The surprising profile of an Islamic radical

Dr. Amir Hussain breaks down what is know about today's Islamic extremists.

"Radicalization is a youth revolt against society, articulated in an Islamic narrative of jihad."  -- Olivier Roy

Since 9/11, the world has seen many acts of violence by extremists claiming to be acting in the name of Islam.

However, Amir Hussain says the profile of Muslim radicals can be surprising.

Amir Hussain speaking at the 3rd Global Conference on World's Religions After September 11 in Montreal, QC. (Photo: Eva Blue)
Hussain is a professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He has published over fifty book chapters and scholarly articles about religion. He spoke at the 3rd Global conference on World's Religions After September 11 held in Montreal.

Hussain breaks down common misconceptions about extremists:

Who are the radicals?:

  • Most are young people who are used by radical organizations.
  • Second-generation citizens who have grown up in their society OR new converts
  • Immersed in violent video games and American gun culture
  • They have some resentment against society.
  • Were often involved in drugs or crime before converting or being born again
  • They are not pious and their religious knowledge is low
  • They don't attend mosque and have weak connection with the greater Muslim community
  • They don't identify with Muslims in particular cultures or countries

How it works:

  • They radicalize in small groups
  • They may be recruited over the internet (e.g. by ISIS) or they may be "self-radicalized"
  • They tend to adopt a conservative type of Islam - Salafi - which offers a rigid, black and white interpretation of Islamic rules.  (*Which is NOT to say that all practitioners of Salafism are extremists)
  • They are drawn to a heroic quest - the idea that they are avenging Islam, which is an abstract global community in their minds

​Hussain suggests the key to defusing Islamic radicals is debunking the hero narrative which motivates them and promoting the perception of Islam as an everyday religion. If it's perfectly normal to be Muslim, there is no need to protect or defend Islam.