WASHINGTON -- Following the terrible killings on the streets of New York on Halloween, analysts were busy exploring theories about the "radicalization" of Sayfullo Saipov, the Uzbek murderer from Tashkent. After only a few hours, they agreed: He had been "self-radicalized."
This is not an entirely new idea. But now it has become a full-blown description of terrorism in America. What does it actually mean?
One can imagine the ominous, feral face of Saipov standing in front of the mirror in his home in Tampa or Paterson and repeating over and over as he vainly pets his ugly long ISIS beard: "Allahu akhbar ... Who is really the fairest of them all?"
Or one can imagine him watching ISIS propaganda on his computer, becoming excited as his "Islamic State" beheads yet another innocent victim. With the sound of the sword on human flesh, he is "called."
The trouble with this self-radicalization analysis is that it is untrue.
Rather, we find the truth about Saipov when we look into his past in his homeland and see, instead of the Muslim version of instant born-again conversions, a culture that offers poor preparation for life in America -- a recipe for disaffection and consequent violence against it. And in tandem, we see promiscuous American immigration policies that not only take little account of cultural origins when granting entry, but actually brought this 29-year-old man here ... through a lottery!
Much of the media coverage here would have you believe that Saipov was poor and miserable at home. Yet, at the family's pleasant home in Tashkent after the Halloween truck attack left eight dead, Saipov's mother described her son to The Wall Street Journal as a studious boy with a degree in accounting who only entered the American "diversity lottery" on a lark.
When amazingly he won, he went off to the New World with the idea that he would flower easily. But he didn't. And when his mother saw him last year in New Jersey, she told the paper, "I saw with my own eyes how much he was working, how hard it was for him." He wanted to go home.
But he had also become a walking/truck-driving example of the uncontrollably violent male, getting into nasty fights, being arrested by police and growing his beard long.
This embitterment on the part of young men from cultures so wholly different from ours did not strike him alone. The Tsarnaev brothers from Chechnya infamously bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013; Omar Mateen, son of Afghan immigrants, left 49 men and women murdered in the tragic Pulse nightclub attack in 2016.
As it happens, I know Central Asia very well. As a foreign correspondent, I spent months wandering about there, and everywhere I found dictatorship and ambivalent hope. Uzbekistan has undeniable treasures -- historic Samarkand and Bukhara -- and it could be a workable country, but the Soviets abused it terribly, ecologically destroying the once-grand Aral Sea until today it is simply a raw wound in the soil.
Uzbekistan also had a memorable period of history, when the creative despot, Tamerlane of the 14th century, who built his towers with human skulls, convinced the Muslim Uzbeks and much of Central Asia that they were "The Center." Of the universe, that is! This grandiose history left Uzbeks with a sense of mammoth entitlement, paired with a predilection for cruelty.
There is nothing in the culture that formed Sayfullo Saipov that would have prepared him to behave in such a way as to thrive in America.
So we are faced with the important question of why on earth the U.S. should actively seek out so many immigrants from such wholly dissimilar societies as Uzbekistan or Chechnya or Afghanistan, too many of whom have such jarring trouble assimilating here if, indeed, they really care to do so.
The diversity lottery is well known to be filled with fraud, but more important is the question of why a country like America is willing to insult itself by offering its most precious gift, its citizenship, in a LOTTERY.
"Self-radicalization"? True, maybe ISIS itself did not inspire this man. But mostly, the problem is culture -- and it is not an insult to any nationality or any group to say that cultures are different and some are more amenable to the realities of American life than others. Human beings are not empty slates or easily malleable bodies and minds without memory. "We wanted workers and we got human beings," the immigration folks used to say.
Saipov was out of place in our world, then embittered and filled with hatred as failure filled his moral lungs and revenge his empty days. THIS is what radicalized him, and we would do well to understand it -- and to start comprehensive immigration reform by getting rid of the diversity lottery tomorrow.