Friday, August 14, 2009

Generation Islam 1: Many young Muslim terrorists spurred by humiliation

People often assume that Muslim youth who turn to violence are ill-educated fanatics inspired by visions of meeting virgins in paradise. But that portrait is rarely true, terror experts say. "They are not crazy people," says James Jones, author of "Blood That Cries Out From the Earth," a book that examines the psychology of religious terrorism. Terrorist groups] don't recruit psychotic people, they are unstable, exactly what you don't want.

Then who are these Muslim men and women who turn to violence? Terror experts say they are shaped by several common factors.

They see no way up or out

Fathali M. Moghaddam, director of the conflict resolution program at Georgetown University in Washington, says some Muslim youth may embrace violent causes because they believe they have no chance for upward mobility in their country. "Imagine if you're a 20-year-old and you want to get on in Egypt or Saudi Arabia," Moghaddam says. "You better be connected by family or know somebody important."

Many don't view politics as a plausible vehicle for social change. Their countries are often run by dictators who crush secular opposition groups -- with the tacit support of the U .S. government, these youth believe. The only opposition groups that these Middle East dictators dare not attack are those based in the mosque, Moghaddam says. Those mosque-based groups, though, tend to be open to the influence of fundamentalists.

"There's no opportunity for voice, no opportunity to express yourself. Politics is out of the question for the secular opposition -- you're either dead or go to jail." Politics, though, is part of the answer for Hamas, an Islamic fundamentalist group that rules Gaza. The group, which has admitted responsibility for attacks against Israel soldiers and civilians, won a landslide victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative election. Video Watch a young man who chooses to join the Hamas militia »

"Some young people are inevitably attracted to the more risky positions and actions taken by a group such as Hamas because Hamas is critical of corrupt and inept dictators in the Arab world," Moghaddam says. "This resonates with Arab youth."

They're driven by a sense of humiliation

Some Muslim youth may turn to violence for another reason: revenge. Basel Saleh, an assistant economics professor at Radford University in Virginia, recently studied the socioeconomic factors that helped shape 82 Palestinian suicide bombers and 240 militants. He says he knows those factors firsthand.

Saleh's father's village was razed by the Israelis in 1948 and is now an Israeli settlement. He says he grew up in the West Bank where he once considered using violence to vent his anger after a group of Israeli soldiers came to his family's home unannounced and interrogated him while his younger sister cried. "But I was on the verge of getting there," he says. "I almost crossed that line."

Most Palestinian youth who did cross that line weren't driven by religion, Saleh says. "Many weren't motivated by Islamic fundamentalism," he believes of the Palestinian militants in his study. "They were motivated primarily by personal grievances. They had been arrested, shot or seen family arrested."

Saleh says some Palestinian youth who believe Israeli soldiers have mistreated their family members may feel duty-bound to retaliate with violence. Protecting one's family against humiliation is important in Middle Eastern culture, he says. "If anything is done to your family, it's personal," Saleh says. "It has to do with the honor of the family. Family is everything in the Middle East. Your honor is defined by your family."

Saleh says if Israel did more to help improve Palestinians' living conditions, fewer Palestinian youths would turn to violence. You have to open a new path for them [Palestinians]," he says. "They want freedom of movement. Give them an airport, a port. Don't demolish their schools and their universities. Pay attention to basic human rights."

The anger felt by some Palestinian youth is also stoked by propaganda, says Michael Jacobson, a senior fellow in The Washington Institute's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. Hamas sponsors children television shows and summer camps that are designed to indoctrinate Palestinian children with the same message, Jacobson says.

  • "Experts: Many young Muslim terrorists spurred by humiliation", CNN, 8/13/09.
  • "Israeli soldiers killed unarmed civilians carrying white flags in Gaza, says report", Guardian, 8/13/09.
  • "White Flag Deaths: Killings of Palestinian Civilians during Operation Cast Lead", Human Rights Watch, 8/13/09.
  • "Report accuses HAMAS of war crimes", Al Jazeera, 8/13/09.
  • "HAMAS", Council for Foreign Relations, 1/7/09.



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I am a law enforcement professional with over 35 years experience in both sworn and civilian positions. I have service in 3 different countries in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

My principal areas of expertise are: (1) Intelligence, (2) Training and Development, (3) Knowledge Management, and (4) Administration/Supervision.

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