Islam: terrorist sentenced; female suicide bombers; battle for the mind of young Algerians

Man sentenced to 22 years in L.A.-area terror plot

A man who planned attacks on military installations and synagogues in the Los Angeles area for an Islamic terrorist cell was sentenced Monday to 22 years in federal prison for conspiring to wage war against the United States.

Levar Haney Washington told a federal judge in Santa Ana that cell members “flirted with the possibility” of attacking targets but no longer believe “a military solution is possible” because “it belies reality.”

Washington, a convert to Islam, and three other defendants were members of Jam’iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh, a radical Islamic organization formed in prison by cell leader Kevin Lamar James. The group is better known as JIS and had no connection to al-Qaeda.

– Source: H.G. Reza, Man sentenced to 22 years in L.A.-area terror plot, Los Angeles Times, June 24, 2008

The Mind of a Female Suicide Bomber

No one remembers Hasna Maryi ever opening her family’s Koran. She rarely attended her village mosque and told others she regarded the Imam there as a lech. So it was not religious extremism that made this villager from Anbar province blow herself up at an Iraqi police checkpoint last summer, killing three officers and injuring at least 10 civilians.

Religion may not have been her motive, but Hasna was an early, willing casualty of the latest jihadi trend: the use of women on the frontlines of the Holy War. Although fewer than 30 of the nearly 1,000 suicide bombings since the end of the war have been attributed to women, American and Iraqi officials say jihadi groups are deploying female bombers far more frequently to slip past the heavy security cordons that are the backbone of the U.S. military’s surge strategy.

– Source: Bobby Ghosh, The Mind of a Female Suicide Bomber, TIME, June 22, 2008

In Algeria, a tug of war for young minds

First, Abdel Malek Outas’s teachers taught him to write math equations in Arabic, and embrace Islam and the Arab world. Then they told him to write in Latin letters that are no longer branded unpatriotic, and open his mind to the West.`

The confusion has bled off the pages of his math book and deep into his life. One moment, he is rapping; another, he recounts how he flirted with terrorism, agreeing two years ago to go with a recruiter to kill apostates in the name of jihad.

At a time of religious revival across the Muslim world, Algeria’s youth are in play. The focus of this contest is the schools, where for decades Islamists controlled what children learned, and how they learned, officials and education experts here said.

Now the government is urgently trying to re-engineer Algerian identity, changing the curriculum to wrest momentum from the Islamists, provide its youth with more employable skills, and combat the terrorism it fears schools have inadvertently encouraged.

It appears to be the most ambitious attempt in the region to change a school system to make its students less vulnerable to religious extremism.

But many educators are resisting the changes, and many disenchanted young men are dropping out of schools. It is a tense time in Algiers, where city streets are crowded with police officers and security checkpoints and alive with fears that Algeria is facing a resurgence of Islamic terrorism. From 1991 to 2002, as many as 200,000 Algerians died in fighting between government forces and Islamic terrorists. Now one of the main terrorist groups, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, or GSPC, has affiliated with Al Qaeda, rebranding itself as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

There is a sense this country could still go either way. Young people here in the capital appear extremely observant, filling mosques for the daily prayers, insisting that they have a place to pray in school. The strictest form of Islam, Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia, has become the gold standard for the young.

And yet, the young in Algiers also appear far more socially liberal than their peers in places like Egypt and Jordan. Young veiled women walk hand in hand, or sit leg to leg, with young men, public flirtations unthinkable in most other Muslim countries.

The two natures of the country reflect the way in which Algerian identity was cleaved in half by 132 years of French colonial rule, and then again by independence and forced Arabization.

– Source: Michael Slackman, In Algeria, a tug of war for young minds, International Herald Tribune, June 23, 2008

When two sides of Islam go head to head

In an interesting article, an opinion writer for The Independent (UK) says you can learn a lot of about two vastly different sides of Islam by watching reality TV:

If you were told the biographies of Big Brother contestants Mohamed Mohamed and Alex De-Gale, you wouldn’t find it hard to guess which one is the fundamentalist. Mohamed was born in Somalia in 1985. When he was five years old, he saw his mother being held at gunpoint, and thought she was going to die. Since then, he has spent most of his life fleeing from one civil war to another – until, finally, he was granted asylum in Britain. De-Gale was born in the same year in south London, to black British parents. She is now a lithe accounts executive with high cheekbones, short skirts, a BMW, and a seven-year old daughter she brings up on her own.

You guessed wrong. They wouldn’t use these terms, but Mohamed became a convinced secularist on the run from Somalia, while Alex learned a Wahhabbi interpretation of Islam on the streets of Tottenham.

– Source: Johann Hari, When two sides of Islam go head to head, Opinion, The Independent, UK, June 23, 2008

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This post was last updated: Jun. 24, 2008