“Perhaps the most prominent motivating force is anger at U.S. foreign policy,” writes John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University and a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. From the infamous Times Square bomber and the Boston Marathon siblings, to the one of the attackers in Paris at Charlie Hebdo, behind their anger has been “simmering, and more commonly boiling, outrage at American foreign policy.” Read more from Mr. Mueller here.
At the same time, these cases — from the shoe-bomber to the underwear bomber — show that there is remarkably little hostility to American culture or society. For example, the infamous Times Square bomber, a Pakistani-American who tried to blow up a car in New York, specifically mentioned U.S. drone strikes that killed civilians in Pakistan. The Boston Marathon bombers, similarly, explicitly cited the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as motivating factors. Almost none of the terrorists or would be terrorists had any problem with American society itself.
This is particularly impressive because many of them (though certainly not all) were misfits, suffered from personal identity crises, were friendless, came from broken homes, were often desperate for money, had difficulty holding jobs, were on drugs, were petty criminals, experienced various forms of discrimination, and were, to use a word that pops up in quite a few of the case studies and fits even more of them, “losers.”
As terrorism specialist and former CIA officer Marc Sageman points out, “radicalization” principally happens because of perceived injustice against one’s group — a perspective theWashington Post’s David Ignatius finds ”worth a careful look,” but calls “contrarian.”
The standard “radicalization” misdirection process can be seen in a Seattle case in 2011 in which two men were picked up for planning to shoot a machine gun and lob grenades at a local military processing center. According to news reports, the perpetrators said that they were motivated by a desire to retaliate for crimes by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and that they wanted to kill military personnel to prevent them from going to Islamic lands to kill Muslims. The official Department of Justice press release on the case, however, merely says that the men were “driven by a violent, extreme ideology.”