Critical Nexus: Intersection of Recent Conversions to Islam and Homegrown Jihadism

As extremism and radicalization continue to drive efforts to protect against terrorism and threats to homeland security, new research continues to deepen our understanding of the current threat landscape. Recent research emphasizes that the focus of counter-terrorism should be on recent converts to Islam, due a higher likelihood to radicalize and the context in which conversion took place.

A 2017 report titled “Converts to Islam and Home Grown Jihadism” released by The Henry Jackson Society analyzes the intersection of recent converts to Islam and homegrown extremism:

“However, though the process of conversion to Islam is not indicative of radicalisation, when taken together with other aggravating factors such as a criminal record, stigmatisation, paternal absence, identity conflict, and exposure to the messages of radical preachers, it is an indicator of vulnerability to extremist ideology. Converts are often more malleable and vulnerable to radical rhetoric, often combining enthusiasm to change the world with a vacuum of knowledge about different interpretations of Islam. The participation of converts to Islam has become one of the distinctive features of home-grown jihadism in Europe. Indeed, converts are over-represented among foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, and have been responsible for a range of major terrorist attacks.”

Another critical point raised in this report is that “the appeal of radical Islamist ideology can extend well beyond communities historically associated with Islam,” and that this element should be considered when creating counter-radicalization plans and analyzing the current threat. Primary findings of the report also conclude that more attention should be placed on conversions to Islam within juvenile offender establishments and high security prisons. This is because the factors of power and dominance that go hand-in-hand with radical Islamist ideology are attractive to individuals with criminal pasts and proclivities. While providing recommendation and analysis, the research also points towards a need for investigation into the intersection of gangs, petty crime, and conversions to Islam.

View the full report here. Non-registered users may access the report here.

The HSDL offers a plethora of resources on similar topics. Visit the Feature Topics to find more on Domestic (U.S.) Terrorism, Global Terrorism, Lone Wolf Terrorism, and Suicide Bombers.