A conversation with Olivier Roy on the nature of the alleged Marathon terrorists


John Judis in TNR (via Andrew Sullivan):

I wanted to ask you about the two brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who allegedly set off the two bombs at the Boston Marathon. In your book,Globalized Islam, you recounted how many terrorists who act in the name of Islam were brought up in Western Europe rather than in the Middle East and who are often provoked by events outside the Middle East. Are these two brothers, who were largely raised in the United States, more evidence for your thesis?

Yes, my idea from the beginning was that Al Qaeda and the people who used the mark of Al Qaeda were not really concerned with the core—with the Middle East, the Middle East of Palestine. They were more concerned by the periphery of the Middle East than the core of the Middle East. They were usually more concerned with Bosnia and Afghanistan, Chechnya at the end of the ‘90s; it is now Mali, Mauritania and Yemen, which is the only place where they are strong. Most of these guys have a global trajectory, they were born in one place, they go to fight somewhere else. These guys were born in Kyrgyzstan, they went to Dagestan, they speak Russian, they came to the United States very young, they were educated in the United States, they speak English without an accent and so on.

And they seemed to have discovered Islam in the United States rather than in Dagestan or Kyrgyzstan?

Same thing with Mohammed Merah, the killer in Toulouse last year. They are self-radicalizing in a Western environment.

In your book, and also in your previous book on political Islam, you describe a transition from the nationalist and Marxist-Leninist movements in the Middle East after World War II to a stateless movement like Al Qaeda. Now we have something beyond that, where the terrorists may not even belong to, or be under orders from a specific group, but may only have been influenced by a radical preacher they heard. I am thinking of the Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan who killed thirteen people at Fort Hood in 2009.

Yes, globalization and individualization are the two terms. Instead of organization, they connect through the Internet. They connect to a virtual Ummah not to a real society. For instance, most of them didn’t socialize in a Western community. They may have gone to mosques, but they were never an integral part of a congregation, they have no real life, social life. Their social life is through the Internet, all of them.