Muslim extremism stems from alienation

By Hussein Ibish The recent arrest of Farooque Ahmed on charges of conspiring with undercover law enforcement officers to bomb … Continued

By Hussein Ibish

The recent arrest of Farooque Ahmed on charges of conspiring with undercover law enforcement officers to bomb metro stations in the greater DC area has once again turned attention to the growing problem of “homegrown” terrorist threats emerging on the fringes of the Muslim American community. While this overdetermined phenomenon lacks a single, discrete cause or simple profile, some rough outlines can be confidently sketched about the nature and motivation of this form of extremism.

First and foremost, these “lone wolf” or spontaneous homegrown eruptions of Al Qaeda-inspired terrorist impulses, like most forms of domestic terrorism, would appear to be principally the result of alienation. This alienation, from mainstream American society and
culture or US government policies, sets the stage in an individual’s mind for an interest in extremist ideology. Particularly when combined with personal crises or meltdowns, alienation, extremist ideology and despair are frequently found at the basis of violent outbursts or impulses.

In the case of domestic Muslim extremism, alienation is almost always not only from mainstream American society, but from the mainstream Muslim American community as well. In almost all recent cases of domestic Muslim extremism, the accused have been little, if at all, known to local Muslim communities, and almost never engaged in local mosque, community or civic activities. This means that while Muslim Americans will collectively and unfairly pay a price for this kind of extremist sentiment or activity, there is very little their community organizations can do to protect against it.

Such extremists do not have a theology as such, and are largely driven by political rather than religious ideas, although their sense of the political may be expressed through religiously-inflected language. Generally speaking such extremists are motivated by a paranoid and chauvinist worldview akin to ethnic nationalism. This is also true of the more organized self-described “Salafist-Jihadist” groups like Al Qaeda in the Islamic world.

Essentially, this worldview centers on the notion that there is a colonialist and predatory relationship between the West and the Islamic world, motivated by some nefarious purpose ranging from control of the region’s natural resources to a global conspiracy to destroy or defeat Islam as a religious or political force. As with all forms of violent extremism, these individuals see themselves as “fighting back” against an aggressive enemy, although in the Arab and Islamic worlds the fight is focused mainly on local regimes that are seen as either too pro-Western or insufficiently “Islamic,” or both.

The recent spate of cases involving Americans of Pakistani and Afghan origin that seem to be connected to anger about US military presence and activities in Afghanistan or drone strikes in Pakistan demonstrate the connection between some of these extremist sentiments and more widespread objections and even outrage about US policies prevalent in those societies.

This worldview is also the latest soup du jour of an apparently omnipresent appetite for political extremism at the margins of both American society and many parts of the world. It taps into sentiments of alienation, grievance, injustice, righteous anger and implacable opposition to the status quo that would have drawn vulnerable individuals into the orbit of violent ultraleft factions in the 1960s and 70s or the ultraright militia movement in the 1990s, to cite two other recent examples. The apparently disproportionate number of converts to extreme versions of Islam involved in such violent radicalism is another indication of this phenomenon.

The good news is that very few of these cases have resulted in injury or loss of life, and many of them seem to involve individuals with the apparent willingness but not the ability to actually cause harm. In several high-profile cases, undercover law enforcement officers egged these individuals on, sometimes to the point of appearing to border on entrapment.

In other cases, especially involving individuals with military training such as the Fort Hood murder Maj. Nidal Hasan, as with the Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the tragedies have been all too real.

But, while there is no doubt homegrown, spontaneous and “lone wolf” instances of domestic Muslim American extremism are a growing concern, especially for the Muslim American community itself which pays the highest price for such radicalism, the reality is that the actual threat it poses to life and property is, as far as anyone can tell, very limited indeed. As long as it remains, as it is, a marginal phenomenon attracting fringe, alienated and isolated individuals, it will be a challenge with which our society can readily cope.

Hussein Ibish is a Senior Fellow at the American Task Force On Palestine and blogs at www.ibishblog.com.

More On Faith:
Muqtedar Khan: The theology of a homegrown terrorist

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  • big_bors

    Live from Los Angeles!! Why keep blaming Muslims all the time!! Last night watched THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O’DONNELL and he interviwed 4 Tea Party leaders and THESE people look very angry and alienated!! Unfortunately in AMERICA there is a lack of dialogue among everybody and there is a lot of finger-pointing at people who are different!!!

  • jhpurdy

    What was so shocking about the man who tried to blow up the bomb in Times Square (can’t recall his name) is that he was married, a homeowner and had a good job as, I believe, a financial analyst. This was a Muslim immigrant who seemed to have embraced the American dream completely and, as such, he would have been unlikely to show up on anyone’s anti-terrorist watch list. It’s people like that who are truly frightening to me.

  • AKafir

    Big_Bors: So how many Tea partiers do you know who have gone around shooting and beheading and yelling Jesus is Great? How much evidence do you need to accept the simple fact that those who are killing and beheading and wanting to kill us all claim that they follow Islam and that got their motivation from the word of Allah and Muhammad? I know enough to know that what these killers are saying has a basis in reality. They are not totally nuts. It is up to the moderate Muslims who wish to live in peace with the Non-muslims to be honest, speak truthfully, start acknowledging the problem that exists in Islam and deal with it.

  • RobertSF

    Muslim extremism stems from alienation? Sure, that sounds plausible, but Muslim extremism isn’t really a big problem. It’s just a spectacular one.But now let’s look at “regular” Islam. Is there an Islam that rejects Sharia and accepts secular law? Is there an Islam that does not discriminate against women? Is there an Islam that accepts being a private affair and not a public one? Is there an Islam that allows the faithful to leave the religion?The answer is no. There cannot be an Islam that meets any of those qualifications because they are central to Islam itself. And worse, they are completely incompatible with our Western lifestyles. These are no small disagreements. Even without extremism, how can we support what it preaches?

  • RobertSF

    Essentially, this worldview centers on the notion that there is a colonialist and predatory relationship between the West and the Islamic world, motivated by some nefarious purpose ranging from control of the region’s natural resources to a global conspiracy to destroy or defeat Islam as a religious or political force. As with all forms of violent extremism, these individuals see themselves as “fighting back” against an aggressive enemy,Whoa, that is only “violent extremism” because we call it that. They sure don’t call it that. What the above paragraph describes is central Islamic dogma, not loony fringe interpretation.Islam has always seen itself in conflict against the entire rest of the world. While Christianity’s “struggle” is between “good” and “evil,” the Muslim equivalent is between Muslim and non-Muslim.The Muslim struggle is called “jihad,” and it’s utter nonsense to say that it refers to an “inner struggle.” The overwhelming majority of Islamic authorities agree that jihad refers to actual fighting. And if it were an inner struggle, why would the Quran exempt women, children, the frail, and the disabled from jihad? They could do inner struggle if that’s what jihad meant.It is true that Muslims have managed to make an art out of victimism. They cast themselves as victims of the West, yet it is Muslims who invaded and conquered huge parts of the West, not the other way around. Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Lybia were all part of the western world until Muslim invaders conquered them. The Crusades were a feeble attempt to retake the lost lands. Obviously, it went nowhere.

  • Olivia21

    “But, while there is no doubt homegrown, spontaneous and “lone wolf” instances of domestic Muslim American extremism are a growing concern, especially for the Muslim American community itself which pays the highest price for such radicalism”Major Nidal Hassan appears to be a “lone wolf” and I would say that his targets and victims paid the highest price, not the Muslim community. I can understand that the Muslim community may be embarrassed that its religion is represented world wide by terrorists spiritually akin to Maj. Nidal (judging from the loss of life, security and property) that has been so widespread. However, it is not the Muslim community in the U.S. that is “paying a price.” It lives in peace, security and unmatched economic opportunity, just like everyone else. Since most of the violence perpetrated by Muslim terrorists world wide is against other Muslims, I could agree that world wide the “community” pays the highest price for being killed, maimed and terrorized by their fellow Muslims.”Alienation” is a much discussed topic for decades in the western world. Especially by leftists. There are millions of people who experience some degree of alienation. Few of them rise up to kill and maim their fellow human beings as an expression of their alienation, and if alienation is the root of terrorism, Muslims are disproportionately represented in acts of terror.I don’t know what “the” root of terrorism among Muslims is, but it is not “alienation.”

  • GiveMeThat

    Great example of Muslim lying or taqiyya. Here is the reason that shows the author to be a complete liar: There are lots of Bhuddists, Hindus, Sikhs, Bahai’s and so on that are “alienated” in this country. (And I am very sorry that some of these are mistaken for Muslims and are discriminated against.) Yet, these alienated peoples are not shooting people in the army (including a pregnant woman), trying to blow up metro stations and innocent bystanders in Times squares, etc.