Wednesday, January 17, 2007

There's a brilliant piece in The New Yorker this week about Azzam Al-Amriki, a.k.a. Azzam the American, a.k.a. Adam Gadahn. He's a homegrown terrorist, a U.S. national now leading Al Qaeda's media operations from somewhere in Waziristan, Pakistan. Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, calls this American his "brother." He's the first citizen to be charged with treason in 50 years.

This alone is a fascinating premise, but what gives it added depth (for me, at least) is that Adam grew up in Orange and Riverside counties. He lived for a time at his grandparents' house in Santa Ana, only a few miles from Yorba Linda, where I've lived my entire life. He was friendly with radio DJs in Pomona, a dusty college town off the 57 freeway, about a 20 minute drive from Yorba Linda. Before that he lived on a farm in Riverside, where his family raised goats. He fell into the Orange County death metal scene, which he saw as a rebellion against the excess and superficiality of modern culture, converted to Islam at 17 (his father was half-Jewish but became a Christian mystic later in life), and then found Al Qaeda.

The shocking thing is that I'm not all that shocked. For any intelligent, lonely kid with tendencies toward extremism, Orange County is probably the place most likely to awaken them. Especially given the bizarre mix of tract-home SoCal suburbanism and rural homestead goat-farming that he was exposed to. A friend quoted his views on the Southern California sprawl:
"You know, this is crazy. We live out here in this area that's the end of the universe. Most of the people around me are brain-dead, nobody cares about anything that's going on, we're wrecking everything that's good, all the trees are disappearing, everything is being turned into suburbs. I feel like I'm the only one who notices this."
Although it's hard to admit, I find myself agreeing with an Al Qaeda operative.

No comments: