An alarming feature of our current sociocultural world is the striking frequency of conversions to Islam across the entire gamut of Western private and public life: prisoners converting to the religion of peace in record numbers; women who crave the emotional comfort and feeling of security that donning the hijab or the niqab purportedly confers; disaffected youth who find purpose and meaning in attending the mosque, often becoming radicalized in the process; African-Americans reacting against Christianity as the white man's religion and who "associate conversion to Islam with recovering their ethnic heritage"; political figures who, whether secretly or publicly, swear by the Koran, the most conspicuous recent example being the bizarre spectacle of Arnoud Van Doorn, one of the Dutch producers of the uncompromising anti-Islam film Fitna and a former leading member of Geert Wilders' Freedom Party, happily and gratefully converting to Islam. Even a Gitmo prison guard proved unable to resist the seduction of Islam. To read only a partial list of notable converts to Islam is chastening.
Such conversions reveal a craving for the collectivist embrace of an explanatory and consoling paradigm, and are a symptom of cultural irresponsibility. Some of these, it is true, remain more or less innocuous, but others lead to the espousal of sanctified violence. Michael Ledeen points out in an interesting article debunking the myth of the "homegrown terrorist" that such people, "motivated by strong ideological or religious beliefs," have come to identify with foreign doctrines and ideologies that are "anything but homegrown." The indoctrination they undergo may be learned online, though "more often than not [it] takes place at the feet of foreign teachers and trainers." They are not to be understood as homegrown terrorists since they have "turned to non-American visions and visionaries." Reiterating his rejection of the "homegrown" label, Ledeen calls them "converts" who "have taken leave of us to join our enemies." Of course, the terminology we use may also be a question of semantics. Rudi Giuliani has no qualms about using the term "homegrown," but he means the same thing as Ledeen. He goes wrong, however, in claiming that a significant number of terrorist attacks come from a "distorted Islamic extremist ideology." Such attacks are enjoined in the Koran and validated in the Hadith and derive not from some rarefied or ultraist version of the faith but from Islam proper. There is nothing "distorted" (to echo Giuliani) or deviant about them.