Monday, February 20, 2017

Book Review: United States of Jihad

by Shea Robinson, Fiction Department, Central Library

United States of Jihad (2016)
Peter Bergen

United States of Jihad: Investigating America's Homegrown Terrorists examines the cases of American citizens that have been charged or convicted with crimes of terrorism. Since September 11, 2001, approximately 330 American citizens have been prosecuted for some form of jihadist terrorist crime. While some of these crimes have occurred within the borders of the US, others have been terrorist conspiracies that took place in other countries. These crimes are categorized as a form of treason since the intent of this radical ideology is to kill Americans. This book examines the circumstances, training, and motivations that led these particular individuals to commit these crimes.

The author, Peter Bergen, is a professor within the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University. He is also a CNN national security analyst and has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee. He has also performed extensive counter-terrorism reporting concerning Al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, and Iraq for numerous sources such as Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek. This is his 7th published book regarding the subject of terrorism, with three among them becoming New York Times bestsellers.

American jihadists form a small percentage of the American Muslim population. They come from a multitude of various backgrounds, spanning races, socioeconomic status, and age. There are no generalizations to be found within this group of individuals. Their average age is 29 and more than one-third are married and have children. Less than 15% have been incarcerated and only approximately 10% experienced mental health disorders. On average, their educational and emotional level is on par with the typical American citizen.

This spawns the question of how these typical Americans became terrorists. Based on the studies of law enforcement officials, terrorism experts, and psychologists that have examined these cases in-depth, the pool of knowledge has increased regarding the motivations of those who turn to terrorism.
Several recruits have been prompted by a need for recognition or a desire to belong to an organization with a higher purpose. Jihad granted them that opportunity. Many of these recruits felt they were taking part in a holy war against the enemies of Islam. They were able to act out a heroic fantasy with the belief that Allah was backing their mission.

The majority of the militant terrorists outlined within this book subscribe to the branch of Islam known as Salafism. This branch has extremely fundamentalist beliefs and promotes intolerance of Islamic deviancy from the Koran. Though there are millions of peaceful Salafists throughout the world, most of the terrorists within this group developed a politicized view of the religious branch. Their belief in the sanctity of the Islam land inspired them to perform what they viewed as acts of revenge against Americans, their supposed enemy.

I found this book did a commendable job examining the cases of homegrown jihadist terrorism within the US. The work itself was extremely well-documented, which was to be expected given Peter Bergen's extensive credentials. He utilized the research and statistics composed by the New York Police Department and FBI, but did not allow that to bias his observations. For example, in some cases, he implies that the FBI committed acts of entrapment during their sting operations. Additionally, he documents the NYPD surveillance and intelligence gathering methods concerning the targeting of mosques as possible racial profiling and/or an invasion of civil rights. He allows the reader to decide if law enforcement agencies crossed the line with their investigations.

The only aspect of this book that I found inadequate was the lack of inclusion of American women that have attempted to join ISIS or commit domestic terrorist crimes. There has been extensive media coverage regarding women that are joining ISIS in large numbers. I would have enjoyed examining some research chronicling their motivations and experiences.

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