THE NATURE OF RADICAL ISLAM:
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross' Personal Take
on the Character of Islamism
By Brian Schwartzman
But a far more difficult question -- given the fact that Gartenstein-Ross' ideas about radical Islam and terrorism are being taken quite seriously by major publications -- is: What implications does the young man's spiritual odyssey have beyond his own life story?
"One thing that helps people become more attracted to extremist ideologies is when kids aren't raised in any sort of religious tradition," said the 30-year-old author of My Year Inside Radical Islam, following a Center City event sponsored by the Middle East Forum, where, for the most part, he discussed his book.
Gartenstein-Ross now writes opinion pieces about trends within the American Muslim community, as well as law-enforcement techniques and international developments concerning radical Islam and terror. But his talk focused mostly on how he's gotten to that point.
Gartenstein-Ross, who grew up in rural Oregon, describes his parents as "New Age Jewish hippies" who displayed images of Jesus and Buddha in their home, and taught that all religions offered truth. They weren't synagogue members, but they apparently spelled their son's first name in a way that would give it a more Hebraic sound.
While a student at Wake Forest University, Gartenstein-Ross befriended a charismatic, Kenyan-born Muslim student, al-Husein Madhany, who eventually helped persuade him to convert to Islam and practice a liberal and open-minded brand of the faith.
After graduating Wake Forest in 1998, Gartenstein-Ross spent the better part of a year back in his hometown, working for the American headquarters of Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a Saudi Arabian Islamic charity that would later run afoul of U.S. law. He answered e-mail, distributed literature about Islam, and helped organize a few public events with several other American converts.
Gartenstein-Ross explained that, during this period, he came to hold a far more fundamentalist view of Islam, partly due to what he described as intense peer pressure. He stopped listening to music altogether -- because it was forbidden by Islam -- and began praying for the victory of Islamic fighters in Chechnya and elsewhere in the world.
Then, while in his second year in law school at New York University, Gartenstein-Ross -- who, at one point, believed that Islam sanctions the killing of apostates -- grew increasingly dissatisfied with the choices he'd made.
One Sunday, he woke and decided to attend church. Eventually, a minister conducted his wedding, and he and his Christian-born wife underwent adult baptism.
In fact, two Al-Haramain employees, including Gartenstein-Ross' former boss, Pete Seda, wound up being indicted for tax violations.
According to Gartenstein-Ross, Seda is now a fugitive living in Iran.
Gartenstein-Ross said that he voluntarily spoke at length with FBI agents about his one-time employer.
After working for a time as a commercial litigator, Gartenstein-Ross is now self-employed and working full-time as a counterterrorism consultant. He has published opinion pieces in The Weekly Standard and Commentary, is a regular on the Website counterterrorismblog.org,, and has been making the rounds on the Conservative talk-show circuit.
At the Middle East Forum event, held at the Center City law offices of Ballard Spahr, LLP, the author of My Year Inside Radical Islam, said that his book will spread awareness about the battle going on for the soul of extremists and moderates in the American Muslim community; both sectors draw on legitimate Islamic sources and interpretations.
"Does Islam inherently lend itself toward extremism? My book doesn't take that position, nor do I," said the author, who pointed out that there's a growing sense of "otherness" within the American Muslim community, although it hasn't nearly reached the level of disenchantment felt by Muslims in Europe.
"One way this plays out that is harmful, there is a general lack of partnership between the Muslim community and law enforcement," he continued.
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Daveed Gartenstein-Ross converted to Islam in his twenties and worked for the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation. Just before going off the deep end of radical Islam, however, he pulled back, then served as an FBI informant in its investigation of Al-Haramain. Now a senior consultant for the Gerard Group International, a counterterrorism and homeland security firm, Mr. Gartenstein-Ross advises federal and local law enforcement, analyzes threats, and conducts training seminars. He was a senior analyst at the Investigative Project on Terrorism in Washington, D.C., commercial litigator at Boies, Schiller & Flexner, and law clerk for the United States Court of Appeal. Mr. Gartenstein-Ross addressed the Middle East Forum on his memoir, My Year Inside Radical Islam, on March 5, 2007.
Bryan Schwartzman, a staff writer for The Jewish Exponent, wrote a report on Gartenstein-Ross' March 5, 2007, briefing.
The foregoing essay appeared in the MEF NEWS, March 5, 2007, and is an excerpt of Bryan Schwartzman's full report on Gartenstein-Ross' briefing, My Year Inside Radical Islam: A Briefing by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross. Schwartzman's full report was published in The Jewish Exponent, March 15, 2007.
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