Last year, journalists Etienne Huver and Guillaume Lhotellier got hold of video footage from Syria's civil war. The video features Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a young man who was born in 1987 and raised near the heart of European progressive government and society, in the Sint-Jans-Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels. In the video, he and his comrades load bloody corpses into the back of a pickup truck. Abaaoud turns to the camera and brags, "Before we towed jet skis, motorcycles, quad bikes, big trailers filled with gifts for vacation in Morocco. Now, thank God, following God's path, we're towing apostates, infidels who are fighting us."
This line would be a fitting epitaph for Western civilization itself. You gave us pleasures, we wanted your heads instead.
Abaaoud would go on to plan the devastating terror attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 of this year. He died a few days later, probably as he intended, in the storm of bullets and grenade fire during a raid in the St. Denis suburb of Paris. The Crusaders killed him. He was a young man, a kind of prosumer-level jihadi tourist, not a terrorist mastermind.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud is my choice for Man of the Year 2015.
It's that story arc that makes Abaaoud unforgettable and terrifying: "Before we towed jet skis." Now we tow corpses of infidels. It is the perfect rebuke to the conceit of Western materialism, which runs something like this: Progress will, eventually, deliver us all into leisure, contentment, and peace. His attack on Paris' soft targets may have been chosen for their vulnerability. But they were also the perfect symbols of modern Western life: people enjoying pleasures at night for no other reason but to enjoy them. Restaurants, a rock concert, a sporting event. Abaaoud's grin tells us: Your pleasures mean nothing to me.
Abaaoud also grinned in the pages of Dabiq, the English-language magazine of the Islamic State. (Nothing could be more 2015 than an English-language jihadi publication emanating from the deserts shared between Iraq and Syria.) And there in Dabiq, in the early part of 2015, is an interview with Abaaoud. He brags about evading the Crusader authorities, making the travel back and forth between Europe, where he was wanted as a dangerous man, and Syria.
[T]he kuffār were blinded by Allah. I was even stopped by an officer who contemplated me so as to compare me to the picture, but he let me go, as he did not see the resemblance! [Dabiq]
He thanks Allah for our confusion.
So they gathered intelligence agents from all over the world — from Europe and America — in order to detain me. They arrested Muslims in Greece, Spain, France, and Belgium in order to apprehend me. Subhānallāh, all those arrested were not even connected to our plans! [Dabiq]
This widely cast suspicion has been brutally effective. Indeed, the Paris attackers' clever use of the refugee crisis to disguise two of the co-conspirators has radically altered the debate about refugees and immigration in Europe and America. At the same time, Abaaoud himself is reason to fear more than terrorists hiding among the refugees.
Abaaoud is the sign that the Syrian civil war can, like the Spanish civil war, engage the imagination, fury, and sympathy of people around the world. The effects of it can be seen everywhere. You see it in the sudden interest in shutting down "parts of the internet," so that our men and women can't be seduced by ISIS propaganda. You can see it when the socialist government of France adopts the policies of repression that were, until yesterday, the property of the National Front. You can see it in the spiritual and quasi-political defection of Eastern European nations from the globalist consensus of Brussels. Hungary and Poland aren't interested in a multicultural Europe, not if it means inviting in people who will raise new Abdelhamid Abaaouds.
Abaaoud's story is not one that simply drives fear of something alien and outside and "other." It drives fear of men who are already living here. We see Abaaoud in the San Bernardino killers. Neither of them were masterminds. They just wanted glory, action, and to impress their imagined peers in the jihadi movement.
Abaaoud is the Man of the Year for personalizing the terror. He is Man of the Year for symbolizing Western impotence and indifference in the battle against ISIS. And he is Man of the Year for being the new thing. He is not like the old terrorists of the Middle East who were battle hardened against Soviet- or American-sponsored enemies at home. He is the monster creation of Western alienation and Middle Eastern religious radicalism. He is a terrorist well-fitted for the age of ambitious startups. And he is Man of the Year because he is the unwelcome reminder that even people who know the Western way of life intimately are capable of despising it.