“Nobody watches YouTube or reads Inspire and becomes a terrorist. It’s absurd to think so,” says John Horgan, director of the International Center for the Study of Terrorism at Pennsylvania State University. “YouTube videos and reading Al Qaeda magazines tends to be far more relevant for sustaining commitment than inspiring it.”
Knefel reports that it’s most often a variety of motivations that converge to make a terrorist:
“I have found that many young home-grown al-Qaeda terrorists are not attracted by religion or ideology alone – often their knowledge of Islamist theology is wafer-thin and superficial – but also the glamour and excitement that al-Qaeda type groups purports to offer,” [notes Jamie Bartlett, head of the Violence and Extremism program at the think tank Demos.] When it comes to why someone chooses to engage in terrorism, Horgan says, “there are the bigger social, political and religious reasons people give for becoming involved” – for instance, anger over government policies or a foreign occupation. But that leaves out a key part of the story. “Hidden behind these bigger reasons, there are also hosts of littler reasons – personal fantasy, seeking adventure, camaraderie, purpose, identity,” adds Horgan. “These lures can be very powerful, especially when you don’t necessarily have a lot else going on in your life, but terrorists rarely talk about them.”
Those are certainly part of the mix. And I don’t think Inspire made Tamerlan a Jihadist. From the evidence we have of his religious epiphany, it was not out of a magazine. But did the online Jihadist network encourage, train and make his act of Jihadist violence more likely? Duh. Meanwhile, apparently the online jihadi community has been unimpressed and even annoyed by the Tsarnaev brothers:
[This] is unusual and borne of several reasons. The first is that al Qaeda attacks in the West are typically characterized by high casualty rates and widespread panic. The death of three civilians and the quick demise and arrest of the perpetrators is, for supporters, something of a comedown.
The second reason is that al Qaeda and the global jihad movement have become far less concerned with the West since the dawn of the Arab Spring. Jihadists are instead now looking back to the Muslim world, where the contours of power still are far from settled in Mali, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and, most dramatically, Syria. “Why should we waste our time on this?” Hamil al-Mask, a member of the Ansar forum, asked. “Lone wolves will always be part of our cause so let’s say Allah Akbar and move on.”
That strikes me as one more reason to stay out of Syria – if a brutally realist one. To turn George W Bush’s phrase around: if they’re fighting each other over there, they’re less likely to fight us over here.
Read the whole ongoing discussion thread here.