Friday, August 17, 2007

New York City Counterterrorism Report: Profiling, Stereotyping, or Common Sense

The New York City (NYC) Police Department report on terrorism, mentioned in a Washington Post article yesterday (August 16, 2007), is the sort of long, detailed, official document that generally doesn't make the news. In fact, the paper only said enough about the report to give readers a general impression of its contents:

"The 90-page report, compiled by two police counterterrorism analysts, argues that the danger posed by homegrown radical Islamists is growing, fueled by Internet communications and the growing global popularity of jihadist ideology.

"But the report also concedes that "there is no useful profile . . . to predict who will follow this trajectory of radicalization" because those who end up being radicalized begin as 'unremarkable' individuals 'from various walks of life.'

"...The report by analysts Mitchell D. Silber and Arvin Bhatt outlines a four-step process, from 'pre-radicalization' to 'jihadization,' that it says is undergone by most terrorists before participating in an attack. The transformation is often triggered by a personal crisis and includes common elements, such as a withdrawal from attending a mosque as the person's isolation increases, the report says."

I found more about the Silber-Bhatt report in the New York Post - "THE ROAD TO LOCAL JIHAD" (August 16, 2007). "Excerpted from "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat," a report prepared by senior NYPD intelligence analysts Mitchell D. Silber and Arvin Bhatt for Police Commissioner Ray Kelly." There's quite a bit more about the report here.


The Silber-Bhatt report identifies four stages on the road to "jihadization," or being a terrorist. I'm going to boil it down even more: I suggest that you read the article, since I'm leaving out quite a bit of detail.
  1. Pre-Radicalization
  2. Self-Identification
  3. Indoctrination
  4. Jihadization
Expanding on that list,
  1. Pre-Radicalization: This is when the terrorist-to-be is an ordinary, run-of-the-mill person, with an ordinary life and job. There's usually no criminal history.
  2. Self-Identification: The person starts moving toward Salafi Islam (1), and away from their old identity. They start associating themselves with people with the same mind-set, and adopt this ideology as their own. What sets this "religious seeking" off is is a cognitive opening, or crisis, which shakes the person's certainty about what they believed before. The person is open to new world-views.
    The trigger can be: losing a job; alienation, discrimination, or racism (real or imagined, as long as the person feels it); political, like "international conflicts involving Muslims" (my own guess is that politics on the regional or local level could be a trigger, too); death in the family, or another personal crisis. Self-identification is basically an individual act. However, being part of a group with similar beliefs is important, especially as the next step gets closer.
  3. Indoctrination: The person "progressively intensifies his (2) beliefs," swallows jihadi-Salafi, ideology and an all, and concludes, no questions asked, that it's time for action. Specifically, militant jihad. The person is helped (and pushed) through this phase by a "spiritual sanctioner." Being with people who are in a similar frame of mind, and with similar beliefs, gets more important: particularly as the person sinks deeper into the group's beliefs. "By the indoctrination phase this self-selecting group becomes increasingly important as radical views are encouraged and reinforced."
  4. Jihadization: This is where members of the little band accept being part of jihad as their individual duty. They call themselves as holy warriors, or mujahedeen. Sooner or later, they get practical and get into "acts in furtherance." These acts include planning, preparation and execution: of people; or the plans; or both. The earlier parts of getting radical can be gradual, covering two or three years or more. Jihadization can happen fast, anywhere from a few months to a few weeks.
A Washington Post article mentioned that this process "includes common elements, such as a withdrawal from attending a mosque as the person's isolation increases." Although dropping out of a mosque is a common part of the jihadization process, the report includes mosques, as well as cafes, cabdriver hangouts, prisons, student associations, nongovernmental organizations and hookah bars, in its list of places where radicals can be hatched.

The Washington Post's "Terror Threat Grows Quietly, Report Warns" article wraps up its description of the NYC Police report with a quote, "'The subtle and non-criminal nature of the behaviors involved in the process of radicalization makes it difficult to identify or even monitor from a law enforcement standpoint,' the report concludes."

That's the report. Here are some reactions to it.

"Making all Muslims suspects is ethnic profiling, and it's unconstitutional," said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. (from the Washington Post) (NYCLU is the (New York State affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union)

"So while labeling almost every American Muslim as a potential terrorist, the report's authors admit that their findings offer no useful way to identify real terror suspects." (from a Council of Council on American-Islamic Relations press release, "CAIR: NYPD Terror Report Casts Suspicion on All U.S. Muslims," August 15, 2007)

The NYPD report was "unfortunate stereotyping" and at odds with federal law enforcement findings that the threat from homegrown terrorists was minimal, according to an Arab-American civil rights group.. "It [the report] is completely un-American; it goes against everything we stand for," said Kareem Shora, executive director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "We do not want to alienate any segment of any community, and by using that language you are actually aiding the extremists in their recruiting efforts."

Under the circumstances, I'd say the reaction to this report is fairly mild. Two days after the excitement started, news coverage I've seen has been subdued or non-existent.

It's early days, though.

Major players in the civil-rights game, like CAIR and the ACLU, through its New York State affiliate, as well as relatively unknown groups like the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee started with the predictable accusations of profiling, and stereotyping.

My guess is that, if New York City law enforcement starts acting on this report, there will be more-or-less wild accusations of civil rights violations, profiling, and, of course, racism.

What got relatively little attention in coverage of the NYC Police report was that Muslims in America haven't gotten radicalized the way that Muslims in Europe have. I think that this reflects something that the civil-rights community in general has a great deal of difficulty understanding about this country.

Every identifiable group of immigrants have been viewed by suspicion by some, and occasionally subjected to discrimination (real discrimination: not I-was-arrested because-I'm-Yougarian thing (3)) on an official level, in America. Just the same, this country is much more comfortable about having one more ethnic group living here than European countries seem to be.

I think it's because by now we're accustomed to having corned beef and cabbage, enchiladas, potato curry, and stir-fried bean curd on menus downtown, and the people who eat these dishes at home, living within a few blocks.


(1) Wahhabi fundamentalist Islam. Adherents more often refer to teachings of the reformer Abd Al-Wahhab as Salafi, that is, "following the forefathers of Islam." "Wahhabi" is a common term for the same group, although Salafi Muslims do not generally use it. People who belong to this type of Islam call themselves Muwahhidun (that is, "Unitarians," or "unifiers of Islamic practice"). Wahhabism is one a particular set of beliefs within Salafism. Most Islamic "puritanical" groups are Salafi, but not necessarily Wahhabi.
(2) Although I found no news report which mentioned this gaffe, the NYC Police report seems to be sexist, too. At least, by PC standards.
(3) Yougarian: Of or relating to Yougaria, a fictional country of uncertain location. I use it sometimes, as a generic term: mostly because it's somewhat more adaptable, and much cooler, than "foreigner."

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.