Jihadist Recruiting Is Widespread

With the weakening of the historic al Qaeda core group, the death of Osama bin Laden, and the lack of a successful attack by Muslim groups on the homeland since 9/11, it seems easy to conclude that the danger of homegrown attacks is overstated by those who call attention to the phenomenon. However, some stubborn facts mitigate against such an easy dismissal of the concerns.

Dr. Brooks may be correct in noting that most of the broad Muslim population in the United States, estimated to be roughly 2 million, has neither the will nor the capacity to successfully plot attacks in the United States. What is left unstated is that the web of Muslim Brotherhood groups operating in the United States continues to inculcate and support a violent, exclusionist Islamist theology that represents a significant threat of radicalization at home and abroad. This theology is labeled “fundamentalist” because it is indeed well-grounded in the Koran and hadith, and after generations of Saudi funding it now dominates the main centers and levers of Islamic dawa, or proselytizing. Nonetheless these groups, largely foreign-funded and controlled by a core cadre in the United States, have persuaded successive administrations, including the current one, to view them as the sole valid interlocutors for the larger Muslim community.

The Congressional Research Service found that from May 2009 through October 2011, there were arrests made in 32 “ ‘homegrown,’ jihadist-inspired terrorist plots by American citizens or legal permanent residents of the United States.” In the seven prior years since the 9/11 attacks, there had been only 21. “The apparent spike in such activity from May 2009 to October 2011 suggests that at least some Americans—even if a tiny minority—continue to be susceptible to ideologies supporting a violent form of jihad.”[1]

Islamist theology and support for violent and subversive forms of jihad is documented as comprising a significant aspect of what is taught in most of the nation’s mosques and educational centers established or run by Muslim Brotherhood groups. These groups maintain a public discourse of moderation and a generic condemnation of terrorism, but are in fact deeply enmeshed in a theological tradition of violent jihad, anti-Semitism, and a disavowal of the West and of the United States in particular. This is the dangerous element driving those actively willing to carry out attacks.

The Brotherhood theology’s modern roots are in the writings of its founder, Hassan al-Banna, and his most influential successor, Sayyid Qutb. In a seminal 1946 article published in Egyptian al Risala magazine after visiting the United States, Qutb wrote: “All Westerners are the same: a rotten conscience, a false civilization. How I hate these Westerners, how I despise all of them without exception.” He came to believe the world is now in a state of jahiliyyah, or the primitive savagery of pre-Islamic revelation, and that Muslims had lost their way in large part because of Western influences. This echoes the writings of Ibn Taymiyya (d 1309), the most-cited source on jihadi websites, according the U.S. Military Academy Center for Combating Terrorism.

Qutb’s thinking crystallized in a slim tract, now his most enduring work, titled “Milestones,” which outlines not only the dismal state of the world, but the duty of Muslims to dispel the darkness by spreading Islam by whatever means available. All non-Islamic states were deemed illegitimate. Only the Koran, with its laws, is viewed as legitimate.[2] Qutb was hanged in 1966, but his book has remained in print in many languages and is sold on Muslim Brotherhood websites and in mosques around the world. The book can be found here.

There is ample documentation of the ties of such legacy groups as the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR); the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA); Muslim American Society and others to the Muslim Brotherhood, officially known as the al Ikhwan al-Muslimin. Much of the publicly available information was laid out in a series of court exhibits in the government’s case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) in Texas, where five leaders of the organization were convicted on 108 charges of support for terrorism, money laundering and tax fraud.[3] The case clearly ties the founding of CAIR and other Islamist groups directly to the Muslim Brotherhood, while the documents themselves, written for internal Ikhwan use, embrace the teaching of Qutb and other radicalized leaders. Among the documents presented was one from the early days of the Ikhwan in the United States declaring that:

The Ikhwan must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.[4]

There is ample documentation of the ongoing radical message these groups advance today, often through the main Brotherhood theologian, Yousef al-Qaradawi, who continues to publicly advocate the destruction of the state of Israel, the beating of women, the killing of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, justification of suicide bombings and the Islamization of the world. He has argued that armed jihad against the West is not wrong, simply impractical in the current situation where most Muslim populations are largely unarmed. In August 2004, Qaradawi issued a religious ruling that stated,

[A]ll of the Americans in Iraq are combatants, there is no difference between civilians and soldiers, and one should fight them, since the American civilians came to Iraq in order to serve the occupation. The abduction and killing of Americans in Iraq is a [religious] obligation so as to cause them to leave Iraq immediately. The mutilation of corpses [however] is forbidden in Islam.[5]

On January 9, 2009, he called on Allah to “take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people. Oh Allah, do not spare a single one of them. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one.”[6]

Dr. Brooks argues that one of the reasons for the growing number of arrests is the greater amount of tools law enforcement officials have to initiate inquiries into those potentially involved in terrorism, thereby giving the officials not only more leeway but “strong incentives to make sure they scour the environment for all evidence of terrorist activity.” This, however, overlooks the fact that, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, even more leeway existed and the level of alert, if anything, was significantly greater. It also ignores the deep pool of hate speech and violent discourse, premised on the belief that Islam alone is divinely ordained to rule the entire world, which forms a core tenet of much of the Islamic teaching in the United States.

Given that the legacy Brotherhood groups control a significant number of the mosques in the United States, and actively promote Qaradawi’s teachings, as well as act as the most visible interlocutors among the Muslim communities and local, state, and national government agencies, one cannot simply dismiss the message or messengers. As long as the message continues to be delivered, the threat remains.


[1] Jerome P. Bjelopera, “American Jihadist Terrorism: Combating a Complex Threat,” Congressional Research Service, November 15, 2011.

[2] The most readily available print version of the book is published by the Mother Mosque Foundation of Cedar Rapids, IA.

[3] Gretel C. Kovach, “Five Convicted in Terrorism Financing Trial,” The New York Times, November 24, 2008. For a fuller discussion of what the evidence in the case showed, see Douglas Farah and Ron Sandee, “The Ikhwan in North America: A Short History,” (pdf) NEFA Foundation, August 2007.

[4] United States of America v. Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development et al, No. 3:04-CR-240-G, United States District Court for the Northern Division of Texas, Dallas Division, Government Exhibit 003-0085.

[5] “Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi: Theologian of Terror in His Own Words,” Ant-Defamation League, February 2, 2009.

[6] “Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi on Al Jazeera Incites Against Jews, Arab Regimes, and the U.S.” Middle East Media Research Institute, January 12, 2009.

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • Risa Brooks argues that the threat of homegrown jihadist terrorism has often been exaggerated. U.S. Muslims have generally shown little inclination toward terrorism. The small minority who feel differently have proven themselves startlingly inept. The Muslim community has proven itself eager to report suspected militants, and many plots would never have progressed beyond fantasy without the “help” of FBI sting operations. Worrying too much about this threat diverts resources from other valuable FBI endeavors, foments suspicion in the Muslim community, and erodes our civil liberties.

Response Essays

  • Douglas Farah draws our attention to the recruiting efforts and propaganda of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is profoundly violent, anti-western, anti-Semitic, and pro-terrorist. The group’s propaganda is widespread in American mosques, he warns, and the Muslim Brotherhood exerts significant influence over Islam in America. Although American Muslims may not generally be inclined to violence, it is clear that some of them are, and we should not underestimate the threat when we can see it so clearly stated in the available recruitment and propaganda literature.

  • Michael German calls attention to the civil liberties violations that have sprung up as a direct result of our antiterrorism policies. Federal agencies have investigated tens of thousands of innocents and collected data on many more; the surveillance industrial complex has grown enormously, and traditional privacy protections have been removed. Meanwhile, we still often stop terrorists through a combination of their own incompetence, courage on the part of ordinary civilians, and plain good luck. This suggests that our surrender of civil liberties has done us little good, if any.

  • Brian Michael Jenkins examines American jihadism and concludes that it’s largely an Internet phenomenon. Sympathies for jihad run wider than they are deep. The 2009-2010 uptick in arrests can partly be explained by Somali reactions to the 2007 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. Jenkins finds that national and clan ties likely have more motivating power than al Qaeda’s ideology. Still, because Americans unrealistically expect 100% security, he voices concern that even a single terrorist success could provoke panicked overreactions.