Converts to Islam and Homegrown Jihadism

By Dr Julia Rushchenko

Security officials and those leading counter-extremism efforts must place greater emphasis on the dangers posed by recent converts to Islam, according to a new report published today.

Converts to Islam and Home Grown Jihadism analyses the ways in which the process of religious conversion intersects with radicalisation.

The report finds that:

  • Though the vast majority of converts to Islam are peaceful and law-abiding, they are over-represented among foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, and have been responsible for a range of major terrorist attacks. When taken together with other aggravating factors such as possession of a criminal record, paternal absence, and exposure to the messages of radical preachers, the process of conversion can indicate a vulnerability to extremism.
  • Ultra-conservative Salafi groups have proven more adept at proselytising activities, and the Islamic State (IS) has worked to ensure that its message is capable of being embraced by followers from a diverse array of backgrounds. This helps to explain the tendency of some converts to favour ultra-conservative versions of Islam.
  • The appeal of radical Islam as an ideology can extend well beyond communities historically associated with Islam. This should be taken into consideration by officials devising counter-radicalisation programmes and implementing the Prevent strategy.
  • More attention should be paid to conversions to Islam that take place in the context of prisons and probation services, with a particular focus on juvenile offender establishments and high security prisons.

Dr Julia Rushchenko, an Associate Research Fellow at The Henry Jackson Society’s Centre for the Response to Terrorism and Radicalisation, and author of the report, said:

“This report underscores the importance of considering the all-encompassing nature of Radical Islam as a pernicious ideology, which has proven capable of luring a wide range of individuals from across Europe.

“Policy-makers and practitioners must be alert to this specific but understudied danger, if they are to counter extremism effectively.”

Read the full report here.


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