Adam Hedengren
Last updated: 28 May, 2012

3 things you (probably) did not know about Al Qaeda and radical Islamists

Al-Qaeda recruits are often converts from the West or Muslims with western citizenships who have cut cultural ties to the Middle East. In speeches and in his widely acclaimed book, Globalised Islam, Olivier Roy gives some rather surprising remarks about the nature of radical Islam.

1) As much as 20% of Al Qaeda cells are made up of converts that have been born and raised outside the Muslim world, often in Europe and the US. In sharp contrast to other Islamist groups, converts in Al Qaeda are able to reach comparatively high positions of responsibility.

2) Radical Islam is not the expression of traditional Middle Eastern societies; many of the youngsters joining Al Qaeda or other terrorist organisations are by different ways uprooted people. Most of them became born-again Muslims or converts in Europe, and not in the Middle East or under influence of traditional Middle Eastern religious schools or individuals. Hence, what we see is a deculturation amongst the young people who join Al Qaeda and other militant Islamist groups. In essence, they reject the way their parents and grandparents by default accept traditional religious authority.

“When they decide to go for jihad, for action, for fighting, none of them – except for a few Pakistanis of Great Britain – did return to the country of origin of his parents,” said Olivier Roy at the Council of Foreign Relations.

When turning to radical Islam, these individuals break with the past, the family and their history. Almost all of them speak Western languages and sometimes have little knowledge of Arabic.

“In the Hofstad group in Holland, the group leader was the son of an American military official and a Dutch woman who had converted to Islam in Pakistan. So we have total de-territorialization. The guy probably had an identity problem. Who is he? Dutch, American, Muslim?” asked Olivier Roy at the Carnegie Council.

3) Radical Islamist movements can be compared to the wave of ultra-leftist radicalism that we saw in the West during 1960s and 1970s; there is a similar connection between middle-class intellectuals, school dropouts and uprooted people. They also share the same commitment to global revolution and/or global jihad. Members of both movements have traditionally moved from one liberation movement to another, or from one jihad to the other. They also have in common the same lack of rooting in real society; no political party, no union, no real organisation.

”A bunch of young guys who decide to fight the world order”, says Olivier Roy.

Globalized Islam can be purchased from Amazon.