In his latest book, United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists (Crown 2016; $28), CNN’s national security analyst Peter Bergen discusses the factors leading to the radicalization of U.S. citizens, how social media plays a big part in recruitment and the increase in the number of women joining terrorist groups. His book, made into documentary, aired on HBO a few weeks ago.
Compiling a database of people in the U.S. who were either born or grew up here to help determine how they became radicalized, Bergen describes them as being, for the most part, seemingly ordinary. Of the 330 people charged with jihadi terrorism in this country since 9/11, 80% were American citizens or permanent residents. The majority were also well educated and about one-third were married; their average age 29. Almost 20% are women.
So what happens? Many radical Islamists become militant not only for religious or political reasons says Bergen, but also for the sense of belonging which comes from being part of a group and the need to be seen as “somebody.”
Bergen notes interesting parallels in such cases as that of Major Nidal Hasan, an army psychiatrist who opened fire at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13 of his peers and injuring 30 more. Educated and successful in the military, it’s hard to decipher what led him to become a terrorist while his first cousin, Nader Hasan, who was raised in the same neighborhood, is a well-established attorney in Northern Virginia.
The ease of recruitment using modern technology helps recruit from a younger group of people and crosses gender lines.
“Those drawn to ISIS skew younger,” he says adding that more females than in previous generations are becoming militant. Indeed, one in five is a teenage with the youngest being a 15-year-old girl.
But despite the alarm that acts of terrorism on American soil bring about, Bergen says that statistically they’re not necessarily a significant threat.
“In any given year, you’re somewhere between 3,000 or 5,000 times more likely to be killed by a fellow American with a gun than you are to be killed in the United States by a jihadi terrorist inspired by the ideology of Osama bin Laden,” he says.
What: Peter Bergen talk and book signing
When: 5:30–7:15 pm, Wednesday, March, 16
Where: Union League Club, 65 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL
Cost: Members $10; Nonmembers $20
FYI: 773-2 93-2665; bookcellarinc.com