” and given special care by mothers as their future protectors in a male-dominant society — while their fathers and imams angrily condemn the world around them for corrupting their faith and way of living.

This culture has been exported to Muslim immigrant enclaves in the West, including parts of our own country. In a very revealing book, The Islamist, Ed Husain — a former jihadi born and raised in Britain by parents from Bangladesh — discusses the culture of such enclaves in the making of angry young Muslim men. In the end, some head out to kill innocent civilians, as did the 2005 London suicide bombers.

This sort of disaster has not happened in Canada — yet. But it may, if we are not careful to monitor the rise of radicalism amongst the likes of Mohammed Momin Khawaja.

Salim Mansur is a professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario.


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