HJS Report Launch: “From Devotion to Destruction – Conversion to Islam and Radicalisation”

Date: 13:30 – 14:30, 25th October 2017

Location: Committee Room 3,
House of Lords, SW1A 0AA

Speaker:  Dr Julia Rushchenko
Associate Research Fellow at the Centre for the Response to Terrorism and Radicalisation at The Henry Jackson Society

Chair: Baroness Falkner of Margravine

Baroness Falkner of Margravine:

Good afternoon and welcome everyone to Henry Jackson Society’s discussion about devotion to destruction and conversion to Islam. We’re kicking off a few minutes late, my apologies for that…

I’ve been familiar with the topic of radicalisation and terrorism for twelve years now, in the sense that I was appointed by Prime Minister Blair to his taskforce on Muslim extremism after the July bombings. So several terrorism and counter-terrorism bills later, here we are still discussing it. It is a very topical issue, particular the issue of converts and their radicalisation.

 It is my pleasure to introduce Dr Julia Rushchenko, who is an associate research fellow at the Centre for the Response to Terrorism and Radicalisation at Henry Jackson Society but is also a distinguished young academic, lecturing in Policing and Criminal Investigations at the University of West London. Her PHD thesis was undertaken across Europe, with the University of Utrecht, with the University of Hamburg and the University of Kent.

I think that’s enough from me. The way in which we will do this today is that we’ll have Dr Rushchenko tell us what she has found – in terms of her evidence – for about ten to fifteen minutes and then we’ll open the floor up and take questions from you. Thank you very much.

Dr Julia Rushchenko:

Thank you very much for the introduction Baroness and thank you all for being here.

First of all, I’ll go through my presentation the following way. I will tell you a bit about why this research is relevant nowadays, how exactly I conducted my research with regards to my methodology and data collection and finally I’ll move to the points.

So, first of all, before I start I would like to mention that converts to Islam represent a small minority within the Muslim communities in Western countries. Like the majority of Muslims and converts to other religions worldwide they are peaceful and law abiding citizens.

Yet when it comes to religiously motivated violence and especially Islamist terrorism – perpetrated because of radical Islamist ideas – available data that exists across countries suggests that concerts to Islam are considerably over represented and that is a concern I took into consideration while first thinking of this study.

Nowadays there is substantial evidence that overseas terrorist groups – including ISIS – have been targeting foreign audiences – including converts – in their mass media messages and their propaganda. Of course, many of us definitely follow mass media messages of ISIS.

ISIS from the very beginning have been building their campaign on the notion of membership – cosmopolitan membership – that is available to anyone despite or regardless of their ethnic origin, or their racial background, social economic status, citizenship… so it is sort of a membership that could appeal to everyone – whoever is ready to follow their radical ideas of Islam – including converts.

Following this cosmopolitan rhetoric, many people worldwide embraced this idea so if we look nowadays at the data collected across the new countries, we will see that from 6% up to 20% so usually overall 16-18% of people who have travelled to Syria and Iraq are actually converts. Which means that they did not grow up with Islam as their religion but embraced it at some point in their lives.

Now, are these figures coincidental or is there actually a correlation between conversions to Islam and radicalisation? So that is the question I posed to myself before undertaking this study. While there has recently been some attempts to undertake similar research, there is a considerable gap with regards to statistics. Very few European countries collect data on… especially with regards to the change in religion so statistical data is not available. Most of the studies carried out by think tanks or academic scholars rely on previous research and sources which are not really easy to verify, a problem which they acknowledge. So the data is scarce on conversions to Islam across Europe. So this is exactly what made me embark on this research project, I was trying to fill this gap.

So speaking about the methodology, the study is based on a small number of qualitative in depth case studies that analyse individual profiles and the biographies of people who had converted to Islam before committing terrorist related offenses. We are first speaking of violent extremism here. The individuals profiled in this study come from three countries, the United Kingdom, Germany and Russia. This also amplifies the importance in terms … close to the Middle East.

I profiled these individuals according to three important aspects.

Firstly, their personal background, their family, ancestry, social-economic status and the circumstances around their childhood.

Secondly, their political views and the presence or absence of previous radical activity. Whether they were known to authorities before, were they known to security agencies prior to conversion or prior to being radicalised.

Thirdly, I looked specifically at the pathways of their conversion to Islam. Under what circumstances did these people decide to embrace Islam? Who was the main influence when it comes to their interest to Islam? At what age did they embrace Islam? What was the chronological gap between them converting to Islam and radicalisation?



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