Self-Radicalization and The Advance of Terrorism

Image: Vitaly Peskov

Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the now-dead suspects in the San Bernardino shooting, was born in Illinois, raised in California, graduated college, and worked for a county health agency. In other words, Farook was American through and through. Homegrown.

In a search for motive, police and media are saying that Farook had recently been radicalized, specifically that he had been self-radicalized — which is just another way of saying Farook chose ISIS (he recently swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi on social media under a fake profile); ISIS didn’t choose/coerce/indoctrinate him.

This marks a new buzzword in the English lexicon — self-radicalization — and it will henceforth sting our ears with the same kind of repetition that Farook’s semiautomatic handgun stung the San Bernardino victims.

Stripping guns from Americans, while bombing unAmerican non-Americans, cannot save us now. We can’t eradicate ideas with firepower or lack thereof. Our concentration on weaponry only fans ideological flames.

One day, in the not-too-distant future, a white American Christian male with a generic Anglo-American name is going to strut into a KFC or shopping mall or some other American agora and open fire on pedestrians. And when police dig into his past, after he’s been shot dead, they’ll find not a history of isolation or psychological trauma, but a record of self-radicalization. They’ll accuse the man of a new kind of terrorism, one that is more clandestine than what we’ve ever known because it marks the era in which ISIS-like radicals are no longer contained to a certain religion, race, or cultural background. America will be freshly aghast, as though the shootings at Sandy Hook and Columbine and the University of Texas weren’t “terroristic” enough.

How then, the question will arise, do we fight these American-grown, self-radicalized terrorists? The answer, invariably, will be with more terrorism. We’ll terrorize what threatens to be our greatest terroristic foe: non-Muslim Americans with radical minds of their own. Except we won’t call it terrorism. We’ll call it defending democracy, preserving freedom, ensuring safety—and we’ll defend, preserve, and ensure with a finger on the trigger and a thumb on the red button.

The real threat of self-radicalization is that it marks a new advance for an opposing ideology. It also marks, consequently, a new cause for the spread of terrorism in the name of democracy.