In his first public statement, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev apologized to his victims, saying: “I am sorry for the lives I have taken. Is it safe to say that he was genuinely sorry? If so, then what made this jihadist commit such a heinous crime?
Indoctrinating people like Tsarnaev and bringing them to the point where they are ready to sacrifice their lives does not happen overnight.
Although he was hardly an observant Muslim, Tsarnaev was inculcated by the same method the Muslim Brotherhood uses to spread Islam to the West. This method teaches that the traditional interpretation of Islamic sources is the true interpretation. This traditional interpretation flows from the literal language of the sources, so just teaching the sources is sufficient to ensure that young Muslims, like Tsarnaev, come to accept its meaning.
Another jihadist and North Carolina teen, Nolan Sullivan, was recently arrested for “plotting to kill Americans on behalf of ISIS.” On Monday, ABC11 reported that “Sullivan allegedly contacted an undercover FBI agent describing himself as ‘a mujahid’ [jihadist] and a Muslim convert.”
Amidst these and other instances, one might wonder how long it takes for a person to become radicalized enough to participate in acts of terror.
Homegrown jihadists like Nolan and Tsarnaev often start their journey by joining a group or center where they study the traditional interpretation of the Quran. This interpretation teaches that every verse in the Quran is still applicable today and jihad is the most important duty for Muslims. Once passionate American youth accept the traditional interpretation, they are on the threshold of radicalization — a point where they could gravitate toward jihad at any moment.
Although the demographics of fundamentalist movements vary, examining the root cause of each movement is important. The root cause of jihadism is the traditional interpretation of Islam.
When it comes to fighting homegrown terrorism, however, going after religious organizations that teach the traditional interpretation can be difficult. This is especially problematic when groups that claim to be moderate do their best to make such inquiries appear threatening and even unwarranted. As a result, authorities prefer to divert attention from the real problem and blame social media. But social media comes into play only after radicalization has taken place. The homegrown jihadists who have already been radicalized mostly use social media, as a travel agency or a training camp, to learn how to join jihadi organizations or learn how to act on their own.
Prison is one of the places where fundamentalists, who actively spread their traditional understanding of Islam, prey on inmates in order to make them strong believers ready to stand for sharia law and jihad whenever needed. After their release, the inmates who have already accepted fundamentalist’ teachings may get to the point where they feel religiously responsible to either wage jihad on their own or join a jihadi organization.
There are also places outside of prison where Jihadist missionaries spread their message. They understand the mechanisms that reinforce the American system, a knowledge that helps them safely operate under the protection of “The Free Exercise Clause” of the First Amendment. While the exercise of freedom of religion is an important right, it is crucial to recognize the key role jihadist missionaries play in the growth of homegrown terrorism.
Though spreading hate and intolerance is protected by the First Amendment, it goes against the spirit of the U.S. Constitution, which is to guarantee life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans. Therefore the balance between liberty and security needs to be maintained, without focusing on one right and ignoring the other.
Ghasem Akbari is certified by the Iranian Bar Association as a Number One Attorney, is admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of Iran, and is the author of two books and numerous articles.
Maria Sliwa is an adjunct professor of Journalism at Columbia University @MariaSliwa