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First they came for the communists,
but I was not a communist, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the socialists
and the trade unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they
came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did not speak out. And when they
came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.
– Pastor Martin Niemoeller.
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|Adam Gadahn a Traitor – to What? - Monday, October 16, 2006
Adam Gadahn a Traitor – to What?
For the first time since World War II, an American citizen was indicted for treason. He is Adam Gadahn, age 28, AKA "Azzam the American." We saw him on TV, wearing a turban and wagging his finger as he threatens us with dire consequences if we don't convert to Islam and do as he says.
Gadahn grew up in affluent Orange County, California. Reportedly his parents were hippies who raised him on a goat farm. He was said to be a fan of "Cannibal Corpse and just the usual, run-of-the-mill death metal bands." His father is the son of a Jewish urologist and a Christian housewife. The father is a nominal Christian and changed his name to Gadahn because it "meant nothing." Perhaps that says it all. His mother is said to have been raised a Catholic. Apparently Adam's parents separated, and he moved out at 15 and lived with his grandparents for a time.
He attended a local mosque, converted to Islam, and posted an anti-American, anti-Christian rant on the Internet. Later he moved to Pakistan. Gadahn is now a top spokesman for Al Queda. He is charged with being a traitor.
But a traitor to what?
I believe he is a traitor to the United States, to Western civilization and to Judeo-Christian values. But is it fair to call him a traitor to something that he never was a member of?
What did he learn from his parents, his church, his community and his schools? Were traditions and beliefs handed down to him, which he later rejected? Or, as seems likely, were no traditions and beliefs taught to him? In that case, is it accurate to call him a traitor?
I was more fortunate than Gadahn. I grew up in America, but one so different that today’s America sometimes seems like a foreign country.
I spent my early years in North Dakota. There were few beggars, despite the meager social services. And there was virtually no crime, at least in our town. My father was a country doctor who made house calls in snowstorms. He was sometimes paid with a chicken or a sack of potatoes, but he was paid, despite the lack of health insurance.
Discipline was not a problem in our school. We little kids stood in the corner, and rumor had it that serious problems in high school were handled by the principal – with a razor strop. I never saw the strop; the rumor was sufficient.
We pledged allegiance to the flag every morning, and on the way home I passed the sports field and heard the school band practicing. I learned to whistle "Columbia the Gem of the Ocean" and "Hail Columbia." When was the last time you heard those songs? Have you ever?
Our family moved to San Francisco during World War II, and my father worked for the Veterans Administration. He had served in World War I as a private in the infantry, but he wanted to contribute to the struggle against tyranny. Our schoolbooks gave a pro-American view of history, but perhaps kids need illusions. As they grow older, there is plenty of time to become disillusioned.
Churches and synagogues were filled with worshipers praying fervently for peace, but a peace that could come only after aggressive tyrants were defeated. No clergy preached that we should "forgive" Hitler or "understand the viewpoint" of Tojo. Nobody claimed, "One man’s Nazi is another man’s freedom fighter."
Junior high kids memorized the Preamble to the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, and the first and fourth verses of the National Anthem. The first verse is useful at sports events, but the fourth reveals our nation’s religious origins:
Many high school and college kids joined ROTC and were taught to shoot by veteran sergeants. We formed the idea that a gun is a tool for defending liberty, not for robbing a 7-Eleven.
Schools and movies taught kids that we were already members of a special group – Americans – so we felt no need to join gangs or cults. I recall "High Noon," in which the marshal faced a vicious gang alone, while cowards made excuses. Then there was "Gunga Din," in which a murderous cult had to be crushed by military force. Movies taught me important lessons.
Yes, I was luckier than Adam Gadahn. He grew up in America, but it had changed from the one that helped mold my character. He grew up in a nation that was taught to doubt itself and – even worse – its ideals.
He lived in a group where patriotism was viewed as incipient fascism, and where flag-wavers were believed to be secret Klansmen – even after 9/11.
His schools no longer observed Christmas and Easter vacations, but merely winter and spring "breaks." The significance was lost.
His teachers no longer wished the class "Merry Christmas" but "Happy holiday." What holiday? Groundhog Day?
His schoolbooks depicted American history as racist and imperialist, so he saw America as a negative influence in the world. He rarely heard patriotic music on holidays. No wonder he joined a group that is violently anti-American.
Memorization is "old-fashioned," so he probably couldn’t recite the first verse of the National Anthem, much less the fourth. He had no idea of his nation’s religious basis, so he looked for a group that had a religious basis, no matter how alien the group.
The movies he saw depicted our leaders as scheming warmongers and our military as fascistic morons. There was violence aplenty in films, rock videos and video games, but it was purposeless. Instead of brave soldiers dying for freedom, he saw mindless people dying for nothing.
Almost certainly, he wasn’t taught to shoot by a veteran sergeant, and as a child he probably wasn’t allowed to play with toy guns. Thus he may have developed an unhealthy fascination with guns.
He was probably taught that anger is always wrong. So he may have repressed his anger, only to have it burst out in inappropriate directions. His anger at America may be a reflection of his anger at his parents.
He apparently had little exposure to religion. Wasn’t it the duty of his parents to guide him? Would they have allowed him to eat candy for dinner or smoke cigarets? No, they probably worried about the health of his body, forgetting the health of his spirit.
But it may have been just as well that he didn’t attend church. He was likely to have heard sermons teaching him to "forgive" Timothy McVeigh, to "understand" terrorists and murderers, and above all not to be "judgmental."
At some point, religion becomes so watered-down that it ceases to nourish the spirit, just as watered-down soup ceases to nourish the body. It gives the illusion of being food, but leaves one hungry. No wonder he didn’t identify as a Christian. Instead he joined a group that is murderously anti-Christian and anti-Jewish, and that destroys ancient statues of Buddha and persecutes Hindus.
Perhaps he was so sick of watered-down religion and watered-down nationality that he joined the first group that offered him an undiluted product, even if it is poisonous.
Perhaps he was so tired of trying to find his own path that he joined the first group that offered him certainty, even if it is a false and evil certainty.
Perhaps he was so ashamed of belonging to a group that is misrepresented as harmful that he joined a group that is really harmful.
Perhaps he was so disgusted by demasculinized men that he joined a group of "macho" men, even if they are brutal misogynists and murderers.
None of this reduces Gadahn’s legal or moral guilt for voluntarily joining a gang of murderers. But it does reveal our guilt for having brought him up in a nation so uninspiring, and a religion so value-free, that he found them detestable.
Remember John Walker Lindh? He also grew up in California and was raised by liberal parents. He also was given no religious basis but was left to "seek his own path." When he was in high school, his father left him and his mother and moved in with a boyfriend. Lindh attended a mosque, became a Muslim, went to Afghanistan, joined the Taliban, and then was captured fighting U.S. troops.
Sense a pattern here?
Are Gadahn and Lindh aberrations? Or do they represent severe cases of a common disease – emptiness of soul and rootlessness of personality? What if there are many others who share their lack of identity and hollow core? What if the others have not come to our attention only because they lack the money and desire for foreign travel? Will some of them be eager recruits for domestic terrorists?
We would do well to bequeath our young people solid identities as Americans and proud bearers of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Otherwise they may fill their emptiness with whatever noxious material they happen to find. If we give young people nothing worth being loyal to, that’s our fault.
Gadahn’s new name is inaccurate. He is not "Azzam the American." He is not American. He never was. He never was taught to be. That’s the problem.
A prior version of this article appeared in New Oxford Review. Dr. Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. He may be contacted at email@example.com.