N.Y. bomb plot: What radicalizes some converts to Islam?

The case of Jose Pimentel, an “al-Qaida sympathizer” accused of plotting a bomb attack in New York, has once again focused our attention on why converts to Islam appear to be so fascinated by violent jihad. Is there something in the act of conversion that transforms normal citizens into messengers of death?

For the answer, let us look at the pattern of converts to Islam in the West. In the last generation we have had many high profile converts such as Yusuf Islam, a.k.a Cat Stevens, Sheik Hamza Yusef, Ingrid Mattson, and of course, one of the most famous of them all, Muhammad Ali, the great boxer. Each one of them brought their extraordinary talents to Islam and promoted better understanding between Muslims and non Muslims.

So what has changed today? Why are we seeing a number of American converts to Islam plotting against this country? In order to answer this question, I travelled recently for almost a year through the United States with a team of young researchers. We published the findings in Journey into America (2010). What we found was a Muslim community that very much appreciative of being in the United States as proud citizens, but was also sharing a sense of being under siege after 9/11. They saw their religion, culture, and traditions mocked mercilessly. They were conscious of the attacks on mosques and women wearing Islamic dress.