Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Well-intentioned but overly simplistic analysis on converts

The latest edition of the CIS Magazine Policy includes an essay by Miranda Darling on “home-grown Western converts” to Islam whose change of faith means they allegedly “turn against their own societies”.

I was asked by someone at the CIS to provide comment on the initial draft. I was advised that the author had graduated in English literature from Oxford University.

I only had time to briefly read through Ms Darling’s essay, identifying errors which thankfully were removed in the final draft.

The essay is somewhat shorter than the original draft. Darling attempts to draw a profile of the typical convert who might turn to terrorism. She relies heavily on the research of Jessica Stern, a Harvard lecturer with a background more in Cold War US-Soviet relations than modern Islamist movements. Darling also ignores Stern’s research which shows jihadist thinking is almost always little more than a global fad comparable to gansta rap.

Further, Darling completely ignores the more compelling and comprehensive research by the interdisciplinary Chicago Project for Suicide Terrorism led by Professor Robert Pape. How one could even attempt to create a terrorist profile without making even some cursory reference to Pape’s imperfect but still compelling work beats me.

Pape’s central thesis – that the typical profile of a suicide bomber is NOT an Islamic fundamentalist or a devout Muslim – is based on a detailed survey of every “successful” suicide bomber since 1980. Most such terrorists tend to come from leftist or nationalist backgrounds and are seeking to remove an occupying power from their lands. Hardly the stuff religious converts are made of.

However, to her credit, Darling does refer extensively to French scholar Professor Oliver Roy, who has researched and written widely on radical Islamism in the West. Darling’s notion of “born-again Muslims” is useful.

Not so useful is Darling’s reference to criminal gangs in Malmo, Sweden. I’m no expert on Swedish affairs, but wonder how the actions of cultureless migrant youth are of any relevance to Western converts.

Darling’s essay is relatively fair and well-intentioned. However, I wonder how many converts Darling has met. My own experience over some 2 decades is that some converts can be attracted to radical paths because of not infrequent alienation from their usual social networks and lack of pastoral care from cultural Muslim communities. Not having much exposure to mainstream Islamic sciences also doesn’t help.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

And she has a Masters in International Relations. She's more than qualified to air her opinions. Don't try what Kath Wilson tried to do in Crikey. At least you didn't mention that she had been a model.

Anonymous said...

LOL. A masters degree? Yet she hasn't spoken to a single convert?

People go out and get Masters degrees because they didn't get the grades to go straight to a PhD from a Bachelors. She's hardly Rhodes Scholar material.

And what was her undergraduate degree in? English Litt? From Oxford? So she didn't get into any university in Australia and daddy had the money to send her overseas.

We shouldn't reeally blame her. It reflects more on the CIS for giving her a job. Maybe daddy had something to do with that as well.

Anonymous said...

Pretty dumb comment. What is wrong with you people. Her Masters is from the ANU.

dawood said...

I would be interested in seeing a study about the various types of converts there are in the Muslim community - not just "white" ones, and their reasons for converting to Islam in the first place. I am sure there are a plethora of opinions and reasons, most not at all connected to "jihad" or jihadism.