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.

Multiculturalism in Europe

The recent victory of socialist François Hollande in France’s 2012 presidential election was certainly a turning point for the social and economic politics of France. Unfortunately, this is less true when it comes to immigration, race, and culture, evidenced by Hollande saying he would firmly support France’s ban on niqabs, or face-covering Islamic veils, and his stance against Turkish accession to the EU.

François Hollande has made clear that he will address the material conditions and worries of French citizens. But he has been quite silent on questions pertaining to cultural diversity and social cohesion, for the simple reason that he shares with Sarkozy the same conception of French national identity, defined as an abstract community of citizens bound together by principles of equality and liberty. In these conditions, the cultural and religious background of citizens is not part and should not interfere with civic solidarity and public life.

However, such an ideal has been increasingly difficult to uphold when Muslims, among other cultural and regional groups, are claiming their right to express their specificity in public space, which has in turn raised the anxiety and fears of a lot of French citizens. These fears have been the main reason for the long-standing political success of the National Front, from its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen to his daughter Marine, the current leader of the party . At the same time, Muslims of all colors and stripes keep asserting that there is no contradiction between being French and being a Muslim.

Nations or groups need to exist in opposition to an ‘Other,’ and in today’s national imagination, Islam plays that role. It may be impossible for societies to completely rid themselves of this polarizing rhetoric.

That said, societies differ in how much their political imaginations are subjected to open critical discussion. Accordingly, it is necessary for French politicians across the political spectrum to explicitly reject economic and social issues being linked to cultural issues or the ‘Islamization’ of Europe. It is also imperative for policymakers to change the dominant narrative of French national identity by including Islamic culture and history.

Such a change would involve a new education project where, from history to arts and culture, Muslims are not described as the Other. It means acknowledging the cross pollination of philosophical and scientific ideas as well as the multiple encounters of artists, merchants, clerics, and migrants from medieval times to the immigration waves after WWII. Most Muslims already acknowledge France as their home and have made numerous artistic and cultural contributions to the French ‘patrimoine.’ The challenge is to reshape French imagination so Muslims can be seen as legitimate fellow citizens.

 

Jocelyne Cesari, Research Fellow in Political Science and Director, Islam in the West Program, Harvard University

4 AP reporters win Harvard investigative prize for stories on NYPD Muslim surveillance

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Four Associated Press reporters won the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting on Tuesday for a series of stories about the New York Police Department’s widespread surveillance of Muslims after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Chris Hawley and Eileen Sullivan won the $25,000 prize for their extensive reporting on the spying programs that monitored and recorded life in Muslim communities.

Alex S. Jones, director of the center that gives out the prize, the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, said the Goldsmith judges “found that the AP had shown great courage and fortitude in pursuing what they knew would be a very sensitive story, but it was one that needed to be told.”

The four reported that police monitored mosques and Muslims around the New York metropolitan area and kept tabs on Muslim student groups at universities in upstate New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The police also sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip with college students.

Shelby Condray

Shelby Condray is the current webmaster for Euro-Islam.info

His work history in technology includes Harvard University Center for Government and International Studies, Boston University School of Management, Yale School of Music, and numerous other organizations both inside and outside of academia.

He has an MDIV from Boston University School of Theology, a MM from Yale University School of Music, and two undergraduate degrees from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

His current interests are the Corporatization of the Media, Human Rights (especially GLBT rights), and late 20th century developments in American Protestantism.

Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi becomes Canada’s first Muslim mayor

News Agencies – October 19, 2010

A grassroots campaign driven by volunteers has delivered Canada its first Muslim mayor – Mr. Nenshi, who scored a staggering win in Calgary’s mayor’s race October 18, 2010. Nenshi defeated two better-funded candidates, including one backed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s campaign team, and saw his support surge in the final few weeks. The 38-year-old Mr. Nenshi survived a smear campaign and a telephone failure in the crucial final days and hours, before running away with what was to be a close vote. His candidacy was branded the “Purple Revolution,” named for his campaign colour and driven by a broad demographic that included strong youth support. “Today Calgary is a different place than it was yesterday. A better place,” Mr. Nenshi said in a speech to his supporters.Voter turnout was high, with early returns suggesting it could reach 50 per cent, well higher than the 33 per cent turnout in 2007.
Mr. Nenshi’s parents emigrated to Canada from Tanzania when his mother, Nury Nenshi, was pregnant with Naheed. They settled in Toronto before moving to Calgary, where Naheed grew up. He attended Harvard University, and at 22 was hired by McKinsey and Company, one of the world’s top consulting firms. After about eight years at the company, he returned to Calgary to be with his ailing father. He has since worked for the United Nations, started his own business, and became a professor at Mount Royal University.

The National Post profiles Canadian Sheema Khan on reconciling her faith with gender concerns

This National Post column features an interview with author, activist and columnist Sheema Khan. Khan describes her family’s immigration history from India to Montreal, and how, as a graduate student in chemical physics at Harvard University, she decided to become more religiously observant and chose to wear a hijab. Khan’s collection of personal essays, Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman (Tsar, 2010), is now available.

Le Figaro finds young Muslims prefer to express themselves on the web

This Le Figaro report suggests that both moderate and radical Muslims in France seek support on the web, that the Imam is only one of many possible guides. While it offers a place for more fundamentalist interpretations like Salafism from Saudi Arabia, the internet is also revolutionizing Muslim thought.

As Jocelyne Cesari, a scholar of Islam at Harvard University, explains, the web allows access to a multitude of perspectives, from orthodox positions to those from outsiders or liberals. This range is apparent on topics as broad as veiling to translations of the Koran. This “democratization” of the sacred text has allowed a greater number of interlocutors on all matters related to Islam.

Conversations with History: Jocelyne Cesari on “Islam in the West”

Jocelyne Cesari – Associate, Middle East Center, Harvard University

Conversations host Harry Kreisler welcomes Harvard’s Jocelyne Cesari for a discussion of the subtle and complex changes transforming Islam practice and thinking as Muslims live and work in the West. Topics covered include: Muslim women, the changes in religious practices, sharia and Western courts, the emergence of moderate voices, and political factors affecing Western perceptions of Islam.

Recorded December 4, 2008

Halal food on US University campuses

Islam Online examines the availability of halal, or Islamically permissible foods on various US university and college campuses. At Stanford University, halal food is widely available on several places of the campus – though it is not already made, but must be done so on-demand. At Harvard University, already-made halal meals on campus have been stimulated by support from wealthy Arab countries. However, such availability is not always the case on other campuses with growing a growing Muslim student body. A Yale student reflects on the dining halls of the university’s New Haven, Connecticut campus. “I didn’t find any halal grocery or meat store on the campus. I had no car and we were frustrated,” reported Imtiaz Ali. Georgia Tech students reported sticking to vegetarian meals, without a halal option at school.

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Harvard sets up women’s gym times to accommodate Muslim requests

Harvard University’s trial policy of denying men use of one of its gyms for six hours a week is causing frustration and controversy among some students. The decision was made to accommodate Muslim women to use athletic and exercise facilities without compromising certain moral obligations relating to gender rules. The Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center has been open only to women from 8-10am on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 3-5pm on Mondays, allowing some Muslim women to dress more suitably for exercising. Critics of the move say that cultural notions of modesty become unnecessarily merged with religion, and cite that while only 6 students complained of no female-only hours, the result is now leaving half of the facility’s members shut out. However, proponents cite that the move is expanding the choice for some women who do not feel comfortable exercising in front of males. While the issue has been the topic of debate on a number of news talk segments, the Harvard Crimson suggests that on campus, students’ negative reactions were more directed towards the media than to the policy change.