The 'Homegrown Terrorist' Misconception

The killing of a soldier and wounding of another at an Arkansas military recruiting center has caused the subject of "homegrown terrorists" to once again become a topic of discussion for radio and TV hosts, bloggers, and pundits. The use of the technically accurate "homegrown terrorist" term brings some serious risks with it. It summarizes the threat posed by conversions to radicalism here in the United States, thus creating a jihad on our own soil, but it ignores the fact that the seeds planted to begin that growth, and the soil and water to sustain it, come from overseas.

This isn't a non-consequential, academic argument over semantics. If acts of radical Islamic terrorism can be described as "homegrown," then those wishing to downplay the warfare aspect of the struggle can point to statistics, arguing that any large group will inevitably contain a few fanatics. For them, the use of the term "homegrown terrorist" frees the West of having to acknowledge the international links and infrastructure that enable such acts, and depicts acts like this shooting as the spontaneous outburst of a lone wolf rather than the result of a clandestine movement. It is a gift to the incubators of terrorism and extremism overseas, who can state that the presence of such forces on their land is no different than that on our own.

Let's review the case of Abdulhakim Muhammad, the Muslim convert arrested for the Arkansas shooting. His path to jihad did not simply begin and end in the United States, but rather included a suspicious trip to Yemen after his conversion, where he was jailed for possessing a fake Somali passport. Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch says that a "well-placed source" has told him that Muhammad went to Yemen in an attempt to study with a radical cleric named Yahya Hajoori. The story of his initial conversion is not yet out, but when it is, it will almost certainly also find foreign roots, even if just ideologically.