Last week David Solway at Frontpage Magazine published an entertaining article ridiculing people who try to “understand” jihadism and its “roots” (his quotation marks). These people are like the cartoon characters shmoos (see also here), because, like the shmoos, they “recognize no threats, treat everyone as a friend and, even as they are about to be voluntarily exterminated, are all smiles and contentment.”
Solway proceeded to highlight yours truly as a resident of the “Valley of Shmoon” in good standing, describing my review essay in the Times Literary Supplement as an excellent example of the “sacrificial” attitude to jihadism.
As someone who studies jihadism for a living, I do not often find myself accused of not taking jihadi terrorism seriously. I am sometimes criticised for emphasising the political over the theological sources of jihadism, but usually by people who actually know what they are talking about (such as Raymond Ibrahim).
The Frontpage article is extraordinary in that it actively argues in favour of ignorance. For Solway, detailed knowledge about the jihadis, their backgrounds and their thinking seems irrelevant. Trying to understand the myriad of factors that influence militants’ readings of scripture and the different tactical conclusions they draw from those readings is humanizing the enemy, a moral transgression. Jihadists are religious fanatics and it is enough to know where they are so we can bomb them.
The irony here is that the people who work the hardest to “understand” jihadism and its “roots” are not academics or leftist intellectuals; they are the analysts in the intelligence community. The Valley of Schmoon, I’m afraid, covers most of northern Virginia.