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Organizational Learning and Islamic Extremism

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)
Original Solicitation

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2006, $148,862)

This research hypothesizes that Islamic extremists gather and interpret information and experience; store this knowledge in practices, procedures, and artifacts (including Internet documents and web sites); and select and retain innovations that produce satisfactory results. In other words, Islamists 'learn,' building skills, improving practices, and becoming increasingly difficult for government law enforcers to eliminate.

Building on previously funded NIJ research and theories of organizational learning, the PI proposes to increase our understanding of how Islamic militants learn through a comparative case study of extremist networks in Spain and the United Kingdom. Contrary to existing studies that rely almost exclusively on data sources external to terrorist groups, this research aims to open the 'black box' of Islamist groups, exploring decision-making and interpretation processes by the people that actually do it.

Using the methods of structured, focused comparison, and process tracing, the PI will construct a primary source data set containing interviews with 80 key informants, including incarcerated Islamists, their closest associates and knowledgeable acquaintances, and government counter-terrorism officials in Spain and the United Kingdom. The PI will complement these data with secondary sources, including court-room testimony from alleged extremists and terrorists-turned-government informants, media reports, government documents, and academic studies on terrorism learning in other cases. The PI will blend positivist and interpretive methods in analyzing these primary and secondary source data.

While international in scope, this research has direct implications for criminal justice policy and practice in the United States. By increasing our understanding of the organizational learning processes undertaken by Islamist networks in Europe, the research will help prevent terrorist attacks against the United States. American law enforcement and policy makers must better understand how Islamists in Europe inhabit communities of practice that share and create knowledge and experience and the implications these learning processes have for counter-terrorism policy.


Date Created: September 12, 2006