Category Archives: Terrorism


Why do terrorists come from Islam?

by Neil Godfrey

That question is too often asked rhetorically. The answer that is implied is that there is a “clash of civilizations” and that Islam has been plaguing the West with terrorism ever since its birth in the seventh century. The question usually hides an anti-Islamic bigotry born of ignorance of both Islam itself (and that includes the very nature of religion) and history.

I have answered the question “why terrorists are generally Islamic” in The Origins of Islamic Militancy — for those seriously interested enough to truly understand.

Of course the fact is that throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s the only terrorists most of us ever heard about were fighting for national liberation and Islam per se rarely if ever entered the picture. Islamic terrorism is unquestionably a new phenomenon that has burst on the scene quite recently in historical terms.

I have added to my original post, The Origins of Islamic Militancy, since its first posting. I have added a section on global jihad and the author of this concept, Abdullah Azzam. I have one more section to add to this post and that will be Osama bin Laden’s contribution and what it was, historically, that led to his particular slant on what jihad should be all about. I will notify interested readers when I complete that section.


The Origins of Islamic Militancy

by Neil Godfrey

newthreatBased on my reading of the first chapter of The New Threat: The Past, Present, and Future of Islamic Militancy by Jason Burke. . . .


The earlier generation of terrorists before “Islamic terrorism”

The turning point was in October, 1981, argues Jason Burke. Prior to the 1980s the most well-known terrorists were Leila Khaled and Carlos the Jackal. Religious agendas were very rarely found in the mix of ethnic, nationalist, separatist and secular revolutionary agendas.

The terrorist act that changed all this was the assassination of President Anwar Sadat of Egypt in Cairo in October 1981. Sadat’s killers were very different from most of the terrorists of the decade before. (p. 24)

An ideological movement had taken root in the broader Muslim world — “a generalised rediscovery of religious observance and identity, coupled with a distrust of Western powers and culture.”

The historical matrix

History is necessary to enable us to understand. Burke points to the century between 1830 and 1930. These years saw the Russians, the Han Chinese and especially the Europeans invade and subjugate the Muslim regions from Morocco to Java, from the central Asian steppes to sub-Saharan Africa.

Almost all the invasions provoked a violent reaction among many local people. Resistance took many forms but, naturally enough in a deeply devout age, religion played a central role. Islam provided a rallying point for local communities more used to internecine struggle than campaigns against external enemies. (p. 25)

European armies and their local auxiliaries fought rebels whose motivations ranged widely but who all shared

a profound belief that they were acting in defence not only of their livelihoods, traditions and homes but of their faith. 

The superior technology of the foreign powers guaranteed the defeat of the rebels but these defeats were interpreted by the devout as evidence that they had neglected to please God and lost his favour.

Though by the twentieth century most movements had withered away a few remained active: British India’s North-West Frontier, Italian Libya, Palestine. The Afghans were not ruled by foreigners but in the 1920s they did throw out their king who had attempted to introduce foreign ways into his country.

Others chose withdrawal to open revolt, and to isolate themselves from the corrupting influences of alien cultures: e.g. the Deobandi school of India.

Some, however, fully embraced Western ideas in a spirit of rivalry. They sought to out-do their invaders: e.g. the University of Aligarh.

ed-husainEd Husain (author of The Islamist and previously posted about here) recalled as a boy growing up in a mainstream Muslim household when and the context in which he first heard the name Maududi:

“I liked Grandpa. Most of all, I used to delight in watching him slowly tie his turban, wrapping his head with a long piece of cloth, as befitted a humble Muslim, though he also seemed like a Mogul monarch. (Muslim scholars and kings both wore the turban in veneration of the Prophet Mohammed.) Whenever Grandpa visited Britain to teach Muslims about spirituality, my father accompanied him to as many places as he was able. My father believed that spiritual seekers did not gain knowledge from books alone, but learnt from what he called suhbah, or companionship. True mastery of spirituality required being at the service, or at least in the presence, of a noble guide. Grandpa was one such guide. . . .

“He often read aloud in Urdu, and explained his points in intricate Bengali, engaging the minds of others while I looked on bewildered. As they compared notes on abstract subjects in impenetrable languages, I buried myself in Inspector Morse or a Judy Blume. I heard names such as ‘Mawdudi’ being severely criticized, an organization named Jamat-e-Islami being refuted and invalidated on theological grounds. All of it was beyond me.” (The Islamist, p. 10, my bolding)


Abul Ala Maududi

What interests us, however, are those who took the middle road. The first was the work of Abd Ala’a Maududi [Abul Ala Maududi/Maudoodi/Mawdudi]:

In India, a political organisation called Jamaat Islami was founded in 1926. It sought religious and cultural renewal through non-violent social activism to mobilise the subcontinent’s Muslims to gain power. This approach involved embracing Western technology and selectively borrowing from Western political ideologies, while rejecting anything seen as inappropriate or immoral. (p. 26)

Hassan al-Banna

Hassan al-Banna

In Egypt, 1928, Hassan al-Banna founded a very similar group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Like the South Asian Jamaat Islami, it combined a conservative, religious social vision with a contemporary political one. For its followers, the state was to be appropriated, not dismantled, in order to create a perfect Islamic society. This approach was later dubbed Islamism

There were others across the Muslim world who rejected the compromise and non-violence of Jamaat Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood as the means to achieving their common goals.

By the early 1960s European powers had for most part withdrawn from the Muslim world leaving behind new regimes that had adopted Western ways and ideas: witness the new states founded in varying degrees of secularism and socialism. And of course there was Israel:

The establishment of the state of Israel, now recognized by the international community after a bloody war and the flight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from lands they had worked or owned for generations, acted as a new focus for diverse grievances among Arab and Muslim communities. Anti-Semitism had long existed in the Islamic world but, fused with anti-Zionism, gained a new and poisonous intensity. Defeat in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 deepened a sense of hurt, loss and humiliation. (p. 27)

Something more important was happening within the newly independent nations themselves: “immense demographic change”.

  • Population explosions
  • Urban population mushroomed and rural populations relatively declined
  • Urban areas of poverty and unhealthy conditions proliferated — inadequate electricity, sanitation, education, health services, policing
  • Food in short supply and expensive
  • Previous decades had produced many university graduates whose future expectations were now dashed
  • Traditional communities were being shattered: new shanty towns and apartment blocks meant that extended families were broken up, village communities were vanishing, traditional leaders lost their authority
    • For the older people there was loss. For those young enough not to know anything of the former rural life, there was disorientation.
Cairo slums

Cairo slums

Egypt’s President Sadat represented to many the worst of these changes. Sadat was opening up Egypt to the new capitalism and foreign investment that accelerated the extremes of the rich-poor divide. Middle incomes declined dramatically.

Worse still, a growing economic gap between rich and poor was accompanied by a growing cultural gap. During the riots in Cairo in 1977, favourite targets for arson and vandalism were nightclubs — of which more than three hundred opened during the decade — and luxury US made cars — of which imports had gone up fourteen times. Both were symbols of the lifestyle of an elite that was enjoying greater connection with the rest of the world, and particularly the West, but which was increasingly detached from the majority of Egyptian population. By the end of the decade, more than 30 percent of prime-time television programming was from the US, with episodes of Dallas repeated ad infinitum. Inequality was combined with a sense of cultural invasion. It was an explosive mix. (p. 28 – my bolding in all quotations)

Amidst those swayed by Western influence nationalist and socialist commitments were those who turned to their religion in various ways, some withdrawing into mysticism, for example, others looking for wider change. Islamism was spreading through the universities and professional bodies.

Islamism promised to re-establish confidence and pride and to provide a solution to the many pressing challenges now faced by tens of millions of people. (p. 28)

Jason Burke identifies this moment for the birth of the militant Islam so prominent today: read more »


Scott Atran’s response to Sam Harris & Jerry Coyne on religion and terrorism

by Neil Godfrey

Good to see Scott Atran respond specifically to the nonsense of Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne on the question of wheher religion is or isn’t a cause of current and past political violence. . . On his Facebook page:

How in fact can we destroy ISIS and its ilk. . . . It certainly will not be with the mindless diatribe against “religion” that produces exactly the kind of knee-jerk reaction that the Islamic State so conscientiously seeks

I have posted before on Sam Harris’s and Jerry Coyne’s ideologically driven dishonest and ignorant attacks on the researchers who do the hard work of understanding the causes of terrorism. Here’s part of Scott Atran’s response to the most recent falsehoods and distortions by Jerry Coyne: Once again Scott Atran exculpates religion as a cause of terrorism. Dismaying how some leading public intellectuals abuse their status and presume to be experts outside their specialist area and exploit the murderous acts of others as an opportunity to propagate their pet anti-theistic hobby horse.

Extract from Atran’s response (only and extract, do read the full post):

I have discussed the matter at length in the historical record (about 7 percent of recorded wars since the punic wars have been explicitly religious wars, and when non-religious conflicts take on a religious cast they also tend to endure and resist exit strategies).

I have also written empirical papers showing the role of religious claims . . .  in faith in the strict sharia of the Caliphate as one of 2 key motivators for volunteers for the Islamic State.

Yet, it remains a fact that the principal factors that predict actual involvement in violence concerns social network factors.

Coyne and Harris have never done a single empirical study involving violent political and religious actors, have never met one in the field (only ostensibly “reformed” ones in a safe environment), and not only do not know what they are talking about, but willfully distort and cherry pick statements -without the slightest awareness or scrutiny of the science – in repetitive declamations to support their ideological position and hackneyed harangue against “liberal apolegetics.”

I invite then to accompany me to the frontlines in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, or even to the banlieues of Paris, to see for themselves what is driving people to fight and die. And to discuss, as I regularly do, with military and political leaders how in fact we can destroy ISIS and its ilk.

It certainly will not be with the mindless diatribe against “religion” that produces exactly the kind of knee-jerk reaction that the Islamic State so conscientiously seeks, as outlined in tis manifesto Idarat at-Tawahoush (The Management of Savagery-Chaos,) and in the article in its online magazine Dabiq, titled “The Gray Zone,” whose goal is to eliminate any shady area between believer and non-believer, so as to polarize sentiment towards war.


ISIS: The First Step To Combating It

by Neil Godfrey
The first step to combating Isis is to understand it. We have yet to do so. That failure costs us dear. — Scott Atran in Mindless Terrorists? The truth  about ISIS is much worse (The Guardian)

We must fight their growing power any way, anywhere, we can. With words, with weapons, with sincere efforts at warm embrace for those who might otherwise be pulled or pushed into their dark world that would exterminate all who dare be free and different.

I think that most of us comfort ourselves with the thought that “they can’t win,” at least in the long run, that they must burn themselves out in their frenzy . . . . But this may be dead wrong. Why is it that so many young people are being drawn into this increasingly powerful destroyer of human rights, which despises the very idea of government of and by the people? — Scott Atran in correspondence with Professor Hoodbhoy in wake of UN address

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 8.01.17 pm

Military operations are obviously necessary but ISIS is not a conventional army. The risks of the wrong kind of military attack are warned against by Stern and Berger in ISIS: The State of Terror:

Even ground forces would likely not be enough to completely destroy ISIS. Absent a military invasion that would somehow— improbably, magically— transform both Iraq and Syria into truly viable, pluralistic states in which Sunnis and Shi’a both feel secure, ISIS would likely remain, at least as a terrorist group, for many years to come.

Beyond the necessity to oversee political change in both Iraq and Syria, a tall order indeed, the international impact of ISIS must also be considered, as it inspires oaths of loyalty and acts of violence in nearly every corner of the globe. As with its military might, ISIS’s potential to wreak terrorism has been limited until now, although the alignment of regional terror groups such as Jund al Khalifah in Algeria and Ansar Bayt al Maqdis in Egypt raise serious concerns going forward.

6 Millenarianism involves the expectation of sweeping societal change, possibly as a result of the apocalypse.

The broader problem is that jihadism has become a millenarian movement6 with mass appeal, in some ways similar to the revolutionary movements of the 1960s and ’70s, although its goals and the values it represents are far different.

Today’s radicals are expressing their dissatisfaction with the status quo by making war, not love. They are seduced by Thanatos rather than Eros. They “love death as much as you [in the West] love life,” in Osama bin Laden’s famous and often-paraphrased words. In this dark new world, children are seen to reenact beheadings with their toys, seduced by a familiar drama of the good guys killing the bad guys in order to save the world. Twitter users adopt the black flag by the tens of thousands. And people who barely know anything about Islam or Iraq are inspired to emulate ISIS’s brutal beheadings.

ISIS has established itself as a new paradigm, one that is more brutal, more sectarian, and more apocalyptic in its thinking than the groups that preceded it. ISIS is the crack cocaine of violent extremism, all of the elements that make it so alluring and addictive purified into a crystallized form.

ISIS’s goals are impossible, ludicrous, but that does not mean it can be easily destroyed. Our policies must look to the possible, which means containing and hopefully eliminating its military threat and choking off its export of ideas.

But certainly the history of ISIS and al Qaeda before it show that overwhelming military force is not a solution to hybrid organizations that straddle the line between terrorism and insurgency.

Our hammer strikes on al Qaeda spread its splinters around the world. Whatever approach we take in Iraq and Syria must be focused on containment and constriction, rather than simply smashing ISIS into ever more virulent bits. read more »


So why does this keep happening, and on this scale?

by Neil Godfrey

From The Daily Beast, by Maajid Nawaz, Paris Proves We’ll Never Kill Enough Jihadists to Stop Terror . . . .

So why does this keep happening, and on this scale?

The answer is not a comfortable one.

Jihadist terrorism is alive and kicking. And though we must continue to put terrorists on the back foot by targeting their leadership, we will never kill our way out of this phenomenon. In January 2013, after Bin Laden’s death but long before ISIS’s emergence, my counter-extremism organisation Quilliam declared (to choruses of raised eyebrows at the time), “It’s a full blown jihadist-insurgency, stupid.” And no insurgency is sustainable, or even possible, without a level of residual support for its core ideological aims among the core communities from which it draws its fighters.

Jihadism has well and truly taken root among an entire generation of angry young Muslims. This is particularly the case in Europe, where thousands have left to join ISIS. This insurgency is incredibly hard to tackle, because its recruits remain invisible in our very own societies, born and raised among us, fluent in our languages and culture, but full of venom for everything they have been raised into.

Though London is by now well overdue a similar attack, a question that could legitimately be asked is why does France seem to be bearing the brunt of such coordinated jihadist terror, up until now most potently symbolised by the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Unfortunately for France, though not unique to it, between 5 and 10 percent of its population is Muslim. Real, serious problems with economic and social integration prevail in this group, fuelling resentment on a scale that baffles most expert policy makers. Even if hundreds, out of millions, take this resentment to its deadly conclusion, France has a huge problem on its hands, as we saw on Friday. But so do we all.

Recognizing this is not to stigmatize every European or Western Muslim—the vast majority of whom are not, of course, jihadists—but it means being realistic about exactly where the challenge is coming from, and what the challenge is called: Islamism.

Up until now the bitter truth that our Muslim populations have been subjected to decades of sustained Islamist propaganda by those who live among them has gone almost totally ignored. The long term solution cannot continue to ignore this truth, and cannot continue to neglect those few Muslims, and others, attempting to take on this threat within their own communities.

For now, my guess will be that these attacks will only aid the anti-immigrant rhetoric of France’s far right, sweeping xenophobes to prominence, further polarising communities, which for good or for bad, will only sustain the process of radicalisation even further. This is so despite the fact that France has taken hardly any Syrian refugees, and Germany, which has taken tens of thousands, has yet to be hit as hard as France has. European born and raised jihadists have so far posed the biggest problem, not immigrants.


Love, Relationships and Terrorism

by Neil Godfrey

frictionPrevious posts in this series looking at Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us by Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko:

A number of critics who are more interested in attacking religion, especially Islam, than in making the effort to understand what scholarly research has uncovered about why individuals become terrorists have often missed a critical reason for radicalization. This reason seems too simple and some have scoffed at the idea as if it is some left-wing loony nonsense — such as anthropologist Scott Atran’s claim that street soccer networks can enable us to predict who is at risk of extremism. It is a fact, however, that some of us over time do get mixed up in things neither we nor any of our acquaintances would ever have suspected. And it’s not because we convert to some fanatical religious idea.



McCauley and Moskalenko introduce us to Sophia (Sonia) Perovskaya, a Russian girl born into nobility and who was attracted to idealistic student movements seeking to improve the lot of the peasantry. Her ideals forbade her from crossing the line of violence.

Like many others who ventured “into the people,” Sonia did not have much success in mobilizing the peasants. Instead, it appears from her letters at the time that she became more and more involved in the mission of making peasants’ lives better, having seen the horrible conditions in which they lived.

Failure to politicize the peasants led a fellow revolutionary, Andrei Zhelyabov (we met him in the first post of this series), to persuade a few that violence was the only answer. The peasants were too besotted with the Czar; kill the Czar and they would be forced to engage in actions for a better society. Sophia’s response was absolute refusal:

“revolutionaries must not consider themselves above the laws of humanity. Our exceptional position should not cloud our heads. First and foremost we are humans.”

read more »


Another study of ISIS

by Neil Godfrey

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 8.01.17 pmAbout a week ago I wrote a few notes on my reading of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan. I followed that with Jessica Stern’s and J.M. Berger’s ISIS: The State of Terror. It’s a great companion to former work; don’t hold off thinking it might be redundant if you’ve already read the former.

One small detail but a most valuable asset is an appendix by a Brown University doctoral student, Megan K. McBride, providing one of the most readable and informative outlines of the history and nature of Islam and where the various movements that culminated in ISIS fit in to that overview. My first reaction to reading it was to want to contact the author and seek permission to post it in Vridar.

A principal difference from the Weiss and Hassan study is that Stern and Berger explore in much greater depth the way ISIS is really such a modern phenomenon with the strategic ways it has exploited modern communication technologies, especially social media. I first heard the expression “barbarism empowered by modern technology” as a graduate student to refer to the Nazi machine of World War 2. ISIS is reverting to the most primitive forms of barbarism but empowering that barbaric message through modern communications technology. Beheadings have been historically employed as a “mercifully” swift means of execution; not for ISIS where some deliberately seek out blunt knives to do the job. The object is to strike fear, of course, as well as demonstrate to idealistic potential recruits just how serious they are. Bizarrely bloodthirsty messages are somehow mixed with video shots of an ideal visionary society, a caliphate where children are happy (even if playing with decapitated heads on corpse-lined streets) and the true ways of Allah ensure a purified “utopia”. Gone are the defeatist messages of the old terrorists like Al Qaeda with their expectations of being overwhelmed by godless forces and hopes for a future paradise. The heavenly kingdom is here now; the jihadists are strong and terrifying in their strength. That is their message and that is what makes them different from other terrorist groups. read more »


ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan

by Neil Godfrey

ISIS-Inside-the-Army-of-TerrorThere was a time I needed to read Marx and Mao to orient myself to the essential thought of the ideologies challenging the West. Never did I imagine that in my lifetime those works would be gathering dust and I’d be seeking out the likes of al-Maqdisi’s Democracy a Religion and Naji’s The Management of Savagery (and more recently, al-Suri’s – original name Nasur – Call for a Global Islamic Resistance)  to get a handle on contemporary threats.

Not long ago I devoured a cluster of works on Islam and terrorism and posted on snippets of that reading; the last few weeks I’ve been trying to catch up with Islamism (as distinct from Islam the religion and even “terrorism” per se — though there are obvious overlaps, of course). So most recently I’ve read Islam and the Future of Tolerance: a dialogue (by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz), Maajid Nawaz’s experience as a leader in a group with a long-term strategy of establishing Islamist regimes, Radical: my journey from Islamist extremism to a democratic awakening, Ed Husain’s The Islamist : why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left, and Isis: inside the army of terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan. (Still on my to-read list are three other very recent works on ISIS — by Stern & Berger, Cockburn and Burke.

I recommend Radical and The Islamist to anyone who thinks all Muslims are by the nature of their religion somewhat medieval in their values. Nawaz’s upbringing was not particularly religious but Hasain’s certainly was. Reading the lives of these two, especially that of Ed Husain, is an eye-opener to the stark difference between the religion of Islam and the ideology of Islamism.

ISIS: inside the army of terror is a depressing yet informative study of the group’s origins, its brutal nature and strikingly sudden emergence. Michael Weiss (Twitter) and Hassan Hassan (Facebook Community) interviewed many persons closely associated with terrorist organisations and others among the military and political establishments that have been directly involved with events connected to the rise of Islamic State.

The roots of ISIS appear to go right back to Saddam Hussein’s preparations for an American led invasion of his country. Well before the occupation he had prepared safe-houses, secret arms storages and underground economic machinations that would help sustain their secret networks and ongoing armed struggle against the occupiers. Much of Iraq’s army melted into this underground network after March-April 2003 and became the backbone of the various resistance and terrorist movements that followed. read more »


Why they join ISIS — and how deradicalisation works

by Neil Godfrey

An interesting account on Indonesians being attracted to ISIS and what the subsequent deradicalisation programs look like appeared yesterday on various ABC site recently: Islamic State training new generation of Indonesian terrorists…. (Not sure if the video segment will be available to anyone outside Australia, though); Young Indonesian jihadists explain who and what lured them to Islamic State; — preceded by an SMH article back in August, Islamic State contagion growing in Indonesia

The program focuses on a group of 500 South East Asian fighters in ISIS. The main recruiter of Indonesians uses social media from within ISIS to recruit other Indonesians.

The following quotations come from a mix of the reporting of Sarah Dingle and presenter Leigh Sales.

The role of networks

NOOR HUDA ISMAIL: My dad sent me to an Islamic boarding school when I was 12 in an Islamic boarding school and the school was founded by the founder of Jemaah Islamiyah, so literally, I share room with those Bali bombers when I was 12 for six years.

Why the different paths?

“Because of different trajectories, I missed the chance to get a scholarship to study in Pakistan back then Afghanistan,” he said.

“Because I was tainted, and I took a date with the daughter of the founder of the school, I was considered as not devoted enough to pass that test.”

Noor Huda Ismail made a documentary film showing how ISIS radicalises young men in Indonesia. One of these was Akhbar . . . .

AKHBAR (Jihadi Selfie documentary): When I was six, I had big dreams, really big. I wanted to be an Islamic scholar. I was lucky to get a high school scholarship to study religion and science and social studies in Turkey.

SARAH DINGLE: In Turkey, Akhbar had become aware of another Indonesian student, Yazid, who had gone to Syria to join IS.

AKHBAR (Jihadi Selfie documentary): I wanted to contact him because I wanted to go to Syria too. I felt bored with my life because it was the same every day. Live a glorious life or die a martyr.

SARAH DINGLE: They began to chat and over several months, Yazid became Akhbar’s key advisor on life in the caliphate.

NOOR HUDA ISMAIL: Yazid told Akhbar that if you join ISIS, if you come here, you get a lot of fun things to you, you can carry guns, you can running around with horse, you can shoot and the bonus, you get girls, you get laid. You know, that’s basically – that’s such an attractive call for young people like Akhbar. read more »


Slippery Slope to Terrorism

by Neil Godfrey

aa656-chernyshevskyPrevious posts in this series looking at Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us by Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko:

Starting at the Top: Rejecting Violence

Place: Russia
Year: 1875

Adrian Mikhailov was a talented Russian orphan who wanted more than anything else to use his skills to help lift impoverished peasants out of their miserable existence.

It was in boarding school, in the library attic, where his vision of a “new Russia” was inspired by writers like Chernyshevsky (author of What Is To Be Done?) and Dobrolubov. A scholarship enabled him to move to the University of Moscow where he mixed with like minded idealistic students. Their strategic vision (inspired by writings like What Is To Be Done? ) was to go to the peasants, live among them, become one of them, discuss their conditions with them and raise their awareness to understand how political action could lead to a better life. Adrian’s small commune started their own farm to work among “the people”.


Place: USA – Syria – Canada – Egypt – Somalia
Period: 1999-2001

Omar Hammami

Omar Hammami was baptized a Christian in his home state of Alabama. His mother was a Christian but Omar fell in love with the culture and people of Syria when he visited his father’s family in 1999 and soon afterwards became a Muslim. Though at first he had defended Osama bin Laden as a freedom fighter 9/11 prompted him to study his religion more seriously and he took a strong turn against politics. He turned to a Salafist interpretation of the Muslim religion that rejected involvement in politics totally. He condemned the killing of innocents and believed political interests only compromised the true values of Islam. Jihad, for Omar, was entirely a personal spiritual struggle.

Such were the positions from which Adrian and Omar began their respective slides into terrorism.

They both were opposed to violence, especially the murder of innocents, but both eventually found themselves in the thick of terrorist actions.

The Slippery Slope to Violence

read more »


Comparing Jewish and Islamic Terrorism

by Neil Godfrey

anonSolThere are a number of interesting similarities between

  • the West’s response to the anti-British terrorist campaigns of the Jewish terrorist groups Irgun and Lehi in the 1930s and 40s 


  • “our” response to Islamic terrorism in more recent years. 

There are also obvious differences but this post is taking a look at the similarities that struck me on reading Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947 by Bruce Hoffman.

Before looking at the parallels notice Hoffman’s striking concluding remarks on the relationship between the two terrorisms (my own bolding and formatting, pp. 483-4):

The Irgun’s terrorism campaign in fact is critical to understanding the evolution and development of contemporary terrorism. The group effectively directed its message to audiences far beyond the immediate geographic locus of its struggle — in New York and Washington and Paris and Moscow as much as in London and Jerusalem. This taught a powerful lesson to similarly aggrieved peoples elsewhere, who now saw in terrorism an effective means of transforming hitherto local conflicts into international issues.

  • Less than a decade later, the leader of the anti-British guerrilla campaign in Cyprus, General George Grivas, adopted an identical strategy. . . . the parallels between the two are unmistakable.
  • The internationalization of Palestinian Arab terrorism that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s would also appear to owe something to the quest for international attention and recognition that the Irgun’s own terrorist campaign . . . .
  • And the Brazilian revolutionary theorist Carlos Marighella’s famous Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla, which was essential reading for the various left-wing terrorist organizations that arose both in Latin America and in Western Europe during the 1960s and 1970s, embodies Begin’s strategy . . . .

Thus the foundations were laid for the transformation of terrorism in the late 1960s from a primarily localized phenomenon into the security problem of global proportions that it remains today.

Indeed, when U.S. military forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001, they found a copy of Begin’s seminal work, The Revolt, along with other books about the Jewish terrorist struggle, in the well-stocked library that al-Qaeda maintained at one of its training facilities in that country.


Extraordinary Rendition and Guantanamo for the “worst of the worst” 

The cabinet approved the decision two days later, and on October 19 [1944], 251 imprisoned Jewish terrorists whom the authorities deemed the most dangerous were secretly flown from Palestine to British-occupied Eritrea aboard eighteen DC-3 transport aircraft accompanied by fighter escort. (p. 153)

From there, Lankin was transferred under heavy guard to police headquarters at the Russian Compound for interrogation. Later that day he was brought to the adjacent central prison facility and, deemed the most dangerous of the lot, quickly transferred to Acre prison and then exiled to the secret terrorist detention facility in Eritrea. (p. 189)

International monitoring bodies like the Red Cross and problematic access to these remote prisons. . . .

The Geneva Convention said not to apply to terrorist prisoners who do not have POW status . . . . read more »


New Atheism, Tribalism and Ignorance of How Religion and Humans Work

by Neil Godfrey

heatherSometimes the most slap-dash of posts get the most attention and my recent post, Atheism, Cults and Toxicity, is the latest instance. At this moment it has garnered 111 comments and today Heather Hastie of Heather’s Homilies has responded to it with Is New Atheism a Cult? with another 72 responses at this moment.

The irony behind all of this kerfuffle is that I had decided to check out a book Jerry Coyne had cryptically complained about (it was written “by an Atheist Who Shall Not Be Named” he said for some unexplained reason). I only read the first few pages of C.J. Werleman’s book —

(is there some curse pronounced on anyone who names the author? Tough — I don’t agree with Coyne’s totalitarian tactic of erasing from all records memories of those he deems to be his opponents and banning all contrary political thought from his comments pages)

— anyway, as I was saying, I only read the first few pages of this work by an author (named C.J. Werleman) and was immediately struck by how “true” it rang with my own personal experience of exchanges with fervent supporters of Coyne’s, Harris’s and Dawkins’s views on the role of the Islamic religion in Islamic extremism today. It also struck a chord with my very similar experiences with some of the less scholarly advocates of the Christ Myth theory.

So I posted a few chunks of Werleman’s early pages that I believed hit the nail on the head in their description of the toxic tone of these Harris-Coyne-Dawkins and Murdock supporters with respect to the specific question of Islam and religion as forces of evil today.

Before I continue let me say that yes, I do agree that Islam’s teachings are socially retrograde in many respects but I also recall how it is only in recent years that Christianity itself and some Indigenous belief systems have begun to struggle out of many medieval and prehistoric values that have brought misery and even death in their wake; I oppose toxic and oppressive religions as anyone who has read anything about my past knows; and I do fully support any and all constructive programs aimed at encouraging liberalization with humanistic values in all faiths.

But let’s back track a step. This current flurry began when I attempted when Coyne posted the following words of mine directed to him:

Jerry, what concerns me about the various statements made by yourself along with Dawkins and Harris is that they are not informed by specialist scholarship — sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists et al — in Islamic and terrorist studies. Rather, they seem to be fueled by visceral reactions without the benefit of broader understanding and knowledge that comes from scholarly investigations into these phenomena. It almost appears to some of us that your criticisms are willfully ignorant of the scholarship. I find these visceral responses coming from trained scientists difficult to understand.

read more »


How Terrorists Are Made: 2 — Group Grievance

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing the series on Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us by Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko. Previous post: How Terrorists… 1 – Personal Grievance.

This post looks at the psychological mechanisms at work among those who are radicalized and turn to terrorist acts in response to threats or harm inflicted on a group of cause they care about.

Readiness to sacrifice for friends and family is so common that it is often seen as natural and no more in need of explanation than having two eyes. But sacrifices for non-kin present more of a puzzle.


Vera Zasulich (1849-1919), a leading nihilist, shoots and wounds police chief Trepov in retaliation for his brutality : she is tried but acquitted by a sympathetic court.1878

Vera Zasulich (1849-1919), shoots and wounds police chief Trepov in retaliation for his brutality : she is tried but acquitted by a sympathetic court.1878

Vera Zazulich (alt Zasulich. Link is to Wikipedia article)

Nineteenth century Russia was a time of social turmoil. Vera Zazulich, from a modest noble family, became involved in student activist circles. She was arrested and exiled to a remote village in 1869 but returned to mix with a new student group.

Zasulich became outraged over an event she read about in the newspapers — the flogging of a political prisoner. The Governor of St Petersburg, Trepov, had passed the prisoner twice; the first time the prisoner removed his hat but not the second time. Trepov ordered him to be flogged. Zasulich did not know the prisoner, was not herself threatened in any way, but according to her own testimony at her trial she decided to risk her own life to follow her conscience and attempt deliver justice upon cruel government officials for their mistreatment of student activists. (Zasulich had planned with a friend to kill two government officials and drew lots to decide their respective targets.)

Their motivation was to see justice done. It was entirely altruistic. They had nothing to gain; Zasulich was acting on behalf of people she did not know against others she did not know personally. Her actions and testimony following her crime (she did not attempt to hide and said she was prepared to face any penalty the court decided) make it clear that she had nothing to gain for herself. read more »


How Terrorists Are Made: 1 – Personal Grievance

by Neil Godfrey

frictionNot every book I discuss here I would recommend but I am about to post on chapters in Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us by Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko and this one I do recommend. It is a quick yet grounded introduction to a range of factors that turn people towards radical action against state powers, extremist violence and terrorism. Each chapter looks at one of twelve contributing factors through biographical case studies accompanied by descriptions of scientific research into the relevant human behaviour.

Some of the mechanisms for radicalization operate at an individual level; others involve the dynamics of small group and mass social psychology.

Not only do we read about “them” but we also learn what motivates “us” to fully support our governments to launch campaigns of state terrorism — war, torture, extra-judicial murder.

Sometimes it appears just one factor is enough to propel people to extremist violence; more often several factors come into play. Friction concludes with a look at the life of Osama bin Laden to demonstrate how a range of triggers and conditions coalesced in one person to lead to 9/11.

The message conveyed is that there is rarely a single simple explanation for why people become involved in extremist violence and terrorism.

Over the next several weeks/months I hope to address each of the twelve dynamics covered by McCauley and Moskalenko. The table below lists the topics to be covered. read more »