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Converts and Islamist Terrorism: An Introduction


icctPublication abstract

Converts to Islam represent a small percentage of the Muslim community in Western countries. Yet when it comes to Islamist extremism and terrorism, research has suggested that converts are considerably overrepresented. This ICCT Policy Brief serves as an introduction to this topic by providing an overview of what is known about converts’ involvement in homegrown jihadism and the foreign fighter phenomenon. Notwithstanding considerable reservations about the quantity and quality of the available data, this Policy Brief finds support for the notion of convert overrepresentation in these activities. This is especially so in the case of foreign fighters. What little data was found on converts’ involvement in homegrown jihadism provided a more nuanced picture, emphasizing that overrepresentation may not be the norm in all Western countries and that it may be a relatively recent development. Numerous explanations for converts’ involvement in Islamist extremism and terrorism have been provided, running the gamut from structural-level explanations to distinctly personal motives. At present, however, a comprehensive, theoretically sound and empirically grounded understanding of how and why converts become involved in Islamist militancy is absent. The Policy Brief concludes by stressing the need to develop our understanding of this important yet under-researched topic.

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