In sp!ked, Frank Furedi examines the recent phenomenon of “nice guys” turning into terrorists:
… homegrown terrorism is viewed as a problem of ‘radicalisation’, where young people are seen as having effectively been warped by some imam or ideology promoter. So within days of the Boston bombers being identified, a local mosque was blamed for radicalising Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Others have looked for alternative sources of radicalisation, such as jihadist courses on YouTube or extremist Islamist websites. The theory of radicalisation is based on the premise that the lure of jihad politicises otherwise disgruntled individuals and transforms them into hardened militants.
Yet it is not clear what exactly constitutes the lure of jihad. Young people who are attracted to jihadist websites rarely adopt a new worldview. In fact, their perspective is very similar to numerous non-Muslim Westerners who visit nihilistic websites and become fascinated by destructive themes and image. Those who visit jihadist sites are choosing a fad rather than a coherent ideological outlook. In this regard, it is worth noting that some radicals arrested for terrorist activities in Europe are neither religious zealots nor political idealists. A study of ‘The Mujahideen Network’, a Swedish internet forum, discovered that its members’ knowledge of Islam was ‘virtually non-existent’ and their ‘fascination with jihad seems to be dictated by their rebellious nature rather than a deep ideological conviction’ (5). In other words, these people seem to have been driven by their estrangement from society rather than being pulled by a vibrant and dynamic alternative.
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In fact, there are formidable cultural forces that denigrate the West’s historical achievements and its traditional belief in progress and enlightenment. Some commentators argue that the West, finding it difficult to believe in itself, faces a moral crisis. In such circumstances, is it any wonder that many young people feel deeply estranged from the Western way of life? Fortunately, only a handful opt for the nihilistic course of action taken by the Boston bombers. But the real problem is not to be found in the impressionable minds of youths but in the failure of society to inspire these young people with positive and forward-looking ideals.
Young people are not being seduced by mystical jihadist ideologies; they are being driven away by a society that fails to lead or enthuse or move them. There will, of course, always be a handful of confused and disturbed individuals who opt for acts of violent destruction. But as long as their community believes in itself, the damage they cause will be contained. The experience of the post-9/11 world shows that winning the arguments for an open society is the most effective answer to the threat of terror.