Excerpts I thought were interesting from an excellent interview with Peter Bergen, a terror expert who actually interviewed Osama Bin Laden many years ago. He is national security analyst for CNN and author of the new book “United States Of Jihad.” Though he appears on CNN quite often, he doesn’t get to speak at length on cable TV the way he did in this interview with Terry Gross of Fresh Air:
“You know what’s interesting, since 9/11, we tend to think that terrorist attacks against the United States must be conducted by foreigners because on 9/11, it was 19 foreign-born Arab hijackers recruited by al-Qaida. In fact, every lethal terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11, whether in Fort Hood or Boston or San Bernardino, has been conducted by American citizens or legal permanent residents. And so some of the hysteria about refugees coming into the country and performing acts of terrorism is very overblown. Certainly about 10 refugees have been involved in relatively minor jihadi terrorism crimes, like material support for a terrorist organization. And – but really, if you were concerned about lethal attacks, it’s been American citizens or American residents.”
“I think the good news is that we’ve really managed the threat, we, the United States. And also the American Muslim community is a largely – pretty well integrated in a way that is not the case in Europe. If you look at the perpetrators of the Paris attacks in November or you look at the Charlie Hebdo attack, I mean, these people who perpetrated these attacks grew up in these rather grim (unintelligible) suburbs, which are like the projects, the French projects. They are – many of them serve time in French prisons. One of the most astonishing statistics is less than 10 percent of the French population is Muslim, yet almost as much as 70 percent of their prison population is Muslim. So we’re looking at a very different problem here in the United States than you’re looking at in Europe.”
“… terrorism is statistically a very minor problem in this country. Yet, you know, you’re – in any given year, you’re somewhere between 3,000 or 5,000 times more likely to be killed a fellow American with a gun than you are to be killed in the United States by a jihadi terrorist. I mean, those numbers speak for themselves.”
On why an American-born person would become a jihadi?
“… there’s a wonderful quote from the philosopher Immanuel Kant – from the crooked timber of humanity, not a straight thing is made. And I think it’s almost the motto for this book because when you really look at why somebody, you know, decides to kill a number of his fellow American citizens – and of course the perpetrators are usually hes – you know, it often becomes a very complicated answer to that question. It’s not, you know, yes, there is some sort of a bin Ladenist ideology in there. But often there’s personal disappointments, a desire for recognition, seeking to belong to something, seeking a cause. But of this three – we looked at 300 cases plus of Americans convicted since 9/11 of some kind of jihadi terrorism crime ranging from the relatively minor to the major, such as murder. And the profile we found was average age 29, a third married, a third kids, as educated as normal Americans, mental problems actually at a lower incidence than the general population. And so you’re looking at middle-class – these are not young hotheads of the popular imagination there. You’re looking at kind of middle-class, married, you know, late 20s. And in fact, when we came to that conclusion, we didn’t know that the San Bernardino attackers, one of them is 27, one is 28. They were married, they had a child. The male perpetrator had a job earning $70,000 a year. They were very much solidly part of the American middle class. And so why did they turn to violence and kill 14 people just arbitrarily? You know, that’s a really big puzzle. I mean, you could try and explain it by they were influenced by al-Qaida’s ideology and ISIS’s ideology, that they objected to American foreign policy. But lots of people object to American foreign policy and don’t go and just arbitrarily kill 14 people attending a Christmas office party. At the end of the day, that’s fundamentally, I think, inexplicable. And it may get to the nature of evil itself, which is it’s often pointless and often inexplicable no matter what the scale, you know – whether we’re looking at the crimes of the 20th century or whether we’re looking at the smaller crimes that we see in our own country.”
On why someone with an infant [such as the San Bernardino shooters] would want to martyr themselves:
“… what is quite unusual is that the, you know, that the wife was involved in murdering other people. We are beginning to see some kind of a weird form of this Islamist extremist feminism in which these Islamist extremist groups are recruiting females. And I’ve also assembled – myself and my research team have assembled another database where we look at every named foreign fighter who’s gone to Syria to participate with ISIS or one of the other jihadi groups. And we’ve found that about a fifth are women, which is unprecedented. When you look at the past jihads, whether it was the Afghan war against the Soviets in the ’80s or the fighting – the Bosnian Muslims fighting against the Serbs in the ’90s or (unintelligible) jihad, women were fundamentally not involved at all. But here, we’re seeing women volunteering to go to Syria and sort of embed themselves with ISIS.”
Listen to or read the rest of the interview here.