JINSA Report #:696
JINSA has frequently remarked on the phenomenon the FBI calls "sudden jihad syndrome" or SJS. SJS afflicts otherwise ordinary young men, provoking them to violence against their fellow citizens - often Jews, but often not. The list of men thus afflicted is long, including the Fort Dix Six, the Lackawanna Six, Naveed Afzal Haq, Hesham Hadayet, Derek Shareef, Sulejman Talovic and others in Portland, Lodi, and Northern Virginia. London, Madrid and Amsterdam have seen outbreaks of the disease as well.
The New York Police Department (NYPD), treading where the Centers for Disease Control apparently fears to go, has attempted to quantify the symptoms, aggravating and mitigating factors, incubation, protection and prevention. The NYPD broke a taboo by acknowledging that jihad is a Muslim phenomenon, not widely extant in other populations.
In a landmark report, Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat, experts studied 11 cases of homegrown jihadists, isolating specific factors that appear to move some people - primarily young men - to radical, violent activity even as most American Muslims remain unmoved by or even repulsed by the idea of violence committed in the name of religion. Among the NYPD's findings:
- Salafist ideology combines Islam with a determination to solve problems through violence. Salafist institutions and literature are readily available in the West.
- Al Qaeda provides inspiration, but generally not operational assistance.
- Susceptible people seek an identity or a cause and often self-identify before finding compatriots. Radicalization has proceeded more slowly in the U.S. than in Europe, where even second and third generation immigrants have trouble assimilating into the local culture - but more quickly since 9-11.
- The Internet is an enabler, providing an anonymous virtual meeting place. Sites other than mosques can provide the sense of community otherwise isolated people may be seeking.
- A "spiritual sanctioner" and an "operational leader" are necessary to move people from the ideological phase to an operational terrorist cell.
- Not everyone who begins the process of radicalization becomes a terrorist; there are several points at which people drop out.
For these valuable insights, the usual suspects have vilified the NYPD as racist and anti-Muslim. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) says the report tarnishes "all Muslims." The New York Civil Liberties Union said, "This report appears to... lay the groundwork for wholesale surveillance of Muslim communities without any sign of unlawful conduct."
Wrong. To understand is not to judge.
The NYPD has performed an extraordinary service to law enforcement organizations coming to grips with the potential for homegrown terrorism. For refusing to gloss over the inconvenient fact that Islamic extremists seek out young Muslim men and entice them toward violence, and for seeking to understand who might in fact be susceptible and why, the NYPD deserves our kudos, our gratitude and our unwavering support.