Gringo Lost

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Why people join terrorist groups

with 7 comments

Last week NYTimes Magazine ran the story The Jihadist Next Door which chronicled the radicalization and self-recruitment of Omar Hammami, a member of the terrorist group al Shabaab in Somalia.

Hammami, who grew up in Alabama a product of a middle-class family in a two-religion household, began his radicalization while in high school. According to the story, during his sophomore year in 2000 Hammami defended Osama bin Laden after a classmate suggested bin Laden be shot dead for his involvement with the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

“What if I said that about Billy Graham?” said Hammami to his classmate, a Christian.

“Billy Graham is a peaceable preacher,” said the classmate “Osama bin Laden is a terrorist.”

In reply, Hammami said “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

From here, the article takes the story of Hammami and reveals some insight into how individuals go from unlikely beginnings to become international terrorists.

In my opinion (*not a psychologist), Hammami had some behavioral traits that are fairly common amongst Islamic radicals who resort to terrorism. Specifically, recognition and popularity amongst Islamic peers seemed to drive Hammami’s participation in violent jihad. Reportedly, Hammami’s feelings towards the conflict in Somalia and the suppression of the Islamic armed group al Shabab hardened his resolve to fight. Paraphrasing from the article:

By 2006, Hammami had become convinced that “jihad had become an obligation.”  And further, he wanted to help his “captive brothers and sisters” while helping himself “obtain the highest rank available” as a Muslim. In August 2006 Hammami wrote “where is the desire to do something amazing? Where is the urge to get up and change yourself — not to mention the world and other issues further off?”

Eventually, Hammami would travel to Somalia and join up with al Shabaab, which brings me to my next point: along with notoriety, I feel individuals become radicalized because they embrace conflict and have a proclivity towards merciless adventurism. In essence, they are jihad adrenaline junkies. I think this trait is shared amongst other jihadists, like the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Thus along with the ascetic of traditional Islamic life, these radicals also enjoy the popularity and adventure that violent jihad can give them.


Written by gringolost

February 3, 2010 at 7:11 pm

7 Responses

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  1. Billy — great post here on a really fascinating article! I think there is also something beyond pure adventurism as well. For a few young muslims (typically second or third generation immigrants), there is a decided attraction to the brand of cultureless Salafism that groups like Al Qaeda promote. As these young muslims begin seeking to define themselves within their community, it can be difficult process. This is exacerbated in situations where muslim immigrants are marginalized economically or politically. To the children of these immigrants, it is a hard decision: should the adopt the culture that their parents or grandparents belong? Their home culture? Or, should they begin looking for a community of equals that has the appeal of counter-culture, and provides perceived empowerment? While this is merely one step towards the kind of radicalization that Hammami underwent, it is an important one. Keep the great posts coming!

    Jeff Schneider

    February 23, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    • Good point Jeff. There’s plenty of reasons why someone would join a terrorist group and the acceptance into a cultural click is going to be one for many people.

      What you say about 2nd and 3rd generation Muslims turning to terrorism is interesting. The same phenomenon occurs with many 2nd and 3rd generation immigrant youth in America. Many criminal gangs, especially out West (i’m not sure for the east coast), get a lot of their members from this demographic.


      February 24, 2010 at 12:03 am

  2. I want to join terrorist group. plz one can help me.

    smruti das

    March 17, 2010 at 8:38 am

  3. i want to john terrorist group please help me out


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