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How the Internet Leads to Ideological Radicalization

The end of World War Two not only led to the United States tenure as a world superpower but also a long tenuous relationship with the not only the Middle East but the religion of Islam.

To describe American policy in the Middle East as messy is an understatement; the juxtaposition between a democracy-loving people and supporting dictatorships, the relationship continues to be paradoxical from this day. Before the September 11th, 2001 attacks on American soil, American philosophy was to protect investment and counter against communism. Dating back to 1945 with the first establishment of an American military base in Saudi Arabia asserting their dominance in the area protecting American investment, particularly oil, and disenfranchising any communist organizations. This lead to Americans funding terrorist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood due to their anti-communist organization, turning a blind eye to the rebellious repercussions it could lead to. Though most American involvements were kept under wraps in part by the Central Intelligence Agency, American control over foreign governments became increasingly apparent reaching a boiling point in 1979 with the Iranian Revolution and the forced seizure by Islamists of the American Embassy in Tehran. Iran was once one of the United States’ staunchest allies in the Middle East due to the CIA installed Shah, who was ultimately overthrown by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who then installed a theocratic dictatorship. As a response, President Carter established the Carter Doctrine stating that the US will use military force in the Persian if necessary, but was seen largely as an empty threat; the United States did not have the sufficient forces in the region. Though the United States were financially supporting groups/people such as Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and most notably Osama Bin Laden, the ties between the two entities began to unravel as the pro-American Egyptian President Sadat was assassinated by radical Muslim fundamentalists. The straw that broke the camel’s back mainly being the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, mainly the occupation of US troops in Islam’s two holiest cities-Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, leading to protests around the world from Muslims against the United States. In addition, the result of the Algerian Civil War, prompted by radical Islamic groups also led to the American government to rethink their policy towards the political Islam. As relations deteriorated, Islamic terrorist groups specifically targeted American targets such as the Kenyan and Tanzanian US embassies (1998) and the USS Cole (2000) ultimately leading to the largest terrorist attack on American soil: Al-Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with commercial airliners aggressively taken over. The reasoning for these attack was widely believed to be for revenge for American involvement in Islamic such as support of Israel and the American presence in majority-Muslim countries.

As a result, US involvement in the Middle East rapidly with two full military campaigns in Afghanistan and eventually Iraq with over 1.5 million American in those combat areas. With close to 6,000 troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq and close to 1 million injured, involvement was becoming increasingly unpopular in the United States and around the world, especially as close to 500,000 civilians just in Iraq were killed as a result of the US-led intervention. With the gruesome details of instances such as the Kandahar Massacre, where US forces murdered 16 civilians and reports of abusing and torturing Muslims due to their ties to Islam lead to outrage from Muslim communities leading to attacks from radicalized Islamic groups claiming revenge. This also led to the increased radicalization of citizens around the world claiming revenge against the actions of the United States. As US forces began pulling out of Afghanistan and Iraq leaving the countries destabilized leading to power vacuums giving way to larger and stronger radical Islamic groups gaining attention and becoming stronger than ever,. In addition, the amount of Westerners leaving their countries in order to join these radical Islamic groups. Using the internet and other forms of media, radical Islamic groups such as ISIS began radicalizing westerners to a perverted form of Islam in order to join and support their cause. Close to 300 Americans have attempted or have joined/ supported fundamentalist Islamic groups. This had led to a new phenomenon where more and more of Americans are being radicalized sometimes leading to Americans reaching high positions in those groups or carrying out their own domestic attacks in the United States. Americans are enticed to join/act on behalf of Islamic extremist groups due to United States’ policy concerning Islam and the Middle East filtered through a perverted form of Islam.

People are typically too insecure with their foundational beliefs to feel a strong enough belonging to fully identify in any particular way without the potential for fluctuation. Coupled with the push-factor of their natural exclusion in society, the pull-factor of an Islamic extremist group personally inviting an individual to be a valuable tool in their well-oiled machine can sufficiently persuade any human to be accepted into such a family with open arms. However, the most vulnerable candidates in the world are previously connected to the religion of Islam upon contact with Islamic extremist organizations who center themselves upon religious values for functionality. With this bridge wide open, an American must decide whether or not to cross the unpredictable path into a future of belonging at the cost of potential peril in exchange for surrendering all that they find familiar from their past life. Although these extremist societies force foreigners into allegiance to their cause, those who volunteer to be included transform to wholehearted devotion, even committing to death, which primarily stems from these identity-seekers. In most cases that an individual assimilates into the new extremist culture, their fellow neighbors and family with whom they most regularly interacted claim that they appeared to be very average people in American culture; although in hindsight, they are able to recognize minor, yet common quirks in their personality that add up to their flee from the United States to Iraq or Syria.

The alienation of Muslims in the United States is an effective tool used by propagandists to radicalize Americans. As reported in The Guardian, ISIS is “in competition with western news channels, Hollywood movies, reality shows, even music video, and it has adopted their vocabulary.” Through the creation of a series of propaganda media segments, ranging from short social media videos to hour-long feature documentaries, it is clear that the Islamic State aimed to target younger Westerners–specifically Americans–with media that makes the organization appear legitimate and familiar (Rose). The terror organization is aware of the impacts of this form of media. Though the organization is losing ground in their Syrian and Iraqi strongholds, the use of propaganda can create a network around the world to keep the organization alive. As reported in The Independent, The Islamic State actively recruits “media influencers.” A document published by Islamic State sympathizers state that “the media is jihad and the way of Allah,” providing a way for more to get involved in the movement than relocation or abandoning their homeland. Also, news media reporting on the epidemic of propaganda further the reach of this form of media. As noted in Ariel Victora Lieberman’s Terrorism, the Internet, and Propaganda: A Deadly Combination, attempts from the American government and social media platforms to control this propaganda have been generally unsuccessful. Most people “do not become radicalized to the point that they engage in terrorism,” so efforts to thwart potential terrorists is speculative at best. Further compounding the problem, encrypted messaging platforms like Facebook’s WhatsApp, Apple’s iMessage, and Telegram’s “secret chats” create environments where chats cannot be monitored by corporations and subpoenaed by intelligence agencies, and terrorist threats often thrive on these platforms. While a solution to give keys to intelligence agencies and governments may appear to many as a logical conclusion, computer scientists argue that creating a backdoor in encryption technologies would open the door to invasive governments and cyber attacks, while terror organizations could create personalized platforms which would be inaccessible to American intelligence agencies. However, most initial recruiting often happens on public forms of social media, like Twitter or Facebook. Sympathizers can create pseudonym usernames and actively use search features to find and target specific people with both ads and personal connection. Terrorist organizations like ISIS, while may be struggling to keep physical strongholds, are creating a productive social media empire.

The San Bernardino, California attack occurred on American soil by unlikely culprits. Tashfeen Malik and Syed Rizwan Farook appeared to neighbors and law enforcement as quiet suburban parents caring for a newborn but were unaware that they started to plan their attack on a government building designed to assist citizens with disabilities. After meeting over the internet and meeting in Saudi Arabia, Farook took Malik home to the United States to start a new life and a family. Farook, however, was reportedly in contact online with people overseas who expressed their support for jihad. The couple stormed into an office party at Farook’s workplace, a health inspection office, and Mrs. Malik opened fire, leaving 14 people dead and 21 injured (NBC News). Neighbors and family were reportedly surprised that Malik and Farook were radicalized through a trip to Mecca and online radical groups. The couple took action inside the United States, sparking national fear of immigrants and those who are perceived as the “other.” Malik committed her act of terror after having her immigration visa accepted, so many nativist Americans saw this as a preventable attack, even though it would be impossible to catch before her radicalization online.

To breach the border of the Middle East to serve an Islamic extremist group organization requires strategic connections and planning, but the prerequisite to becoming a pioneering foreigner who truly leads the efforts against the West is prior military experience in the name of Islam. Mid-level tank and vehicle battalion commander Abdullah Ramo Pazara epitomizes how to effectively climb the ranks of ISIS, which he can attribute to his background in the Bosnian Civil War during the 1990s. When Bosnia’s parliament, also known as Vojska Republike Srpske (VRS), terrorized their nation to conform to their agenda, Ramo Pazara and his father were rapidly herded into their fighting forces. Strangely, the very organization he would later join, ISIS, would be formed from his enemies during the Bosnian Civil War, as the VRS battled against El-Mudžahid brigade, a jihadist supporter. Despite their allegiance to the VRS, the Pazara family’s Muslim religion lead to their inclusion in the diaspora, and their only option as a safe haven was the United States. Subsisting in the Land of the Free, Ramo waited fifteen years to furtively apply for citizenship, as he illegally concealed the information that he was associated with the VRS for his safety. Immediately, he transformed his radical personality to a conservative lifestyle, which included lots of privacy. Living in the American capital of Bosnian immigrants, St. Louis, where 70,000 of this heritage resided, none of them, not even the imams, knew him. However, after his trucking company in Warren, Michigan went awry simultaneously with the destruction of his marriage, Ramo met Nihad Rosic and other outsides with whom he formed a small comradeship. These two, in particular, shared a hometown, financial woes, and serving on the opposite side of the Bosnian Civil War (Ramiz received the Golden Lily honor from Bosnia, the highest military service award). In May 2013, Ramo officially changed his name to Abdullah Ramo Pazara, and along with these few radical individuals, he left the United States for Syria.
Unlike most converts to this lifestyle, Pazara was determined to resolve his problems in the United States and find a home amongst the ranks of ISIS. Between 60 and 70 people at any given time were assigned to his direction due to his decisive servitude at any cost for his cause. Instantaneously, he felt the long-evading quality of inclusion in his life with newfound power, but he could not separate himself from his past in the United States entirely. His entire existence was designed to counter the nation where he identified only as a victim who was just another statistic among the masses of his religion’s followers. Rapidly ascending to his maximum tiered throne of power, he gladly worked alongside the Rosics to send U.S. military uniforms, combat boots, military surplus goods, tactical gear and clothing, firearms accessories, optical equipment and rangefinders, and rifle scopes to his allies overseas. Unfortunately for his agenda, he could not emotionally detach himself from the country where oppression defined him as he became a casualty in combat. Revenge came back to bite him, and the organization of ISIS for which he devoted his life reached its peak during his lifetime rather than expanding in its future.

Born to a conservative Texas family, eventually converting to Islam after the 9/11 Attacks, John Georgelas rose to fame after conducting online seminars to prepare future westerners for life as an ISIS soldier. Now named Yahya al-Barumi, he can be best described as an Islamic fundamentalist due to his writings supporting the restoration of the Caliphate, reign under one chief Muslim ruler. In addition, Al-Bahrumi urged all the students of his lesson to join the Islamic State and called for the execution of Muslim leaders outside of the Islamic. John Georgelas is an American “pioneer” of the Islamic State, falling under the subcategory of a pioneer that would go overseas to fight, immediately participating in military campaigns (GWU Program on Extremism). Before joining ISIS in 2014, Al-Barhrumi was sentenced to 34 months for “attempting to cause damage to a protected computer,”(U.S. Department of Justice)), basically, gaining access to passwords for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee website. The Department of Justice note also noted his technical support for pro-jihadist websites citing his desire to deface the website due to his fundamentalist Islamic views. Unlike like any American Jihadist before, Al-Barhrumi had a deep knowledge, so much so that the senior members of ISIS noted his "mastery of Islamic law and classical Arabic language and literature" (Wood). Al-Barhrumi also had to technical skills to expand the Islamic State’s internet-based recruiting to the United States. Due to the cumulation of these factors lead to Al-Bahrumi meteoropathic raise in the social hierarchy of Islamic State, yet the question remains of how John Georgelas reached this point.

Georgelas was born into a wealthy family with a long military tradition, despite this, Georgelas did not live up expectations that came with a soldier's life, he had little interests in school nor did not have the temperament suited for military discipline. In addition, Georgelas, as a young child, suffered from brittle bones and benign tumors which may have lead to his attachment to religion, specifically the Greek Orthodox Church. Family members noted his “righteous fury, jacked up with certainty”(Wood) fueling his religious transformations. Barely passing high school, Georgelas studied philosophy at Blinn College and became increasingly frustrated with his world religion class decided to seek more information from the local mosque. Despite what he had been told, Muslims were not the demons that he had been told they were. In 2001, on the first day of Ramadan, Georgelas converted to Islam. Some may argue that the conversation was in spite of his parents or an actual attempt at spiritual salvation, it cannot be for certain. One aspect that is interesting to note is the timing. The anti-muslim sentiment was high in America, especially in Central Texas after the 9/11 attacks so converting to Islam would be considered a huge act of rebellion. Georgelas’s father claimed that his conversion was a sign of mental weakness stating that college students are often hooked to the message that mosques as students are vulnerable and can be easily influenced. Whether this is true or not across the board, radical Islamic recruiters often exploit vulnerability, and in this case, Georgelas fitted the mold perfectly. In 2001, Georgelas moved to Damascus to study Arabic through poetry, dance, and song but under the influence of Muslims with a more rigid view on Islam changed his direction to a more hostile form of Islam. His weakness shined through; he had no success in fields that were deemed successful by his parents or other authority figures. The recruiters using that resentment powered Georgelas to voice his displeasure with his “mainstream” Islam. Returning to the United States in 2004, with a changed name, Yahya served time for his aforementioned charge adding fuel to his resentment against authority and with the irresistible opportunities that the Syrian Civil War brought, Al-Barhrumi flew his family to Turkey and, without his wife’s knowledge, made transit to Syria. Here, Al-Barhrumi would let his wife and four kids return to the United States which allowed him to concentrate on becoming an ISIS soldier entirely. After suffering an injury that left bedridden for several months, Al-Barhrumi became the leading producer of ISIS propaganda, doing what others did to him, exploiting their weaknesses and influencing them to an extreme view of Islam.

As any American can be lured into the promising treasures of a band of Islamic fighters, those who personally take insult to the American history of inhumane hostility toward their religion’s most pious people in the Middle East are most prone to desiring a role in revenge against the nation that reared them. In most cases, Americans who embark upon this journey possess a supreme yearning to return the favor to the United States, whose oppression toward their religious community through media enforcement of negative stereotypes against their people overseas haunt them like a ghost of the past throughout their present existence. Propaganda influences these people to believe that they preside in an unholy territory, and that their sole purpose of existing thus far in the United States has been to accumulate information about American culture that they can feed to Islamic extremist groups they join. No longer will they feel like outsiders, as they have been adopted by international allies with the common goal of destroying the evil western culture.

Works Cited 

 John Georgelas Sentencing Press Release "John Georgelas Sentencing Press Release." Justice.gov. N. p., 2018. Web. 5 June 2018.

Wood, Graeme. "The American Climbing The Ranks Of ISIS." The Atlantic. N. p., 2017. Web. 5 June 2018.

Dearden, Lizzie. “Isis Claims Propaganda 'More Powerful than Atomic Bomb'.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 15 Feb. 2017, www.independent.co.uk

“From Housewife to Killer: The Mystery of San Bernardino Shooter Tashfeen Malik.”NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, www.nbcnews.com

"Program On Extremism | The George Washington University." Extremism.gwu.edu. N. p., 2018. Web. 6 June 2018.

Victoria Lieberman, Ariel. “Terrorism, the Internet, and Propaganda: A Deadly Combination.”
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Callimachi, Rukmini. “ISIS and the Lonely Young American.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 27 June 2015, www.nytimes.com

“Here's Why Americans Join ISIS.” Fortune, Fortune, fortune.com/2015/12/12/why-americans-join-isis/.

“Why Do People Join Terrorist Organisations?” European Institute of Peace, eip.org


Works Consulted

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