USA TODAY US Edition
Bergen’s ‘Jihad’ dissects homegrown terrorism
Every terrorist attack or foiled plot ratchets up the fear levels among the American people, whose worries are exacerbated by politicians and interest groups eager to scare them even further.
It’s not worth it, argues author and terrorism expert Peter Bergen in United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Home
grown Terrorists (Crown, 400 pp., out of four), a crisply methodical detailing of the types of people and attacks involved in Islam-inspired terrorism here and abroad.
Bergen, a fellow at the New America Foundation think tank and national security analyst for CNN, explores people such as Alabama-raised Omar Shafik Hammami, who left the United States to join the Somalian al- Shabaab to fight in a civil war that had nothing to do with his life in America.
Many, like the husband-andwife team responsible for the December attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., are alienated from mainstream U.S. culture.
They look for a cause greater than their own or seek a deeper meaning. Others, such as Fort Hood killer Nidal Hasan, stay at home but find solace in an increasingly strict brand of Islam. They grow long beards, adopt strict patterns of dress and change their diets, eschewing alcohol and certain foods.
Taken individually, these changes can mean little beyond an individual’s path to a deeper understanding with God, a foundation of the American way of life. Christians and Jews do many of the same things. But in a tiny minority of Muslims, these are signs, Bergen argues, of a rigid religiosity careening toward violence.
Missing such signals, by friends, family members or colleagues, can mean failing to head off greater violence later.
Hasan, an Army psychologist, became steadily more rigid in his beliefs and openly proselytized at work. He emailed radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was inspiring Muslims to commit violence, for spiritual advice about killing non-Muslims.
The FBI and other investigators knew it, too; they had tracked Hasan’s communications with Awlaki. They tried to warn their superiors but were met with apathy.
Hasan then killed 13 service members and civilians at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2009, before he was shot and left paralyzed by a base policeman.
Bergen cites the cases of Hasan; Carlos Bledsoe, a Muslim convert who killed a soldier at a recruiting center in Little Rock in 2009; and David Coleman Headley, an American-Pakistani who masterminded the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, as examples of how the United States already has the means to stop attacks.
“These cases argue not for the gathering of ever-vaster troves of information or an aggressive program of sting operations, but for making smarter judgments about information collected through established legal means,” he writes.
The information about Hasan, Bledsoe and Headley existed; all the intelligence community and law enforcement had to do was connect it. That the data fell between the gaps, Bergen argues, is no reason to call for additional mechanisms to collect more.
United States of Jihad isn’t the deep scholarly dive into Islamistbased terrorism that Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, the gold standard, was.
But Bergen knows his topic extremely well, and he writes convincingly about what he says will be “a persistent low-level threat that will likely take many, many years before it withers and dies.”