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Tags: Donald Trump | ISIS/Islamic State | Middle East | Ted Cruz | Belgium | Brussels

Criminals Turning to Islamic Terrorism

Criminals Turning to Islamic Terrorism
Anti-terrorism patrol, Morocco (AP) 

Fareed Zakaria By Friday, 01 April 2016 10:04 AM Current | Bio | Archive

The attacks in Brussels, on the heels of those in Paris and San Bernardino, have stoked an already white-hot debate about Islamic terrorism in America.

Many in the West, including the two Republican front-runners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, urge a campaign that targets Muslim communities more directly, searching for those who might be prone to religious extremism and thus terrorism.

But the recent bombings in Europe are being perpetrated by a new generation of terrorists who are upending our previous understanding of what motivates them 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.

Look at the two brothers who planned and executed the Brussels bombings, Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui. Born in a working-class immigrant family (from Morocco) they were not particularly religious and early on chose a life of crime.

By their mid-20s, the two had participated in carjackings and armed robberies.

Ibrahim was sentenced to nine years in prison for attempted murder; his brother, five years for armed robbery. And then, it seems, in prison or after, their journey to jihad began.

Their story is strikingly similar to those of many of the other terrorists in Belgium and France. Few were devout Muslims.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ringleader of the Paris attacks, regularly used drugs and drank alcohol, as did many of his comrades-in-arms.

In August 2014, the New Statesman reported on two British jihadis, both 22, who, before leaving Birmingham for Syria, bought copies of "Islam for Dummies" and "The Koran for Dummies."

A remarkably thorough study by the scholar Rik Coolsaet for Belgium's Egmont Institute tries to make sense of this new wave of jihadis and distinguishes them from previous ones, such as those that turned to al-Qaida before 9/11.

The average age of a European jihadi from 2001 to 2009 was 27.7. Today, it is close to 20.

Then, it took years of religious indoctrination to turn people into jihadis.

Today, the decision to join the Islamic State is usually sudden and impulsive.

Consider one telltale difference. Al-Qaida and its ilk issued fatwas with detailed critiques and politico-religious demands. What are the demands behind the Paris and Brussels attacks?

Writing about these young French jihadis, the great French scholar of Islam, Olivier Roy, points out that 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, Roy points out that often they are revolting against their more traditional, devout immigrant parents. These people are unsure of their identity, rooted in neither the old country or 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. These circumstances would explain why Belgian Muslims make up a disproportionate share of Islamic State volunteers — which is otherwise a puzzle.

The Egmont paper notes that the gap in education and unemployment between natives and immigrants is higher in Belgium than anywhere else in Europe.

Fifteen percent of native-born Belgians live under the poverty line, compared to a staggering half of Belgians with a Moroccan background. In addition, Belgium has a particularly poor record of assimilation, because it has its own crisis of identity, torn between two cultures, Flemish and Walloon.

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 of society, getting radicalized before they get Islamized.

Fareed Zakaria hosts CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS," and makes regular appearances on shows such as ABC's "This Week" and NBC's "Meet The Press." He has been an editor at large Time magazine since 2010, and spent 10 years overseeing Newsweek's foreign editions. He is a Washington Post (and internationally syndicated) columnist. He is author of: "The Post-American World." For more of Fareed Zakaria's reports, Go Here Now.


© Washington Post Writers Group.

Put simply, today's terrorists are not religious extremists who became radicals but rather radicals who became religious extremists.
Belgium, Brussels
Friday, 01 April 2016 10:04 AM
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