Saturday, April 2, 2016

Fareed Zakaria on the sequencing of radicalization

image (not from entry) from

Friday, April 1st 2016
“. . . today’s terrorists are not religious extremists who became radicals but rather radicals who became religious extremists,” wrote Washington Post opinion writer Fareed Zakaria in his March 31, 2016, column, “Today’s new terrorists were radical before they were religious.”  As Public Diplomacy considers how best to counter violent extremism, Zakaria’s essay argues for a new frame.

  • . . . the recent bombings in Europe are being perpetrated by a new generation of terrorists who are upending our previous understanding of what motivates such people and how to find and stop them.

  • To put it simply, today’s terrorists are not religious extremists who became radicals but rather radicals who became religious extremists. The difference is crucial.

  • Consider one telltale difference. Al-Qaeda and its ilk issued fatwas with detailed critiques and politico-religious demands. What are the demands behind the Paris and Brussels attacks? * * * almost none have a background in political activism (say, Palestine), fundamentalist Islam or social conservatism. “Their radicalization arises around the fantasy of heroism, violence, and death, not of sharia and utopia,” he writes. The Islamic State is the ultimate gang, celebrating violence for its own sake.

  • These young men — and some women — are usually second-generation Europeans. In fact . . . often they are revolting against their more traditional, devout immigrant parents. They are unsure of their identity, rooted in neither the old country nor the new. They face discrimination and exclusion. And in this context, they choose a life of rebellion, crime and, then, the ultimate forbidden adventure, jihad.

  • Why are these findings so important? They paint a picture of a new kind of terrorist, one who is less drawn into terrorism through religion but rather who has chosen the path of terror as the ultimate act of rebellion against the modern world — and who then finds an ideology that can justify his desires. Radical Islam provides that off-the-shelf ideology, easily available through the Internet and social media. But it is the endpoint in the chain, not the start.

  • This still means that Muslims have to battle and eradicate the cancer in their midst that is radical Islam. But it does suggest that for Western law enforcement, bugging mosques, patrolling Muslim community centers and even fighting fundamentalist Muslims might be focusing attention in the wrong direction — if the goal is to find terrorists. Those people might instead be in the bars, drug alleys, unemployment lines and prisons, getting radicalized before they get Islamized.

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