Former Islamic Extremist Speaks on 'Radicalization Process'

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - Radical Islam has the power to seduce young people who are spiritually unsatisfied, according to a former radical who now cooperates with the FBI and writes on terrorism.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross chronicles the "process of radicalization" in a new book, "My Year Inside Radical Islam."

He said he's concerned that too few Americans fully grasp the ideological component of the struggle against terrorism in the world today.

Absolutist interpretations of Islam allow no space for adherents to deviate from ideology, Gartenstein-Ross told a book publication party in Arlington, Va., over the weekend.

Although he grew up in a Jewish home in Ashland, Oregon, Gartenstein-Ross's family was not rooted in an organized religion, he explained in an interview. The book chronicles the journey Gartenstein-Ross took from Judaism to Islam and then radical Islam in the 1990s. He ultimately converted to Christianity.

Gartenstein-Ross said he wrote the book to show how alluring and persuasive radical Islam can be for those who are spiritually uncertain.

Gartenstein-Ross told Cybercast News Service that as a young man he had difficulty accepting the divinity of Jesus Christ and there was an "incoherence" at work that Islam was able to reconcile.

Although Muslims view Jesus as a prophet, they do not believe he is divine, Gartenstein-Ross explained in his book.

The "logic underlying the faith [Islam] appealed to me," he wrote.

The "seduction" of extremist teachings took hold of Gartenstein-Ross when he went to work for Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, a charity that promoted Wahhabism - a strict Sunni sect, founded by an 18th century Saudi theologian. The foundation was later exposed as being a source of terrorist funding.

"Part of Islam's seduction is its otherness - how different it is from anything else," Gartenstein-Ross wrote.

"And it would be a mistake to shortchange how satisfying a life is inside radical Islam. As I descended into radicalism, I had a greater feeling of certainty than I had known before. I felt that for the first time, I could truly comprehend and follow Allah's will and I knew that those who disagreed with me were just following their own desires," he added.

Among the strict guidelines Gartenstein-Ross embraced were a refusal to shake hands with women and a decision to stop listening to music. He grew a full beard and stopped wearing shorts.

But he began to have doubts about the "big picture" after leaving Al Haramain to attend New York University School of Law. It was evident to him that a number of Islamic radicals were working to re-establish the caliphate through jihad.

Although Islam was not an "easy in, easy out" religion, the author came to see that "his goal was to please God, not to cower before Islam's apostasy strictures."

After studying the central tenets of Christianity, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, he eventually converted to Christianity in late 2000.

'Understand the players'

When the FBI raided Al Haramain offices in 2003, Gartenstein-Ross decided he should act and contacted the authorities.

Rather than "wishing away" a former part of his life, he said he decided that the perspective it gave him about Islam could be used to benefit counter-terror efforts and to help educate others.

Gartenstein-Ross said it was critically important for policymakers and the public to understand what motivates converts to radical Islam.

"A lot of people on the right and the left have a cartoonish view of what is going on out there," he said. "We need to move beyond assumptions and understand the relevant actions and players."

The author told Cybercast News Service that policymakers and the public also need to be more discerning in how they identify radicals, and he cautioned about what he said was a tendency to "conflate" conservative Muslims with radicals.

"This is a mistake, because you can be a conservative Muslim and an ally in the war on terror," he said. "In many ways, conservatives are more helpful because they understand the ideology. They are more committed and can make the biggest difference."

Gartenstein-Ross is now a full-time counter-terrorism consultant. His commentaries on the subject have appeared in a number of media publications, and he has testified before the U.S. Senate on the spread of radical Islam in the nation's prison system.

The book event was held at the home of Richard Miniter, also an author and counter-terrorism expert.

"It's a very insightful book about the slow seduction of zealotry and the even harder and longer climb out away from zealotry," Miniter said.

Miniter told Cybercast News Service that young people who grow up in a secular liberal environment are more susceptible to radical teachings, because they "know something is missing."

By contrast, individuals who come from homes with a strong religious background are better prepared to resist extremist ideology, he said.

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