Steve Weissman / Reader Supported News – 2015-12-01 02:10:02
Who Are the Terrorists? Look and You’ll See
Why Bombing in Syria Won’t Stomp Them Out
Steve Weissman / Reader Supported News
(November 29, 2015) — “If the Americans destroy Saddam Hussein and then leave, the situation will be explosive,” Dr. Olivier Roy warned back in 2002. “Iraq won’t be a stable country. Neither will the region.”
A political scientist and leading scholar of Persian language and civilization, Dr. Roy helped persuade France’s center-right president Jacques Chirac, his foreign minister Dominique de Villepin, and other “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” not to buy into George W. Bush’s ill-fated invasion of Iraq.
Thirteen years have passed. Iraq, Syria, and much of the region have become even more unstable, just as Dr. Roy predicted would happen. Only now, France’s socialist president FranÃ§ois Hollande is leading the effort to include Russia in a global coalition to intervene more forcefully, this time against both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Prescient as ever, Dr. Roy is warning the world not to expect the new intervention to stop terror attacks in Europe or, by extension, in the United States.
In France alone, he has identified some 1,500 Islamist radicals who have become known to police and journalists over the past two decades. These radicals include Abdelhamid Abaaoud, or Abu Omar the Belgian, and most of the others in the November 13 attacks in Paris.
Some “who jumped into action” went on jihad to Yemen, Syria, Iraq, or previously Bosnia or Afghanistan. Some perpetrated or were caught preparing terrorist attacks. Dr. Roy also looked at another 7000 who had manifested an intention to follow suit, but had not done so for a variety of reasons.
“Can we draw a general portrait of an Islamist radical?” he asked a week after the Paris attacks. “Can we define the conditions and circumstances under which he or she may become radical?”
In their life stories, Roy discovered some surprising patterns, along with a lack of patterns one might expect. “It is not the uprising of a Muslim community victim of poverty and racism,” he concludes. “Only young people join, including converts who did not share the ‘sufferings’ of Muslims in Europe.” The converts number about 25% of the 1500, and 37% of the 7000.
“In the USA,” he adds, “40 percent of those charged in 2011 for jihadist radicalization were converts to Islam, slightly more than the 35 percent of those charged since the 2001 attacks.”
This is not to deny the very real grievances that Muslims suffer, more so in Europe than in the United States. But the young French rebels Roy studied had “a loose or no connection” to the organized Muslim community, to the mosques, or to extremist imams.
“None of the radicals has a past of piety,” Roy observes. “Most of them either broke with the Islam of their parents, or had no religious transmission from their parents.”
“Almost none followed a real process of religious education,” he says. “Their religious knowledge is low.” In fact, “few of them speak explicitly about paradise” and some carried with them the book “Islam for Dummies.”
“Many have a past of petty delinquency and drug dealing,” Roy finds. “Before turning born-again or converts, they shared a ‘youth culture’ which had nothing to do with Islam.”
“It is clearly a youth movement,” says Roy, “a youth revolt against society.” Psychologically, they share “frustration and resentment against society,” and they become radicals in “a small network of friends,” of peers, “where nominal Muslims and non-Muslims meet because they live in the same neighborhood, share the same patterns of petty delinquency, found themselves together in jail, or are members of the same family.”
“This puts them often at odds with the traditional view of family and women in Islam,” he adds. “These groups are often mixed in gender terms, and the women play often a far more important role than they themselves claimâ€¦. They intermarry between themselves, without the parents’ consent.”
Where, then, do Islamic State and al-Qaeda fit in?
“The main motivation of young men for joining jihad seems to be the fascination for a narrative: the small brotherhood of super-heroes who avenge the Muslim Ummah,” Roy concludes. This remains “global and abstract,” unconnected to real people either in Europe or the Middle East.
They build their narrative “using schemes taken from the contemporary youth culture: video-games (Call of Duty, Assassins).” And they stage their super-hero fantasies using modern techniques and “very contemporary aesthetics, with a special role for aesthetics of violence.”
Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State offer them a narrative of heroism, while the religious dimension offers them a framework to restructure their lives: “the truth, the good, a clear set of norms, brothers in arms, a clear objective, and salvation.”
“Jihad is the only cause on the global market,” Dr. Roy explains with obvious disdain. “If you kill in silence, it will be reported by the local newspaper, if you kill yelling ‘Allahuakbar,’ you are sure to make the national headlines.”
In short, the radicals are there to be used, and neither al-Qaeda nor the Islamic State has any qualms about using them. “The eight knights brought Paris down on its knees, after years of French conceit in the face of Islam,” wrote the Islamic State in the latest issue of their English language magazine Dabiq.
“A nationwide state of emergency was declared as a result of the actions of eight men armed only with assault rifles and explosive belts.”
The solution is not easy to see, though Dr. Roy knows what it is not.
“To promote a ‘moderate Islam’ to bring radicals back to the mainstream is nonsense,” he says. “They just reject moderation as such â€¦ and don’t care ‘what Islam really means.'”
“To ask the ‘Muslim community’ to bring radicals back to normal life is also nonsense. Radicals just don’t care about people they consider as ‘traitors,’ ‘apostates,’ or ‘collaborators.'”
“To consider Islam only through the lens of ‘fighting terrorism’ will validate the narrative of persecution and revenge that feeds the process of radicalization.”
Dr. Roy offers four alternatives: A more sophisticated intelligence system, which won’t waste time monitoring mosques, which the radicals rarely attend. Debunking the narrative of heroism, which — in my opinion — would require an extremely sophisticated use of humor.
Breaking the “success story” of the Islamic State, which will require a lot more than dropping bombs. And, most important, letting Islam be a “normal’ religion.” Sadly, that is a direction that France, Europe, and nativist Americans are unwilling to take.
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