Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Terrorists & ex-terrorists

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Eric Martin has a thoughtful piece very much worth reading. It begins:

Johann Hari has a fascinating piece in The Independent that recounts his interviews with several British nationals that have made the journey from active participants in jihadi/terrorist causes and back.  Hari’s quest to find out how and why certain people join terrorist groups, or espouse and propagate radical Islamist ideology, had been frustrated by the reticence and dissembling of persons active in those circles.  His entreaties were met more with propaganda than introspection or insight. 

More recently, a group of increasingly vocal disillusioned ex-jihadis (the subjects of the story) have provided Hari with a more unguarded glimpse into the thought processes and evolution of radical.  Unsurprisingly, the profile that emerges tracks with the findings of Marc Sageman:

1.  Those that join these causes tend not to be very religious in their younger years.  In fact, their ignorance of Islam leads them to uncritically accept certain radical Wahhabist teachings as gospel.  Unfortunately, due to the fact that the Saudi Arabian government spends lavishly to spread Wahhabism to all corners of the globe through the state-funded proliferation of literature, teachers, madrasas and mosques, the Wahhabist presence is so ubiquitous and domineering that young Muslims looking to learn more about their religion frequently stumble upon this pernicious brand for lack of visible alternatives.  And, likewise, one of the most effective means of rehabilitating terrorists/jihadists is Koranic study.

2. The enlistees are not poor or uneducated – quite the opposite.  Most have quality educations and come from middle class backgrounds.

3. There is a common element of alienation: they tend to be first or second generation immigrants caught between worlds, without feeling at home or comfortable in any particular identity.  This is one of the reasons that many go looking for deeper meaning in their religious roots, and one of the alluring aspects of joining jihadist groups: they create a gang-like sense of group identity, belonging and a powerful bonding mechanism.     

…This is the identity I hear shouted by young Islamists throughout the East End: I might sound like you, but I am nothing like you. I am Other. I belong elsewhere – in a place that does not yet exist, but that I will create, with my fists and my fury.

Jimas told their members they were part of a persecuted billion, being blown up and locked down across the world. "It was a bit like a gang," he says. "And we had a strong sense of being under siege. It was all a conspiracy against Islam, and we were the guardians of Islam. That’s how we saw ourselves … A lot of my friends would wear the army boots, and carry knives." I realise now that for a nebbish intellectual boy, it must have felt intoxicating to be told he was part of a military movement that would inevitably conquer history.

In some instances, this sense of alienation is exacerbated by a traumatic incident of racism – Hari’s interviewees came of age during the rise of the skinhead movement in Britain, and many were physically attacked and otherwise menaced.

Given these factors, it would be overstating the case to argue that these recruits took up the radical cause in reaction to US/Western foreign policy.  However, it would also be myopic to suggest that such policies have no effect at all on the overall problem.  Rather than give in to the self-serving claim that "the terrorists will hate us no matter what we do" (partially true as there will always be some number of sadistic, desperate, disturbed people), it is better to look at ways that we can craft our policies to disrupt their operations, thwart recruiting efforts and reduce the numbers of actual terrorists and quality of support they receive (which should be the focus of proper counterterrorism).  Take for example, Maajid Nawaz’s attempts to recruit new militants in Egypt:

He started to recruit other students, as he had done so many times before. But it was harder. "Everyone hated the [unelected] government [of Hosni Mubarak], and the US for backing it," he says. But there was an inhibiting sympathy for the victims of 9/11 – until the Bush administration began to respond with Guantanamo Bay and bombs. "That made it much easier. After that, I could persuade people a lot faster."

And later:

Every one of them said the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 – from Guantanamo to Iraq – made jihadism seem more like an accurate description of the world. Hadiya Masieh, a tiny female former [Hizb ut-Tahrir] HT organiser, tells me: "You’d see Bush on the television building torture camps and bombing Muslims and you think – anything is justified to stop this. What are we meant to do, just stand still and let him cut our throats?"

On the other hand, instances of commitment to liberal, democratic ideals helped to puncture the spell of jihadi propaganda: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2009 at 4:21 pm

Posted in Daily life, Terrorism

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