Aug 11 • 1HR 50M

Jason Walters: from Salafism to Sartre

An ex-radical Islamist speaks

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The recent killing by Ayman al-Zawahiri, erstwhile leader of al-Qaeda, brought many Americans back to awareness of an era that has been fading, the decade of the “War on Terror” that dominated geopolitics after the 9/11 terrorism attack. The World Trade Center bombings galvanized Americans, setting the stage for our disastrous invasion of Iraq and American meddling in Muslim nations worldwide. But while 9/11 drove a closing of ranks against radicalism across much of the West, a small minority drew different lessons. A radical faction of European and American Muslims, converts and those raised in the faith, instead made common cause with al-Qaeda, and its later offshoot, ISIS.

Jason Walters is one of those young men who reacted to 9/11 very differently from the rest of us. Raised in the Dutch Bible Belt by a Netherlands-born mother and an African American father, Walters was raised nominally Christian but later converted to Islam. Sixteen years old when 9/11 occurred, Walter’s faith moved in a radical direction, and in November of 2004 he was involved in a terror attack in The Hague. Imprisoned shortly after that, Walters emerged a free man in 2013, having shed his Muslim identity.

In this episode, Walters joins Razib to discuss his cultural and racial background and how that might have fueled his radicalization. Though Walters avers that racial issues had little importance to him growing up, it is clear his mixed and cosmopolitan origins left him more attracted to an ideology that eventually alienated him from the rest of Dutch society. He talks about his discovery of Nietzsche, Plato and Heidegger in prison and how philosophy brought him out of Islam, giving him a new understanding of himself and his place in the universe. Razib and Walters also probe the importance of ‘system thinking’ and ‘rationality’ in the religious orientation of Salafist converts in the West.

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