- They are normally second generation immigrants
- They have recently converted or reconverted to Islam - that is "born again" Muslims. Their conversion takes place in places like prisons, or in small group situations, or on the Internet. It does not take place in a mosque.
- They are fascinated by death
- They often had a background in petty crime
- They are often not very knowledgeable about Islam
He basically argues that these people are radicals with a hatred of society, who find in Islam a reason for their radicalism. However, Islam does not turn them into radicals - they were already radicals. Islam merely offers an excuse.
To summarise: the typical radical is a young, second-generation immigrant or convert, very often involved in episodes of petty crime, with practically no religious education, but having a rapid and recent trajectory of conversion/reconversion, more often in the framework of a group of friends or over the internet than in the context of a mosque. The embrace of religion is rarely kept secret, but rather is exhibited, but it does not necessarily correspond to immersion in religious practice. The rhetoric of rupture is violent – the enemy is kafir, one with whom no compromise is possible – but also includes their own family, the members of which are accused of observing Islam improperly, or refusing to convert....
As we have seen, jihadis do not descend into violence after poring over sacred texts. They do not have the necessary religious culture – and, above all, care little about having one. They do not become radicals because they have misread the texts or because they have been manipulated. They are radicals because they choose to be, because only radicalism appeals to them. No matter what database is taken as a reference, the paucity of religious knowledge among jihadis is glaring. According to leaked Isis records containing details for more than 4,000 foreign recruits, while most of the fighters are well-educated, 70% state that they have only basic knowledge of Islam....
Oddly enough, the defenders of the Islamic State never talk about sharia and almost never about the Islamic society that will be built under the auspices of Isis. Those who say that they went to Syria because they wanted “to live in a true Islamic society” are typically returnees who deny having participated in violence while there – as if wanting to wage jihad and wanting to live according to Islamic law were incompatible. And they are, in a way, because living in an Islamic society does not interest jihadis: they do not go to the Middle East to live, but to die. That is the paradox: these young radicals are not utopians, they are nihilists.
What is more radical about the new radicals than earlier generations of revolutionaries, Islamists and Salafis is their hatred of existing societies, whether western or Muslim. This hatred is embodied in the pursuit of their own death when committing mass murder. They kill themselves along with the world they reject. Since 11 September 2001, this is the radicals’ preferred modus operandi.
The suicidal mass killer is unfortunately a common contemporary figure. The typical example is the American school shooter, who goes to his school heavily armed, indiscriminately kills as many people as possible, then kills himself or lets himself be killed by the police. He has already posted photographs, videos and statements online. In them he assumed heroic poses and delighted in the fact that everyone would now know who he was. In the United States there were 50 attacks or attempted attacks of this sort between 1999 and 2016.
The boundaries between a suicidal mass killer of this sort and a militant for the caliphate are understandably hazy. The Nice killer, for instance, was first described as mentally ill and later as an Isis militant whose crime had been premeditated. But these ideas are not mutually exclusive.
The point here is not to mix all these categories together. Each one is specific, but there is a striking common thread that runs through the mass murders perpetrated by disaffected, nihilistic and suicidal youths. What organisations like al-Qaida and Isis provide is a script.