The psychological process that drives people to gangs can turn you into a terrorist
Well-wishers brought floral tributes for the 22 victims of the terror attacks at the Manchester Arena (AFP Photo/Ben STANSALL)

While trying to make sense of the aftermath of the suicide bombing in Manchester, a familiar topic has once again arisen: why do Western-born Muslims turn to terrorism?


An op-ed by writer Kamran Ahmed for The Guardian may provide some answers. In his editorial, Ahmed suggests that the ways in which Muslims balance their seemingly at-odds Western nationality and religious and foreign upbringing may provide answers.

The psychological process known as "acculturation" is defined by Ahmed as "balancing two competing cultural influences". This can take many forms -- ignoring one's home culture (deculturation), keeping aspects of both their original culture and their adopted culture (integration), and outright rejecting their new culture by clinging to their culture of origin (rejection).

Radicalization happens, Ahmed continued, when people go outside the typical routes of the acculturation process to form what is known as a "third culture".

This third culture is, according to Ahmed, "akin to the pathway into gang culture for young people around the world – a sense of alienation from family and society at large delivers them into the hands of older gang leaders."

"The counterculture for young Muslim men at odds with society nowadays is not gang culture but radical extremist factions that offer self-esteem and identity in exchange for allegiance to a violent and morally bankrupt manifesto," Ahmed wrote. "Once they are members of the subversive peer group, alarming ideas and behaviors can become normalized very quickly indeed."

The process of joining radicalized third cultures among Muslims in the West is woefully under-studied, although some point to low socioeconomic standing as a potential breeding factor in Europe. Poverty and lack of education do not, however, explain the radicalization of wealthy and educated Muslims like many of the suicide bombers in the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

Similarly to those most susceptible to cults, Ahmed wrote that "perhaps those most likely to make the transition from radical to terrorist are the exceedingly vulnerable, who are highly susceptible to jihadi rhetoric, and narcissistic psychopaths, who might revel in the notoriety of being a terrorist." Those vulnerable people are often pushed over the edge by "extremist hate-preachers and the slick ISIS propaganda machine," according to Ahmed.

The onus of heading off this kind of radicalization, Ahmed argued, lies on Western Muslim communities and on the non-Muslim cultures they exist in.

"Moderate Muslim scholars need to provide the theological ammunition to oppose the vile ideas peddled by extremist recruiters while security forces take action against them," he wrote. "And the media must present a counter-narrative to Isis propaganda, showing young Muslims they are accepted in the West and can find their sense of belonging here."

Read Ahmed's entire editorial on the basis for terrorist radicalization in West via The Guardian.