June 28, 2006

The Caribbean: A Playground for Jihad?

The Miami terror plot is among several terror plots and attacks with links to the Caribbean

UPDATE: See Thomas Lifson's comments at The American Thinker regarding an expanded version of this article published at ModernConservative. Also, see a related article at this blog, "Radical leftist British MP Puzzled Over Caribbean’s Links to Islam."


The terror plot uncovered in the Miami area shares a largely unnoticed thread with Canada’s terror plot, London’s suicide bombings, the Washington-area sniper killings, and the aborted “shoe bomber” attack on a passenger jet. That thread is the Caribbean. These five plots brought together 13 young Muslim converts – all of whom had connections in varying degrees to the Caribbean. The island of Jamaica had ties to all but one plot.

In Miami, the seven young plotters, all Muslim converts in their early 20s and 30s, had set their sights on destroying Chicago’s Sears Tower. Four were born in the U.S. to Haitian parents; and two others were Haitian immigrants. One was born in the U.S. to Dominican parents.

After Sept. 11, 2001, the Middle East was presumed to be the main incubator of Islamic terrorism. But in these terror-related cases, the Caribbean has emerged often enough to suggest something may be going on in the region that would necessitate a reassessment of the jihad threat.

Anti-Western Political Culture

What in the Caribbean might inspire jihad? One possibility is its political culture. Beneath its idyllic image as a tourism playground, the region bristles with some of the same anti-Western pathologies and grievances as the Middle East. It comes not from ordinary people, to be sure, but from educated elites and those who move within their circles.

Many in the Caribbean – mainly its left-leaning academics and intellectuals – still boil over the region’s legacy of slavery. A conference on racism may produce the sort of emotions one would expect if slavery had ended only a few years ago. Even mainstream politicians, in discussing the Sept. 11 attacks, have been known to publicly say America got what it deserved. Generally, the region’s left-leaning leaders can be counted on to oppose Washington in the United Nations.

Could these anti-Western and anti-American pathologies explain the Caribbean’s ties to recent terrorism cases? It’s a possibility. Radical Islam, after all, attracts those who already seeth with grievances against America and the West. Ideology, not poverty, motivates young jihadis.

Before discussing the region’s pathologies in more detail, consider the four other Caribbean links to terror plots – all involving Jamaica to varying degrees:

In Canada’s terror plot, two of the 17 plotters had connections to the Caribbean. Ahmad Mustafa Ghany, a 21-year-old Trinidadian, was the university-educated son of a doctor who had immigrated to Canada. Another plotter, according to authorities, had origins in Jamaica. His name was never revealed, presumably because he was a juvenile. The plotters had planned to destroy major landmarks and behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Then there were London’s suicide bombers. Nearly one year ago, the deadliest bomber was Germaine Lindsay, a 19-year-old Muslim convert. Born in Jamaica, he left for London as an infant but returned to the island to visit as a youngster. Lindsay was blamed for killing 25 people aboard one of three underground trains that he and three companions – Britons of Pakistani descent – targeted along with a double-decker bus. The bombings left 56 people dead and 700 injured

Lindsay left a pregnant wife, their baby son, and relatives in Massachusetts and the Caribbean.

Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe bomber," was another jihadi with Jamaican origins. Nearly six weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, the al-Qaeda adherent tried to blow up an American Airlines jet bound from Paris to Miami. A former petty criminal who had served prison time, Reid was born in 1973 to an English mother and Jamaican father, who, during Reid’s childhood, spent much of his time in prison. Before Reid could light the fuse to his explosive-packed shoe, startled passengers subdued him.

Nearly one year after that came Jamaican-born Lee Boyd Malvo, the infamous 17-year-old sniper who was born in Jamaica but moved away as a child. He and his 41-year-old partner, New Orleans-born John Allen Muhammad, killed ten people in the Washington D.C. area. Muhammad and Malvo may not have fit jihadi profiles; however, they did share at least two traits with other jihadis: unstable family lives and a world view consistent with jihadi ideology. Indeed, Muhammad is said to have remarked that the Sept. 11 attacks “should have happened a long time ago.”

According to Malvo’s psychiatrist, Muhammad told Malvo that their $10 million extortion plot would help establish a new nation for blacks in Canada. Muhammad, an Army veteran who served in the first gulf war, had lived in the Caribbean. He had been linked to the black separatist group Nation of Islam.

Lastly, there is yet another plot of sorts with Jamaica links, although it was not included among the plots and attacks mentioned at the onset. It involved Jamaican-born Muslim cleric Sheik Abdullah el-Faisal, a radical preacher who made a name for himself delivering incendiary sermons in a London mosque which Lindsay and Reid may have attended. On March, 2003, el-Faisal was sentenced to nine years in prison, both for soliciting murder and inciting hatred for urging followers to kill Jews, Americans and infidels. He promised young Muslims who died in jihad that they would spend eternity in paradise with 72 virgins.

Jamaica’s terrorism connections

With Jamaica figuring into four of the five plots and attacks with Caribbean links, two questions naturally arise. Is it all a coincidence, or is there something about Jamaica’s culture that might inspire jihad?

Most Americans know Jamaica for its tourism and Bob Marley, the dreadlocked Rastafarian and reggae superstar who wrote the classic, "One Love." Trinidad, not Jamaica, would be a better candidate for inspiring jihad. It has a large Muslim population that includes some radicalized Muslims with a history of violence.

However, Jamaica has a dark side stewing beneath the idealized image of a paradise inherited from former African slaves. Here are some of the same deeply felt grievances and paranoia that exists in radical and politicized Islam – whether in the Middle East or among millions of Muslims in Britain, France, or the Netherlands.

To some extent, the island of 2.7 million also serves as an intellectual beacon for the region. The main campus for the University of the West Indies is on the island; and more than a few of its faculty propagate an anti-Western worldview.

To most American tourists, to be sure, the ordinary Jamaicans they encounter are friendly. Many long for U.S. visas. Jamaica has neither a large Muslim population nor history of Muslim radicalism. And like much of the English-speaking Caribbean, it is overwhelmingly black and Christian.

But those who venture away from the island’s gated resorts and beaches will be in for a surprise. At academic conferences, political gatherings, and in the opinion pages of Jamaica’s two Sunday newspapers, the discourse is animated by left-wing ideology, anti-Americanism, and a crack pot theory or two.

Some of this discourse is institutionalized in the education system. At the University of the West Indies, for instance, “colonialism” and “slavery” are among the most popular subjects for books coming off the university’s press. Jamaica’s left-leaning People’s National Party, a major booster of the university, has ruled the island for decades.

What kind of effect might it all have had on Lindsay, Malvo, Reid, el-Faisal, and the plotter in Canada?

To be sure, it may have been years since they set foot in Jamaica. But in an age of air travel, the Internet, and multiculturalism, immigrants in new countries are less likely to assimilate. For many it’s easier to identify with the countries from which they migrated, or from which their parents migrated. This is more likely in areas where there are large concentrations of immigrants from the same country. Miami has areas where Haitians predominate, and London and the United States have areas with large concentrations of Jamaicans. In some cases, they won’t identify with any country; jihad, however, may provide them a sense of identify.

Jamaica’s 9/11 conspiracy theories

Interestingly, Lindsay, the suicide bomber, is reported to have cried after the September 11 terrorist attacks, whose 3,000 murder victims included several Jamaicans. Between then and his suicide mission, something changed him.

Perhaps it was the anti-American discourse emanating from Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean. It went into overdrive after the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Perhaps Lindsay and other Jamaicans believed a crackpot conspiracy theory that’s popular in the Middle East; that 4,000 American Jews failed to show up for work on Sept. 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center. A lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Sultana Afroz, gave credence to that theory during a public forum dealing with the possibility of a war in Iraq.

Perhaps Lindsay, Malvo, Reid, el-Faisal, and the Canada plotter were enraged over the remarks of a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Cecil Gutzmore. He’s repeatedly asserted that the U.S. government cooked up the HIV/AIDS virus to control the world’s “non-white” population.

Gutzmore’s public comments also were echoed by a well-respected columnist for The Observer, a daily newspaper in Kingston, the capital. On Sundays, the paper’s opinion pages bristle with anti-American diatribes that, in the months ahead of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, grew increasingly shrill.

Ironically, The Observer, the island’s most virulently anti-American paper, is published by Jamaican businessman Gordon “Butch” Stewart, who heads the Sandals and Beaches resorts which depend on American tourism. Not long ago, a Jamaica-born columnist who lives in Florida, Rev. Mervin Stoddart, praised Osama bin Laden in an Observer column. In another column, he compared America to Nazi Germany, calling it a racist society even worse than South Africa's apartheid regime.

To date, the psyches of Lindsay, Reid, Malvo, el-Faisal, and the plotter in Canada remain a mystery. How they became radicalized is not know. Certainly there was plenty of hate speech to be found in London’s mosques and among its anti-American chattering classes. Could they, however, also have been primed by the anti-American and anti-Western political culture in Jamaica and the Caribbean?

Another factor that may have affected them is Jamaica’s frayed social fabric. Jean Lowrie-Chin, a columnist for The Observer, mentioned in a column in July, 2005, that Malvo, Lindsay, Reid, and other ill-starred Jamaicans suffered troubled home lives. They migrated abroad and fell into the "waiting arms of well-versed foreign criminals and fanatics." By "omission or commission, we had a hand in their fate," she argued.

Among other social problems, many Jamaicans grow up in single-parent homes. Fifty percent of Jamaica’s households are reportedly headed by single women. A father’s name is missing on well over 60 percent of birth records. This can stigmatize children because of Jamaica’s conservative and judgmental climate.

Other Jamaicans have observed that the country’s heavy reliance on remittances forces mothers and fathers to work abroad, leaving youngsters with little adult supervision. It’s a common scenario in the Caribbean and other developing countries.

Neither Lindsay, Reid, nor Malvo appear to have had stable upbringings. Malvo's murder spree was widely portrayed as the case of a confused and vulnerable teen succumbing to the diabolical influence of his adult mentor.

In considering the Caribbean’s links to jihad – and Jamaica’s links in particular – another factor is worth considering that points to another potential threat. Haiti and Jamaica are major transshipment points in the drug trade. They’re populated by violent gangs that, conceivably, could team up with jihadists.

Jamaica, which suffered the world’s worst murder rate in 2005, is particularly problematic in this respect. For decades its inner-city areas have been dominated by “garrison communities.” Divided along political lines, they’re controlled by “dons” who oversee criminal activity, maintain order, and have loose ties to local politicians. The island also is the region’s top seller and producer of marijuana.

The U.S. State Department, to be sure, has given Jamaica decent marks for its anti-terrorism efforts, but the country’s mix of well-organized gangs, frayed social fabric, and anti-Western ideology may prove to be a potent incubator for future jihadists. The same may be said for Haiti, especially after the arrests of the Miami terror suspects.


jenn said...

A Jamaican Jihad, David?
What have you been smoking?

Consul-At-Arms said...

Rev. Stoddard has responded, see: http://consul-at-arms.blogspot.com/2006/07/jo-not-true-david-paulin.html

Fausta said...

Excellent post.
I was just reading this on the subject.

David Paulin said...

In response to the three previous posts from readers:

Jenn: Thanks for writing. I don't smoke.

Consul-At-Arms: Thanks for providing a heads up on that, and keep up the good work on your interesting blog. Incidentally, Rev. Stoddart is the first person I know of who has called me a racist.

Fausta: Thanks for your comment. I'm familiar with your fine blog.

Nadia said...

Hi David,

I must say that as a person who just started reading blogs, it was interesting to read your post. Did you write your post out of anger for what Mr. Stoddard wrote or does that anger go deeper? You seem to want to connect Jamaica (mainly) and two other Caribbean states to September 11th. The last time I checked, all the hijackers were from the Middle East. What I am also confused about is Jamaica and the other two islands (Trinidad and Haiti) being blamed for people who were not even born these countries. Richard Reid was born in England, so why not blame his British up-bring for his bad choices in Life? Also, I am still not certain where the Canadian born terror suppect's descendents are from, because I have heard of two different countries (Jamaica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines). Malvo was raised and taught how to hate by an American (John Mohammad), not by Jamaica. Also, Malvo has recently apologized to atleast one of his victim's family members and I am still waiting for John Mohammed (American) to do the same. Do not get me wrong, I absolute adore the U.S.A. and will always be patriotic where she is concerned. I am just trying to understand why you are trying to blame the Caribbean. I understand your anger towards Mr. Stoddart, but I do not understand why you are angry at the Caribbean.


David Paulin said...

There have been so many terror-related links to the Caribbean since 9/11 that they simply cannot be ignored. Even British MP Diane Abbott commented on these numerous connections in a recent column in a Jamaican newspaper (as I noted in one of my two posts on the Caribbean and terrorism).

As my articles noted, the terror links to the Caribbean have various nuances, yet they are links nonetheless; even Abbott commend on these links. By your logic, incidentally, it seems we ought to ignore the fact that three of the London suicide bombers were young Muslim men of Pakistani descent -- because they were BORN AND BRED IN ENGLAND! Nobody here but us born and bred Brits, huh?

The reason for mentioning Mr. Stoddard (a Jamaica-born Florida resident who, incidentally, calls himself "Reverend") should have been obvious to anybody who read my two pieces and paid attention to what I wrote. Thanks for writing.