Former Pennsylvania governor and secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, participated in “Terrorism on the Home Front,” a panel discussion sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts.
The focus of the event was to reveal the origins of terrorists and their social and psychological frameworks as naturalized U.S. citizens and legalized immigrants.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, a August 15 report by the New York Police Department released on August 15 warned how seemingly ordinary people become radicalized. The study found that unassimilated Muslims in the United States are vulnerable to extremism, but less so than their European counterparts. Police analysts studied 11 cases from the past six years to better understand terrorist patterns.
The 90-page report highlighted how ordinary people in Western nations, with unremarkable jobs and with little or no criminal histories, sometimes come to adopt a terrorist ideology.
“We have people that come in this country, they may be naturalized citizens or legally holding green cards, and nothing on their record [shows] that they harbor any thoughts on terror activity but what are the warning signs? That could be pretty hard to decipher,” Ridge said.
“The ideology of homegrown terrorism is unknown,” he continued. “If there is one principal in any war, it is you have to know your enemy. But what I have discovered since I have left the Department of Homeland Security, not only do we not know our enemy, we don’t know to much about the Muslim world.”
Panelist Marc Sageman, an independent researcher on terrorism and author of Leaderless Jihad, presented scientific research on Al Qaeda, which revealed that members are self-selected and there are rarely any instances of brainwashing or recruitment.
Sageman’s information, which was drawn from overseas case studies, noted that the majority of terrorists originate from middle class and secular family backgrounds. He also reported that 62 percent are college educated, with a majority studying in engineering and medical fields.
The discussion dispelled the stereotypical profiles of terrorists.
“Right after 9/11, we were looking at Arab males basically from the Arabian peninsula, between 19 and 25 [years old]. Then events followed there after we suddenly saw that women were involved and people outside the Arabian peninsula, in the United Kingdom and elsewhere,” Ridge said.
In addition to Ridge and Sageman, the panel included Ian S. Lustick, professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania and Jessica Stern, academic director of the Program on Terrorism and the Law at Harvard Law School and lecturer in government at Harvard University.
Lustick, author of Trapped in the War on Terror, argued that the first principle of terrorism is comprehending that the weak win by exploiting the strength of the powerful. He said the exaggerating of terrorism scares people unnecessarily.
“Every agency in the government can make terrorism work for itself. We are being suckered. The real illusion of terrorism is not ‘I scare you to leave the room,’ but ‘I scare you to doing something that helps me,'” Lustick said. “Every interest group, every bureau, every politician, every movie studio [and] every newspaper compete to heighten the threat of terrorism. We need leadership that’s capable of erupting that cycle and reducing the danger that we face, not so much from the terrorists but from ourselves.”
Teresa Scott Soufas, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said the program was beneficial to students because it presented multiple perspectives on the issues of terrorism.
“The panel certainly displayed that there are a lot of ideas about terrorism – where it is, what it does and different opinions about what to do about it or not do about it,” she said. “I actually thought the presentation was a marvelous example of what academic freedom is, about what academic dialogue is and why we’re all apart of the university,”
According to Ridge, there is a limited mindset with limited knowledge that should encourage Temple and other universities and professors to further research the Muslim world, the religion and its history.
“This is a University that prides itself on its diversity, and I think the notion is to make our education global and know how important it is for us in this country to understand the culture and history of other parts of the world because the 21st century is so interconnected,” Ridge said. “It is for our prosperity and security that requires us to nurture a university to accept the fact that America’s future depends on its relationship with the rest of the world.”
Brittany Diggs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org