If seeing Arab, Pakistani, or other "ethnic" Muslims menacingly wave their hands while lambasting the West is nothing strange, seeing homegrown, non-accented Western converts doing the same thing is. Along with John Walker Lindh, Richard Reid, Jose Padilla, and Germaine Lindsay — all Western converts to Islam and all terrorists — in the spotlight today are Abu Abdullah, the native Briton turned Muslim cleric, who makes no secret of his vitriolic hatred of the West and who was just arrested for terrorist-related charges, and Azzam "the American" (formerly Adam Gadahn), who after receiving a gracious introduction by Dr. Aymin Zawahri on an al-Qaeda video, harangued and mocked his fellow Americans into submitting to Allah.
What causes such men, born and raised in the West, often from Christian backgrounds, to abandon their heritage and embrace radical Islam?
A common reason cited is that, unlike Christianity, which can be heavy on theology, Islam is relatively simple and straightforward. So while Christianity revolves around metaphysical concepts such as the Trinity, Christology, the nature of salvation, grace, free-will vs election, and the futility of the law, Islam, in black and white terms, commands its adherents to do this and not do that. In fact, the Arabic word "Sharia," that comprehensive body of laws Muslims must follow, literally means the "way" — as in the way to paradise.
There is another subtle factor that makes Islam attractive. Traditional masculine roles are well preserved in Islam. Indeed, manly honor, courage, patriarchy, and a sharp division between the sexes are at the core of Islamic culture. This may be appealing to Western men who find it difficult to express their "manhood" in increasingly neutered societies. Harvey Mansfield, author of Manliness, defines that term as "a quality both bad and good, mostly male, often intolerant, irrational, and ambitious. Our gender-neutral society does not like it but cannot get rid of it."
With an ethical code that coalesced in the 7th century, Islam is today an avenue for men to exercise even the most exaggerated forms of manliness. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who despised organized religions due to their emasculating effects and who preached the need for man to be transformed into an amoral "superman," professed some admiration for Islam, describing it as "masculine" and "affirmative."
Nonetheless, traditional masculinity is not the sole domain of Islam; historically almost every civilization has lived in accordance to "masculine-centric" norms. Gender-neutral societies are historic aberrations. It is not unreasonable, then, to surmise that disaffected young men living in a postmodern West, who feel that they do not fit into a "gender-neutral" world, turn to a religion which honors traditional masculinity.
John Walker Lindh especially seems to fit this category. A main factor that precipitated his conversion to Islam was his teenage discovery that his father was a homosexual — an event that, by all accounts, traumatized and alienated Lindh. Islam's strong masculine ideals and condemnation of homosexuality undoubtedly baited young Lindh, who after discovering his father had moved in with another man, converted to Islam at age 16.
The main reason, of course, that Islam possesses what are seen as masculine virtues, has to do with the fact that its essence is trapped in the 7th century — "when men were men," for good or ill. That is the "golden era" of Islam, when the Muslim prophet Muhammad, the paragon of all Islamic virtue, whom Sunnis are exhorted to emulate in every possible way, walked the earth, sword in hand, accepting no insult, and conquering his infidel neighbors.
But just as traditional masculine virtues are upheld in Islamic culture, so too do traditionally masculine vices abound. Honor, courage, as well as patriarchic ethics, can easily morph into foolish pride (e.g. "honor killings"), disregard for life (e.g. suicide-bombings), as well as sexism and misogyny.
That is not all. Based on the Koran and Muhammad's history, raiding, killing, and plundering infidels, abducting their women and enslaving their children, are all legitimate, so long as they are done in the service of Islam. In fact, that is exactly how the prophet and the first Muslims spread Islam, as attested by the Koran and Hadiths.
Of course such behavior was somewhat "normal" in the 7th century. In Islam, however, the actions of 7th-century Muhammad are believed perfect and to be emulated today no less than yesterday. Any scruples a potential convert may have over such primitive (though possibly tempting) practices immediately dissipate in light of God's approval. For instance: "O prophet, We have made lawful to you . . . the slave-girls whom God has given you as spoils of war" (Koran 33: 50).
Little wonder that Islam appeals to certain men over Christianity: it comports much better with man's most primordial lusts — for war, booty, and women — than do injunctions such as "turn the other cheek" and "pray for those who persecute you." Even the Muslim heaven is far more alluring — there, rivers of alcohol and sex slaves await the mujahid who dies battling infidels.
And so like mischievous little boys who find the wild image and lifestyle of the pirate fascinating — raiding, killing, plundering, abducting — so do some Western men apparently find the wild image and lifestyle of the mujahid warrior fascinating. And so they convert.
None of this is to say that Muslims in general are murderers, plunderers, hedonists, or misogynists. It is to say, however, that Islamic law justifies and makes such behavior, under the rubric of "religion," legal for any would-be Muslim ("If it was right for Muhammad and the first Muslims, it must be right for us").
It is also ironic that the converts mentioned above — Reid, Padilla, Lindsay, and Abdullah — all have prior criminal records, including convictions for mugging (Reid and Abdullah), gangster activity (Padilla), and drug-dealing (Lindsay). Usually when criminals turn to religion, they at least try to change their evil ways. Did these men embrace Islam merely to receive divine sanctioning to gorge their villainous appetites? From being petty criminals, they went on to embrace Islam and became major criminals — terrorists.