367 | Waging Jihad at Home

January 25, 2015
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #367: Waging Jihad at Home


Dear Family,

I live in a bubble of sorts, isolated in many respects from the world around me. Absent are the subtle nuances of everyday life with its pressures, seasons of change, opportunities, and disappointments. This bubble of isolation can be useful: with no financial obligations, no wife or kids to care for, I can focus on me, a long-overdue task.

The artificial calm can also be detrimental, turning me into a lazy consumer of government resources and programs, willfully abdicating my God-given responsibilities to pursue small comforts instead, and relinquishing my desires and dreams and drive for blandness.

I see much of the world through the eyes of a magic storytelling box now instead of experiencing it for myself. Growing up without a television set or video game system, we were encouraged to learn and explore and be creative. An entire closet was filled with puzzles and games, hundreds of them, in fact. I was blissfully ignorant of pop culture.

Instead of watching “Dougie Howser,” a popular TV show, Michael and I began attending college classes at age fifteen, where we were referred to as “Doogie Howser.” One of our classmates explained to us that the main character on that show was a grade-skipping brainiac we’d never heard of. I got major news from listening to the radio while driving around town; a healthy dose of irony I received in person.

Now, I’m caught up in the so-called “24-hour news cycle,” where a moment spent watching television while eating a meal brings the world—and its problems—to my bathroom. (We only walk to the “chow hall” once every three days. The other days, my meals are brought to my cell door.)

Because the decent, average, or good news doesn’t typically make for compelling television, a constant barrage of negativity and wretched behavior has overtaken the medium. Spoon-fed ugliness (or, in my case, spork-fed), one news program at a time.

Any normal person in my shoes (there is currently NOT a normal person in my shoes) might be persuaded to think that the ills of the outside world are greater than those I face in here. With violence, horrific barbarism, and the plane-crash-of-the-month becoming the accepted baseline norm, prison almost seems a safer bet.

Yet, just three weeks ago, two of my neighbors got into a vicious fight of sorts, more like an all-out one-way assault, with one participant ending up with 22 stitches on his face and a shattered eye socket, while his cellie got a few extra years in prison to try to fix his anger issues. And, out there, you hear about the rise in Islamic extremists who are waging their religious war, jihad, on everything we hold dear. They are attacking not only our religious freedoms, but our social, economic, and ideological freedoms as well.

And yet, I am not as isolated from this particular ill as you are. Prison is a fertile breeding ground for malcontents of all sorts, from white supremacists to conspiracy theorists to religious nuts. I discovered recently that I am allergic to this particular variety of nut, and especially the fastest-growing and most anti-government, anti-social one of them all: Islamic Fundamentalism.

Just after the massacre by Islamic extremists at the satirical newspaper office in Paris, I ran across a friend of mine who practices Islam, and I had the opportunity to speak with him for an hour in the prison library. A graduate of a few of my classes on public speaking and business, I was pleased to see he was preparing to give a speech in the next Muslim religious service.

In previous conversations, he had claimed that Muslims are the most persecuted religion in the world, a fact he could not substantiate, mostly because it is patently false. Having researched the topic myself, I was able to prove that it is Christians, overwhelmingly, that are persecuted around the world, and that this brutality is typically at the hands of Muslims, who are the perpetrators of persecution against fellow Muslims as well—not Christians.

My friend’s delusional thinking didn’t stop at the one incorrect fact, however. Like other Islamic fundamentalists, he believes that women should not only be “seen but not heard,” they shouldn’t even be seen. He claimed that the Parisian attack was “justified” and that the newspaper’s editorial staff knew what they’d done, by depicting the prophet Mohammed, deserved death.

When I tried to reason with him, saying that even clerics at mosques in the United States recognized that those crazy gunmen had fought words unfairly with bullets, my friend just smiled. “Ah, but this American form of Islam is not the true religion,” Then, he went on to defend other acts of terror.

“You know you sound like a crazy person, right?” I asked him, with a smile, of course. “Taking someone’s life is not BETTER, as you have claimed, than letting them live in a so-called oppressive society. You’ve said that prison is oppressive. Does that mean you’d prefer death than the chance to one day get out of here and live a fulfilling life?” He had to admit, no.

I finished my conversations with him by reminding him that we agree on two things: we’ll always be friends, and we know we will end up in two different parts of eternity: one in Heaven, one in Hell. We hugged goodbye, parting ways.

It isn’t just the TV that brings the world to my door. Prison converts to Islam are as high as 80% of incarcerated black, including the Oklahoma City beheading perpetrator, who was radicalized behind bars. Watching TV won’t help the problem. Get on your knees, then get up and do something about it.