This editorial by Prof. Bowen was published in the News Leader (Staunton VA: June 3, 2009): A9.
by Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
(Professor, Depts. of Political Science and of International Relations, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
Since it sometimes is difficult to read every word of a scanned article (as above), here is a clear copy of the original version of this editorial for readers' reference:
The Obama Administration has stopped using the terms “War on Terrorism;” it’s now a narrower “war on Al Qaeda and its affiliates.” Both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also have hinted at a need to begin talking to other Muslim extremists: Taliban terrorists who have joined up “out of desperation.” Infinite patience with terrorism-sponsoring Iran, too, seems the fad of the day. But in New York on May 20, four “unaffiliated” would-be Islamist terrorists, three born in and all raised in the U.S.A., were arrested on charges of plotting to bomb New York area houses of worship and to shoot down U.S. military aircraft here in America.
It seems there still is a war involving Islamist terrorists in general; we just no longer are officially calling it that.
F.B.I. informants apparently had penetrated the New York jihadist cell, based upstate in Newburgh, NY, for some time. Before they swooped in to arrest these guys, their seriousness was assessed: they wanted to buy plastic explosives and Stinger surface-to-air missiles, and the F.B.I. gladly supplied them some fakes. The would-be terrorists, James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen, all would apparently prefer to be called by their chosen Arabic names. But, exotic as that would make the story seem, it would also confuse us: there are among us now red blooded Americans who prefer the tactics and goals of Osama bin Laden, and want to bring them to a place near you.
The phenomenon of “home-grown terrorists” truly ought not surprise us. Less than two weeks ago, on May 12, a Miami jury convicted five would-be Al Qaeda members in a plot to blow up one of America’s tallest buildings, Chicago’s Sears Tower. In a videotape presented in evidence at the trial, Narseal Batiste, one of those convicted explained their motive: “I want to fight some jihad.” No matter how many gullible students are instructed by oh-too-politically-correct teachers about the peaceful nature of Islam, at least in Mr. Batiste’s mind, his desire to do violence IS all about his religion. So, too, are the motives of this terror cell in New York. Transcripts of tapes made of one of the New York defendants, James Cromitie, show he lamented that the "the best target [i.e., the World Trade Center] was hit already.” Cromitie’s motive should be obvious, and you don’t need a Ph.D. to connect these dots; on tape, he revealed his purpose: to “do jihad.” The targets they sought to hit supply additional context: they wanted to shoot down U.S. military aircraft, and they wanted to attack a Jewish temple and a Jewish community center in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
Why do some American Muslims go so terribly wrong? Political scientists who study the process of radicalization cannot point to a simple predictor of who will “go terrorist.” We know, for example, that it is not typically economically disadvantaged individuals who turn in this direction, nor is it the poorly educated. The New York cell apparently became radicalized while in prison. These features hardly narrow things down enough to guide police work.
Steps forward are being taken, however. With careful study of the life histories of 117 recent home-grown terrorists in the U.S. and Britain, in April 2009 a well reasoned answer emerged in a new study sponsored by the Washington-based think tank, The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Authors Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Laura Grossman suggested that there are six key factors: the adoption of a legalistic interpretation of Islam, coming to trust only a select and ideologically rigid group of religious authorities, viewing the West and Islam as irreconcilably opposed, manifesting a low tolerance for perceived religious deviance, attempting to impose religious beliefs on others, and the expression of radical political views. Of these six, the authors suggest that the most important thing may be homegrown terrorists’ understandings of their religion and what it requires of them.
Listening to the aspirations and hopes, the fears and phobias of young people is part of the daily duty of counselors, teachers, recreation center leaders, and many other occupations. In a time of war, when willing collaborators with the cause of the terrorist enemy repeatedly have emerged from within our own society, it also is among the things that must be done by law enforcement officials, and those who seek to assist them. Malicious mentors are out there. Just this month, a New York jury convicted Al Qaeda’s Oussama Abdullah Kassir of operating a terrorism training camp in Bly, Oregon in the early 2000’s.
Kassir abandoned the project due to the “paltry number of people” interested in the training he had to offer. He was captured in Sweden in 2007, on his way to the terrorist-haven of his birth, Beirut, Lebanon. As the New York wannabees’ case from this week shows, it seems Kassir only needed to be more patient.
Written: May 25, 2009
Gordon L. Bowen
(Professor Bowen was an Academic Fellow affiliated with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in 2006-07.)
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