January 14, 2015
New dynamics in global terrorism are complicating efforts to identify the militant players, determine what set them on a violent path and develop strategies to stop them, according to a new book that examines approaches Europeans have taken to stem Islamist radicalization and offers lessons for the future both in Europe and the U.S.
The book, “Eurojihad: Patterns of Islamist Radicalization and Terrorism in Europe,” is by longtime researchers Angel Rabasa and Cheryl Benard, and published by Cambridge University Press.
Rabasa, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation whose research and analyses address problems of international security, extremism, and terrorism, has authored books on the intersection of politics and religion in Southeast Asia, Turkey and East Africa. Benard, a former RAND researcher, is president of Washington, D.C.-based Metis Analytics, a research firm.
The authors find that Europe is central to Islamist terror organizations and that the sources of radicalization of these individuals go far deeper than the current situation in Iraq and Syria.
Jihadists are a diverse group that include: first-generation immigrants with grudges; second- or third-generation immigrants who identify with neither their nation of residence nor their country of origin; converts to Islam; ex-convicts and petty criminals; educated people whose expectations exceed their perceived opportunities; and well-educated people, including professionals such as physicians, who are working in their chosen fields.
“Eurojihad” finds the trajectory toward violence begins with alienation, and the most common profile of a terrorist may be a young middle-class man who believes he deserves better, finds it hard to fit into his country of residence and doesn't strongly identify with the traditional culture of his homeland. Extremist ideology offers an alternative identity with an imagined worldwide Muslim community.
A failure of some Muslims to integrate into the broader European communities is not a strong predictor of radicalization, Rabasa said. “Many of those involved in violent Islamist extremism were individuals who appeared to be well integrated, but turned against the countries where they resided.”
There are common threads among Europe's known jihadists, according to the authors. In some communities, they have a level of support — often passive support such as tolerance or indifference to their activities — that allows them to gather without fear of discovery. Some mosques that do not promote extremism nonetheless serve as meeting places where like-minded radicals can meet. “The development of militant prison networks explains the rising connection between common criminals and terrorists,” the authors write.
The Internet provides a place to meet, recruit and organize, though the transition from radicalization to terrorism almost always takes place face to face.
With Western Europeans representing almost one-fifth of the total number of foreign fighters in Syria, would-be jihadists pose a security threat to the continent. To prevent radicalization of young people, and escalation by overzealous individuals into extreme acts of violence, European governments have reacted with greater vigilance, enhanced international cooperation, and reduced tolerance of overt extremist activity as many make attempts to strengthen domestic counterterrorist legislation.
At the core of new European approaches are efforts to move beyond policing and security measures by addressing the factors that encourage and facilitate radicalization and recruitment into terrorist groups. The new approaches recognize that Muslim organizations, communities and families are sensitive to early signs of radicalization, and the most trusted among them could help in prevention efforts.
European societies have important social resources to reduce the risk of radicalization. Moderate Muslim organizations and community leaders who are supportive of Western liberal values and institutions are one. Another is an emerging multicultural youth culture.
The United States appears less vulnerable to violent radicalization than European societies, according to Rabasa and Benard. However, some features that facilitate the spread of Islamist extremism in Europe also are present in the United States. Since 2009, America has seen several attacks by Islamist extremists, including the Fort Hood shooting by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan; the shooting by a Muslim convert at a U.S. military recruiting center in Little Rock, Ark.; the Boston marathon bombing; and other terrorist plots against commuter trains, a federal building, a Marine base and Jewish centers.
Terrorists are a unique category of threat — neither common criminals nor legal combatants. The authors conclude that some European legal framework adaptations to deal with the terrorist threat might be of value to the United States.