Backyard Jihad is a useful tool for the general public and parents who want to learn more about processes of radicalization and how to spot the warning signs. Valerie L. Greenfeld has experience in the fields of security advocacy, physical and cyber security, political strategy, research and communications and a strong expertise in Middle East-U.S. foreign policy and counter-terrorism.
Interestingly, however, the book is not written for experts in these fields, but for curious non-specialized readers. It combines a high number of diverse case studies of radicalization processes — mostly, but not exclusively from, the US — with practical pieces of advice, which represent the core of the work. Every chapter contains real stories and ends with a list of steps to take related to the dynamics involved in that story and that chapter.
Practical Steps Suggested
Backyard Jihad is quick and efficient read with a fluid style that is enriched by appropriate theoretical frameworks and insights taken from major terrorism and radicalization experts. The most distinguishing feature of Greenfeld’s book is how she provides easy and practical steps to take if you begin to notice that a young individual could be radicalizing.
Undoubtedly, the book can be regarded as a starter pack of tips to educate parents and communities about how radicalization actually takes place and occurs both online and offline. Some of the writer’s suggestions include: cultivating awareness of your children’s friends and activities, keeping them emotionally connected to the family, not being complacent or creating a false sense of security, but being aware and realistic, teaching responsibility for one another and celebrating the courage to fail with resilience.
Understanding Radicalization Nuances
Other tips focus more markedly on the processes of radicalization: discussing extreme ideologies and how to recognize and avoid them, becoming aware of the differences between Islam the religion, and Islamism the political ideology, becoming aware that there are many reasons individuals radicalize and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to radicalization, and also, discussing taboo subjects such as bullying, stranger danger, sexual predators, hate groups, suicide, radicalization, terrorism, comparing the similarities between cults and jihadism, becoming familiar with the concept of groupthink, contagion, polarization and many others.
Some Advice Too Simplistic
In a couple of passages, the book sounds slightly simplistic. For example, it urges to “learn about terrorism financing and research organization before donating to charities”. While this is, undoubtedly, an admirable idea, the problem is its feasibility, given that this task is extremely hard even for terrorism experts and law enforcement authorities who have been working in the field.
The second piece of advice that sounded simplistic and tricky is “becoming aware of the effects of non-assimilation in American neighborhoods,” as we all should know that assimilation is just one — extremely controversial — integration model in contemporary societies.
Overall, the book is a valuable tool for parents and communities who are eager to understand radicalization and recruitment, although at times it lacks the analytical depth needed to tackle these complex phenomena.