The Homegrown-Terrorist Threat, by James Kirchick, is a great article on this pressing issue. It was in the February issue of Commentary, but I didn’t see it until Ron Radosh brought it to my attention. Some highlights:
Of the 30-odd attempted terrorist plots against the United States or American installations abroad that have been foiled since 9/11, roughly a third have been uncovered in the past year alone. What is new, and particularly frightening, about these recent attempts is that the budding perpetrators were initially indoctrinated inside the United States, with help from extremist websites or Islamic preachers. It was only after they had been brought some ways along the road to holy war that at least some of these would-be jihadists sought training and logistical support from al-Qaeda and others overseas.
This development has come as a surprise. It had become accepted wisdom that the openness of the United States and its acceptance of minority faiths and communities had helped to prevent the spread of the kind of Islamic radicalism that has gripped Western Europe over the past decade. Whereas European Muslims, many of them descendants of manual laborers imported from North Africa and the Middle East, comprise a ghettoized underclass and face great difficulty adapting to the rigid notions of European national identities, Muslims in the United States are, on average, better educated than most Americans and earn about the same amount.
In 2005, Spencer Ackermanof the New Republic trumpeted the seeming inoculation of American Muslims to jihadist enticement, concluding that “if the United States is looking for a way to win the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide, it ought to first look at what it has accomplished at home.” Five years ago, Ackerman’s assessment seemed accurate. Today it seems complacent. Radicalization, we now know for a certainty, is happening here.
He goes on to describe an important report about the radicalization process from a few years ago. Remember it? I do, vaguely. It wasn’t given much publicity.
In August 2007, the New York City Police Department released a report on the process of radicalization that leads to terrorist attacks. The study described an intricate four-step progression by which individuals, most likely to be Muslim men between the ages of 15 and 35, are led from their status as “unremarkable” citizens to would-be perpetrators of atrocities.
Here are the four steps.
The process begins at a stage of “pre-radicalization” during which they are initially exposed to Salafism, an extremist form of Sunni Islam that commits its followers to the murder of infidels or those Muslims deemed insufficiently devout (Shiites, for example).
Next follows “self-identification,” a period in which the potential terrorist, usually catalyzed by a specific event, begins to disavow previously held worldviews and embraces the legitimacy of violent jihad. The third step is “indoctrination,” when, with the support of radicals in his ambit (usually imams or extremist peers), the individual becomes estranged from his former life and fully accepts Salafist ideology as his guiding purpose. Finally comes “Jihadization,” the operational phase of the process, when the budding terrorist takes part in training activities and the actual planning of terrorist attacks against specific targets. An Islamic upbringing or even prior knowledge of Islam is not necessary; indeed, most terrorists begin their lives with next to no Islamic identity whatsoever.
Kirchick points out that such homegrown terrorists don’t need to be connected to an international group to carry out their attacks. And they are the more effective for being loners, since they are harder to identify. So, what to do?
How to combat the homegrown terrorism threat? The first step is to recognize the problem. And it is this condition that may prove most difficult. “It would be a shame—as great a tragedy as this was—it would be a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well,” General George Casey, the Army chief of staff, said in response to the Fort Hood massacre.
…. The logic of this analysis—that America now faces a homegrown terrorism threat and that Homeland Security may have to increase its surveillance of American Muslims—has proved to be too onerous for many to bear.
Many on the left would prefer that the U.S. change its foreign policy instead. It’s our fault, you see. And then Kirchick discusses the ominous and suicidal trend on the left:
One would think that the increase in successful and near successful domestic-terrorism plots over the past year would engender some sort of recognition on the part of people who think and write about current events that a very real threat exists. And, to be sure, reading the mainstream press and listening to elite pundits over the past year, it is clear that the peril of domestic terrorism does occupy their thoughts. But it is decidedly not Islamist terrorism that they consider to be the great danger facing the country but rather violent extremism of an altogether different sort: “right-wing” extremism.
The Department of Homeland Security issues a report last spring on the right-wing threat. We posted about it here. That got plenty of publicity, of course — fingering the “right wing” is a lot safer than examining what Muslims are doing. The article has a lot of commentary about this red herring, but I’m skipping to the conclusion of the article:
Ultimately, there is little more that the United States can do to prevent homegrown terrorism, other than maintain the counter-terrorism policies enacted by the Bush administration in the aftermath of 9/11, policies that proved so successful in preventing another terrorist attack on American soil. Given the rhetoric and actions of the present administration, which wants to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, prosecute CIA officers for using interrogation techniques disfavored by the American Civil Liberties Union, and generally approach the war on Islamic supremacism as a legalistic exercise, it is hardly certain that such a course will be followed. But the least we can ask of our nation’s political and intellectual elite is that they stop wailing about the phantom menace of “right-wing” terrorism and start paying more attention to the genuine article.
Some of our previous posts on homegrown terrorism are here, here, and here. The last is on the Somali young men who were recruited into the jihad and went to Somalia — the poster boys for the homegrown phenomenon. The linked article includes Ann’s links to many updates that tell the story over time.