Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Religious Conversion as Fantasy Role Playing


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.
Comments read comments(3)
post a comment
Your Name

posted June 16, 2009 at 9:21 pm

“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”
NERD. A winter spent in Buffalo, NY would have made a world of positive difference in your life.

report abuse


posted June 17, 2009 at 11:13 pm

Al Qaeda converts all sorts of people to it’s cause, and they end up looking like…Al Qaeda terrorists. But because Gadahan looks the part, he’s merely role playing? I suppose if he blows somebody up, he’s faking it in the extreme. Perhaps it’s more likely you’re merely pretending to know what you’re talking about.

report abuse

Pingback: Prologue: Religion, LARPing, and Comic Books | The Chequer-board of Nights and Days

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

Another Blog To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Kingdom of Priests. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here is another blog you may also enjoy: Kabballah Counseling Happy Reading! ...

posted 11:24:22am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Animal Wisdom: The Voice of the Serpent
Our family watched Jaws together the other evening -- which, in case you're wondering, I regard as responsible parenting since our kids are basically too young to be genuinely scared by the film. The whole rest of the next day, two-year-old Saul ...

posted 3:56:33pm Mar. 16, 2010 | read full post »

Reading Wesley Smith: Why the Darwin Debate Matters
If the intelligent-design side in the evolution debate doesn't receive the support you might expect from people who should be allies, that may be because they haven't grasped why the whole thing matters so urgently. I got an email recently from ...

posted 5:07:12pm Mar. 15, 2010 | read full post »

The Mission of the Jews
Don't miss my essay over at First Things on the mission of the Jews to the world. This, I think, the key idea that the Jewish community needs to absorb at this very unusual cultural moment, for the time is so, so right. Non-Jews are waiting for ...

posted 6:14:16pm Mar. 05, 2010 | read full post »

Darwin at the Mountains of Madness: Evolution & the Occult
Of all the regrettable cultural forces that Darwinism helped unleash, perhaps the most surprising and seemingly unlikely is its role in sparking the creation of modern occultism. Charles Darwin himself could not have been less interested in the ...

posted 2:04:11pm Mar. 04, 2010 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.