fbi don't be a puppet

An excerpt from my latest column for the International New York Times on why ‘radicalization’ is a flawed concept. It was published under the headline ‘The Little We Know About the Jihadists in Our Midst’.

The evidence suggests that the concept is flawed and that such anti-jihadist measures are ineffective, even counterproductive. A secret British government memorandum leaked in 2010 dismissed the idea that there was ‘a linear ‘conveyor belt’ moving from grievance, through radicalization, to violence’. A 2010 American study sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security similarly noted that radicalization ‘cannot be understood as an invariable set of steps or ‘stages’ from sympathy to radicalism’.


Many studies show, perhaps counterintuitively, that people are not usually led to jihadist groups by religious faith. In 2008, a leaked briefing from Britain’s domestic security service, MI5, found that far from being religious zealots, many involved in terrorism were not particularly observant.


This view is confirmed by Marc Sageman, a former officer with the Central Intelligence Agency who is now a counterterrorism consultant. ‘At the time they joined, jihad terrorists were not very religious’, he observes. ‘They only became religious once they joined the jihad.’


The paradox is that the concept has become central to domestic counterterrorism policy even as government agencies discover it’s wrong. There is a gap between the reality of jihadism and a political desire for a simple narrative of radicalization.

Read the full article in the International New York Times.


The image is of the FBI counter-terror website aimed at teenagers, Don’t Be a Puppet.


  1. yandoodan

    The lack of religious motivation in many Western Isis converts is striking, and frightening. Could this be an Islamic version of Trumpism? Trumpism is best understood as strong pushback to outsiders trying to destroy the Tribe, to break up those things that make the Tribe great in the eyes of its members. Isis recruits seem to be similar.

    But why the hyper-violence? Trump’s notorious violence is such things as joggling a reporter by the elbow ( and ejecting hecklers who resist being ejected. How do you move from a Trump level of alienation to filling trenches with bodies?

  2. I read the whole article and wondered if it was written by Myriam Francois-Cerrah – a total “defender of the faith.”

    An imam goes on TV or radio and says, “There is no radicalisation going on in mosques,” and nobody challenges him.
    Someone says, “There is a *possibility* that radicalisation *might* be happening in *some* mosques,” and they get challenged.

    Here is a latest BBC report: regarding leading mosque figures belonging to a proscribed group.

    I doubt I need to give a link to the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary “Undercover Mosque,” but I sometimes wonder why they even bothered making it because it seems to have had zero effect on anyone, even with all the things it uncovered.

    Another recent report (BBC or Channel 4), and I wish I had a link, had a family stating that their son changed into Arab dress and even started berating them on their lack of religion. He went on to be a jihadi. The same was said by a British family of a convert who did exactly the same. He died as a jihadi.

    An LBC report two days ago, spoke to a Pakistani professor regarding the attacks in Lahore. One of his thoughts on problems were the multitude of “religious madrassas” which the government have not cracked down on. How many times do we need to hear about Pakistani clerics being used in UK madrassas and Saudi Wahabbi money being used to fund mosques here and populate them with such literature?

    It also does not matter if the Cardiff young men, who went to Syria, ordered “Islam for Dummies,” before going. The link with religion was already there.

    The girls from Bethnal Green who went to join ISIS: One father was found to have attended and extremist rally and been at the forefront when US and Israeli flags were burnt.

    It surprises me that people do not seem to understand how religions work, from the nominal, right through to the orthodox. Anyone can be affected to any sort of degree. Lately, we have had the implication that the people who shot up Paris could not have possibly been “religious” because they were involved in booze and drugs. Some seem to think that the more “religious” you get, the more moral and perfect you get, thereby not ever being in danger of being a nasty person. Absolute and utter tripe.

    I honestly don’t know if some journalists think people in this country were born yesterday.
    Every attempt to tackle extremism always has the same heads popping up, discrediting the attempt.
    You have just joined that group.

    • Perhaps you’d be better off picking a fight, not with me, but with the data, or with the authors of the reports I cite. Questioning mistaken assumptions underlying much current counter-radicalization policy is not the same as ‘discrediting the attempt.. to tackle extremism’. It is, in fact, attempting to make that project credible and successful.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: