Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Well, the Third Generation of the Global Jihad has landed smack dab back in the middle of the news. First off, apologies for my absence here on D&D -- finals landed pretty hard here at the Fletcher School, and I am only now coming out from under. The news about Faisal Shazhad should have been enough to jar me from my work, and back to blogging, but what can I say. Anyway, in the hopes of starting a discussion of Global Jihadi radicalization in the west (and some blatant self-promotion) here is the conclusion of my most recent paper on the subject. The paper (currently titled "Getting to Boom") seeks to analyze and synthesize the current theories and frameworks explaining self-starter radicalization.

I do hope to be adding more pertinent context vis-a-vis the Times Square "wanna-bomber", but for now, here is my valiant attempt of doing two things at once -- paper writing and blogging:

Conclusions and Today's Threat Environment:

Many scholars, social psychologists, and counter-terror analysts have sought to accurately describe the process of radicalization that transforms a Western citizen to shahid...


The process is amorphous, and one that is supremely individual – a fact that makes the endeavor all the more difficult. These researchers have, through case-studies, data analysis, and network deconstruction, sought to define the process through clearly delineated “stages” or “steps”. The result is a body of work with conflicting definitions and dichotomous interpretations of the motives, drivers, enablers, and issues that drive this process. Moreover, all this research is necessarily done in the rear-view mirror – as the only data available through either open-source or classified sources relates to those who have already radicalized – and sought to act.
Maghaddam likens the process to a staircase that is climbed by the radicalizing individual, who must complete each “step” before proceeding to the next. To Wiktorowicz, a radicalizing individual may simultaneously undergo cognitive opening, religious seeking, and frame alignment – but cannot proceed to the final stage of socialization without the full completion of the previous three. For Sageman, it is an iterative process that drives the individual through constant simultaneous moral outrage, interpretation, and resonance with personal experience, with the chance of network mobilization occurring during – and in between – each successive iteration. For Silber and Bhatt (of the NYPD Intelligence Unit), the process is a linear combination of multiple processes from pre-radicalization to the in-artfully termed “jihadization”.

All scholars agree that many who will embark on this process will not finish it. Some will eventually reject the implications that come from the internalization of the Global Jihad Movement’s ‘grand narrative’, others may radicalize in their world-view but not seek to act out violently – instead choosing to become online force-multipliers of the jihadist message, aptly named “jihobbyists” by counter-terror analyst Jarrett Brachman.

After an analysis of both cases, and the work of these scholars, it becomes clear that a citizen does not go to bed at night, and wake up a shahid – this is a long social and psychological process that necessarily does not occur in a vacuum.

All those who radicalize first experience a crisis that compels them to seek new explanation to define their world – that confirms that their perceived marginalization was not their fault, but the result of powers external to their lives; their moral shock or cultural frustration creates a cognitive opening, which leads many to redefine their identity, and to seek cognitive bridges between their life experience and the common experience of those who share similar grievances. This new interpretation leads many to adopt a new frame for interpreting events both personal and global, and to seek out others with similar interpretations. Finally, few of these citizens will radicalize to the point of action – seeking to strike a blow against the perceived cause of their victimization.

To many western Muslims, this process is defined as a struggle for agency. They begin their radicalization feeling powerless and pushed aside by their home nation or culture, unable to enact change in either their personal lives or within their societies. They can no more find healthy relationships or desired levels of social mobility than they can alter the outcomes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As these frustrated citizens begin seeking alternate explanations for their lack of power, many encounter the grand narrative of the Global Jihad Movement – which espouses the idea that the West is entrenched in a war against the Islamic faith – both abroad in conflict regions like Iraq or Afghanistan, but also domestically against Western Muslim citizens.

To a select few young Muslims, this is at once infuriating and comforting. It causes rage in their perception of the “wrongness” of a seemingly hypocritical west that preaches freedom of faith, while seeking to destroy those who are non Judeo-Christian; but it also comforting in that it allows the individual to explain their unhappiness with their lives as the result of exogenous forces more powerful than they – allowing them to defer responsibility over their status quo to the state. At this point, an individual will begin internalizing this new identity, and adopting a frame that enables them to universally explain all things vis-à-vis this millennial ‘us vs. them’ struggle of faiths through a zero-sum lens. From here, the radicalizing individual will begin seeking new pathways to regain their ‘stolen’ agency by allying themselves with the “underground majority” of the dijihad – and eventually seeking new offline relationships with those like-minded fellow travelers.

This is the crucial point for those radicalizing from citizen to shahid. Offline relationships will provide the individual with a support structure of similarly frustrated individuals, who seemingly reify the perceived “wrongness” of the western status-quo, and whose peer pressure may push all involved to attempt to enact change through violent action. Throughout the Global Jihad Movement’s strategic communications and the multiple sectors of the dijihad, there are many examples of how individuals from around the world have ‘regained their dignity’ through the ‘glory of sacrifice’. To those that are frustrated by their assumed mantle of victimhood, the bloody act of the archetypical shahid is one that allows the suicide bomber to reject the West, victimize the victimizer, show bravery, and show commitment to the ideals of those whom they now consider brothers and sisters in jihad. It allows, in the radicalized mind, for a shocking display of agency – showing that the attacker has ultimate control not only over his or her life, but also over the lives of an attacker’s victims – yet it can be described (in the language of the Global Jihad Movement) not as a selfish act of violence, but as a selfless act of sacrifice for the greater good of the umma.

To the non-radicalized mind, this process is madness – yet, as this paper has shown, radicalization is not a process driven by psychopathic urges. Furthermore, all studies agree that there is no set “type” that will embark on this process. Understanding the logical processes and stages that can transform the citizen to shahid is essential. This threat will not end, and, if the data is to be believed, the threat from self-starter members of the Global Jihad Movement’s third generation is the one the West is worst equipped to counter.

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