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Kingdom of Priests

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A new video of American Al-Qaeda-nik Adam Gadahn, a/k/a Azzam the American, includes Gadahn’s admission that his grandfather was Jewish — “a Zionist and a zealous supporter of the usurper entity and a prominent member of a number of Zionist hate organizations. He used to repeat to me what he claimed are the virtues of this entity and encourage me to visit … where relatives of ours live.” An item by Marissa Brostoff at Tablet directs our attention to a fascinating and very thorough profile of the former Adam Pearlman in The New Yorker, which in turns notes the peculiarly elaborate and archaic rhetorical style of Gadahn’s work as an Al-Qaeda spokesman: “Sometimes his syntax is so baroque, his sentiment so earnest, that he sounds like a character from the Lord of the Rings.” 

The Tolkien allusion caught my attention. I hadn’t previously given much thought to young Mr. Pearlman’s spiritual journey — born in Oregon, raised on a goat farm in Southern California, shy teenager, converted to Islam at age 17 — but that line about the Lord of the Rings struck me as telling. Did you ever notice the way with some converts, not just converts to any given religion but to all kinds of thought systems, ideologies, and other enthusiasms, there’s often a heavy element of fantasy role playing?
When I was a Southern California youth myself, we’d play Dungeons & Dragons, and everyone got to pick his Tolkienesque fantasy identity — wizard, warrior, hobbit, elf, whatever you like. Nerdy kids, or momma’s boys like me (there is a difference!), reveled in the chance to pretend to be someone else, a person much more exotic, interesting, and powerful. It sure strikes me that young Pearlman has been on such a trip of his own these past 13 years or more. The rest of the New Yorker profile bears this out. Fantasy role playing ran in the family. 

His father, Phil Pearlman, was a counterculture type, son of Carl Pearlman, a Jewish doctor and Anti-Defamation League board member. Not content with such a conventional family profile, Phil set up on the goat farm with a self-constructed cabin, an establishment in rural Riverside County with no running water, aimed at being self-sufficient. It was Phil who changed the family name to Gadahn, somehow based upon the Biblical warrior Gideon.
In these cases, clothing always plays a role. You have to dress for your part in the fantasy. After he converted to Islam, “Gadahn stopped shaving and cut his hair. He began to wear sandals and dressed in long, Saudi-style robes or in Afghan shalwar kameez.” Of course he did!
I don’t mean to make light of the very serious trouble Adam Pearlman has gotten himself into. He’s under indictment by the Justice Department for providing material assistance to Al-Qaeda and for treason. When he’s caught, this game of Dungeons & Dragons, or rather Mosques & Minarets, will come to a rather abrupt conclusion.
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