The big news last week — in terms of the intersection of local law enforcement and national security — was the arrest of Abror Habibov, a Uzbekistan native who until last week operated kitchenware and cell-phone repair kiosks at the Orange Park Mall and other facilities throughout the country.
He was arrested for financially backing two Islamic State recruits who were slated to go half a world away to join the militant group. One of them got arrested at JFK airport; he was headed to Istanbul. The other was arrested in Brooklyn; his plan was to go to Istanbul next month.
Law enforcement was tipped off by posts the two recruits made on social media. Things like, “Greetings. We wanted to pledge our allegiance and commit ourselves while not present there, I am in USA now but we don’t have any arms. But is it possible to commit ourselves as dedicated martyrs anyway while here. What I’m saying is to shoot Obama and thn [sic] get shot ourselves. Will it do? That will strike fear in the hearts of Infidels.”
As readers know, I have covered related phenomena before, including the “Lonely Jihad” of Shelton Bell [Fightin’ Words, April 2], a graduate of Englewood High School, an unfocused kid who, looking for something to cling to as an anchor for his developing identity, latched on to the toxic ideology of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
It seemed anomalous a year ago. It seems less so now.
For years, federal officials have warned of “sleeper cells” in this country and throughout the Western world, of would-be terrorists who, given a trigger, would erupt in violence.
One thing everyone got wrong, though, is what the trigger would be. Yes, it’s what was broadly called “Islamofascism” a decade ago by the Bush/Cheney team. But where everyone got it wrong was in understanding how the more recent ISIS impulse would metastasize in the digital age.
Ten years ago, we were all on MySpace. Today, smartphones give constant contact with social networks: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
Additionally, the smartphone age has given a social outlet to people who might not otherwise have one in their communities. Extremist impulses and apocalyptic, self-destructive worldviews find their outlets through instant communication with the world’s more radical and destabilizing elements. Couple that with the youth unemployment crisis throughout the European Union and among many young people in this country, and you have an Olympic-sized pool of ready recruits, with new grievances being spawned constantly.
There have always been radical elements seeking to foment revolution. Anarchists a century ago, militants a half-century ago during the Vietnam era, militia and David Koresh-types in the 1990s, the ISIS dupes today. All of them believe they have no stake in the current order. To prove that point, they’re willing to commit to martyrdom for the cause. They feel powerless anyway, so why not?
In Jacksonville, as in many cities, we face a problem understanding what drives radicalism. There is a large swath of Northeast Florida’s political culture that unconscionably and unbelievably conflates ecumenical voices of moderation like Parvez Ahmed with these new-school radicals, these ideological dupes who do not represent true Islam. Because a certain political set feels the need to demonize a faith, we are further distanced from a nuanced discussion of what really drives Islamic State recruiting. And thus we are powerless to remedy the contributing factors.
The one thing that policymakers should have learned over the last couple of decades, through the rise of Al-Qaeda and ISIS alike, is that both these movements have self-perpetuating energies. Even the most robust military engagement is successful for only a limited time. The ideology itself, the fervid, quasi-theocratic nihilism, cannot be quashed with drone strikes and maximum-security prisons and all the rest of the “solutions.” That is the existential challenge the Anglo-American world order has faced for decades, and there is no respite in sight.