Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: The terrorists next door?

GEORGETOWN/ ON FAITH | The bombings at the Boston Marathon brings homegrown terrorism back into the spotlight. Suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were born in Russia, but, as President Obama recently, “Why did these young men who grew up and studied here as part of our communities resort to such violence?” Several decades of research on radicalization of Muslims in the United States and Europe could point to some possible answers.

Contrary to comments by Representative Peter King and others that mosques are the major tool for radicalization, data from Gallup and Pew actually shows that membership and engagement in mosque activities lead to greater civic engagement. Neither Tamerlan nor Dzhokhar were active members of a mosque beyond attending services. We also know that American mosques are not tolerant of extremism and tend to expel radical members. In fact the Los Angeles Times reported that Tamerlan was thrown out of a Cambridge mosque just three months ago after he stood up during a Friday sermon to protest against the imam who was praising Martin Luther King Jr. While some cooperation already exists between Muslim leaders and law enforcement, this incident shows the need for greater partnerships in the fight against radicalism.

More significantly, the Boston bombing confirms a trend that has emerged during the last decade toward self-radicalization through the Internet. Dzhokhar has reportedly told authorities that he and his brother were motivated by religion but were acting on their own. Investigators will continue to look into that claim. What is certain is that Tamerlan had a YouTube account with a playlist of radical activists and Islamic preachers such as Australian native, Feiz Mohammad. The online activities of U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki are comparable to Mohammad’s speeches found on Tamerlan’s account. There is evidence that al-Awlaki’s online diatribes inspired a number of U.S.-based terrorist incidents, including the Fort Hood shooting carried out by Major Nidal Hasan in 2009, the airline bombing attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in 2009, and the attempted plot by Faisal Shahzad to bomb Times Square in New York City in 2010.

Such a process of radicalization is inherently difficult for policymakers, intelligence organizations, and law enforcement to identify because its starts with intolerant discourses that are legally protected by our right to free speech. That is in part why the FBI could not build a case against Tamerlan in 2011 after his visit to Dagestan. In 2007, the Australian Federal Police reportedly investigated Feiz Mohammad’s sermons because they were suspected of breaking laws against racial hatred, and inciting violence and terrorism. This type of operation is not possible in America where there is no law limiting freedom of speech.

It would be misleading however to suggest that control of online materials would allow us to identify or to combat possible radicalization. Studies of radicals in the United States and Europe have shown that ‘disembeddedness’ from society is a near-prerequisite for engagement in radical groups. And while it might be tempting to attribute the attraction to movements like al-Qaeda to social and economic marginalization, neither Tamerlan nor Dzhokhar were marginalized. Tamerlan married an American who converted to Islam and had a young daughter. Dzhokhar is described by his classmates as an easy-going, good student. This information is consistent with what we know about previous terrorists. John Walker Lindh, for example, is from a well-off, liberal family in California. Faisal Shahzad attended university in the states, gained U.S. citizenship, and lived a seemingly well-integrated life with his wife and children in suburban Connecticut.

Tsarnaev, Lind, and Shahzad do however share one thing in common: they are lone wolves, with weak links to strong communities—ethnic, cultural, or religious. Their disembeddedness may be related to conditions of life in major globalized Western cities, which affect both the well educated and the high school dropout. My own research has found that international cities like Boston, London, Paris and New York tend to erode familial ties. In the absence of strong social networks, permanent contact with multiple cultures can lead some individuals to intolerance. Additionally, it is not by chance that most Muslim radicals in the West are novices within Islam. Whether because of conversion to Islam or because emigration disrupted the normal transmission of tradition, their religious education begins not in the family, but in fundamentalist groups or with radical charismatic preachers.

Self-radicalization through social media, global communication and international travel, enormously complicates American counter-terrorism efforts. The time has come to pay more attention to the social processes that lead to radicalization and less attention to the targeting of entire groups based on immigrant status, ethnicity, or religion.

Jocelyne Cesari is senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, and director of Harvard University’s program on Islam in the West.

Weather reporter apologizes to Muslims

28.04.2013

Oumma

Popular Belgian weather reporter, Luc Trellemans, of the national broadcaster RTL Belgium publically apologized to the country’s Muslim community after having expressed Islamophobic views on his Facebook page.

The reporter accused Muslims of ‘mocking our (Belgian) customs’ on his Facebook wall and was met, as a result, with a torrent of outrage in social media circles. His public apology was followed by a public message of the broadcaster RTL, distancing itself from the comments and announcing the immediate suspension of the weather reporter.

Qatar attempts to manage Islam in France

26.4.2013

In a recent article, the left wing paper Liberation reports on the growing influence of the Gulf state Qatar on France’s Muslim communities. The state’s fiscal support network is named as one of the prime drivers to assert Qatari political and cultural influence on religious institutions and the larger community in France.

Prof Brahimi el-Mili (Sciences-Po Paris) considers Islam in France ‘always to have been instrumantalised’ by certain fractions. France’s Muslim community has often come under the influence of outsiders due to its ‘young, abandoned and volatile’ character. According to him, it’s unsurprising that Qatar plays a role in the community, what is however more interesting is the fact that the country ‘invests via the French Council of the Muslim Faith’.

House of Commons Debates Sharia Councils

23 April 2013

 

On Tuesday, 23 April, the House of Commons held a debate on the role of sharia courts in the United Kingdom. With frequent reference to the BBC “Panorama” program on sharia councils which aired the previous evening, Kris Hopkins (Conservative MP for Keighley) sought clarification of the Government’s position on sharia councils and a guarantee that these council would not be allowed to constitute an alternative judicial system. Citing evidence presented in the BBC documentary, Mr. Hopkins raised particular concerns over the unequal treatment of women in matters of arbitration and divorce and called for the prosecution of those suspected of wrongdoing in these affairs.

 

Helen Grant, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, stated plainly that “Sharia law has no jurisdiction under the law of England and Wales and the courts do not recognize it” and that “there is no parallel court system in this country, and we [the Government] have no intention of changing the position in any part of England and Wales.” Both Mr. Hopkins and the Government were careful to emphasize Britain’s proud tradition of religious tolerance and voiced a strong determination to protect the rights of all British citizens.

 

Mr. Hopkins was motivated to broach the issue in Parliament at least in part by a statement from the Bradford Council of Mosques calling for the formalization of sharia councils. The MP expressed particular concern over calls for government recognition of sharia councils. However, local Muslim groups were quick to distance themselves from such a position. Mujeeb Rahman, a member of the Keighley Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, asserted that U.K. Muslims do not want a separate judicial system and that sharia councils in the U.K. would benefit from operating in a more rigorous legal framework.

Multi-Faith Coalition Issues Call to Reclaim St George

22 April 2013

 

A coalition of a number of religious organizations issued a statement on Monday calling for the reclamation of the patron saint of England and “demanding he becomes a representative of all English peoples.” The statement was signed by, among others, the Christian Muslim Forum, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and the Muslim Council of Britain.

 

Of particular issue for the coalition is the employment of St George as a rallying symbol for many right wing extremist groups in the U.K. The association of the Cross of St George with the Crusades has, according to the statement, led some to inappropriately use St George to legitimize ethnic and religious discrimination, particularly against the Muslim community. To counter this narrative, the coalition asks that St George be held up as a symbol of inclusivity and endeavors to “promote a new, relaxed and confident, English national identity. A place where a hijab is as welcome as bangers and mash, and no-one is attacked for their race, religion (or lack thereof) or any other belief.”

 

Some, like Fiyaz Mughal, head of Faith Matters, point out the inappropriateness of using St George as a symbol for right wing hatred. Said Mughal, “The Far Right do not realize that St George was part Greek and his mother came from the city of Lydda in Palestine.” Similarly, the statement issued by the multi-faith coalition points out that St George lived before the birth of Islam and therefore should not be employed as a symbol justifying intolerance toward Muslims.

 

St. George’s Day is celebrated in England on the 23rd of April.

The Diversity Illusion by Ed West – review

Ed West’s The Diversity Illusion has the benefit of being a brazen and breezily written polemic. It is, however, flawed, both in its often-daft analysis and sweeping approach to facts. To pluck a few at random, the author insists that most Tory voters still agree with Enoch Powell, millions of Britons would question the right to contraception, and young Muslims are radicalised by dealing with white liberal academics. West’s arguments are repeatedly undermined by reality. For instance, he points to three London boroughs to prove that diversity undermines education; in fact, London schools have improved so rapidly in the past 10 years – a period of unprecedented immigration – that even children in the capital’s poorest boroughs now do better than the average pupil elsewhere in the country. And to say that aside from food, little innovation has arisen from immigration shows only wilful blindness to both cultural and economic reality. Sadly, such is the myopic vision of misanthropes who live in fear of their country.

The British Dream by David Goodhart – review

A disingenuous approach is all too common in Goodhart’s disappointing book on immigration and diversity, which is strewn with similar straw-man arguments such as the idea that Britain’s civil servants care more about people in Burundi than those living in Birmingham. “To put it bluntly – most of us prefer our own kind.” remains the core of his argument – that human beings favour their own sort and are suspicious of outsiders, so mass immigration fragments society, strains the welfare state and loosens the ties of the nation. He makes a few fair although far from original points, about the weakening of communal links and the way our nervous multiculturalism ignored Islamic extremism and overlooked intolerable practices. But essentially the British Dream is just the stale suspicion of foreigners dressed up in intellectual clothing and given a slight twist to the left. Goodhart picks on the usual soft targets, such as recently arrived Somalis; perhaps he should visit Somaliland before saying “their particular brand of Islam” and “notorious” clan systems are not suited to modern democracy. Indeed, this insular book shows surprising ignorance of overseas development, with its claims that migration damages poor countries despite so many recent studies to the contrary, while also disgracefully downplaying the impact of racism. For all the optimism of the title, this books drips with misplaced pessimism. By the conclusion, its author is still alleging his opponents see immigrants as morally superior people, placing their interests above those of existing citizens. Yet so contorted are his arguments he ends up happily seeking restrictions on Britons bringing in family members, higher costs of care for old people and religious quotas in schools, together with an ill-defined “integration index” for the nation.

Islamic militants Richard Dart and Imran Mahmood Trial

Richard Dart and Imran Mahmood believed they were outwitting surveillance officers when they held a “silent conversation” on a laptop. As they plotted terror attacks and discussed how to make explosives, they had no idea they were leaving a technological footprint that would eventually build into key evidence against them. Over many months, police and experts pieced together 2,000 pages of computer codes, painstakingly translating them back into language “character by character” and piecing them together to make the conversation. In the words of one of the Counter Terrorism detectives involved the practice could be likened to the two terrorists writing on a notepad before ripping out the pages and destroying the paper. However, forensic analysis was able to find the imprint left behind and piece together the shredded. When ordered to stand, Richard Dart refused saying ‘I don’t wish to stand up because I believe ruling and judgement is only for Allah’. Richard Dart, the middle class boy from Dorset who turned into an Islamic extremist, remained defiant to the bitter end as a judge gave him an extended jail sentence for being a dangerous terrorist today. Richard Dart’s extremist beliefs were laid bare in a television documentary made by his step-brother. The film, called My Brother the Islamist, was broadcast on BBC Three in 2011 and featured Dart having close contact with hate preacher Anjem Choudary and declaring that he backed sharia law to eradicate evil in UK society. Bearded Dart, who had only been a Muslim for six months at that point, said: “I support the cause of jihad, that’s part of being a Muslim.”

Birmingham terror plot ringleader jailed for minimum of 18 years

Irfan Naseer and co-conspirators planned attacks that could have been more devastating than 7/7 bombings. The ringleader has been jailed for life and ordered to serve a minimum of 18 years. Irfan Naseer, 31, was described by a judge on Friday as the “leader, driving force and man in charge” of the terror cell in Sparkhill, Birmingham, which planned to set off eight to 10 suicide bombs and timed explosive devices in crowded places. The other leaders of the cell, Irfan Khalid and Ashik Ali, both 28, were handed jail terms of 18 years and 15 years respectively. Khalid, who boasted of creating “another 9/11”, was ordered to serve a minimum of 12 years, while Ali will serve 10 years before he can be considered for parole. Naseer’s plot had the blessing of al-Qaida and was intended to further the terror organisation’s aims. The judge took into account that Khalid, who was under the influence of his “inseparable” friend Naseer, had been found to be in the bottom 2%-5% in terms of cognitive ability. Chemistry graduate Naseer and Khalid, both from Sparkhill, had travelled to Pakistan twice for training – on the second occasion spending two months at an al-Qaida training facility in Miran Shah, north Waziristan, where they had to flee from US drone strikes. The group tried to fund their mission by posing as Muslim Aid charity street collectors in Sparkhill, raising £14,500 within two weeks. The cell’s chief financier, Rahin Ahmed, 26, from Moseley, pleaded guilty to collecting, investing and managing money for terrorism, and assisting others to travel to Pakistan for training in terrorism. He was sentenced to 12 years in jail and will serve at least six before he can be released.

Abu Qatada: Theresa May says the Jordanian government can be trusted not to torture its prisoners but these activists disagree

If the Home Secretary wins her battle to deport Abu Qatada, it will be based on the assumption that he will not be abused. In Amman, Enjoli Liston hears from those who have strong reasons to doubt it. Abdullah Mahhaden was arrested around four hours after he managed to escape from a police crackdown on an anti-government protest in Amman on 31 March 2012. The demonstration had been calling for the release of seven activists. The 25 year-old accountant-turned-activists had wanted to make his voice heard. He ended up at the city’s main police station, where he says he was beaten by as many as 20 police officers. “I was the last one to get caught that night,” Mahhaden told The Independent. “The police started asking me, ‘Why were you demonstrating? How did you know about the demonstration? Who organised it?’ I said, ‘I forget’, so they beat me. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, said this week the Government had signed a mutual assistance treaty with Jordan, complete with new assurances on fair trials, to ensure Abu Qatada can be deported even if the Government’s latest appeal to the Supreme Court is blocked. Hossam al-Kaid, from Aleppo, who studied law in Syria, also works in Amman and agrees: “In Jordan, there is a fear of people like Abu Qatada.” He says he would rather the radical cleric stay in the UK, but if he were to be sent back to Jordan, he believes he would receive a fair trial. Human rights advocates continue to claim otherwise.  “Jordanian law already proscribes torture and the use of confessions obtained under duress, yet judges routinely accept these confessions,” says Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch. The organisation has in the past both praised the Jordanian government for its openness towards investigating human rights abuses in prisons, and criticised its insistence on paying little attention to the results of the investigations. Many Jordanians believe Abu Qatada should remain in the UK. “If England gives back Abu Qatada, it is like a gift for the Jordanian government,” he says. “It is like the English government sending a message to the world that it has ensured that there is no torture in Jordan. And that is not the truth.”