“Rather than assign blame onto the religious, we should determine what has pushed our disillusioned youth into the arms of radicals. Otherwise, we will remain part of the problem,” one human rights activist tells MintPress.
“Jihad is ordained for you, though it is hateful unto you; but it may happen that you hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that you love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows while you know not.” (Quran 2:216)
If Islam has been a source of controversy and inspired heated debate over the past decade, its philosophy forever tainted with the acts of terror certain groups claim to have waged in its name, no other verses of the Quran have been subject to greater scrutiny.
Understood by Western society as the expression of Islamic radicalism par excellence, irrevocable proof that Islam is inherently and by default radical in its religious expression, these verses have also been exploited by extremists to sell and justify terror to the masses. Yet if these few lines have meant many different things to many different people, Islamic scholars agree that their true meaning has eluded most — their essence buried under prejudices, religious exploitation and fear.
Just as Muslim radicals have played the Quran to the tune of their deviance in order to base the legitimacy of their doctrine in the religious, wrapping themselves in the sanctity of the holy to better pervert the mind and twist morality, Faris Hussein al-Ansi, a professor of Islamic Studies based in Aden, Yemen, warns that bias toward and misconceptions about Islam have actually played into the hands of terrorists, giving traction to this global movement.
“Governments’ inability to understand terror as the expression of neo-fascism is what has prevented us from finding real solutions. Terror has been a plague onto the world, not just Western society. Muslims, too, have been held hostage to fanaticism. Terror is a global problem, a modern cancer which we can no longer afford to underestimate through sectarian labelling,” al-Ansi told MintPress News.
“Islam has never been the problem. If anything, Islam is actually the negation of radicalism … in all its forms: political, social, institutional and so on. What the world and terrorists understand as jihad is a semantic aberration, not a reflection of God’s command. What we need to do is address radicalism as a modus cogitandi [mode of thinking] and not an Islamic problem … If not, we will keep chasing our tail.”
Likewise, Abdullah al-Garni, a Saudi Arabia- clinical psychologist for the Mohammed bin Naif Counseling and Care Center, says that terror as a system stems from no religion.
“To understand Islamic radicalism one needs to understand radicalism as a state of mind and being. While terrorists have claimed to express their goals through Islam, it is the psychosis of extremism which needs to be addressed. Religion just serves as a rallying flag, a tool of propaganda,” al-Garni explained.
Before terrorism came to be associated with Islam, governments focused their efforts on profiling terrorism as a psychosocial phenomenon symptomatic of a profound social malaise and acute feelings of disenfranchisement rather than associating its spread with an expression of faith.
Until 9/11 shattered American objectivity, terrorism was viewed more as a changing pathology susceptible to trends and political motivations and less as a clash of civilizations in which the Judeo-Christian world and the Islamic world negate and oppose one another.
In 2012, Lorenzo G. Vidino, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and an expert on Islamism and political violence in Europe and North America, told the International Relations and Security Network (ISN) about the shift toward the notion that religion is the main driver of radicalism.
“With some notable exceptions (such as Mark Juergensmeyer’s seminal Terror in the Mind of God), Western academics had focused on forms of terrorism driven by nationalist or purely political causes and relegated religiously motivated terrorism to a secondary position, possibly because that kind of terrorism had surfaced in the West with less intensity and frequency than other forms. Scholars began wondering about the peculiarity of religiously motivated terrorism and, in some cases in particular, about its links to Islamic culture and theology,” Vidino told ISN, describing the shift in focus pre- and post-9/11.
If psychologists have unanimously rejected terrorism as a pathology, at least in the traditional clinical sense of the term, researchers have established that militants share common psychological traits that have no particular link to Islam. In his 2009 book, “Walking Away From Terrorism,” John Horgan, director of the Pennsylvania State University’s International Center for the Study of Terrorism, lists specific feelings and psychological traits conducive to radicalization, including: feelings of anger, alienation or disenfranchisement; social and political helplessness; social dissociation; and the need to belong to a family or group.
Religion or faith have never been determining factors in radicalization, according to Horgan.
In “The Psychology of Terrorism,” Horgan discusses the lack of psychological studies by objective academics on terrorism as a symptom of emotional response to acts of terrorism. Essentially, Horgan is saying that this lack of objectivity has prevented thorough, rational analysis of the phenomenon. The solution, Horgan proposes, is ﬁrst to deﬁne terrorism, then deﬁne the cause of terrorism, and ﬁnally deal with the causes — not the symptoms — of terrorism.
Rather than understanding Islam as the root of modern day terror, Horgan proposes that religious radicalism is merely a manifestation of a deeper social malaise, a psychological fracture which expresses itself through radicalization.
The lure of terror
Speaking to MintPress, Kevin Galalae, a Canadian human rights activist and academic, noted: “The radicalization wave which has seen an increasing number of Western-born, Western-raised individuals buy into IS [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS] ideology needs to be understood as the manifestation of a deep-seated social malaise, which has everything to do with Western society and nothing to do with religion.”
Galalae says that Islam “is the unwarranted vessel of a twisted ideology,” the expression of which is “rooted in anger and frustration.”
“Rather than assign blame onto the religious, we should determine what has pushed our disillusioned youth into the arms of radicals. Otherwise, we will remain part of the problem. Hatred, prejudices and pride are what put us in this situation in the first place; maybe we ought to take responsibility for our society,” he concluded.
Pointing to another element of radicalization, Dr. Clark McCauley, a psychologist and director of the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict at Bryn Mawr College, maintains that terrorism is most accurately viewed through a political lens. McCauley, for example, has defined terrorism as “the warfare of the weak.”
In a paper published in 2009, McCauley argues that “terrorist actions and government reactions to them represent a dynamic interplay, with the moves of one group influencing those of the other.” For example, if terrorists commit an attack and a state uses extreme force in response, the terrorists may use that action to drum up greater anti-state sentiment among citizens, lending justification to their subsequent actions.
“If you can’t keep track of what we’re doing in response, how can you ever hope to figure out what works better or worse?” the paper posits.
Young minds may falter
While academics and officials continue to argue over the semantics of terrorism, keen to put a label on an ever growing and ever threatening monster, more young minds have fallen to extremism, tricked into the web of a paradigm which feeds off of feelings of social inadequacy, fear, unhappiness, and a yearning for guidance.
Addressing calls from British Prime Minister David Cameron to legislate against British Muslims and impose stricter rules toward the monitoring of Islamic radicalization, Harun Khan, deputy secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), told The Guardian in September that, in fact, such “marginalization” is what has led young men and women into the radicals’ traps.
“Part of the problem is the constant talk of legislation, harassment and monitoring, stripping people of their passports. This is what’s leading young people towards radicalism,” he noted.
Ghaffar Hussain, managing director of the Quilliam Foundation, a think tank, also warned that radicalism will remain an issue unless the government comes up with a counter-extremism strategy, as opposed to a counter-terrorism strategy.
It could be that we need more than policy changes — our entire approach to terror and radicalization may require adjusting. How else can the wave of mass-indoctrination which has gripped European countries since 2011 be explained?
Hussain Choukri, a political analyst based in Iraq, told MintPress that a lack of social and political cohesion in Western society, as well as the overlapping of often contradictory belief systems and cultural bigotry, have created a vacuum which radicals have exploited to their advantage.
“There has been a shift in political and social polarities since the 1970s. This disconnect has been exacerbated by a sense of fatalism among the youth, whereby young people feel disengaged from society and the leading class … Added to that, negative economic factors and extremism needed only a conductor. With so much antipathy riding against Islam as a result of tensions between Palestinians and Israelis, and religion became a catalyst for extreme philosophies.”
Galalae, the Canadian human rights activist, also emphasized that radicals offer “an alluring alternative to a disengaged youth.”
“Young minds are drawn to radical change as they strive to impact their environment,” he said. “Until we address this reality and end our system of exclusionism and exceptionalism we will not destroy the pillars which have helped built radicalism.”