"Review of Picart’s American Self-Radicalizing Terrorists and the Allure of ‘Jihadi Cool/Chic’" by Mustafa Wshyar
Mustafa Wshyar obtained his MA in English language and literature at the University of Central Lancashire, UK. He was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar in American Literature in 2016 at the University of Massachusetts, had a Stipendium Hungaricum at the University of Szeged and is now a PhD candidate in Literary Studies at University of Szeged, Hungary. His doctoral research focuses on the representation of violence and conflict in contemporary American novels. Email:
American Self-Radicalizing Terrorists and the Allure of “Jihadi Cool/Chic”
Caroline Joan “Kay” S. Picart
Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Research on terrorism has only started to be taken seriously in academic circles a few decades ago. Terror and Taboo: The Follies, Fables, and Faces of Terrorism by Joseba Zulaika and William Douglass and Writing the War on Terrorism by Richard Jackson are among the few. Caroline Joan “Kay” S. Picart’s American Self-Radicalizing Terrorists and the Allure of "Jihadi Cool/Chic" fills a critical gap in the field of terrorism studies by focusing on self-radicalizing terrorists. The five chapters of the book not only explore the theoretical backgrounds of the main theme but also present several case studies on terrorists from different cultural backgrounds.
The first chapter discusses rise of self-radicalization in America and gives a historical overview. The main issue that is investigated in this chapter is gun ownership laws of the United States of America, which gives citizens easy access to firearms—a controversial topic in and of itself—, and its influence on the rise of terrorism in the country. Controlling the spread of self-radicalization is made more difficult by the ease of access to promotional material on the topic of terrorism through various platforms. Using the example of Inspire, an online English language magazine maintained by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, Picart demonstrates the easy access to the tools of self-radicalization. Picart argues that such virtual platforms can enable and facilitate the process of individuals becoming self-activating terrorists by making it unnecessary for them to travel abroad to receive training. At the same time, this ease of access complicates the work of the police and American intelligence agencies, as they cannot track and monitor suspects traveling to training camps, as they did in the past.
Besides websites, the use of social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter, provides another asset for self-radicalized terrorists in promoting their ideas as well as in recruiting new members. Social networks are used in addition to online forums, which have previously been the main method of convincing civilians to join various terrorist groups and perform terrorist activities. Monitoring such platforms is becoming increasingly crucial for security and secret service agencies in understanding as well battling radicalization. Carter and Carter (2012) argue that “complex criminality, such as terrorism or white-collar crime, requires more planning before the criminal act occurs” (145). Laundering money and making other financial transactions as well as acquiring the necessary tools for carrying out a terrorist attack are all time-consuming, and the use of social networks and other virtual methods of communication may make planning much easier not only because they reduce the time needed for planning, but also because they reduce the need for money and logistical support. More effort is necessary on the side of counter-terrorist organizations to find ways of monitoring virtual platforms.
The terms "Jihadi Cool/Chic" emerged as part of the contemporary trend to respond to a celebrity culture which people can copy in order to appear similarly special. Recently, ISIS has targeted females in particular and offered them certain desirable conditions that would make them feel respected, such being protected from the social threats or a loyal husband. The feeling of being distinct seems to have been one of the main motivations behind the actions of many radicals who had previously experienced being neglected by and not wanted in their communities. What is more, Picart also claims that music and various media tactics can contribute to the building of this image of “coolness:” the increasing number of rap songs and music videos about jihad may make it appear cool, especially among members of the younger generations. The new techniques used in recording the terrorist organizations’ activities make them much more attractive as well, as the very high quality of the videos essentially resembles the films produced in Hollywood.
Following the introductory chapter on terrorism, radicalism, "Jihadi Cool/Chic" and the methodology of the book, Picart applies these theories to the case studies of three people, namely Colleen LaRose, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and Jahar Tsarnaev. Picart uses a four-stage model that was developed by two senior intelligent analysts at the New York City Police Department, Mitchel Silber and Arvin Bhatt, to carry out these case studies in the upcoming chapters. The four steps of the model are (1) pre-radicalization, (2) self-identification, (3) indoctrination, and (4) jihadization. The first stage examines the everyday life of an individual with no prior criminal record; the next step is a tragic event traumatizes the individual, leading them to look for a new place to consider home and for a new group to identify themselves as part of; the third step is to establish a connection with other members who share similar thoughts and ideologies while the last stage is the actions of the radicalized individual in which they accept their duties and attack the targets designated by the particular terrorist organization they had joined.
The lives and family backgrounds of the three previously-mentioned terrorists are also discussed in details in this volume. In comparison with LaRose, the Tsarnaev brothers, who were involved in the Boston Marathon bombing, were more educated. People become self-radicalized terrorists mostly when they fail in some aspect of their lives and they are left without any support or they are neglected by the community. Tamerlan is a typical example of this; he was a very successful boxer before he became an outsider due to his family problems, which can be seen as a main motivation behind his self-radicalization, in addition to his family issues. It seems that Muslim homegrown terrorism is not a serious threat in the USA at the moment as there is no reference showing any type of motivation of Muslim Americans to harm their fellow citizens (Brooks 10). Picart also criticizes that the only terrorist attacks that attract the attention of the mass media are the ones in which Muslims are involved, while similar attacks undertaken by people with different beliefs receive less consideration.
The book is a well-structured volume that answers many questions about terrorism, jihadism and self-radicalization. Picart considers many aspects behind the self-radicalization of Americans, from education to social life, but lacks testimonies. The roles of society and education are not fully considered as motivations behind self-radicalization. Elaborating on these in more detail could make the arguments stronger and provide a better structure for the whole book. There is no direct reference to tackle the issue of terrorism from the roots, even though it would be important to suggest ways to combat the issue after giving a detailed analysis of self-radicalizing terrorism itself. It is strongly recommended to researchers, academics, and students in the fields of conflict, terrorism, peace and violence.
- Brooks, Risa A. 2011. “Muslim ‘Homegrown’ Terrorism in the United States: How Serious is the Threat?” International Security, 36 (2), pp. 7-47.
- Carter, Jeremy G. and David L. Carter. 2012. “Law Enforcement Intelligence: Implications for Self-Radicalized Terrorism.” Police Practice and Research, 13 (2), pp. 138-154.