In a first in the post-9/11 political era, Muslim leaders in Miami have responded to the furor over the recently apprehended bomb plotters against the Sears Towers by arguing that the culprits are not Muslims. (CAIR also refuted the link and urged the media to refrain from referring to them as Muslims.) They’d know, and I don’t think this is something a community could get away with lying about. These leaders know very well that if these individuals really are Muslims in any meaningful sense, that information will get out.
There already were a number of good reasons to smell a rat in this story, though.
When news broke a few days ago, I remember finding some of the details really odd.
The first thing that struck me as out of place was the name of the group, the "Seas of David". It has no obvious historical or religious resonance to a Muslim’s ear and it makes no mention of the typical ideological talking points of jihadis (tawhid, crusaders, jihad, etc.). It sounds more like a New Age band than a terror group.
Then there’s the much quoted declaration , "We wanted to kill all the devils we can." It’s simply not the way Muslim fundies speak, especially in English and to non-Muslims. Even the most hard-line and/or radicalized of Muslims invariably refer to non-Muslims as "the kuffar" (infidels) because of its powerful historical and theological resonances. I’ve never seen or heard of even the most violent jihadi Muslims categorizing non-Muslims generically as "devils".
This isn’t because such benighted people are too enlightened or ecumenically minded to harbor such animosities, of course, but rather because the Arabic term already packs much more punch ideologically, as it implicitly justifies their excesses by invoking Quranic strictures against the idolaters of the Prophet Muhammad’s time (peace be upon him), the greatest enemies of God in the Islamic narrative of history.
Sure, it’s not unheard of among Muslims (or Christians for that matter) to refer to specific individuals or classes of people as "devils", but treating "devils" as interchangeable with such a broad category of people as non-Muslims or Americans is undeniably alien to contemporary Islamic discourse. It’s just not the way Muslims talk.
However, such language is not at all alien to the political tradition of New Age cults and social movements inspired by the Nation of Islam and its slogans about "blue-eyed devils" and their attendent conspiracy theories. (The Seas of David group appears to be entirely of African-American or from the Caribbean descent.) While undoubtedly a very marginal phenomenon in the African American community, some strange (and probably mostly harmless) groups exist in inner cities that preach bizarre ideologies where Afrocentrism, New Age religious eclecticism (in some cases to the extent of believing in aliens), Rastafarian-style Replacement Theology, and severely dumbed-down Black Pride merge to form a simultaneously comical and noxious miasma of reverse racism and conspiracy theories. (Just down the street from my home in Washington DC, I’ve seen members of a "Black Israelite" splinter group denounce the "devils" for keeping the Black Man down over megaphones in a CVS parking lot. With their Egyptian ankhs and scorn for belief in God, they’re about as Muslim as L. Ron Hubbard.)
The next detail that I found highly suspicious were the nicknames the media reported being used inside the group:
In addition to Batiste, the defendants were identified as Patrick Abraham, or "Brother Pat"; Burson Augustin, or "Brother B"; Stanley Grant Phanor, or "Brother Sunni"; Naudimar Herrera or "Brother Naudy"; Lyglenson Lemorin, also known as "Brother Levi" or "Brother Levi-El"; and Rotschild Augustine, or "Brother Rot."
Generally, when Muslims call each other "brother" or "sister" they are being formal. It is not unusual in the Muslim community to address a man with whom you are not on a first name basis (or to whom you wish to give extra deference) as "Brother Mike" or "Brother Akbar". However, these "Reservoir Dogs"-style monikers ("Mr. Pink", "Mr. Blond", …) seem the kind of informal nicknames you see in clubs or small groups of friends, not a fundamentalist terror cell. Moreover, they bear no resemblance whatsoever to the way American Muslims (regardless of cultural background) talk when they being self-consciously religious. (And please don’t tell me these were codenames to preserve anonymity, as these kooks obviously weren’t that competent.)
Did I mention that they live together in a warehouse? Rather atypical behavior sleeper cells or Islamic extremists. But a pretty familiar pattern for a religious cult.
Then there’s the media reports of a sister of one of the indicted men claiming that her brother left the group after it got into "witchcraft"! Now, has any jihadi group in the annals of history been accused of occult practices? Forget jihadis, have you heard of any Muslim group known for witchcraft? Also, keep in mind the tendency of jihadis to be Salafi in religious outlook. People who accuse Sufis of idolatry for praying at the tombs of saints seem unlikely candiates for dabbling in black magic!
This appears to have been a copycat operation–and a singularly inept
one at that (Ah, if only more terrorists were so dimwitted!)–by
non-Muslims. Like kids holding guns sideways like the "ganstas" they see
on TV, these radicalized youths tried to ape the terrorists they hear
about incessantly in the media. In a way, the fact that they weren’t the usual suspects (i.e., Muslims) should be of even greater concern, as it indicates that such dangerous sentiments aren’t unique to radicalized Muslims and that some non-Muslims are begining to look at jihadis as icons of rebellion against the system to be emulated.
The Ummah already has more than its share of knuckleheads and zealots. We don’t need the media lumping weird New Age copycats with bizarre power fantasies in with Muslims, as well.
P.S. Does anyone know what precisely the initial identification of them as Muslim was based on? Was it a book they had? Did they identify themselves as Muslims?
Update (2006-07-06): For all my posts on this topic, click on the category "The ‘Miami 7’ hoopla".