Terrorism and the African American Muslim Community After 9/11

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Since 9/11/01, national and international publics have been compelled to deal with the problem of terrorism. However, when examining the discourse, it is saturated with popular myths and stereotypes, especially related to the challenges of homegrown terrorism. To move beyond 1 popular myths, this paper examines the data-driven findings from the 2016 New America Foundation (NAF) report Terrorism in America After 9/11, and the preliminary findings from a 2 forthcoming study developed by this author and Dr. Muhammad Fraser-Rahim to be produced by the NAF in early 2018, Transforming the Hate that Hate Produced: Examining the Story and Deradicalization work of The Community of W.D. Muhammad.

Terrorism in America

After 9/11 In the text Terrorism in America After 9/11 an overview of the terrorism cases since 9/11 in the U.S. is portrayed. Reviewing the report, it is structured to answer three driving questions: Who are the terrorists targeting the U.S.? Why do they engage in terrorism in the first place? And what threat do they pose? Here is a summary of the findings:

  • Who are the Terrorists? Of the 417-people listed in the original database, 50 are coded as African American, constituting about 12% of the dataset. Despite popular lore that the terrorist threat domestically is from young angry men abroad, we find that this notion is not supported by the data. As such, “... the large majority of jihadist terrorists in the United States have been American citizens or legal residents… [where] every jihadist who conducted a lethal attack inside the United States since 9/11 was a citizen or legal resident.” Since 9-11, we also found that there have been 14 lethal attacks in the 3 homeland inspired by jihadists; 30% of the sample are converts; 37% of the sample were married; and women are increasingly being targeted and/or self-radicalized/mobilized to engage in domestic attacks.
  • Why do they Engage in Terrorism? Examining the data, and human motivations, it is hard to reduce the driver/s of terrorism to a single causal-factor. Nevertheless, the study found that the popular notions about mental illness and criminality as key factors were unsupported. Accordingly, it was found that “...Perpetrators (are) generally motivated by a mix of factors, including militant Islamist ideology; dislike of American foreign policy in the Muslim world; a need to attach themselves to an ideology or organization that gave them a sense of purpose; and a ‘cognitive opening’ to militant Islam that often was precipitated by personal disappointment, like the death of a parent.” Additionally, 46% of the sample were radicalized online, especially by the late Anwar Awlaki and related propaganda sources.
  • What is the Threat to the United States Today? ​Upon reviewing the report, we find that since 9/11 jihadists have killed 95 people in the U.S. where the attacks have been conducted by people inspired by jihadism, with no operational connections abroad. During this same period, Far Right Wing violent extremists killed 68 people, and Black Separatist/Nationalist/Supremacists killed eight (8) people. The lack of a significant 9/11 like attack has been attributed to the U.S.’s “layered set of defenses,” which includes “... tips from local communities, members of the public, and the widespread use of informants.” As such, 48% of jihadists were monitored by an informant, 25% of jihadists 4 were implicated by a tip from family members or the community, and 9% of jihadists were implicated by a tip from the general public.

Terrorism in the African American Muslim Community After 9/11

When examining the same database, answering the same questions, we find the following related to the African American Muslim community:

    • Who are the Terrorists? African Americans, constitute about 12% of the dataset; this includes Hasan Akbar, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, and Muhammad Alton Nolen. The latter men were involved in the 3 of 13 lethal, domestic terrorist attacks post 9-11.5 Analyzing the data, we find that 84% are converts; 40% of the sample were married; and 1 of 50 involved a female recruit, Jaelyn Delshaun Young.
    • Why do they Engage in Terrorism? Like the general sample, it’s hard to reduce the driver to a singular causal-factor. Yet, in contrast to the general sample there were more problems with crime in the African American sample. 44% of the African American Muslim sample had some sort of run in with the law or prison record. Additionally, 50% of the sample were radicalized online, and 18% had either a contact or ties with the late Anwar Awlaki and related propaganda sources.
    • What is the Threat to the United States Today? From this sample, there have been three individuals that were involved in lethal domestic attacks out of 13. When examining the U.S.’s “layered set of defenses,” including “... tips from local communities, members of the public, and the widespread use of informants” we find that 60% of this sample were monitored by an informant, 4% were implicated by a tip from family members or the community, and 6% were implicated by a tip from the general public.

Figure I.

  Original Sample African American Muslim Sample
Convert 30% 84%
Involved and Informant 48% 60%
Tip from Community 25% 4%
Criminality 14% 44%

When comparing and contrasting the general sample against the sample focused on African American Muslims, as portrayed in Figure I., there are some areas of noteworthy divergence. An examination of the areas of divergence follow:

  • Conver​t: For the general sample, 30% were converts. For African Americans, 84% were converts. Though the latter figures can be interpreted in a variety of ways, it’s likely that the conversion rate may be higher in the African American community on two accounts. First, indigenous African American Muslims are well integrated into America; and when challenges occur they do not have a problem with using legal means to express their grievances. And second, converts by definition are “new” to the faith and often do not have deep community ties and relationships that can help them navigate the realities/challenges of the faith and the world.
  • Involved an Informant​: In the general sample 48% of the cases involved an informant. For African Americans, 60% involved an informant. This divergence can be interpreted in a variety of ways, including there are more informants in the African American community, more African Americans are saying-doing-things that raise alarms, etc. No matter the case, the divergence is worthy of closer, case-by-case examination, alongside a cost-benefit-analysis concerning the contested use of informants, mindful that the majority of those informed on neither had the skills nor resources to conduct an attack, short of help by the USG/informant who often came up with the idea for a given attack.
  • Tip from Community​: In the general sample 25% of the cases involved a tip from the community. For African Americans 4% of the cases coded involved a tip from the community. Though this divergence can be interpreted in a variety of ways, this may be informed by the different historical experiences in the U.S. and relationships with law enforcement and intelligence. In short, African Americans and African American Muslims have a long history of being skeptical, at best, and hostile, at worst, to law enforcement and intelligence, thus, making a “tip” less likely.
  • Criminality​: Another significant finding was that 14% of the general sample had prison records, while 44% of African American Muslims did. In part, this finding mirrors relevant prison and criminal statistics that can be found in the wider African American community, where a disproportionate amount of crime and punishment is found in the African American community, and Muslims are not immune to this challenge.

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