Why are they becoming terrorists?

Aydoğan Vatandaş
Aydoğan Vatandaş


Date posted: January 12, 2015

AYDOĞAN VATANDAŞ

Whatever the reason or the motivation for the horrible terrorist attacks in Paris, it is obvious that it is against the basic principles of Islam and should be strongly condemned by Muslims throughout the world.

The Paris attacks have once more called into question the argument that Islam itself is the factor motivating jihadist terrorists. However this maximalist argument is not true. Even though some Salafi-jihadist interpretations endorse these terrorist acts, the crystal clear fact is that mainstream understandings of Islam never approve of terrorism. (Not all Salafi groups endorse terrorism, by the way) The argument that suggests that Islam itself is the main cause of the problem and the motivation of the terrorists is certainly simplistic and cannot provide a healthy solution to the problem.

After the brutal attacks of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), for instance, Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who resides in Pennsylvania, in the US, placed ads in leading newspapers condemning the atrocities.

His statements, which appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, Gülen said the actions of ISIL are a “disgrace to the faith they proclaim to follow and are crimes against humanity.”

The motivations of these individuals who engaged in terror may differ and are not necessarily relevant to religiosity. There are even several scholars who state that jihadist actors cannot be primarily motivated by religious ideas because they are not particularly religious in the first place.

In his article titled “No Direction Home?” which appeared on The International Center for the Study of Terrorism (ICST) blog on May 13, 2013, Professor John Horgan, who directs the University of Pennsylvania ICST, notes that radicalization in general is the main reason for terrorist engagement.

In an article called “Understanding terrorism” on the American Psychological Association website, Tori DeAngelis summarizes the findings of Professor Horgan about the people who are more open to terrorist recruitment efforts and radicalization:

“They feel angry, alienated or disenfranchised. They believe that their current political involvement does not give them the power to effect real change. They identify with perceived victims of the social injustice they are fighting. They feel the need to take action rather than just talking about the problem. They believe that engaging in violence against the state is not immoral. They have friends or family sympathetic to the cause. They believe that joining a movement offers social and psychological rewards such as adventure, camaraderie and a heightened sense of identity.”

In her well-known article “Deradicalization or Disengagement of Terrorists: Is It Possible?’ the prominent scholar Jessica Stern notes that terrorists who claim to be motivated by religious ideology are often ignorant about Islam:

“In a survey of 516 Guantánamo detainees, researchers at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point found that knowing another member of Al Qaeda was a better predictor of who became a terrorist than was believing in the idea of jihad. Interestingly, terrorists who claim to be motivated by religious ideology are often ignorant about Islam. Our hosts in Riyadh told us the vast majority of ‘beneficiaries,’ as its administrators call participants, did not have much formal education or proper religious instruction and had only a limited and incomplete understanding of Islam. In the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe, second- and third-generation Muslim youth are rebelling against what they perceive as culturally-contaminated, ‘soft’ Islam, as practiced by their parents and promoted in the local mosque. They prefer the ‘purer’ Islam they discover through their studies on the Internet or in some cases, via imams from the Middle East. Lack of knowledge about Islam makes youth vulnerable to ‘training’ by barely-educated, self-appointed imams. For example, in the Netherlands, the Hofstadt Group –comprised mostly of young Dutch nationals of Moroccan parentage — designed what a police intelligence officer described as a ‘Do-it-Yourself’ version of Islam, based in part on what the group learned about Takfiri ideology on the Internet and in part on the ‘teachings’ of a self-taught Syrian imam who was a former drug dealer.”

Professor Stern also says that group dynamics are as important as social grievances.

“Young people are sometimes attracted to terrorist movements through social connections, music, fashion, or life-style; only later do they come fully to understand the group’s ideology and goals. Al Qaeda-affiliated groups have been begun using anti-American hip-hop music or ‘jihad rap’ in their recruitment videos. For example, Abu Mansour al-Amriki has been using hip-hop in the propaganda videos he has made with al Shabab in Somalia. Other music groups promoting violence against the ‘kufur,’ or unfaithful, include Soldiers of Allah (whose music is wildly popular, even though the group is now defunct) and Blakstone, a British rap group. The first- and second-generation Muslim children I interviewed for a study of the sources of radicalization in the Netherlands seemed to think that talking about jihad was cool, in the same way that listening to gangster rap is in some youth circles. Most of these children will not turn to violence, but once youth join an extremist group, the group itself can become an essential part of their identity, maybe even their only community. And so counter-radicalization requires finding new sources of social support for them.”

There is no doubt that the problem of radicalization is not limited to Muslim societies and should definitely be analyzed to a broader extent. But on the other hand, the Muslim world should increase its efforts to challenge the tendencies for radicalization in their societies, as well as the extreme interpretations that approve of terrorism and killing innocent people in the name of Islam.

Mr. Fethullah Gülen is a leading Muslim scholar who has challenged extremism and radicalization for decades. In one of his sermons in 2004 he said:

“Today, at best we can say that Islam is not known at all. Muslims should say, ‘In true Islam, terror does not exist.’ In Islam, killing a human is an act that is equal in gravity to qufr (not believing in God). No person can kill a human being. No one can touch an innocent person, even in time of war. No one can give a fatwa (a legal pronouncement in Islam, issued by a religious law specialist, concerning a specific issue) in this matter. No one can be a suicide bomber. No one can rush into crowds with bombs tied to his or her body. Regardless of the religion of these crowds, this is not religiously permissible. Even in the event of war — during which it is difficult to maintain balances — this is not permitted in Islam.”


*Aydogan Vatandas is an investigative journalist based in New York.

Source: Today's Zaman , January 08, 2015


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