Small Wars Journal

Root Causes of Islamist Extremism: Nine Years Later

Share this Post

Root Causes of Islamist Extremism: Nine Years Later

by John D. Johnson

Download The Full Article: Root Causes of Islamist Extremism: Nine Years Later

The 9/11 attacks showed to the world that Islamist extremism presents a significant threat to international peace and security. Following the attacks, the 9/11 Commission issued a thorough report that considered all aspects of attacks, tried to answer the question of why the terrorists conducted the attacks, and made many important recommendations on ways to improve U.S. security against terrorism.

Nine years later, the U.S. is probably safer due to the implementation of many of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Report (e.g., the establishment of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the creation of a National Counterterrorism Center, and the improvement in interagency and international intelligence sharing), but it is not clear that our collective understanding of the grievances or root causes of Islamist extremism or that our counter-terrorism strategies have resulted in an environment where Islamist extremists are any less likely to attack the U.S., and the West more broadly.

This article considers the grievances of Islamist extremists involved in several recent terrorist attacks, presents an overview of the root causes of Islamist extremism and draws several analytical conclusions looking to the future.

Download The Full Article: Root Causes of Islamist Extremism: Nine Years Later

Lieutenant Colonel John D. Johnson is a U.S. Army Fellow assigned to the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. He holds a B.A. Degree in Business Finance from Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, an M.A. Degree in International Relations from Alliant International University, San Diego, California, and an M.M.A.S. Degree in Strategy from the U.S. Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. LTC Johnson has served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of the Army Staff, U.S. Army Europe, Multi-National Forces-Iraq (Baghdad), III Corps, U.S. Division South-Iraq (Basra), the 1st Infantry Division, the 1st Cavalry Division, and the 501st Military Intelligence Brigade.

About the Author(s)


Tom (not verified)

Mon, 01/10/2011 - 6:41pm

I would add two additional factors not covered in the paper: plural marriage and mental illness.

Polygamy universally results in an environment where too few prides exist for too many men. The occasional purge of young boys from the northern Arizona and southern Utah polygamist towns illustrates the phenomena in a non-violent manner. In the Muslim world, where polygamy is almost universally legal, sending a young not so bright son off to jihad is a good way of getting rid of someone that you cant marry off. This by itself is a powerful source of instability.

Likewise, mental health services are almost unknown in the Muslim world as well. Combine the traditions born of supporting polygamy with a male child who has a mental problem, many insurgents in my experience regardless of the theatre exhibit classic signs of mild schizophrenia, sending them off to fight becomes a practical solution for what to do with them.