Saturday, January 16, 2010

What Could We Learn From Northern Virginia's Networked Neighborhoods?

Marisa at Making Sense of Jihad discusses the state of Northern Virginia's ethno-cultural landscape and suggests that researchers into radicalization might benefit from studying this modern melting pot.

NOVA happens to be my neighborhood, and I often think thoughts similar to hers as I go about my daily business among the Persian kabob shops and Korean BBQs, the Salvadorean papusa wagons that seem to be at every construction site, the Ethiopian barristas who work at the Starbucks across from my office, the Mongolian cultural school that's hosted in an Arlington Public Schools building (evidence of the effort that our Mongolian immigrant community, among others, exerts to prevent their kids from assimilating), and so on and on.

A few quotes:

There is a Persian kabob house at the intersection of Little River Turnpike and Beauregard Street. If you take a window seat and look out across the street you will see the typical landscape of Northern Virginia: an ethnic "strip mall" along a busy road. It's just one small commercial development among thousands in the crowded suburbs of Washington, DC.

The mall's road sign is symbolic of the community that tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants now call home. At the top of the sign is the Grand Mart logo. Grand Mart is a large ethnic supermarket chain, catering to practically every immigrant community in Northern Virginia (I wrote about a similar store at the other blog last year). There is also a pho, a "pollo place," a traditional Asian cafe, a sizable "dollar store," and, yes, a halal meat market. Far from being isolated in an urban ethnic ghetto, Northern Virginia's immigrant Muslim community is solidly working and middle class and coexists within this ethnic cacophony where words like "pollo," "halal" and "pho" are commonly seen and heard side-by-side.

Numerous studies including a recent US Department of Justice report released last week, conclude that there is no common narrative for radicalization, and no consistent profile for a violent Muslim radical. In the words of a recent LA Times article, "...researchers seeking lessons on preventing extremism found no definitive pattern of how the suspects turned to violence and no geographic center of radicalization in the U.S." However, if researchers can find out why this networked and interdependent community in Northern Virginia produces so many violent Muslim radicals, I think it would greatly improve our ability to understand our adversary.

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