Category Archives: Terrorism

The Mainstreaming of White Nationalist Discourse Spawning Terrorism, and the new threat of Eco-Fascism

Speaking of the murderer of 50 Muslims in Christchurch, NZ, last week, Guardian columnist Jason Wilson commented during an ABC interview:

While he’s responsible for his actions the reasons for those actions go beyond him.

Someone recently expressed some surprise that an Australian terrorist in New Zealand would be focussed on Europe in his “manifesto”. Jason Wilson sees nothing surprising here at all, however. All white nationalists everywhere talk about Europe and their European identity, he explains.

European identity and sense of grand sweep of European white people history is what they are all about.

Jason Wilson

Their fundamental idea is that white people, the descendants of Europeans, are being replaced in their home countries by non-white immigrants from non-European cultures.

He was acting for political motives. Those political motives were incubated in a movement and the context for that movement has been an increasingly Islamophobic discourse in the English speaking west in last 20 years or so since the “war on terror” started.

What is especially worrying, however, is that these views are not confined to invisible pockets of extremists. Far right extremists, says Wilson, have been making adept use of the internet and the cloak of irony to sneak their discourse under the radar and into the mainstream of political discussion. Fox news, of course, we know about, but also the vast Australian News Corp media. Prominent Australian right wing columnist, Andrew Bolt, last year was writing about the very same theme at the centre of Brenton Tarrant’s The Great Replacement– the “threat” of a coming demographic replacement in Australia.

I had to look it up. Here is Bolt’s spiel; Tarrant could well have adapted it entirely from memory:

REPLACING LOCALS WITH IMMIGRANTS

Notice that line about immigrants being responsible for traffic problems. Anyone who has kept an ear to Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison will know he regularly “connects with his voter base” by mentioning the same problems in the same problematic context, even since the Christchurch shooting.

Jason Wilson again:

In a moral sense obviously he is responsible for his actions, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look at the movement he’s come out of and the broader context of the societies that he’s been living in over the last number of years – to think about how we might understand those actions.

But it gets worse, so go listen to some music or read a good book if you’ve had enough. Recall how Tarrant described himself as an eco-fascist and how I made some point about Nazism having a strong ecological interest? Well, here is Jason Wilson’s most recent article:

Eco-fascism is undergoing a revival in the fetid culture of the extreme right

The opening header says enough:

Some see looming ecological collapse as an opportunity to re-order society along their preferred, frankly genocidal, lines.

 

The Nazi slogan “blood and soil” was coined by their foremost ecological thinker, Richard Walter Darré, who meant it to capture a mystical link between race and a particular territory.

In the decades since the rise of the modern environmental movement, the far right has continued its efforts to co-opt ecological thoughts and corrupt environmental movements

. . . . .

It’s hard to know exactly how many people are immersed in this milieu, but we have seen the damage just one man can do. What else might this ideology inspire?

More broadly, while conservatives (like Trump) are fixated on denialism, parts of the radical right not only acknowledge environmental collapse, but welcome it as an opportunity to re-order society along their preferred lines, and to cleanse the Earth of those they despise.

This makes a democratic, just, and global response to climate change all the more urgent. We must save our planet, and we must not create even the smallest opportunities for fascists.

I feel unwell. Time to go and watch a nice murder mystery on tv and see if once again the most innocent back-seat character at the beginning of the show in the end turns out to be the killer.

Rightwing Terrorism in Context

Jason Burke

We have posted on Jason Burke’s books on Islamist terrorism (The New Threat: The Past, Present and Future of Islamic Militancy and Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror) so I was interested in read what Jason had to say about the recent terrorist attack in The Guardian, “What does Christchurch attack tell us about rightwing extremism?

What stood out most for me was his reminder that terrorist attacks in the 1970s and 1980s took far more lives in Europe than have modern Islamist attacks. I have copied the relevant section from Wikipedia:

Burke observes similarities between the current rightwing terrorists and the Islamists: read more »

Common Motives of the White Supremacist and Islamist Terrorists

Last night I read through the Christchurch (NZ) terrorist Brenton Tarrant’s ‘manifesto’, The Great Replacement, and was disturbed at how rational so much of it sounded. It did not read like the incoherent ravings of a madman and I suppose that’s what made it particularly disturbing.

I refer to white supremacy throughout the following but for what it’s worth Tarrant describes himself as an “ethno-nationalist” and “eco-fascist”.

Similarity 1 — free the homeland

Bin Laden wanted “crusaders” out of Muslim lands. Islamists fought the Russians in Afghanistan for that reason and then turned on the U.S. for its troop presence in the Arabian peninsula. Other Islamists followed and declared their intent ultimately to see the Western imperialist powers leave Muslim lands withdraw their financial and military support for pro-Western “secular-Muslim” dictators.

Brenton Tarrant makes a similar point his central theme: to declare war on “the invaders” of “European lands”. His consistent term for immigrants is “invaders”. Australia and New Zealand are included in his definition of European. The reason he says he chose New Zealand in the end was to demonstrate that there was no place on earth that “invaders” could go where they would be safe.

It hardly needs to spelled out that there is a significant difference between a people who enter foreign lands to secure control over resources and related strategic interests in the one case and those who enter foreign lands escaping from the ravages of war and breakdowns of civil society in the other. But that’s not how Tarrant sees it.

For the white supremacist the threat is that “white” and “European” people will become an oppressed minority because of the higher birthrate among the “invaders”. And race is a biological reality, he writes. The unarmed “invader” is actually a more serious threat than the armed invader because the unarmed are not opposed and are allowed to “take over” and “replace” the whites by default. If we would shoot armed invaders it is even more imperative to shoot unarmed invaders. Children, too, because they will grow up to become adult oppressors. (That reminds me of the argument used by certain Israelis to justify the killing of Palestinian babies and children.)

Similarity 2 — provoke a violent response

Bin Laden anticipated that the 9/11 attacks would provoke the U.S. into invading Middle Eastern countries in retaliation and that would result eventually in bringing the Muslim-West confrontation to a head with the eventual victory for the former. A violent response would radicalize many more opponents of the West to action and they experienced the ever more brutal revenge of the Western war machine.

The Great Replacement expresses a similar hope: that Muslims will retaliate to his act with similar violence and so bring about even more hatred and active resistance from the “whites” against them, eventually forcing them to leave. Not only on a local level, but even on a world-wide scale the author hopes for a further clear division between Western/European powers and Islamic nations.

(The tract even hopes for an ever more hostile debate over gun ownership in the United States in particular. So much so that eventually it will end in violence with those with the guns winning once and for all.)

Similarity 3 — revenge

Islamist terrorists speak of the Western imperialist nations as “crusaders”. They see a litany of barbarous crimes by Europeans (and their white appendage nations) extending back centuries.

The white supremacists (at least in The Great Replacement) reject the term “Islamophobe” because they do not fear Islam itself. But they do demonize the Muslims by presenting their history as one long bloody river of conquest and murders from the sixth century right up to today.

Does anyone else think here of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and how the Jews were demonized as a race throughout their history and up to the present day?

Similarity 4 — inspire by example

Tarrant says he does not act for fame and glory. He knows his name will not be remembered years from now. But he does express hope that by taking the “necessary” action that he has he will encourage others who feel the same way to follow and do the same.

Certainly some Islamists have acted for fame, but more commonly to set an “inspiring example” of courage to others.

Similarity 5 — belief in violence

Democracy is “mob rule” with the mob controlled by corporate powers, says the white supremacist in The Great Replacement. No great victory was ever won without sacrifice in blood. Violence, war, is the only way.

By contrast, white societies are said to be becoming weak because of their preference for diversity over unity, for their weak-willed acceptance of the dilution of their culture in the face of the foreign “invader”. Survival depends on more whites rising up to literally fight and die, to take on violence to save their culture and race.

Islamist literature exalts violence, too, and glorifies the blood of martyrs. Enough said.

Similarity 6 — vision of a future paradise

Oswald Mosley

If Islamists envisioned a “pure” Islamic society on earth and paradise in heaven, we read in The Great Replacement a vision of a future where white nations (and eventually all humanity) are living in freedom and in harmony with a protected and flourishing green and clean and fruitful environment. It reminds me of the Nazi vision but Tarrant insists he is not a Nazi. Yet he does profess dedication to the vision of the pre-WW2 British fascist Oswald Mosley.

. . .

That’s enough. I just wanted to make a note of the above while still fresh in my mind after reading The Great Replacement. Normally in a more serious analysis I would cite passages from both the work discussed and those I’m comparing it with. Maybe I will do that to add some weight to the points above at a future date.


Tarrant, Brenton. 2019. “The Great Replacement: Towards a New Society.”


The Heaviness of Christchurch, New Zealand

Everything else feels unreal after trying to take in the news from New Zealand this afternoon.

I looked at my collection of books that I had acquired in order to understand Islamist terrorism. No doubt there will be overlapping factors with white supremacists.

I am also mindful of the many people who have over the years through comments on this blog attempted to spread their hatred of Muslims (couched in language stressing their hate for Islam and not the “people” who, they go on to say, would commit rapes and murders if they took their religion “seriously”).

If you are one of those who has such vile views of Muslims, who think you know what Muslims are all about from what you have read and watched on hate sites that profess to present only “the facts” about Islam, stay away from here. Go somewhere else. You are not welcome and will not be engaged with here. I will put you on the spam list without second thought. As far as I am concerned you represent the equivalent of the vilest medieval antisemites.

 

 

Baby, It’s Cold Outside – a little vridar contribution to the debate

With all the controversy that keeps popping up over Baby, It’s Cold Outside. . . .

“Baby It’s Cold Outside”: Old versus Purified versions

Defending Men Who Want to Woo

‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ Backlash: As Stations Ban Song, Listeners Demand Its Return

Dean Martin’s Daughter Deana Speaks Out After the ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ Controversy

Radio stations are banning ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ for its questionable language, but a historian says it was once a feminist anthem

and no doubt many more….

. . . .

so much ado as new semantics clash with perceptions of old values, but curiously not a word, at least none I have noticed, about the role the song played in the rise of anti-Western terrorism.

Seriously …. it was a turning point in the life of the man who was to become the ideologue of Islamist terrorism, like a certain decorated corporal learning of the Treaty of Versailles . . . .

The Founder of Islamist Extremism and Terrorism

A famous tipping point for Qutb that seems to pop up frequently in any discussion of his experiences in America was a church dance, and not least the lyrics of the pop song being played, Baby It’s Cold Outside.

Jihad Closer to Marx than the Koran?

There has almost never been an example in Muslim history to parallel today’s terrorist acts.

I recently posted a few thoughts of Olivier Roy in his Jihad and Death and here I post something he said in an earlier book, Globalised Islam. In his Introduction chapter he has a section headed Is jihad closer to Marx than to the Koran?

His opening paragraph makes it clear that the terrorists are introducing innovations to Islamic views on the notion of jihad. In traditional Islam jihad is a collective duty contingent upon circumstances. It is only with modern radical innovators like Sayyid Qutb that jihad has been reinterpreted to mean a “permanent and individual duty”. Here is Roy’s opening paragraph (with my own bolding and paragraph formatting):

Where does the violence of Al Qaeda come from? Islamic radicals as well as many Western observers and experts try to root this violence in an Islamic tradition, or even in the Koran. As we have stated, the debate on what the Koran says is sterile and helps only to support prejudice. The reverse attitude (to explain that the Koran does not define jihad as an armed struggle, and so on) is equally sterile.

That the terrorists claim their violence is religiously motivated and legitimate is in itself important, but does not preclude what Islam really says on violence or from where the terrorists are really coming. We speak about people, acts and motivations, not theology.

Interestingly, however, the terrorists in their endeavour to root their wrath in the Koran are introducing some obvious religious innovations. The most important is the status of jihad. Whatever the complexity of the debate among scholars since the time of the Prophet, two points are clear: jihad is not one the five pillars of Islam (profession of faith, prayer, fasting, alms-giving and pilgrimage) and it is therefore a collective duty (fard kifaya), under given circumstances.

But the radicals, since Sayyid Qutb and Mohammed Farrag, explicitly consider jihad a permanent and individual duty (fard ‘ayn).30 This is probably the best criterion with which to draw a line between conservative neofundamentalists and radical ones: the latter are rightly called ‘jihadist’ by the Pakistani press. Among the few writings of Osama Bin Laden, the definition of jihad as a permanent and personal duty holds a central place.31 His concept of suicide attack is not found in Islam.32

31. See Bin Ladens fatwa (published by the London newspaper Al-Quds al-Atabi on 23 February 1998) stating that ‘to kill Americans is a personal duty for all Muslims’. The text can be found at (‘Text of Fatwah Urging Jihad against Americans’).

32. Many sheikhs have condemned the World Trade Centre attacks, while often supporting the Palestinian suicide bombers. See, for example. Sheikh Al Al-bani’s fatwa ‘Suicide Bombing in the Scales of Islamic Law’, which condemns any suicide attacks (‘These suicide missions are not Islamic – period!’; <http:// www.mushmtents.com/aminahsworld/Suicide_bombing2.html>); and the fatwa of Sheikh al-Qaradawi, which forbade attacks on civilians, except in Palestine (Doha, Qatar, 13 September 2001; <http://www.islam-onhne.net/ English/News/2001-09/13/article25.shtml>. See also the fatwa of Qaradawi and others at <http://www.unc.edu/~kurzman/Qaradawi_et_al.htm>.

(Globalised Islam, pp. 41f)

It is clear that jihad is traditionally a concept that is justified only as a collective Muslim community response to enemies. It is not, traditionally, “an individual and personal decision”.

The terrorists are evidently in something of a contradiction when on the one hand they claim to be following the pathways of their ancestors, and declare anyone who strays from their path an infidel, yet themselves justify their political activism on an “obvious innovation.”

[M]ost radical militants are engaged in action as individuals, cutting links with their ‘natural’ community (family, ethnic group and nation) to fight beyond the sphere of any real collective identity. This overemphasis on personal jihad complements the lonely situation of the militants, who do not follow their natural community, but join an imagined one.

There has almost never been an example in Muslim history to parallel today’s terrorist acts. . . . . (p. 42)

Some historical context

Some have suggested that most present-day conflicts involve Muslims. Maybe so, maybe not. (One should probably elaborate: most conflicts that are of interest to the West involve Muslims.)

read more »

Jihad and Death: The Hero and the Aesthetics of Violence

What inspires the most lethal assailants today is not so much the Quran but a thrilling cause and a call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends. (Scott Atran, ISIS is a revolution, 2015)

Violent extremism represents not the resurgence of traditional cultures, but their collapse, as young people unmoored from millennial traditions flail about in search of a social identity that gives personal significance and glory. (Scott Atran, … On Violent Extremism…, 2015)

To be in a revolutionary vanguard is an exciting thing. I was once part of just such a fantasy in the religious realm. We saw ourselves as pioneers, a very select few, called to witness to the coming apocalypse, to witness the destruction of society and to be exalted as glorified leaders in the new utopian world to follow. And if we died as martyrs before that transition, then our glory would be truly great.

Olivier Roy in Jihad and Death appears to concur with Atran’s perspective but with a difference. Roy stresses not so much the thrill of seeking to bring about revolution and millennial future but the black nihilism of the entire exercise.

A consistent characteristic of the jihadists, Roy says, is responding to a feeling of humiliation and being dominated by taking on the role of an “avenger” and “lone hero”. A lone hero, yes, but the group is most important, too, because it is the group that will eulogize him when he gets blown up or shot leading an assault.

Radicals’ obituaries are a succession of hagiographies, and even the body of the martyr is above the fate of the everyman: he is handsome and has a sweet smell, or he is sublimated in the explosion. (Jihad and Death, p. 49)

Roy finds most striking the “extraordinary narcissistic posturing” of these jihadists.

They broadcast themselves in self-produced videos before, during, and after their actions (posthumous videos). They pose on Facebook:

  • Salah Abdeslam posted a picture of himself holding the ISIS flag three weeks before the 13 November 2016 attacks in Paris (proof once again that the taqiyya—dissimulation—argument used to explain the normal life of the terrorists is unconvincing).
  • Coulibaly called French television stations while he was holding hostage the customers of the Hyper Cacher market on the outskirts of Paris.
  • Omar Mateen posted selfies while he was shooting his victims in Orlando.
  • Abdelhamid Abaaoud had himself filmed in Syria dragging enemy corpses. Larossi Abballa left statements on Facebook while he was still in the house of the murdered police officers,
  • and Adel Kermiche told his friends that they would be able to stream a video of the murder of Father Hamel in real time.

It is acting out the glory of the superhero in a movie or videogame.

A typical cliche is that of the future hero whose destiny is not at first clear, as he leads an empty or too-normal life. And then he receives the call (taken in its religious sense of a sudden vocation, but with reference to the popular video game “Call of Duty”) and turns into an almost supernatural, omnipotent character.

The narrative draws upon the mythical image of the first followers of Muhammad, to martyrdom and the right to sex slaves, to the conquest of deserts and cities.

A scene from film Salò

But this master narrative also fits within a very modern aesthetics of heroism and violence. Their video-editing techniques (fast cutting, succession of images, voice-over, slow motion used to dramatic effect, haunting modern music, juxtaposition of different scenes, targets plastered over faces) are those of video clips and reality television. Violence is theatricalized and scripted in sophisticated videos. Many executions are known to have been rehearsed prior to filming, which in some cases might explain the apparent passivity of the hostages.

This “barbarity” does not belong to times past: it makes use of a “Sadean” code such as that dramatized by Pier Paolo Pasolini in the film Salò (1975). A small, all-powerful group in a restricted space, united by an ideology, asserts all rights over life as well as sex. But this all-powerfulness takes on two different aspects: the law of the group and the staging of self. None of them can satisfy their desires on their own, none of them can rape at will: rape must be theatricalized and involve the group. As in the film Salò, in ISIS territory sex slaves are exhibited, exchanged, and forced into sexual behaviors that have nothing “matrimonial” about them. They are tortured and killed. But the group member who acts out of view of the others and without their approval is a transgressor and is executed in turn. Sharia, more than a legal system, is in this case a metaphor for the rules of the group, which has become a sect. (Jihad and Death, p. 50)

Thus Roy sees the ISIS as having set up a real-life “gaming space”. The heroes have a vast desert through which they can ride in their four-wheel drives, “hair and flags blowing in the wind, guns raised, fraternity exhibited by the uniform, often similar to the ninja model.”

Young losers from destitute suburbs become handsome, and plenty of young girls on Facebook go into raptures over their look. The video game turns into an epic adventure in a huge playground. (p. 51)


read more »

Why Blaming Islam for Terrorism is Misguided

Yes, we know that suicide terrorists regularly announce that they are killing in the name of Allah and they quote the Koran to justify what they are doing. And, of course we should, must, listen to what they say and take it seriously.

Far from denying any of that, I think it is all necessary information that needs to be registered and understood if we want to understand why some people proclaim that they “love death as we love life”.

One Vridar reader recently invited me to read an article that presented a point of view contradicting the one in my two recent posts on Jihad and Death. The article is Islamic Terrorism is Motivated by Religion, Not Retribution.

Let me explain as simply and clearly as possible why I believe the article is misguided.

The article’s fundamental argument is that

  • if we can show that the terrorists cannot be motivated by a desire to seek vengeance against Western powers for their policies in the Middle East,
  • and if we can show that the terrorists themselves repeatedly claim to be motivated by religion and quote the Koran to justify their killing,
  • then obviously we are forced to conclude that Islam is responsible for terrorism.

The article makes the comparison with neo-Nazis. It is obviously the ideology of the neo-Nazis that motivates their hate and racism; it ought to be just as obvious that it is Islam that motivates the Islamist terrorists.

The first point of the argument (to demonstrate that it makes no sense to blame Western powers foreign policies as the motivating grievance of the extremists) can be accepted. Terrorist movements have changed over the decades. (Western powers have certainly exacerbated and even created conditions that have fanned radicalization, but it is evident that many of the terrorist attacks are not directly related to seeking retribution for Western policies.)

It is the second point that is ill-informed. Islam has been around for a long time but the Islamist terrorism that we are witnessing day is a very recent development. It is a very “new thing” claiming to be inspired by something very old. It is like a modern day Jonestown type cult claiming to have rediscovered long-lost “truths” in the Bible of which the mainstream churches have for centuries forgotten or even heretically left behind. Look into the cult’s origins and you won’t find the Bible despite the insistence of cult members that the Bible is their sole authority. No, they have learned to interpret and apply Bible verses the way a cult leader has taught them in other writings and sermons. The question to ask is, What factors cause a person to join such a cult in the first place?

Ed Husain wrote of his own experience with extremism in The Islamist: why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left, and recalls the horror with which the Islamist ideology was met by most “ordinary Muslims” when they first heard of it. His recollections as a child spending time with his devout grandfather:

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. . . . (p. 10)

Then later when Ed was 16 years old:

. . . I recalled Grandpa and his students, many of them clerics trained in madrassas in India and Bangladesh, talking about the Jamat-e-Islam in disparaging terms. I had heard many of these conversations taking place between imams in various towns, and they complained about the increasing influence of jamat-e-Islami activists in their mosques. They had sought clarity from Grandpa about the nature of the Jamat-e-Islami, and Grandpa had spoken repeatedly about a man named Abul Ala Mawdudi.

Born in 1903, Mawdudi was a Pakistani journalist who translated the Koran according to his own whims, without reference to or within the paradigm of classical Muslim scholarship. He developed and promoted a new brand of Islam, highly politicized and deeply anti-Western. Mawdudi . . . was the first Muslim to reject Islam as a religion and rebrand it as an ‘ideology’. (pp. 22f, my bolding)

Likewise with Islamist violent extremism. Modern day “prophets” have written their own politico-religious ideologies that they claim to be based on the “long-forgotten truths” of the Koran and hadiths. The first was Qutb with Milestones. (The links are to Vridar posts on the topics. See the side box for the initial reception among religious Muslims on another early jihadist ideologue, Mawdudi.) Others have followed. One of the most influential is The Management of Savagery by “Naji”. My recent post mentioned Al-Awlaki, a major influence among English speaking recruits.

Those writings, not the Koran, are the Mein Kampfs of jihadism. Those writings lead persuaded readers to reject the preachings and Koranic studies of the imams and to quote-mine the Koran for proof-texts to justify their political and ideological agendas.

Understanding why

If we want to understand radicalism we need to go beyond what the extremists themselves say about their motives. Yes, we must listen to them, of course, and understand their world-view. But to take an extreme analogy, if someone says he believes God told him to kill someone, we don’t necessarily take his word as the whole story. We ask, Why did he believe God told him to do that? Is he mentally ill? Schizoid?

Some extreme Christian cults do horrible things, but it is hard to say that Christianity is to blame when most Christians deplore what they do. Instead, scholars study  psychological and sociological factors that are associated with persons joining extreme or bizarre cults. Same with Nazism. It would be ignorantly simplistic to blame Nietsche or even Socialism for the National-Socialist (Nazi) movement.

If we want to understand poverty we can blame the laziness and self-indulgence of the victims or we can take a more comprehensive view that includes a study of the institutional factors that have created a class of down-and-outs.

Many communities are enlightened enough to know that policing alone is inadequate to confront the problem of youth crime. Most parents know that youth behaviour is complex. So positive youth programs, clubs, recreational venues, and so forth are also very important.

Any attempt to blame Islam for terrorism runs into a few facts that belie that charge: jihadism is a very recent phenomenon — that is, it has only very recently emerged to become associated with the Muslim world; it has attracted only a very few, many of whom are largely ignorant of the details of the Koran and Islam and who often do not practice a religious life; and most Muslims deplore terrorist violence and are even overwhelmingly the victims of it.

If the religion of Islam is responsible for modern jihadism then we have to somehow explain why Islamist suicide bombers and other murderous jihadis were not part of our landscape for most of the twentieth century and earlier. We need to explain why most Muslims condemn their violence and why, given the larger picture, terrorists target mostly Muslims.

We need to build up a big picture. That will include listening to what the jihadis say about their motives but it will not naively assume that that is the entire story. After all, most followers of the Koran deplore terrorism so saying Islam causes terrorism makes no sense. It does not explain why a handful of people, contrary to the overwhelming majority of believers, say they are so motivated.

This post is only addressing the reason I am convinced that we cannot accuse the religion of Islam itself of being responsible for terrorist violence. I am not addressing here the studies that do explore, through data-based research, a more comprehensive understanding of what lies at the root of this modern horror.

Some of the past posts that do address those studies:

The most recent ones, of course, on Olivier Roy’s Jihad and Death: The Global Appeal of Islamic State

A series on Riaz Hassan’s Inside Muslim Minds

A series on Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko’s Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and to Us

Series on Jason Burke’s of The New Threat: The Past, Present, and Future of Islamic Militancy

On an article by Scott Atran and a series on his book, Talking with the Enemy

Several on Thomas Hegghammer’s publications:

A key quotation in Raffaello Pantucci’s “We Love Death as You Love Life”: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists

On Nate Rosenblatt’s All Jihad Is Local

On William McCants’ article How Terrorists Convince Themselves to Kill and other writings

And several on ISIS, including….

A post on by Mohammed Hafez’s Manufacturing Human Bombs: The Making of Palestinian Suicide Bombers

On Robert Pape’s Dying to Win

Then there are a number of posts on Islam more generally:

On Lily Zubaidah Rahim’s Muslim Secular Democracy: Voices from within

John Esposito’s Who Speaks for Islam?

A post containing an extensive bibliography:

There are many more posts accessible by searching for terms like “terrorism”, “islamism”, “islam”, “islamic state”.

 

 

Jihad and Death, part 2. “The Avenging Hero of the Suffering Muslim Community”

This post is a continuation from Jihad and Death, the global appeal of Islamic State.

–o0o–

Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could actually be regarded as religious novices. Very few have been brought up in strongly religious households, and there is a higher than average proportion of converts. Some are involved in drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes. MI5 says there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation. (Alan Travis, “MI5 Report Challenges Views on Terrorism in Britain,” The Guardian, 20 August 2008).

As a result of the above MI5 conclusion and similar findings by other professional researchers Olivier Roy concludes in Jihad and Death

But as we have seen, jihadis do not descend into violence after poring over the sacred texts. They do not have the necessary religious culture—and, above all, care little about having one. They do not become radicals because they have misread the texts or because they have been manipulated. They are radicals because they choose to be, because only radicalism appeals to them. No matter what database is taken as a reference, the paucity of religious knowledge among jihadis is patent. (p. 42)

Yet often we read commentaries by persons who seek explanations for terrorism in the religious texts of Islam. After all, those texts are within easy reach and would appear to offer easy answers. There is a problem, however. Reading sacred texts is not analysing the minds and personalities of the terrorists themselves. Roy himself puts part of the blame for this misguided approach on “the profound secularization of both our societies and our knowledge” so that we end up having “only a textual approach to religion, disregarding what [he calls] religiosity.”

Theology basically involves interpreting scriptures in a comprehensive discursive system that isolates dogma from all the rest: emotion, imagination, aesthetics, and so on. But what is at work here is precisely religiosity — in other words, the way in which the believer experiences religion and appropriates elements of theology, practices, imaginaries, and rites, to construct a transcendency for himself — and not religion. In the case of the jihadi, this construction places him in contempt of life: his own and that of others. (pp. 42-43, my bolding in all quotations)

Incantatory logic

The jihadi is infused less with “the methodological tradition of exegesis of the Prophets” than with visions of heroism and violence. The theology provides a veneer of “proof-texting” (my term, not Roy’s) rationalization for those visions. Such verses become incantations, or a Christian fundamentalist’s “proof-texts” or ideological slogans.

When young jihadis speak of “truth,” it is never in reference to discursive knowledge. They are referring to their own certainty, sometimes supported by an incantatory reference to the shuyukh, the sheikhs, whom they have never read. In them they thus find whatever they put there themselves. The linkage between their imaginary and science is brought about by two things: terminology (peppering ones French or English with Arabic words) and the brutal, non-discursive affirmation of a verse or a hadith, made up of one or two sentences at most, such as the famous verse: “Do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are allies of one another.” Short texts such as these are thrown up in peoples faces (just as the Red Guards threw Mao quotes in each others faces), without ever referring to other texts, let alone seeking a more overall logical significance. . . . . Radicals talk less about religion than Salafis do: their posts and their texts revolve more around action than religion. The circulation of religious texts is secondary with al-Qaeda, central in ISIS propaganda, incantatory among radicals. Their reading material is found mostly on the internet: al-Awlaki is very popular because he speaks English. (pp. 43-44)

The Avenging Hero

The “imaginary” that Olivier Roy believes to be the true interest of the jihadi terrorist is primarily that of “the avenging hero of the suffering Muslim community”. On what does he base this view? On what the terrorists themselves say. The same themes recur with them but Roy takes the words of the leader of the group responsible for the July 2005 London bombings, Mohammed Siddique Khan, as representative of their motivations:

1. Khan begins by citing the atrocities of the Western nations against the “Muslim people” (in the transcript he says, “my people all over the world”);

2. next, Kahn announces himself as fulfilling the role of the avenging hero (“I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters,” “Now you too will taste the reality of this situation”);

3. finally, he announces his love of death (“We love death as much as you love life”), and his confidence of entering heaven (“May Allah … raise me amongst those whom I love like the prophets, the messengers, the martyrs,” etc.).

The same vengeance motivation was dramatized by ISIS executioners when they made their victims suffer the same way as Muslims (e.g. wearing Guantanamo dress, being burned alive or blown up). read more »

Jihad and Death, the global appeal of Islamic State

Now that Islamic State has been defeated in the most prominent of its several bases it may not be a bad idea to extend our understanding of what we have just witnessed and its likely ongoing ramifications.

Olivier Roy

There is something terribly modern about the jihadi terrorist violence that has unfolded in the past twenty years or so.

Of course, neither terrorism nor jihad is a new phenomenon. Forms of “globalized” terrorism . . . developed as early as the late nineteenth century with the anarchist movement, culminating in the first manifestation of global terrorism with the alliance formed by the Baader-Meinhof gang, Palestinian extreme left groups, and the Japanese Red Army in the 1970s. As for the reference to jihad, it is found in the Quran and regularly resurfaces in the Muslim world—particularly through the term mujahid, characteristic of the Algerian Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) and the Afghan resistance.

What is new is the association of terrorism and jihadism with the deliberate pursuit of death.

Those are the opening lines of Jihad and Death: The Global Appeal of Islamic State by Olivier Roy, translated from French by Cynthia Schoch. The book has been noticed with reviews easy to find on the web — in Church Times, The Economist, Foreign Affairs, The Guardian, Haaretz, Jihad WatchMiddle East Media and Book Reviews Online, The National, New York Journal of Books, Our Daily ReadThe Times. . . .

Most of history’s terrorists are on record as carefully planning their escape. Olivier Roy sees the current wave Islamic State inspired terrorists as fundamentally a nihilistic youth movement. The perpetrators are not as a rule long and deeply immersed in Islam; on the contrary, their sentiments of fervent religiosity are expressed by a smattering of decontextualized “proof texts” and surface only in a matter of weeks or months before those perpetrators embark on their ultimate goal of a suicide mission. Before that time, and even during that same period, their lives are stained by unreligious practices — petty crime, alcohol, sex, drugs — but suicide, they believe will atone for all of their sins and even grant apostate family members a path to paradise.

It is a generational movement, Roy argues, comparable to the terror once wreaked by China’s Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution and by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. The old Islam of their parents is to be wiped out to make way for the original faith and practice. But they are not even making room for a new society; they seek death.

The caliphate is a fantasy. It is the myth of an ideological entity constantly expanding its territory. Its strategic impossibility explains why those who identify with it, instead of devoting themselves to the interests of local Muslims, have entered a death pact. There is no political perspective, no bright future, not even a place to pray in peace.

Roy speaks of the Islamization of radicalism. He rejects the notion that it is Islam that is being radicalized. No, it is the other way around today. Fundamentalism, he argues, does not produce violence. Other factors contribute to violence. Islam, moreover, condemns suicide missions of the type longed for by modern day Islamist terrorists, because it anticipates God’s will. The suicide bomber does not allow God to decide the time of his or her death and is for that reason condemned by even Salafi Muslims.

But while the concept of the caliphate is indeed part of the Muslim religious imaginary, the same is not true for the pursuit of death. Salafism, accused of all kinds of evils, condemns suicide because it anticipates Gods will. Salafism is primarily concerned with codifying individual behavior: it regulates everything, including the use of violence. Salafis are not out to die. Instead, obsessed by salvation, they need life in order to prepare to meet their Lord at the end of an earthly existence led according to its rites and rituals. (Roy, p. 4)

There is no military or strategic advantage to be won by ongoing suicide operations. Yes, we know about asymmetrical warfare and the power and even success achieved by small bands against organized national armies. But suicide attacks lose trained and hardened warriors every time. The goal as set out in radical manifestos is to fan further radicalization, especially among Muslim communities. Hence most targets are Muslims in the Middle East, not Westerners.

I believe that the systematic association with death is one of the keys to today’s radicalization: the nihilist dimension is central. What fascinates is pure revolt, not the construction of a utopia. Violence is not a means. It is an end in itself. It is violence devoid of a future. If this were not the case, it would be merely an option instead of a norm and a conscious choice.

But what about the lone wolf nutter?

The genius of ISIS is to offer young volunteers the narrative framework within which they can achieve their aspirations. So much the better for ISIS if other volunteers to die—psychopaths, people with suicidal tendencies, or rebels without a cause—have little to do with the movement, but are prepared to play out a scenario that lends their personal despair a global dimension. (p. 5)

It’s not easy reading interpretations like Roy’s. I look forward to what other specialists in the field have to say about his book, but so far he does not seem very far removed from what several of them have written.

If so, it will surely pass, just as other nihilistic and suicidal “fashions” among youth in the past have passed. That doesn’t make the present any easier, of course, and it leaves us apprehensive of what might follow.

This association of course does not cover the entire issue. It is perfectly conceivable that other, more “rational,” forms of terrorism might soon emerge on the scene. It is also possible that this form of terrorism is merely temporary and that the protest will take on other forms, perhaps more political ones. (p. 5)

 

 

Flawed Counter-Terrorists

Maajid Nawaz

A autobiography I found of special interest in understanding how a British Muslim became radicalized and eventually de-radicalized was Radical by Maajid Nawaz. I discussed one aspect of it in the post The Conflict between Islamism and Islam. From his biography and in his online writings and talks I have read and heard since there is absolutely no way I could ever think of Maajid Nawaz as an “anti-Muslim extremist” as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has branded him. (My reading of the SPLC’s justification is that key persons in that organization fail to understand the difference between Islam and Islamism, and it is such persons whom Nawaz and others warn against. Incidentally, I have had to ask at least one Islamist to stop using the comments on this blog as a platform for spreading that ideology.)

Maajid Nawaz comes across to me as a flawed leader in the constellation of counter-extremist efforts. There is no one cause for radicalization and different motivations propel different persons in that direction. I once posted that I saw Maajid Nawaz as an example of a “status seeking” radical, following the descriptions of a wide range of historical extremists by Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko in Friction. Such a motivation would explain what I think has been Maajid Nawaz’s biggest mistake — collaborating with a genuine “anti-Muslim extremist”, Sam Harris, with the publication and promotion of  their jointly authored book, Islam and the Future of Tolerance. The association has certainly lifted Maajid’s public profile at a time when reports that he had not fully honest about his past began to surface, but it would have been, well, possibly more appropriate for him to admit and apologize for past errors and move on by building on his experiences instead of offering opportunities for the Sam Harris’s and Jerry Coynes to falsely use him to promote prejudices he himself opposes. But, then again, there is money involved, and the need to sustain a cash flow for his organization, Quilliam. He has put himself in a difficult position.

Wheh! After all of that introduction, now to the point of this post. Salon.com has posted an interview with Maajid Nawaz where he is given a chance to explain himself and what he stands for, along with a commentary on the term he coined, “regressive left”, that has taken on entirely new connotations among Islamophobes like Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne.

Former Islamist radical Maajid Nawaz on “regressive leftism” — and why the SPLC has labeled him an “anti-Muslim extremist”

 

The changed profile of terrorism

[W]e are increasingly seeing a shift away from networks of individuals linked by shared ethnicity to parts of the world where dangerous groups gather, and towards jihadist ideas acting as beacons which draw in both disenfranchised young Muslims but also estranged individuals who were not born into Islam. The continuing presence of relatively recent converts in disrupted cells suggests that this is no longer a problem which is isolated among established Muslim communities, but rather that jihadist ideas within the United Kingdom are becoming the default anti-establishment movement for an increasingly diverse community of individuals. (Pantucci, Raffaello. 2015. “We Love Death as You Love Life”: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists. London: Hurst & Company, 2015., pp. 291f)

I deliberately avoided posting on this topic during the heat of the attacks a few months ago. I didn’t want to attract comments generated more by heat than a serious interest in learning what the qualified researchers are coming to understand. Unfortunately, I seriously wonder if voices like those of Sam Harris or Jerry Coyne or Richard Dawkins have ever felt the slightest need or interest to inform themselves about what the serious research has to say.

Does anyone who knows the U.S.A. reasonably well think that the alt-right is becoming a “default anti-establishment movement for an increasingly diverse community of individuals” there?

 

 

The End of “The Islamic State” . . . and information links for informed discussion

And so it ends in Mosul, Iraq . . . .

Mosul’s bloodbath: ‘We killed everyone – IS, men, women, children’

Meanwhile — as if one can slip from the contents of the above article with a helpless sigh — Tom Holland, a historian whose books I’ve much enjoyed — “Unlike most historians, Tom Holland writes books which bring the past to life” — has gone a bit funny with his gushiness over Christianity . . . .

It came from

Michael Bird:  Tom Holland: Why I Was Wrong about Christianity (2016-09-16)

Darrell Pursiful:  Tom Holland Was Wrong about Christianity (2016-09-16)

Larry Hurtado: Tom Holland and Hurtado on Early Christianity (2016-10-10)

and no doubt others I missed.

The reason I mention him in this context is that he has most recently he has produced a Channel 4 doco for the BBC that I have not seen, but I have read first, a rebuttal of a rebuttal of the doco, and then I read the rebuttal of the doco. I found both worth thinking about.

First, the one I also read first, the rebuttal of the rebuttal of Tom Holland’s doco:

An inconvenient truth: IS draws on Islamic sources for its inspiration by Philip Wood

Yes, there is no basis for critics of Atran and co to say that there is no religious role in terrorism. Of course religion plays a part. read more »

Proven Wrong in 5 Hours; A More Expert Response

Well it was a mere five hours from the time of my previous post before I was proven wrong. The name of the attacker was released shortly after I went to bed. If I had my wits about me I would have added a question mark at the end of the title and been more careful to couch my theme as a tentative hope.

So here is someone more qualified to discuss some critical aspects of this event, Jason Burke. I’ve posted on his work several times before on Vridar.

The first post discusses the re-emerging threat of Al Qaeda as Islamic State suffers battlefield reversals.

Jihadis are using vehicles to commit atrocities as military defeats degrade their ability to mount anything more ambitious

. . . . . . 

The veteran rival of Isis – al-Qaida – has long backed such actions and has also repeatedly targeted London. In 2005 the group commissioned and trained the leader of the 7/7 plotters who went on to kill 52 on the London Underground.

When such attacks became logistically difficult, al-Qaida sought to execute or inspire smaller scale operations, although its leaders rejected a suggestion that blades be attached to a tractor which would be driven through a crowd. However, al-Qaida publications did encourage strikes using vehicles.

Britain’s only Islamist-related terrorist casualty since 2005 was Lee Rigby, an off-duty soldier who was killed in south-east London in 2013 when he was run down by a car driven by two Islamic militants and then stabbed to death. 

The threat has increased “exponentially” since 2011, security officials have said. As Isis disintegrates, al-Qaida remains resilient and while the Islamist extremist ideology continues to attract new followers the threat will not decline substantially in the near future.

The second article I found interesting for its analysis of the wording used by Islamic State and what it reveals about the weakness of the movement.

No surprise that London attacker Khalid Masood was born in UK

A vast proportion of attacks over the 16 years since 9/11 have involved local volunteers attacking local targets

The news that the London attacker was born in Britain and inspired by extremist Islamist ideology was entirely predictable, as was his criminal record.

The standout detail from the sketchy profile we have of Khalid Masood is his age: 52, nearly twice that of most contemporary attackers.

The attack was claimed on Thursday by Islamic State. The group has been selective with such statements, which are credible, and careful in its vocabulary.

Significantly, Isis described a “soldier” who responded to its “call”, indicating the group probably did not have prior contact with Masood before the killings.

. . . . . 

Other words tend to be used to describe attackers like those who made up the network responsible for attacks in Paris and Brussels last year. They, for the most part, were trained, commissioned and dispatched by Isis planners after spending time in Syria. 

One aim of Isis is to give the impression of global reach. 

. . . . .

Finally, the nature of terrorist trends gives a false impression. On Thursday a man was arrested for trying to drive a car into a crowd in Antwerp. He had a shotgun and bladed weapons. Tactics spread quickly across international frontiers. A global plot? Or simply the copycat effect? The latter is almost certainly the case.

The reality is that contemporary Islamic extremist violence has never been as international as often imagined by the terrorists or their victims. The 11 September 2001 attacks involved hijackers who flew thousands of miles from homes in the Middle East and lived in the US for months before striking. But this was an anomaly, though one that distorted thinking about the nature of the threat for a decade. 

. . . . . 

There are exceptions. The Berlin attack before Christmas involved a transient Tunisian. A handful of the Paris attackers were from the Middle East.

Many of these men had previous involvement in serious and petty crime. For those already living on the margins of society and the law, the step towards violent activism is smaller than it might otherwise be. Prison is a key site of exposure to radical ideologies and people. Criminal contacts can provide essential – if often inadvertent – logistical help.

The significance of Masood’s age will later become clear. For the moment it simply underlines the variety of extremist profiles, and the unpredictability of the threat. Most Islamic militants have been between the ages of 18 and 35, with the average age declining in recent years. Some analysts see their attraction to radicalism as partly a generational rebellion. Violent rightwing militants tend to be much older. Thomas Mair, who killed MP Jo Cox last year, was 52.

Every case is, of course, unique. And the reality is that, much as all politics is essentially local, so is terrorism. Islamic extremist strategists have wrestled with this challenge to their global vision for years, and have yet to evolve an adequate response. Western experts argue interminably over whether the motives of individuals are 10% ideology and 90% local context or vice versa.

But the sad reality is that, though it may be reassuring to blame bad guys, or bad ideas, from a long way away for violence at home, no one should be surprised that the man who attacked one of Britain’s most symbolically charged locations was born in the UK.

Finally, an important article from a year ago explaining the reality behind the image of “the lone wolf”:

Terrorism is a social activity and the militants we encounter are often a product of a much broader environment – repeating the same tired tropes of jihadi thinking