The war on terror has yet to solve the problem of security in Western democratic societies and has aggravated it in the Arab-Islamic world. The American interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in the creation of two failed states, boiling with sectarian wars, which serve as sanctuaries for jihadists from every quarter of the Islamic world.
Meanwhile, the frustrations of young Arabs find an outlet in such causes as the defense of the Syrian people. Here, too, jihadism is present. Young Muslims brought up in the West come to defend the cause, and are radicalized by contact with Al Qaeda. As one of them said: "My friends and I have come to Damascus to die. After serious reflection we have come to the conclusion that we have to fight here. And, as martyrs, we will go straight to paradise."
The attacks perpetrated in recent months (Toulouse, Boston, London) have not been due to groups more or less coordinated with the "jihadist internationale." They are the work of solitary individuals, the so-called lone wolves, who pass below the anti-terrorist radar. Chechen, Nigerian, Maghrebi in origin, they do not fit the profile of suicidal extremism. They wear western clothing, go out with girls, watch soccer and drink beer with friends. Relatives and friends say they were absolutely normal and seemed integrated. No one can explain their conversion to radical Islamism, and to actions all the more absurd in that they do not even take place in a context of violence.
The Boston Chechens laid their bombs, not in Russia as a more or less understandable act of vengeance, but in the country that had received them and their family, and that has nothing to do with the conflict in the Caucasus. The same can be said of the murder of the English soldier Lee Rigby by two Nigerians of Christian background converted to Islam, or of the bloody exploits of Mohamed Merah in Toulouse and Montauban. The only common denominator: they had all begun to attend mosques known for Salafist preaching, and to watch videos on Afghanistan and Syria extolling martyrdom and holy war.
This new form of lumpen-terrorism has been causing rivers of ink to flow, mostly cast in terms of brainwashing by extremist imams. This interpretation is valid, but insufficient in that it does not get inside the heads of people who — as in the society of 19th-century Russia — feel at the same time attracted and repelled by the Western way of life.
The great exponent of this mentality is Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The characters in his novels are passionate beings, who oscillate between traditional religious belief and nihilism; sin against the doctrine inculcated in childhood; swear to mend their ways; relapse and proclaim their readiness to die for the faith.
Book after book, we see them lurch their way through doubts and contradictions and, while adapting to Tsarist society, blame its ills on the malign influence of European culture, and at last cast themselves "into the embrace of their native soil, and like children terrified by ghosts, take refuge in the long-suffering bosom of their mother, to sleep in peace and flee from the visions that torment them."
The guilty conscience of having escaped from a miserable fate still suffered by one's brothers - the slavery of the muzhiks then, the hardships of Syrians or Afghans now — leads the mind to blame the society one has come to live in. Images of American torture in Iraq or Guantánamo, and of gallant fighters with Kalashnikovs, do the rest. And in default of going to Damascus, you can go across the street and kill someone, in a crude if deadly simulation of jihad.
As Dostoyevsky observes: "These young people do not understand that it may be easy to sacrifice your life, while to spend, for example, five years of your life in the study of science is beyond their powers." To get inside the head of the "lone wolf," Crime and Punishment, or any other of his books, is recommended reading.