Washington Post Offers Up Five Myths Of Islamic Radicalization

At first blush, knowing what the Washington Post usually does, the headline of 5 Myths Of Radicalization is bound to create the idea that the WP and writer Daniel Byman are going to do all they can to protect the Religion Of Peace, and, there are some nuggets of #facepalm within. Yet, it actually provides so real issues

1. We understand radicalization.

The just-released National Security Strategy warns repeatedly of the danger of extremism, citing weak governance, widespread grievances, repression and the lack of a flourishing civil society among other causes that allow “extremism to take root.” This list suggests that we know what motivates radicalization — but almost every social malady falls into these categories. The difficult reality is that there is no single path toward radicalization; it varies by country, by historical period and by person.

Experts have long searched for a useful psychological profile of terrorists, without much success. The problem, as terrorism scholar Bruce Hoffman observed many years ago, is “how disturbingly ‘normal’ most terrorists seem.”

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While so many Islamic terrorists (this can happen with terrorists of other stripes too, but the article is about Islamic radicals) certainly do come from poorer backgrounds, a goodly chunk are average citizens, many of whom are educated and middle class (middle class depending on their nation of origin). The 9/11 hijackers were very much highly educated and middle class. So many conversions that go jihadi are, as well. Many also have little knowledge of Islam (Bynam simply writes “religion”, but, we are talking about Islam) and “their lack of religious knowledge makes them easy prey for recruiters who don the mantle of religious authority.”

2. Moderate Muslims need to speak out. (snip to last paragraph in section)

Of course, we shouldn’t hold ordinary people responsible for what violent people do in their name. Catholics should condemn the killing of an abortion doctor, but I don’t blame them for the murder if they don’t.

Of course, the killing of an abortion doctor by a Catholic or other Christian is rare: attacks by the RoP are constant, done in the name of Allah and Mohammed, based on text of the Koran. More often against other Muslim, often who would be termed “Moderate”, who refuse to practice the hardcore version of Islam. It is rather up to the so-called Moderates if they want to take their religion back. If they actually want to.

3. The best response is economic development and education.

It seems intuitive that poor people would be angry and that uneducated people would be more susceptible to terrorist brainwashing — a view that conservatives as well as liberals have embraced. President George W. Bush declared that it was important to fight poverty “because hope is an answer to terror.” The 9/11 Commission also called for supporting public education and economic openness.

Yet even a moment’s reflection shows the limits of this logic. Billions suffer poverty worldwide, and discrimination and ignorance are tragically widespread, yet few among these billions commit acts of terrorism. Religious schools in Pakistan do educate terrorists, but so do Pakistan’s public schools — and Western universities. Doctors and engineers are well represented in the ranks of international terrorists: Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al-Qaeda, is a trained surgeon.

And right there is one of the biggest problems, mentioned by myself and so many others, which Mr. Byman almost got: the “extremist” form is being taught in mosques and Islamic religious schools as people are being educated. Education is great, but, it is not necessarily the answer. Inner cities have school for all kids, yet, they tend to be hotbeds of violence and crime, needing metal detectors, drug sniffing dogs, and actual police officers monitoring the school. And the kids do not want to learn.

Instead, we should think small, in part because in the West the problem involves small numbers of potential terrorists: thousands, not millions. The focus should be on high-risk communities, both Muslim and non-Muslim. Prisons, for example, are breeders of terrorists, and ensuring that radicals do not dominate religious instruction behind bars and that there are programs (and intelligence agents) in place to stop terrorist recruitment is vital.

This is a continuation of #3. What is not mentioned in that paragraphs is how we should focus on these high-risk communities. What programs work? Is it blowing them all to Paradise? No one really has an answer. Furthermore, mentioned in the next paragraph is dealing with those who have broken no law, but are obviously being radicalized (which really applies to most potential Islamic terrorists), and handling them. How? Good question. Answers are not offered, other than the vague and nebulous idea of “community intervention”. However, Byman misses the forest through the trees when he talks of small numbers: yes, those who will actually commit violence are few. However, the conditions that create the few violent ones, the radicalized of Muslims into the hardcore version of Islam, are present certainly within tens of millions around the world, if not more. Once radicalized, it can be a small step to being a jihadi, as there seems to be an endless supply of those willing to attack, to be a suicide bomber, joining ISIS and other jihadi groups. That’s the danger.

4. The fighting in Iraq and Syria will spawn terrorism in the West.

Byman notes that ISIS is not attempting outside terrorism themselves, but is focused on control of the Middle East. But, it can spawn the “lone wolf” type attacks, rather than the big ones like 9/11. However, those little attacks can create as much fear and problems as a big attack.

5. Europe has a massive Islamist terrorism problem.

Still, Europe has seen very few successful attacks by Islamist terrorists since the 2004 Madrid train bombings, which killed 191 people, and the 2005 London bombings, which killed 52. In the intervening years, right-wing extremists have presented more of a threat. Europe’s most deadly attack in recent years was the one carried out by far-right Islamophobe Anders Breivik, who killed 77 Norwegians in 2011 when he bombed downtown Oslo and then slaughtered children at a nearby summer camp.

He’s partly right. Yes, the attacks have been small, and not many killed in each attack. Of course, law enforcement and intelligence have done a fantastic job in stopping the attacks. But, again, the problem is that so many are radical and have been radicalized, creating a massive pool of those who may attack. There is no large scale institutional push to radicalize people like Breivik.

More importantly, there is a big push for radicalization of Muslims to push their hardcore Islamist version through peaceful means, using our 1st World societies, our laws, rules, our social mores against us to slowly push nations towards being hardcore Islamist nations. This is a slow process, more akin to death by a thousand papercuts.

Europe’s bigger problem is the divide between its Muslim and non-Muslim communities. This is less about counterterrorism and more about the need for better political and economic integration.

That might be important if these radicals actually wanted to integrate on our terms. They don’t. They want nations to integrate on their radical terms. They want to continue creating more radicals. They want to operate in their own terms. That is the forest. The attacks are almost a distraction from the true aim of radical Islam.

Crossed at Pirate’s Cove. Follow me on Twitter @WilliamTeach.

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