Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Homegrown Jihadism: U.S. & Europe

Two recent stories contrast the situation in Europe and the U.S. regarding homegrown jihadism.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that al Qaeda is finding the U.S. to be "sterile ground" for jihadism. The basic reasons are fairly simple: U.S. Muslims tend to be better educated, with higher incomes and social standing. The imams in their mosques tend to preach assimilation, rather than the extremism found in many European mosques.

"We weren't isolated growing up. We were part of the culture," says Hala Kotb, who grew up outside Washington in a family that inculcated a success ethic. "Religion was important, but not so much that you'd have to cover your head or if you don't pray five times a day, that's it - nothing like that. There were a lot more progressive attitudes" within her local Muslim community.
The young Muslims quoted in the article say that the danger for the U.S. is to overreach and end up alienating U.S. Muslims. One young Muslim calls the FBI's intense scrutiny on Muslim-Americans "good for the short term, but bad in the long term."
The young Muslims interviewed for this story chose their words carefully, but their inference is clear: They worry that suspicion toward Muslims has been building since 9/11, and they suggest that US intervention in Iraq and its support for Israel cause angst among many Arab-Americans.
FBI spokesman John Miller says that the Bureau is putting more effort into community outreach, and he adds that in a number of cases, the FBI has intervened to prevent potential jihadist terrorism in the U.S.

My own take is that a balance must always be struck, with the single most important variable being the establishment of trust. A certain level of intrusion can be tolerable to most people, provided that they perceive it as trustworthy and fair.

Meanwhile, across the pond, Terrorism Monitor examines the situation in Scandinavia, and finds it much worse:
In a security report released in September, PET, the Danish domestic intelligence agency, warned that the largest threat to Denmark, as in most European countries, comes from small, unsophisticated groups that are "inspired by al-Qaeda's global jihad ideology but can act autonomously and apparently without external control, support or planning."

[T]he overwhelming majority of terrorist activities taking place in Scandinavia currently are carried out by homegrown networks.
The article examines the cases of a number of young people arrested in Denmark, who were turned on to jihadism via the Internet and had an unusual profile for jihadists:
What is striking about the members of the Mujahedon network, aside from their extremely young age and operational un-sophistication, is their unusual profile. All three seem to have backgrounds and interests that have little to do with those of an Islamic fundamentalist: they appear to be young men with a greater fascination for violence rather than for the ideology of committed jihadis. Ramic is a troubled teenager who lives with his parents and is a regular hashish consumer (Sydsvenskan, May 3). Ganjin is also known as a consumer and petty smuggler of soft drugs. Fahlen is the son of a wealthy Swedish family and, while acknowledging an interest in Islam, claims not to have converted. Despite these backgrounds, the three developed a sudden fascination with radical Islam and, almost immediately after, began to send threats online.

Their knowledge of Islam is virtually non-existent and their fascination with jihad seems to be dictated by their rebellious nature rather than a deep ideological conviction. Nevertheless, these "improvised jihadis" seem to be the norm in Scandinavia.
This "non-ideological" jihadism was also recently described by Brian Michael Jenkins in his book, Unconquerable Nation (my review is here). Jenkins writes:
It is a trajectory we often see in terrorist organizations. Well-educated ideologues like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri initiate the campaign. Violence is for them a means to an end, but as the organization grows, it recruits "soldiers" who share their beliefs ... The 9/11 attackers fit this category. As the violence continues and the earlier veterans are killed off or picked up, a third generation emerges. It usually lacks the intellect and ideological grounding of the first generation, which still dominates the leadership; it is more attracted by death and destruction. This is the generation in which we find the thugs, including, until his death, Zarqawi.

Invariably, tensions arise between the strategists of the first generation and the harder men of the third generation, who push for ever-escalating violence without concern for its longer-term political consequences.
I interpret this as a possible source of vulnerability for the terrorists. Thugs who are primarily interested in violence, rather than advancing an ideology, may be more likely to take unwise risks and expose the organization.

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