Two years ago we released a research paper at Demos about Islamist terrorists in Europe. What we found was that they were not attracted to al-Qaeda by religion or ideology alone - but also by the glamour and excitement that al-Qaeda purports to offer. In fact, the behaviour of several wannabe Holy Warriors is remarkably similar to those spoofed in Three Lions, Chris Morris' satire of home grown terrorists: In a recent case in Canada, members of the Toronto 18 cell were discussing plans to decapitate the Canadian prime minister - before realising they couldn't remember what his name was.
A cyber-jihadist convicted in Britain in 2006 of incitement to commit acts of terrorism was known by the pseudonym of Irhaabii 007 (Irhaabii means terrorist in Arabic). A womanising, hard-drinking British secret agent is not the role model Osama bin Laden had in mind for his holy vanguard.
Like every anti-establishment movement before it, the al-Qaeda has become cool and recruiters know that and take care to cultivate this image. In our work, we found one terrorist recruiter who urged young male Muslims to join global jihad for "the adventure - it's better than a holiday", while one potential recruit was told that he would get the chance to "shoot a few rounds with a 9mm". For young men raised on a diet of Western culture, this all sound quite exciting.
The case of the three Birmingham based extremists convicted yesterday, Irfan Naseer, Irfan Khalid and Ashik Ali seems to fit that trend. At various points they were driving around motorways mimicking Murray Walker: "it's the four suicide bombers, driving around ready to take on England"; Khlad also is recorded having said "this is going to kick them (the infidels) that go the pub, and that... ". Boasting about the size of the attack, and the carnage it would unleash - bigger than 7/7 they thought - is a common trope among these groups.
There is little doubt these invididuals were extremists who had taken on a twisted form of religion, a rapid anti-Westernism, which they used to justify their plan. But to understand and reduce the appeal, such as through 'prevent' work, part of the task is to deglamourise the idea of Jihad and Holy War. Islamist terrorists are not Holy Warriors worthy of immitation; they are often narcissitic, misguided, selfish individuals. If you are angry with the world, there are better ways of changing it. Naseer, Khalid and Ali have done quite a bit of that work for us.