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Younger, Educated and Affluent: the UK’s Terror Sympathizers


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London, England

London, England
Photo Credit: Lori Lowenthal Marcus



Originally published at The Investigative Project on Terrorism.  /  Steve Emerson

A British research study of Muslim radicalization is challenging some key conventional wisdom. It identifies “youth, wealth, and being in full-time education” as potential risk factors.

Less than 3 percent of the 600 British Muslims surveyed by London’s Queen Mary University were sympathetic with terrorism, while another 6 percent “remained neutral.”

But those with the highest sympathy were respondents born in the United Kingdom, under age 20 and full time students. In addition, people from high income homes – more than £75,000 a year ($123,000) were more prone to sympathize with political violence. People with mental health problems also were more likely to support terror.

This contradicts an accepted narrative that economic frustration and a lack of education fueled Islamic extremism.

“We were surprised that [the] inequality paradigm seems not to be supported,” lead researcher Kamaldeep Bhui told Al-Jazeera. “The study essentially seemed to show that those born in the U.K. consistent with the radicalization paradigm are actually more affluent or well off.”

The study does not identify “what factors make potential recruits open to persuasion to join a terrorist movement,” said Bhui, a professor of cultural psychiatry and epidemiology. He hopes the survey can be used to identify vulnerable populations and “work to shift them and hopefully reduce” radicalization.

The findings are significant, if only for the strict academic approach taken by Bhui and her team. And it might be refreshing and enlightening to see similar academic pursuit in the United States to help identify risk factors and gateways to radicalization. A 2007 Pew survey found a quarter of Muslim American men under age 30 considered suicide bombings justifiable.

This month alone, young men from California and Michigan were arrested for plotting to join terrorists fighting in Syria’s civil war.

But the notion that affluent, well-educated Muslims are potentially more likely to become radicals is a surprise, ignores years of anecdotal evidence.

Terrorist groups from Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and al-Qaida all are led by men with advanced degrees. Most of the 9/11 hijackers were college educated and middle class – with eight engineers among them – and the worst terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11 was carried out by an Army psychiatrist.

Steve Emerson

About the Author: Steven Emerson is considered one of the leading authorities on Islamic extremist networks, financing and operations. He serves as the Executive Director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, one of the world's largest storehouses of archival data and intelligence on Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorist groups.


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