Terrorist, Recidivist: In America, There is no Quarter
The figure of the repentant terrorist, so far as she actually exists on this earth, is one about whom we know frighteningly little. Indeed, it’s one of which we can hardly conceive. The very phrase “repentant terrorist” in and of itself strikes a discordant sound. It does so to anyone with a conscience, more so to the modern listener—so magnanimous in inclination and scarred by experience though he may be. It isn’t in the least harmonious with the pacific sounds of the present day, even if it reaches the most sympathetic and culturally relativistic of post-9/11 ears. Still, those ears—should they occasion to belong to an American—are ineluctably post-9/11, and the ineffaceable damage done by such terroristic Islamo-fascist thugs can’t be forgotten, much less forgiven with the passage of any amount of time.
Contrition, so far as I can tell, isn’t prominent among the terrorist’s more vaunted characteristics. You won’t discover it listed among her most prepossessing personality traits. Savagery and bloodlust, rather than decency and shame are the pitches to which she’s tuned. She’s rather pugilistic than apologetic and the gap between the two isn’t even close. What’s more, contrition, were it to be revealed in her, wouldn’t be an attribute of which she’d be very proud. Nor, for that matter, would it be one that would augur great success nor recommend her well as she proceeded up the professional ladder in her chosen, ghastly field. Career advancement, in the office-Olympics of the terrorist regime, is not predicated on deep and expressive feelings of remorse. Better yet, remorse—should it be felt at all—is to be repressed deep in the blackness of her soul. Barbarity, much more conducive to her purpose, is instead to be manifested in the full and lurid colors of blood and dust.
“Repentant terrorist”. The very phrase itself sounds as if it were an exceedingly morbid oxymoron. The two words grate as they meet and hang together only tenuously by a hopeful, naïve thread. Yet, as of this past month, it’s moved from the position of rhetoric to that of reality. We must attempt not only to conceive, but now seriously to consider the repentant terrorist who has the temerity to seek sanctuary back at her home. And her home, it should come as no great surprise, is that most democratic of domesticities, that which best inculcates in its youngsters a sense of cultural inquisitiveness, that which fails inveterately to promote its own glorious virtues. That home of hers was (and the emphasis is not without purpose) the most eternally liberal and welcoming of all countries on planet Earth. I speak, of course, of my current and her former home the United States.
A daughter of Dixie, a youth of Alabama, Hoda Muthana—then aged nineteen and now twenty-three—left the quaint southern town in which she was raised for the acquisition of greener pastures. Though “greener”, I suppose, is a necessarily relative term, as she ended up in the sallow, vacant, and inhospitable desert of the Levant thousands of dangerous miles away. To be more precise, she voluntarily left the beautiful landscape of America and touched down on the arid Syrian expanse with which we’ve lately become familiar. Our familiarity, however sadly, is a consequence of the country’s inexhaustible civil war which has raged for well-neigh ten years.
And exactly what role, you might ask, did this stripling of a girl play in so sanguinary an affair in so far-off a place? She offered herself, by way of some pathologic-Islamic compulsion, to become a maiden of that now thankfully moribund organization, ISIS. An acronym from which we no longer run in fear (albeit one we ought not forget), she was a de facto member of that very ISIS who was responsible for the deaths of thousands. For a time, it tore asunder the complacent, uniquely Euro-American idea that we are a people of peace. No place was safe, no artifact sacrosanct. The ruins at Palmyra, apropos of their name, were further leveled by ISIS’s touch. At its height, ISIS forced the Western world to take note of its dastardly ambitions and the relative ease by which it could secure them. It inspired and celebrated attacks in places as various as Quebec, Orlando, Niece, Paris, and Berlin. As for weapons, it made use of instruments both crude and cruel—innocuous looking vans driving on pedestrian-laden streets and menacing daggers and guns. Its caliphate, having been established formally in 2014, claimed through the course of its existence responsibility for attacks in nearly thirty countries with death tolls eclipsing two-thousand.
To Muthana, a teenager clearly impressionable if not precocious, these numbers spoke for themselves. On the cusp of the second decade of her obviously restive life, she decided that this was an organization whose merit could be counted by its accumulation of death. As such, it was one to which she could wholeheartedly commit her allegiance and, in so doing, leave her family and community behind. Judicious in her choice of terrorist cells, ISIS’s productivity was impressive. More than that, its recruits were growing, its pernicious influence was spreading, and she wanted to be a part of it all. Feeling an irrepressible sense of kinship with this caliphate so distant from her natural America creed, she decided to scurry on over there while the getting was good. But as it can be said of any solidified and respectable nation state, so too can it be said of an inchoate terrorist group, the prosperous times never last. Eventually, a state or a cell is encumbered with difficulty.
Beginning in about 2016, this difficulty became a precarious reality with which the group had to deal every day. Between Kurdish combatants, Syrian troops, and an amalgamation of foreign help, the ISIS radicals were beaten back. Towns they once confidently occupied reverted to their formerly wretched states. This, of course, was of scant consolation to the suffering and innocent people on the ground, as Bashar al-Assad proved no friend to them either. But that’s another matter entirely. Most important to note is that their territory was receding, their comrades were dying, their message was languishing, and it doesn’t take a terrorist to tell you that it’s never fun to be on the losing side. ISIS was, and hopefully still is, in a state of long-awaited decline.
And so Muthana is attempting once again to jump ship. Aware that the future of ISIS augurs ill, she now wants clemency back at home. Supplicating our federal government—against whom, one might add, she fought as an accomplice to a radical Islamic terrorist group but a few months ago—Muthana is seeking an invitation back home. She wants permission to enter civilization again. She wants to pack in the hijab for high-waisted shorts, as if to assume the sartorial change marks a religious improvement. She wants to return to the insouciant normality of an American girl, the irenic tranquility of a civilized life.
But not all bygones can be bygones. Some sins are inescapable and some failings of the past ineffaceable. Her voluntary action to join ISIS is both and thus, she should be granted no quarter here. Though her time spent fighting and propagandizing abroad was admittedly brief, it was sufficient for her banishment. She was a denizen of extremism, a dilettante of death. And I have no faith that the committed or even tepid terrorist is not ultimately a recidivist at heart (if, of course, a heart is within her to be found). After all, the black flag, though crumpled for the moment, is never entirely out of reach. Yes, ISIS’s numbers, once expanding, are now diminishing and its message, once divine, is increasingly devoid of its original force, but so long as that malignant idea exists in the bowels of some misanthropic Islamist in a corner of Syria, the black flag might wave again. A frisson for Islamo-fascism in Muthana makes for a fear within me. Who’s to expect this flame won’t be twice lit?