drives a person to terrorism?
As Hamid (2008) notes, the drive to become a terrorist can be part of a personal journey that has roots in personal beliefs. For Hamid, those beliefs were religious and rooted in his Islamic conviction. He believed in the words of Mohammed and though he liked Christians as a boy, he was warned against befriending them: “By restricting my contact with Christians, I felt that I was doing a great deed to satisfy Allah” (p. 3). Thus, by not mixing with Christian society, the terrorist-to-be was steeling himself to later inflict harm on a people that he did not really know. So part of what drives a person to be a terrorist might be ignorance. Real-life education on what others are like and why they are not bad could help to prevent people from moving towards terrorism — but in the case of Hamid, it was his own community of people who kept him from being educated about Christians and taught him instead to hate them.
Thus, hate can also be a motivating factor in what drives a person to terror. However, there is also more that can be a motivating factor — such as an intense militancy in religious convictions, as Hamid (2008) experienced: “This militaristic attitude during prayers was the first step in preparing me for the concept of jihad against the ‘enemies of Allah,’ the non-Muslims” (p. 4). So the personal experience of Hamid shows what can drive a person to be a terrorist: ignorance, hatred, militancy.
There are other factors though too — such as cultural, political and economic factors. Poverty can be a reason that an individual turns towards a group of people who promise change and show that they can disrupt the existing social order and actually cause change to happen (through terrorist tactics). This would appeal to young people especially and many young persons are attracted to terrorist cells, as the recent attacks in Paris indicate: the alleged mastermind was in his 20s and was not very old at all (Gauthier-Villars, Meichtry, Bradley, 2015). Therefore, youth is a major factor too, though when poverty is also included and a sense of social injustice these factors can work together to produce a feeling of being part of a righteous cause, even though that cause obviously hurts others and is not righteous on the face of it. The youthfulness of the campaign can blind the individual from the reality of what is happening. Thus, again, education could be imperative in stemming the tide of this wave of ignorance.
Political factors and cultural factors play a part as well. The politics of the Middle East have long been simmering and there is a great distrust between their politics and those of the West as the West has invaded Iraq without justification after 9/11 (Froese, Mencken, 2009) and misunderstandings about why the U.S. intervened in Iraq have added to the overall bitterness of the situation.
It is perceived by terrorists that the West is corrupt and has bad values, which points to the cultural reasons that individuals might move to become terrorists. Like Hamid, they want to be pure and good Muslims and fight against the infidel — the person who offends God. This is what ISIS asserts in its official publication Dabiq: “By Allah, we will take our revenge!” (Foreword, 2015, p. 2)They believe they are part of a holy war, but this belief can impact anyone who goes to war, as Froese and Mencken (2009) show in their analysis of why people thought the invasion of Iraq was justified after 9/11.
Therefore, the cultural influence can be a major factor in why a person is driven to terrorism. If he or she is brought up in an environment where they are taught to view outsiders (or non-Muslims) as enemies then of course they will believe that a holy war is a good thing. They may not agree with terrorist tactics though, but that sort of agreement can come through indoctrination or education that they receive as they get more involved in extremist organizations within their community. So the cultural influences can be very important in shaping the way a person looks at the world as either with Allah or against Allah. That perception will likely weigh heavily in a person’s drive to terrorism — but there must also be insensitivity about the suffering of other people in order for that drive to be complete, because terrorism is a very cruel way to wage a war. Thus, those who are driven to it must be stripped of their humanity as well: they must lose any sense of what it means to be a human being and to have family and loved ones because only then could they participate in the kind of atrocities that terrorists perform.
This cultural factor might be the most important one of all — because of education can be used to enlighten individuals and rid them of their ignorance, it can also be used to an opposite end, which is to spread lies and keep people in ignorance about what they are doing and the reasons for why they are doing it. This mis-information stems from cultural cues and organizations within communities where anti-Western sentiment is fostered.
It may also be argued that continued fighting and wars and invasions may help to support this anti-Western sentiment, so perhaps constructing solutions towards peace can be achieved by working with institutions to reduce the extremist rhetoric and ideas spreading. However, it may be difficult to “dialogue” with individuals who are determined to be terrorists, as their motives are geared towards war and jihad and not towards peaceful dialogue or reconciliation. They aim to dominate and establish a political state of their own, as the RAND Corporation (2004) shows.
2. How would you explain the rise of Islamic extremist terrorism?
The rise of Islamic extremist terrorism has its roots in the history of conflict in the Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, “was created in 1926 in Egypt as a death cult” — complete with assassin squads who tried to assassinate Nasser in the 1950s (Engdahl, 2015). The CIA brought the Brotherhood into Saudi Arabia as an asset to support the Wahhabist faction of Islam, uniting political Islam under the Saudi monarchy with radical-conservative Islam under the Wahhabis (Engdahl, 2015). Thus, the aggressive views of the Muslim Brotherhood took shape in the form of aggressive political power in Saudi Arabia. Because the Saudis were wealthy as a result of the oil fields, this fusion largely succeeded. Soon the Muslim Brotherhood was being sent off to establish bases in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the CIA used the Brotherhood as a proxy to fight the Soviet Union.
For example, the wars in Afghanistan in the 1980s when the Soviets entered the Middle East and the U.S. helped to train the resistance fighters is a good explanation of how Islamic extremist terrorism got its start. It did not just show up one day out of the blue, but evolved out of a serious of historical transitions. The CIA funded the mujahedeen in the 1970s and they in turn started acting as terrorists in the region in attempts to destabilize the pro-Moscow government that had asked the Soviets to come into the region (Engdahl, 2015). The Pakistani Intelligence Agency assisted in the formation of the mujahedeen and Osama Bin Laden was brought in from Saudi Arabia to recruit young terrorists.
After the Soviet Army left the region, the mujahedeen was shipped to Chechnya because the Soviets had an oil pipeline that ran through the region and this pipeline was competition to Western oil pipeline plans. So a coup was initiated in Azerbaijan and a pro-U.S. dictator was installed in order to facilitate plans for the Western pipeline. These circumstances resulted in the Chechen wars of the 1990s. At the same time jihad was being waged in Bosnia against the Serbs in the Yugoslav civil war, and President Clinton was ordering the region to be bombed while everyone in the U.S. was distracted by the Monica Lewinsky “scandal” (Engdahl, 2015). This destabilization of yet another region through the combined efforts of Western bombings and Middle Eastern radical groups like the mujahedeen helped to foster the spirit of Islamist terrorism that by this point was growing out of control. It had been too well funded and trained and set on a path of destruction in order to pull out now. The Wahhabists were beginning their holy crusade in an attempt to establish a political state, which would of course culminate in the Islamic State today known as ISIS (Escobar, 2015).
Al-Qaeda in Iraq got started as terror squads with the support of Gen. Petraeus (Engdahl, 2015) and from their the homegrown terrorists spun out of control and that is when they broke off and developed into ISIS, conquering parts of Iraq and Syria. Of course, this was not really perceived as a bad thing as it further helped to destabilize Assad’s country, and the West wanted Assad removed from power as he had an alliance with Iran and Russia and did not support the Saudi pipeline plans. Thus, the idea of “moderate rebels” was invented to create the pretext for giving more weapons and funds and privilege to the latest terrorist cell. Syria finally asked Russia for assistance in fighting the terrorists and Russia is now leading a campaign to annihilate ISIS in the region with a substantial bombings and intelligence support.
The RAND Corporation (2004) states that the terrorists want their own land and their own government and that they require the assistance of local peoples for this plan, even though there are many people being sent to the assistance of ISIS from Suadi Arabia and other countries, which essentially means that ISIS is a proxy group. Nonetheless, the terrorists are being utilized all over the world in order to cause chaos and to destabilize regimes, and after each terror attack, new laws are passed that give more and more power of a totalitarian nature to world leaders, eliminating any lingering semblance of democratic values.
Every country is in a high state of alert as a result. As the RAND Corporation (2004) notes: “Jihad is a mission: al Qaeda is a process — it is not progress-oriented; its mission is to keep fighting to be worthy of Allah — only he will award victory” (p. 31). Thus, the religious significance of the Wahhabist sect also plays a determinant factor in the evolution of the Islamic extremist terrorist group.
In this manner, one can see that the Middle Eastern terrorists are a culmination of social (religo-cultural), political, and economic factors that converge to create a perfect storm of terrorist cells. The extreme radical Wahhabist sect of Islam started in Egypt and taken to Saudi Arabia, then to Pakistan and Afghanistan, has now spread to Iraq and Syria, though it is being fought against by other Muslim sects that do not support its radical vision or its terroristic mentality. Syrian and Iranian forces are working together to thwart the advancement of ISIS, and they are in turn viewed by the terrorists as secular states that are not deserving of the name of Islam or of Allah’s fidelity, and therefore they should die too. ISIS is counting on the support of Allah, but Westerners and Russia are counting on the support of their Christian God and so, in this sense, it is a religious war — but it is also a war for hegemony and control of a region very rich in resources and full of economic potential.
Engdahl, W. (2015). Interview 1112 with James Corbett. Corbett Report. Retrieved from https://www.corbettreport.com/interview-1012-william-engdahl-explains-the-context-of-the-paris-attacks/
Escobar, P. (2015). Say Hello to My Cruise Missiles. Asia Times. Retrieved from http://atimes.com/2015/10/say-hello-to-my-cruise-missiles-escobar/
Foreword. (2015). Dabiq, 12: 2-3.
Froese, P., Mencken, F. (2009). A U.S. Holy War? The effects of religion on Iraq War policy attitudes. Social Science Quarterly, 90(1): 103-116.
Gauthier-Villars, D., Meichtry, S., Bradley, M. (2015). Abdelhamid Abaaoud, Alleged
Ringleader of Paris Attacks, Was ‘Emir of War’ in Syria. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/alleged-mastermind-of-paris-attacks-was-emir-of-war-in-syria-1447907485
Hamid, T. (2008). The development of a Jihadist’s mind. The Jerusalem Post.
Retrieved from http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1200475901923&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2F
RAND Corporation. (2004). The Operational Code of the Jihadists: Slide Show. A Briefing Prepared for the Army Science Board.
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