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A “jihobbyist” is a term coined by Jarret Brachman to characterise a person who is not an active member of a violent jihadist organization such as Al-Qaeda or the Somali Al Shabaab, but who has a fascination with and enthusiasm for jihad and radical Islam.
Coining of the term, and characteristics of jihobbyists
The term was coined by Jarret Brachman in his 2008 book Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice. Brachman is the former director of research at the United States Military Academy's Combating Terrorism Center. He explains in his introduction to the book that it coins the new term "for enthusiasts of the global Jihadist ideology"
who emerge without direct assistance, training or support from any official al-Qaeda element. Some call them "self-starters", others refer to them as practitioners of "home-grown terrorism." Crucially, they come to the movement of their own volition. They may be guided by teachers, friends, mentors, or religious figures, but they largely drive their own radicalization.
Jihobbyists "are fans in the same way other people might follow football teams. But their sport is Al-Qaeda,” he explained, in an interview after the 2009 Fort Hood shooting by Nidal Malik Hasan, a Muslim American soldier who showed an interest in jihadist websites and views in the months prior to the shooting.
The Dallas Morning News, in a November 2009 article entitled "The rising threat from 'jihobbyists' in the U.S.", quoted Brachman as saying further that jihobbyists:
know the stats of their favorite players and know their backgrounds. They know the teams, and they cheer-lead. These guys most often will never do anything, and tend to fall out of this when they actually get real responsibilities, real lives.... For the jihobbyists, [Nidal Malik] Hasan was an overnight hero.... jihobbyism stops when you cross over that line from thought to action. That's not to say they're passive, because these guys are very active in the consumption and production of ideology online, and in their daily lives. But it's when they start stepping toward making something violent happen – including when you knowingly fund a terrorist organization – that crosses the line from jihobbyism to material support for terrorism.
He also explained in a PBS NewsHour interview by Gwen Ifill in January 2010 that a jihobbyist is "somebody who cheers from the sidelines as nothing more than a hobby", and that at times, as with Abu Dujana al-Khurasani, the suicide bomber in the Camp Chapman attack that killed seven Americans at a CIA operating base in Afghanistan, a jihobbyist may then sometimes take the next step and actually do something in the name of jihad.
Responding to an interview question as to how we might stop jihobbyists from turning violent, he said "this never happens out of the blue. We saw clues from Nidal Hasan, among others. There were a lot of red flags. The responsibility has to lie within the community, at the local level. That’s the importance of law enforcement — local guys on the beat. Also, there’s the Muslim community in the United States. There’s a civil war happening within Islam. We can try to influence from the outside, but Islam has to deal with this from the inside."
Aaron Weisburd, who founded Internet Haganah, criticized the term, writing: "The problem is that the term jihobbyist conveys the notion that these guys are not serious, that they do not constitute a threat. In fact what these guys are doing is marking time while waiting for the opportunities and associations to appear that will allow them to become real jihadis." Brachman responded by saying, in part, "[The term jihobbyist is] potentially useful in that it introduces shades of grey into the discussion: it acknowledges that people can support al-Qaida and wish death upon Americans, without ever ‘joining up’ officially", and that "The term, 'Jihobbyism,' also runs the risk of creating a false dichotomy between those who 'do' and those who 'talk.' The premise is flawed because 'talking' is a form of 'doing.' It may be less immediate in its consequences, but as we’ve learned, talking can actually be more dangerous than blowing stuff up: talking can serve as a force multiplier".
Revolution Muslim, a radical Islamist organization in New York City that advocates terrorism both in the U.S. and in democratic countries around the world, while observing "I would certainly have this phrase directed at me by Brachman and his associates", noted that many in the counter-terrorism field are worried that the term will lead people to underestimate the threat of domestic attacks, and suggested:
We should use this term in our public postings [because] ... 1. It draws a clear distinction between real mujahideen and people like me, which creates a feeling of inadequacy, and feelings of inadequacy drive people to eliminate that feeling through actions. 2. It turns any blogger who does anything remotely close to action into a failure by Brachman ... Even if Brachman's opinions have a positive result for the CT movement, it will be destroyed by the emphasis on this word by members of the jihadi community.
The Jawa Report observed in November 2009 that "jihadis do not exist in a vacuum on their own. They feed off each other, giving each other support, send each other propaganda which reinforces their radicalism, and they egg each other on to transition from ... "jihobbyist" to becoming terrorists."
An editorial in The Dallas Morning News in February 2010 said "something is terribly wrong in our country when lunacy ... becomes a political rallying point. The same holds true whether it's a group of "jihobbyists" praising the latest attack by Muslim extremists or the tiny weirdo fringe that thinks Timothy McVeigh was justified in blowing up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City." Evan Kohlmann, in a February 2010 article entitled "A Beacon for Extremists: The Ansar Al-Mujahideen Web Forum", wrote that al-Khurasani was "once a prominent online 'jihadist'" who was "written off as an eccentric until he blew himself up at a Central Intelligence Agency base in southeastern Afghanistan at the behest of the Pakistani Taliban."
Brachman described a virtual terrorist who uses the internet name "Nemo", and who has compiled an archive of virtual terrorist training manuals and posted them online, as the ultimate "Jihobbyist".
Colleen LaRose, who was investigated for terrorism and was known by the online moniker “Jihad Jane” is one notable example of such a person. Adam Gadahn is another example of an American convert indicted on treason charges for his role as media adviser to al-Qaeda.
Brachman, Jarret (2008). Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice. Taylor & Francis.
- "Counter-terrorism experts say Jihad Jane represents a threat from online 'jihobbyists'". Oneindia News. March 20, 2010. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
- "Attack on CIA in Afghanistan Blamed on Double Agent". PBS NewsHour. January 5, 2010. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
- Jarret Brachman (2008). Global jihadism: theory and practice. Taylor & Francis. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
- Montopoli, Brian (November 12, 2009). "Critics Say "Political Correctness" Caused Fort Hood - Political Hotsheet". CBS News. Retrieved June 5, 2010.
- "Links to imam followed in Fort Hood investigation". Star Tribune. November 8, 2009. Retrieved June 5, 2010.
- "Point Person: Our Q&A with Jarret Brachman". The Dallas Morning News. November 25, 2009. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
- Global jihadism: theory and practice, by Jarret Brachman "may be an enthusiast of the global Jihadist movement, someone who enjoys thinking about and watching the activities of the groups from the first and second tiers but generally they have no connection to al-Qaida or any other formal Jihadist groups."
- Shackleford, Rusty (March 11, 2010). "ABC: 'Net Posse Tracked 'Jihad Jane' for Three Years". The Jawa Report. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
- ""Responsa: The Pros and Cons with "Jihobbyism", Society for Internet Research, December 8, 2009". Sofir. December 6, 2009. Retrieved June 5, 2010.
- Tim Stevens (December 9, 2009). "Jihobbyism: What's In A Name?". The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
- "The Pros and Cons with "Jihobbyism"". Jarret Brachman. December 6, 2009. Retrieved June 5, 2010.
- ""Responsa: The Pros and Cons with "Jihobbyism", Society for Internet Research, December 8, 2009". Sofir. December 8, 2009. Retrieved June 5, 2010.
- Muslim, Revolution (April 28, 2010). "Fomenting Disunity In The Counter Terrorism Movement". Revolution Muslim. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
- "The Jawa Report: Hasan Friend Was Jihad Enthusiast, Linked to NY City Radical Muslim (Hasan also Linked?)". My Pet Jawa. November 17, 2009. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
- "Editorial: No heroism in Austin suicide attack". The Dallas Morning News. February 19, 2010. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
- Evan Kohlmann, "A Beacon for Extremists: The Ansar Al-Mujahideen Web Forum", CTC Sentinel, February 2010, accessed May 27, 2010]
- "Finding Nemo, the Terrorist Librarian". Fox News Channel. August 21, 2008. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
- "Jihad Jane case suggests rising threat from online 'jihobbyists'". The Christian Science Monitor. March 19, 2010. Retrieved May 27, 2010.