Radicalizing Home-Grown Muslims

The Islamic terror threat is trending toward radicalization of the young and new converts in the Diaspora, getting them to join in armed struggle.  What motivates young men and women, born or living in the West, to carry out acts of terrorism against their host countries?  The answer is ideology.  It defines the conflict, guides movements, identifies the issues, drives recruitment, and is the basis for action.  In many cases, ideology also determines target selection and informs what will be done and how it will be carried out.

The religious, political ideology responsible for driving this radicalization process is called jihadist or jihadi-Salafi ideology and it has served as the inspiration for all or nearly all of the homegrown groups including the Madrid 2004 bombers, London's bombers, the Australians arrested as part of Operation Pendennis in 2005, and the Toronto 18, arrested in June 2006.

Jihadi-Salafi ideology is but one stream of the broader Salafi movement.  The general goal of this Sunni revivalist interpretation of Islam is to create a "pure" society that applies a literal reading of the holy Quran and adheres to the social practices that prevailed at the time of 7th-century Arabia.

Living within and as part of a Diaspora in west provides an increased sense of isolation and a desire to bond with others of the same culture and religion.  The United Kingdom has a Muslim population of close to two million, of which half live in London.

Approximately 66% of this population is South Asian (Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh).  More specifically, in the Bradford or Leeds area, more than 10% of this population is of Kashmiri descent.  Much of the population in northern England immigrated to the U.K. in the 1960's and 1970's to work in the textile industry, which has now fallen on hard times.  Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer, went to masques to bond with the people of same ethnic background.  In Diaspora Muslim communities in the West, there is a certain tolerance for the existence of the extremist subculture that enables radicalization.  That is why the radicalization of the youth in Britain had gone unnoticed.

Middle-class families and students appear to provide the most fertile ground for the seeds of radicalization.  A range of socioeconomic and psychological factors have been associated with those who have chosen to radicalize to include the bored or frustrated, successful college students, the unemployed, the second and third generation, new immigrants, petty criminals, and prison parolees.  One of the London suicide bombers, Lindsay, was a violent, racist drug dealer in Huddersfield before becoming a suicide bomber.  The Madrid terrorists were primarily made up of 1st-generation North African Muslim men, approximately 30 years old and younger.  Some were drug dealers, part-time workers, and drifting students.

Political and personal conflicts are often the cause of this identity crisis.  A political crisis is sometimes brought about by some of the shock tactics used by extremists in spewing out political messages, arguments, and associated atrocities that highlight some particular political grievance that Islam has with the West, or with one's own government.  Messages usually proliferated via literature, speeches, TV, websites, chat rooms, videotapes, or other media.  A notable example of self-radicalization is that of Aabid Hussein Khan, a 22-year-old British Muslim who, with two others, founded a terrorist cell in the UK.  In 1997, at only 12 years old, Khan quickly became an avid fan of anything he could find on the Internet relating to jihad and the mujahedeen.

The Internet plays an important role during the radicalization process.  The internet serves chiefly as the person's source of information about Islam and a venue to meet other seekers online.  With the aggressive proliferation of the jihadi ideology online, it is nearly impossible for someone to avoid this extreme interpretation of Islam.

In countering radicalization messages to youth, many governments have sought out moderate Muslim officials and influential religious figures to address head-on the fallacies and distortions of Islamic teachings that terrorist groups often propagate.  Singapore, in particular, has partnered with moderate imams to great effect.  For example, Singapore's Islamic Religious Council (MUIS) has developed websites for youth, to include a site that responds to religious queries and a site devoted to rebutting extremist ideologies.  Many terrorist groups have introduced games, both online and offline versions, which is just enough to entice young people to the world of global terror.

There should be a process of inclusion for the Diaspora community in the West, as the isolation, poverty and unemployment seem to fuel the argument of jihad, which threatens even the stability of moderate Muslim countries.  It is not the religion Islam, but the interpretation that is responsible for the divide between faiths; the sooner we can understand the issues revolving radicalization, the better we will be at combating terrorism.

The Islamic terror threat is trending toward radicalization of the young and new converts in the Diaspora, getting them to join in armed struggle.  What motivates young men and women, born or living in the West, to carry out acts of terrorism against their host countries?  The answer is ideology.  It defines the conflict, guides movements, identifies the issues, drives recruitment, and is the basis for action.  In many cases, ideology also determines target selection and informs what will be done and how it will be carried out.

The religious, political ideology responsible for driving this radicalization process is called jihadist or jihadi-Salafi ideology and it has served as the inspiration for all or nearly all of the homegrown groups including the Madrid 2004 bombers, London's bombers, the Australians arrested as part of Operation Pendennis in 2005, and the Toronto 18, arrested in June 2006.

Jihadi-Salafi ideology is but one stream of the broader Salafi movement.  The general goal of this Sunni revivalist interpretation of Islam is to create a "pure" society that applies a literal reading of the holy Quran and adheres to the social practices that prevailed at the time of 7th-century Arabia.

Living within and as part of a Diaspora in west provides an increased sense of isolation and a desire to bond with others of the same culture and religion.  The United Kingdom has a Muslim population of close to two million, of which half live in London.

Approximately 66% of this population is South Asian (Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh).  More specifically, in the Bradford or Leeds area, more than 10% of this population is of Kashmiri descent.  Much of the population in northern England immigrated to the U.K. in the 1960's and 1970's to work in the textile industry, which has now fallen on hard times.  Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer, went to masques to bond with the people of same ethnic background.  In Diaspora Muslim communities in the West, there is a certain tolerance for the existence of the extremist subculture that enables radicalization.  That is why the radicalization of the youth in Britain had gone unnoticed.

Middle-class families and students appear to provide the most fertile ground for the seeds of radicalization.  A range of socioeconomic and psychological factors have been associated with those who have chosen to radicalize to include the bored or frustrated, successful college students, the unemployed, the second and third generation, new immigrants, petty criminals, and prison parolees.  One of the London suicide bombers, Lindsay, was a violent, racist drug dealer in Huddersfield before becoming a suicide bomber.  The Madrid terrorists were primarily made up of 1st-generation North African Muslim men, approximately 30 years old and younger.  Some were drug dealers, part-time workers, and drifting students.

Political and personal conflicts are often the cause of this identity crisis.  A political crisis is sometimes brought about by some of the shock tactics used by extremists in spewing out political messages, arguments, and associated atrocities that highlight some particular political grievance that Islam has with the West, or with one's own government.  Messages usually proliferated via literature, speeches, TV, websites, chat rooms, videotapes, or other media.  A notable example of self-radicalization is that of Aabid Hussein Khan, a 22-year-old British Muslim who, with two others, founded a terrorist cell in the UK.  In 1997, at only 12 years old, Khan quickly became an avid fan of anything he could find on the Internet relating to jihad and the mujahedeen.

The Internet plays an important role during the radicalization process.  The internet serves chiefly as the person's source of information about Islam and a venue to meet other seekers online.  With the aggressive proliferation of the jihadi ideology online, it is nearly impossible for someone to avoid this extreme interpretation of Islam.

In countering radicalization messages to youth, many governments have sought out moderate Muslim officials and influential religious figures to address head-on the fallacies and distortions of Islamic teachings that terrorist groups often propagate.  Singapore, in particular, has partnered with moderate imams to great effect.  For example, Singapore's Islamic Religious Council (MUIS) has developed websites for youth, to include a site that responds to religious queries and a site devoted to rebutting extremist ideologies.  Many terrorist groups have introduced games, both online and offline versions, which is just enough to entice young people to the world of global terror.

There should be a process of inclusion for the Diaspora community in the West, as the isolation, poverty and unemployment seem to fuel the argument of jihad, which threatens even the stability of moderate Muslim countries.  It is not the religion Islam, but the interpretation that is responsible for the divide between faiths; the sooner we can understand the issues revolving radicalization, the better we will be at combating terrorism.