American Jihadis: Blame Violence-Prone Boys, Not Islam

Article excerpt

American Jihadis are not a product of Islam. Their emergence is connected to issues of gender and a growing acceptance of violence in America.

The recent arrest in Yemen of Somali-American Sharif Mobley, accused of being a member of an Al Qaeda affiliated group, raises the question: Why are young American men abandoning this country's promise and opportunities to pursue jihad in foreign countries with groups rooted in anti-Americanism?

From concerned citizens to journalists to think tank panels to Capitol Hill, everyone seems to think that the key to understanding "why" these men have turned against America lies in the pathology of Islam. But they're missing something big.

Reporters offer blow-by-blow accounts of these men's religious observance, dwelling on which mosques they attended, which imams they heeded, what clothing they wore, and which verses of the Koran they cited.

Security experts tend to see only a threat of Islamicization and the incompatibility of Islam with American values.

Even Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who killed his fellow soldiers at a time when violent crime and suicide in the military are both on the rise, is cited regularly as an example of home-grown terror with little to no mention of other contributing factors.

By focusing on religion, the discussion about the radicalization of Muslim American youth ignores the more salient factors: gender and an American acceptance of violence.

The literature on masculinity, boys, and violence is well developed, yet seemingly disregarded in examinations of these Muslim Americans. What if we were to invite such experts into this conversation?

Dr. Rhea Almeida, founder of the Institute for Family Services and who works with Muslim American boys, explains that this radicalization is rooted in the same sorts of dynamics that can lead other boys to other kinds of violence from gangs to school shootings - essentially, the need to find status and assert masculinity in a society where they are marginalized and thereby emasculated, whether for their race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, or religion.

Of course, being marginalized within the greater American society is not the only factor. The diverse, toxic cocktail that can lead an individual to choose violence (and it is a choice) includes mental- health issues and problems in his family, school, personal, and community lives as well. These combined factors need to be examined if we want to understand why individuals turn to radicalization - not just the sura of the Koran.

The alienation that can lead Muslim American youth, already sensitive and on the defense for being a misunderstood minority in America, to radicalization is further compounded by the fact that there are few spaces in which disaffected young Americans can express their legitimate dissent, frustration, and anger with certain government policies.

In the absence of places where legitimate concerns about both domestic and foreign policy can be explored in the flesh, among a multitude of voices (including women), and in a real-time give-and- take, youth go "underground" or to the Internet. …

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