This week, the House Homeland Security Committee held its hearing examining the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing. This bombing was arguably the first successful terrorist attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001 (if you exclude Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s shootings at Fort Hood, which the Defense Department categorized as workplace violence).
Parts of the testimony at the hearing focused on the motives of the bombers and the current belief that the brothers Tsarnaev were radicalized Islamists. It follows that the radicalization of U.S. citizens or legal immigrants poses as much of a threat as foreign terrorist organizations or nation-states, if not more so. It also follows that our fears are that those in the Muslim community are more prone to radicalization than other religious or cultural groups.
Congressman Peter King (R-NY), the shy, unassuming former Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, spent a significant amount of his chairmanship focused on this issue. (I count eight hearings that touch in some way on the issue; and five that included the words “radicalization” or “homegrown” in their titles.) He was regularly criticized – even to the point of being called bigoted – because he focused on Muslim or Islamic radicals.
The Tsarnaev’s motives will be explored in-depth as officials build their criminal case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. It will be important in informing our national security posture to fully understand how and why the brothers committed these acts – whether they were radicalized, whether they acted in a “lone wolf” capacity, whether they were disaffected youth using Islamic beliefs as a convenient excuse, or whether they were mentally unstable.
Regardless, Mr. King seems to have been on to something as he explored domestic Islamic radicalization as a real, viable threat to the homeland. It could have been his pugilistic style (arguably excusable because he is a New Yorker), politics, or his perceived political incorrectness that prevented Administration leaders from taking him seriously. But no matter how un-PC his position, it is one we have to consider: young Islamists as an identifiable group are more likely susceptible to radicalization than others.