*** The full document is at: http://www.defenddemocracy.org/downloads/HomegrownTerrorists_USandUK.pdf
Intelligence services and experts are increasingly paying attention to the
threat of “homegrown terrorism,” terrorist attacks perpetrated by individuals
who were either born or raised in the West. Homegrown terrorists pose a particular
concern due to the increasing number of Westerners joining militant Islamic
movements, and the operatives’ familiarity with the societies they are targeting.
In recent years, over two hundred men and women born or raised in the West
have participated in, or provided support for Islamic terrorist plots and attacks.
Several studies have examined the demographics of homegrown Islamic terrorists,
and a lesser number of studies have examined their social affiliations. But
to date, no study has empirically examined the process through which these terrorists
are radicalizing, which constitutes a substantial gap in the literature. This
study addresses the present gap through an empirical examination of behavioral
manifestations of the radicalization process in 117 homegrown “jihadist” terrorists
from the United States and United Kingdom.
The individuals considered “homegrown” in this study either spent a significant
portion of their formative years in the West, or else their radicalization bears
a significant connection to the West. Individuals were included in the study if, in
addition to being “homegrown,” they participated in, or provided illegal support
for, jihadist terrorist plots. In evaluating the behavioral changes that the homegrown terrorists went through, this study relies wherever possible on their own
words: some have kept blogs, posted on online newsgroups, or issued communiqués.
Others were caught on tape by government informants. The research for
this study also draws on court cases (which often include exhibits and testimony
that provide insight into the radicalization process) and credible open-source information that would be accepted in the professional and academic worlds.
CONCRETE MANIFESTATIONS OF RADICALIZATION
This study examines six manifestations of the radicalization process that can
be observed in homegrown terrorists. Though the six steps differ in prevalence,
we found that all of them occurred frequently enough among the sample to be
Adopting a Legalistic Interpretation of Islam
A legalistic interpretation of Islam refers to how believers interpret their
rights and obligations in relation to Islam’s holy texts. An individual who has a
legalistic interpretation has adopted a rules-based approach in which the Qur’an
and sunnah provide strict guidelines—not just for the practice of the faith, but
also for virtually every aspect of one’s daily life. This legalistic interpretation will be manifested externally.
A person exhibiting a legalistic interpretation is not necessarily radical, or radicalizing: it may simply be indicative of a conservative practice of the faith.
However, for some homegrown terrorists, this legalistic understanding blends
naturally into the rest of their radicalization. This was the case for al-Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn, and also for the Lackawanna Six. In the latter case, a spiritual mentor created “an uncompromising religious atmosphere” rooted in a legalistic understanding of the faith designed to make members of the Lackawanna Six
feel ashamed for being “too American.” After introducing the men to legalistic
standards in which they constantly fell short, the spiritual mentor brought in a
“closer”—a young imam who built off their feelings of religious failure, arguing
that undertaking jihad was their only chance at salvation.
Trusting Only Select Religious Authorities
Another significant manifestation of the radicalization process is coming to
trust only the interpretations of a select and ideologically rigid set of religious authorities.
One example of this can be seen within the Wahhabi movement, where
more conservative (and frequently, militant) scholars are often seen as teaching
the only “authentic” interpretation of Islam. Conversely, more moderate scholars
are perceived as offering a watered-down and inauthentic version of the faith.
Sometimes the select religious authorities whom radicalizing individuals believe
they can trust will be contemporary hardline religious leaders, and other
times they will be luminaries of the past—such as Ahmad ibn Abdal-Halim ibn
Taymiyya, Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, and
Sayyid Abul A‘la Maududi.
Perceived Schism Between Islam and the West
As homegrown terrorists radicalize, they often come to perceive an inherent
schism between Islam and the West—believing that the two are at odds, and
perhaps even incapable of coexistence. This perception can be expressed in a
number of ways. In some cases, individuals attempt to isolate themselves from
Western society physically. In others, these individuals will explain the perceived
schism between Islam and the West to friends, family, or conspirators.
Frequently the concept of loyalty is critical to this stage: the idea that the
individual has obligations to Islam alone, and cannot have any kind of duty or
loyalty to a non-Muslim state. A second, more extreme idea may derive from
this principle: that even participation in democracy violates Islamic religious
principles. Also, this aspect of the radicalization process is sometimes manifested
by individuals separating themselves from, or even coming to hate, non-Muslims
who had previously been an important part of their lives.
Low Tolerance for Perceived Theological Deviance
As homegrown terrorists internalize rigid interpretations of Islam, many come
to view alternate interpretations and practices as not just incorrect theologically,
but as personal affronts. In this way, any disagreement about religion may be
personalized, and met with a great amount of vitriol. This intolerance of perceived
deviance is usually expressed verbally, through the chastisement of other
Muslims—but there have also been instances where this intolerance manifests in
Attempts to Impose Religious Beliefs on Others
Another significant step is when individuals attempt to impose their religious
beliefs on others. This step is often a natural extension of individuals’ low tolerance for perceived theological deviance: since religious transgressions are regarded as personal affronts, radicalizing individuals try to enforce their own religious values and customs on others. Family members and close friends often bear the brunt of these attempts, but they are by no means the only ones affected.
The homegrown terrorists in this study also evince a considerable amount of
political radicalization. While there is no single political ideology that all jihadists embrace, the contemporary jihadist political narrative can be broadly outlined:
Western powers have conspired against Islam to subjugate it, both physically and
morally. At the same time, Muslims worldwide have lost their faith, and lack the
strength that they possessed during Muhammad’s time. The only proper response
to the present situation is military action.
I suggest reading the entire document, it is well done. MS