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The Texas synagogue attack won’t be the last Islamists have regrouped and grown stronger

Its seeds were sown in Blackburn (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)


January 20, 2022   4 mins

“At one point, our attacker instructed us to get on our knees. I reared up in my chair, stared at him sternly
 and mouthed ‘no’.”

It’s easy to read Jeffrey Cohen’s account of being held hostage in a Texan synagogue at the weekend as an uplifting tale of bravery and accomplishment: it tells of a terrifying stand-off with a deranged, gun-wielding attacker, brought to an end after nearly 11 hours when a rabbi threw a chair at the assailant and managed to escape with two other hostages (another had been released earlier in the day).

Thankfully, the only person killed that day was the terrorist, 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram. Rabbi Charlie Cytron Walker had nothing but praise for the recent security training provided to the synagogue by the FBI and Colleyville Police Department. It had prepared them for the situation and saved their lives. Other residents spoke of how the community came together. The attack’s conclusion was deemed a triumph of humanity; it was, in effect, something to be celebrated.

And yet the truth couldn’t be more different. Yes, there is still much about the Akram that remains unclear: a debate is still raging over his motivations, and whether he was inspired by Islamist ideology or whether the state of his “mental health” is to blame.

But two conclusions can already be drawn — and both are deeply concerning. The first is that the attack should never have been allowed to happen; the second is that such acts of violence are likely to become more frequent.

During the Obama years, terrorist attacks seemed almost routine. But for much of the past several years, we’ve seen their frequency decrease in the United States, largely thanks to the defeat of Muslim terror groups and the disillusionment of many young Muslims with radical Islam.

In that period, as Akram’s attack demonstrates, we have let our guard down. And the Islamists have noticed. They’ve taken this quiet time to regroup, raise money, recruit extensively, and grow stronger. It is classic Islamist dawa strategy.

Law enforcement is tight-lipped when it comes to confirming whether Akram fits into this narrative. But that should not prevent us from questioning how America became so complacent. How else could a suspected Islamist from the UK with connections to Tablighi Jammat enter the US without anyone blinking an eye?

Convicted criminals are usually denied entry to the US, but Akram was granted a tourist visa simply by lying on his application. With the stroke of pen, he erased his long criminal history, which included serving prison time, on three separate occasions, for harassment, theft and attacking a family member with a baseball bat. By ticking a box, he managed to expunge from history the fact that he had been under investigation by MI5 as a possible Islamist terrorist threat as recently as 2020. He was welcomed into America where he could travel freely and somehow allowed to purchase a gun.

Yet this is more than a failure of mere complacency; it is the clearest sign yet that the structures and institutions we had in place following 9/11 to counter Islamism have all but eroded.

This is largely down to a failure of leadership. To the world, the United States has spent the past decade nurturing an image of weakness and chaos. Common among jihadis is the idea that the American spirit is waning and Islam is ascending. Nothing could have bolstered this argument better than the Trump administration’s decision to make peace with the Taliban, and the Biden administration’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Elsewhere, America’s political elite responded by further hamstringing their country: overseeing the politicisation of the very institutions responsible for counter-terrorism. Instead of directing our talent and resources towards justified threats, our agencies prefer to chase “domestic terrorists”, including those supposedly hiding out in school board meetings, and “white supremacists”, claiming that they represent “the most lethal threat to the homeland today”. The Obama administration even shifted away from the term counter-terrorism, instead preferring the vaguer term “countering violent extremism”. How can we expect anti-terror officials to do their job when “terrorism” itself has become a taboo word?

What makes this doubly concerning is that this problem is no longer confined to America. Rather, what we confront is a general crisis within Anglo-American societies, particularly within our respective intelligence communities. The attack may have unfolded in Tarrant County, Texas, but its seeds were sown in Blackburn.

There, British security services concluded that Akram did not pose a threat to society. There, the local community failed to speak up when he started to display multiple signs of radicalisation: he became estranged from his family, suddenly turned very religious, embraced Wahhabism, and travelled to Pakistan twice in the same year. For all their differences, the UK and the US have one thing in common: woefully and willingly unprepared anti-terror organisations.

With the chaos unfolding in Westminster right now, it seems unlikely that substantive change in Britain is on the horizon. But in the US, with midterm elections looming, and with a Congress more focused on the threat of Islamist terrorism, rebuilding the infrastructure needed to prevent terrorist attacks is within the realm of possibility. And given the bar is now so low that someone like Akram can enter the country, buy a gun and storm a synagogue, any change is likely to be an improvement.

So yes, we should absolutely celebrate the fact that the rabbi and his congregants survived last weekend’s attack. But we should not delude ourselves into thinking that Malik Faisal Akram was a one-off. Nor should we pay heed to those who over the weekend were so ready to downplay the role of anti-Semitism in Islamist ideology, as if Akram had picked a synagogue for his attack on a whim.

There are, I fear, many more like him out there. Both the US and the UK need to be more prepared. Next time, we might not be so lucky.


Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an UnHerd columnist. She is also the Founder of the AHA Foundation, and host of The Ayaan Hirsi Ali Podcast. Her Substack is called Restoration.

Ayaan

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Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago

The US and the UK will remain vulnerable to terrorist attacks so long as our policies are based on lies. If we found our policies on false theories we will remain as vulnerable as France behind its impregnable Maginot Line and Singapore with its preparations aimed in the wrong direction. If we devote our energies to fighting racists, white supremacy, school parents supposed right wing terrorists instead of improving our intelligence on the real threats which come from murderous religious zealots we will fail. It is the warped woke ideology that cripples our defences and aids the fanatics.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jeremy Bray
Lee Jones
Lee Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

You are quite right. Sadly the “fanatics” have little to worry about, the culture that is presently in it’s ascendency cares little for actual violence, real or threatened. It only cares that it’s interpretation is followed, to the letter. Kill who you like, it seems, so long as you do not challenge the ethos or morals of those that rule. Sadly they do not need secret police etc.. they use social media dupes to do it for them.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Exactly. It would be good if we actually took religios at their word. After all, they are people of the book which tells them how to supinely behave. Then the squirming apologists tell us wokishly well they don’t mean it literally. Yes they do. Post enlightenment Europe has allowed in millions of people who loath our way of life. The woke need to wake up.

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Well said

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Excellent comment. Woke Jew Merrick Garland will use the resources of the DOJ against every white parent who speaks out against CRT, but will likely join hands to celebrate Muslim-Jewish love, while real terrorists plot against the US and the West.

Kiat Huang
Kiat Huang
2 years ago

The key points I took from this are that (a) the UK & US structures to minimise terrorism are fatally flawed and must be significantly improved with urgency and (b) the peaceful Muslim community in the UK needs to be patriotic and reverse the negative impact on their fellow citizens.

I would feel the same if the community was Christian, Buddhist, Jew or any other group that self-characterised themselves.

(a) the Woke, PC propaganda that has infiltrated our institutions must be reversed. The Woke/PC proponents make the catastrophic error in assuming all minorities are fundamentally better and more deserving than the majority. It is an intrinsically anti-democratic thesis.

(B) when will the Muslim community come out fighting against the minority in their community who commit crimes and intimidate in their name? When will we see sincere, peaceful, large scale demonstrations in our streets _against_ radical, violent Islam and _against_ the members of their community and families who practise it? When the RE teacher was hounded by groups of male Muslim protestors, where were the moderates telling _them_ to go home?

The odd email, phone call or meeting behind closed doors does not cut it. If the moderate Muslim community really wants to eradicate the radical elements within that are harming our society, let’s see it.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  Kiat Huang

i THINK THAT THIS IS THE KEY ELEMENT – unless moderate islamics take appropriate responsibility for ‘their’ people their motivations will always be suspect ie tacit approval.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

The more Americanised young Americans of Muslim background become, the more the radical Islamists, I imagine, resent them. An attack on a synagogue in America would have the effect of sullying the idea that American Muslim immigrants, or Muslim Americans, can find their feet as well as Jewish immigrants in America did more than one hundred years ago. Whether that was one of the motivations for this attack is unknown. But such is the nature of the technological world today, many educated and successful American Muslims must be concerned about the ease with which the general impression about things can change. They may wish to be open, and are, but find they are less so all of a sudden — all because of the imagery of violence today.

The link to do with the “disillusionment of many young Muslims with radical Islam”, that is young American Muslims, is behind a paywall (Wall Street Journal). But from the limited amount of text one can read, it seems that it is Islam per se, rather than radical Islam, where the disillusionment lies. Was that too strong a thought to spell out? And a line from that WSJ piece reads: “But those who leave Islam may ultimately influence the faith more than converts do.”
And from America that influence would spring! That’s what is galling for Islamists worldwide. As the delights of 1980s West German television spurred East Germans to bring down the wall, the extremists do not wish the happy and delighted and successful of their faith, ensconced as they now are in the West, to give the wider, very poor, world any ideas about what’s good for them.

There is a never-ending list of famous Americans of Jewish background who have 
 may I say it, charmed the world. (I don’t know what’s less insensitive from either of charmed, moved, reassured, entertained). America was where Jews could (after a little time) hold their head high. Even in western Europe, although that was possible, holding the head up high, more than a hundred years ago, it was by no means without at times very strong reaction (an example being the world’s most famous actress of the 19th century, the French lady, Sarah Bernhardt – but she would not be deterred).

The difference today, unlike the Jewish experience of immigration to the New World now more than a hundred years ago, is that it’s going to be in America where the moderate Muslims and their smaller radical base are in a race to see who can trip each other up first. (The Jewish experience was not a race but just a figuring-out: see The Jazz Singer, the very first Talkie).
The newly woke cultural institutions in America are obviously going to do their very best at creating another fine mess, and give as good as equality of ground to the radicals due to the obsession of the Left with identity politics.
Had identity politics been a big thing in society in early 1900s America, we’d never have seen the likes of the many Jewish stars of stage and screen, for example, who emerged into the limelight. (Ha! Maybe they’d have been the ones to upend it: think the Marx brothers and the writer/directors of Some Like It Hot and Blazing Saddles and Tootsie). Woke equals misery guts stuff, however. That’s no good to anybody but those who wish the West ill.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago

I’m not sure what an ‘Americanised’ Muslim is. You kind of follow the Koran, sort of? Then again fundamentalist religions of all kinds riddle America. Must be odd being a fundamentalist Christian attacking fundamentalism!

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

Not really. You just think you are right, and the other lot are wrong. It only looks odd if you are not a fundamentalist.
And it’s the same for many of our debates. The fanatics on one side accuse the fanatics on the other of fanaticism.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

Actually, that’s exactly what non fundamentalist religion in the west is like. It “kind of” believes what it believes, but when dealing with rival belief systems it “kind of” suspends that belief. It “kind of” steps back and sees religions as social phenomena, while not worrying about their truth claims.
It basically involves living with contradiction. Rationally it seems absurd – but practically it works pretty well.

Penelope Lane
Penelope Lane
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

You have seen through the smokescreen to the real problem: fundamentalism.
Yes, fundamentalist Islam unable to evolve or progress in an inclusive direction towards recognising our common humanity—all infidels must convert or be killed
Yes, fundamentalist Christianity unable to evolve or progress in an inclusive direction—maybe we don’t actually kill them any more, but our Jesus will see to it on our behalf that they all go to burn in hell for eternity.. Praise be!
Yes, fundamentalist Hinduism unable to evolve or progress in an inclusive direction—either you’re born into us on one of the rungs in our caste hierarchy, or you’re an outcast and not one of us, in which case, go piss off, unless you want to sweep our holy streets and empty our pure toilets
Yes, fundamentalist Buddhism stuck in the excluding strictures of its Theravada narrow way—Buddha couldn’t have known what we’re up against now, non-violence couldn’t possibly apply to our situation today, where we find ourselves threatened by all those appalling non-Buddhists
Yes, fundamentalist China trapped in its exclusivist racial ethnicity—Chinese culture is very ancient, and we can trace it down the line of our ancestors to the beginning of civilisation, so evidently, we can’t let the barbarians humiliate us again
Yes, fundamentalist Indigenous Spiritualities claiming exclusive god-given rights to territory—our ancestors told us this was our land and we had to look after it, so we should be able to control access to it, and you who came later have no rights to it
Yes, fundamentalist Atheism confined in its blinkered worldview where everything it doesn’t understand is fairy tales—we are very advanced individuals representing the peak of Enlightenment progress, and clearly, if we can’t see it, it doesn’t exist

George Stone
George Stone
2 years ago
Reply to  Penelope Lane

you were doing so well until the final paragraph!

Penelope Lane
Penelope Lane
2 years ago
Reply to  George Stone

Atheism appeared in conjunction with Darwinian evolution and the development of the natural sciences.
Natural sciences and their social spin-offs by definition confine their attention to the phenomena perceptible in this physical world by ordinary human consciousness. Therefore by definition they can neither encompass nor judge things belonging to higher spiritual worlds.
You cannot resolve this issue via philosophical discussion, since philosophy itself belongs to the intellectual apparatus of this-world consciousness. It cannot know firsthand the reality of higher worlds. It can only point to it. The same is true of exoteric religion which bases itself in faith.
Natural evolution encompasses the animal part of our make-up. There then remains the human and purely spiritual parts of us. We are spliced beings, comprising animal, human, and spiritual parts. The animal development takes us to level 3 out of 7. Next comes level 4, pertaining to evolution of the human heart. This is the central challenge of our age: to attain to fully human consciousness/conscience, to a loving-kindness. Finally come the three higher levels which take us beyond the purely human.
All humanity, since time immemorial, has known about this human spiritual potential. It is only the current narrowing of our focus in order to develop skills for this physical plane that has given rise temporarily to the impression that this is all there is.

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
2 years ago
Reply to  Penelope Lane

I think you’ll find that atheistic thought predated Darwin by a great many years. It is easy, but wrong, to imagine that every Roman viewed Jupiter in the same way that Hebrews viewed Jehovah.
I suspect, however, that the further back you go the more dangerous it would have been to be suspected of thinking along non-conformist lines.
Some years ago there was a documentary and in one scene two African tribesmen were performing a ceremony to their god (or gods), waving some sort of smoking bundle of herbs about and saying appropriate words of prayer. Half way through, one turned to the other and said (translated by subitles) “I feel a right idiot doing this.”. I suspect such sentiments (not necessarily spoken out loud) have existed for as long as human society has.

Penelope Lane
Penelope Lane
2 years ago

Yes, perhaps my explanation was a little loose.
One can certainly point to precursors of modern atheism in the materialism of Roman life as compared to the Greeks, who lived more in their imaginations. But that down-to-earth Roman culture, which gave us our life of rights, did not to my knowledge articulate atheism as a formal intellectual system. The gods were still worshipped, and while some religions were decadent, their observance perhaps convenient, even cynical, the true esoteric mysteries were still in existence at the same time, for example the Eleusinian mysteries.
So in that sense, atheism did first appear as a fully formed, consciously articulated worldview in tandem with Darwinism in the 19th century.
And thinking about Darwin, one can say equally that the contents of his evolutionary theory had always been known to esoteric spirituality. The teachings of the Fall of Man constitute just such an account. But it was Darwin’s gift to formulate this knowledge in terms of natural science, so making it suitable for his age. Unfortunately, while he did our animal bit brilliantly, the evolutionary story of the human and purely spiritual bits of us lay beyond his ken.
It is only in our modern age that the existence of distinct human and spiritual levels has become part of our common culture once again, TV and allied media give ordinary people some acquaintance with a variety of spiritual paths outside the theistic Christianity of the past. Anyone who has done yoga or tai chi knows about other levels of being and other types of spirituality. With this broadening of horizons, orthodox atheism, a response to orthodox theism, in its turn becomes fundamentalist if it is espoused as the holy only true worldview.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

The key question will be whether further acts of terrorism radicalise, or alienate, other Muslims.
Horrific as individual acts of terror are, it is the tide of history that matters, and the impact of terror on it. Will we see Muslims increasingly westernised, or the west increasingly islamised.
And if the perception is that the latter is the case, what other demons will this conjure up in response.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

And some people wonder why huge swathes of the public don’t want anymore Muslim migration and want something done about some of the ones here already.. why would we want this mindset amongst us?

GA Woolley
GA Woolley
2 years ago

Until supposedly ‘moderate’ Muslims are made to realise the implications of the fact that they have signed up to the same handbook, and follow the same ‘prophet’, as the IS, the Taleban, and all the others, and teach their children to do the same, Islamic extremism will thrive. Only when they gain the courage and integrity to bring about their own questioning of their beliefs, and reorder them to fit human reason and intelligence, will ‘Islamism’ be defeated.

L Walker
L Walker
2 years ago

It’s been reported he bought the gun on the street. I don’t know how reliable this report is. The FBI is patting itself on the back for the safe release of the hostages when it was the Rabbi that got them free
I agree with this column 100% though. She’s right. More to come.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago

Actually, I was a bit disappointed in the rabbi throwing a chair, leaving it to the FBI to terminate the terrorists. It would have been a better story if the Texas rabbi–and I emphasize Texas–would have been packin’ (had a firearm), and terminated the terrorist himself.
The phrase “Don’t mess with Texas!” could be supplemented with “Don’t mess with Texas Jews!”
In Israel, this is, if not the norm, often the case, where an armed Israeli is first on the scene and first to engage and hopefully terminate the terrorist.
Kudos to the FBI for killing this terrorist, and a big raspberry to the UK for letting him remain free, even to come to America. He was your known problem–and you foist him on us? A much worse result would have been to apprehend him, pay for his imprisonment, trial, etc. and obtain “intelligence” that is not actionable:
Q: Why did you do this?
A: I am a radical Islamist and I hate Jews.
Is that really helpful?

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Come off it, you lot were harbouring IRA killers for eons!

R S Foster
R S Foster
2 years ago

…and indeed, have just elected a President who takes pride in his roots in exactly the community who did the most to keep the IRA afloat and armed…and were the most wilfully blind to what they were about…

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  R S Foster

Precisely! He is ,to lapse into the vernacular, “ the scum of the earth”

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

James, the problem with the UK and some other European countries is that many people are soppy and squeemish. Consider the hoo-har by airline passengers over the attempted deportation of a convicted rapist. Our gun-laws are to stop ordinary (or even properly trained) citizens from owning a defensive firearm. TPTB are also considering the banning of cross-bows. When they get to trying to ban the longbow then Brits might just say “Enough”. Of course, the police can’t round-up all the illegal firearms so its only the “baddies” who get to (in your words) pack Heat. The rest of us have to rely on our wits and wait, as your Texas (Texan?) Rabbi did, until there is a reasonable chance of successfully engaging the enemy. As for the Intel – shouldn’t the “5-eyes” reach down that far or are they concentrating on the wrong thing? PS – I’ve still got my Naval Officer’s sword (Handed down from my Grandfather) to rely on plus a few other bits and pieces which are completely innocuous and legal (for their original purpose).

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
2 years ago

The gut reaction is that we’d like vermin like this terminated, but to stop it happening again, we need to find out the motivation and the means. The hostages had escaped, so surely it was possible to apprehend him alive?
Why was he in Texas? It’s not somewhere you’d associate with a Jewish population. Was he there for other reasons and decided to launch this attack? It seems unlikely a Moslem from Blackburn would be familiar with Texas and its synagogues. Was anyone else involved?
Did he just walk into a gun shop and buy a gun? Is the law that lax that you don’t even need ID? I’d imagine the minimum requirement was to be a resident in Texas, rather than an English tourist with no background information!
And on this side, I realise we can’t arrest – or even follow – every suspect. But surely something flagged up when he applied for a passport?

Lawrence Bennett
Lawrence Bennett
2 years ago

“the Biden administration’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
Not to mention earlier American administrations’ invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Lawrence Bennett