Steve Weissman / Reader Supported News & Justin Salhani /Think/Progress – 2016-03-28 23:07:49
Who Are the Terrorists and Why Are They Winning?
Steve Weissman / Reader Supported News
PARIS (March 128, 2016) — “Je suis sick of this shit,” read the twitter hashtag following last week’s bombings in Brussels, the capital of an increasingly dysfunctional European Union. Sick of terrorist attacks not just in Europe and the United States, but also from Pakistan, India, and Indonesia to Turkey, the Middle East, and Africa.
And not just by Muslim jihadis, but also by America’s Christian nationalist and white supremacist groups who are now supporting the presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
Who are the terrorists and why do they continue to spread their terror? For Trump and Cruz, as for many American evangelicals, the answer is too many Muslims, and the refusal of authorities to police them aggressively. Or, in Trump’s view, to use more waterboarding and even harsher forms of torture against them.
Know-nothing Muslim-bashing, this “plays right into the hands of terrorists who want to turn us against one another; who need a reason to recruit more people to their hateful cause,” warned President Obama in his weekly address after the bombings that killed 35 people at the airport and on a metro in Brussels.
Obama knows, as does New York City police commissioner William Bratton, that they need Muslim cops and communities to provide the intelligence to stop terrorist plots.
In his address, Obama wanted us to believe that he was playing a winning hand. “We’ve been taking out ISIL leadership, and this week, we removed one of their top leaders from the battlefield — permanently,” he boasted. “A relentless air campaign — and support for forces in Iraq and Syria who are fighting ISIL on the ground — has allowed us to take approximately forty percent of the populated territory that ISIL once held in Iraq.”
But just as Washington’s open and covert interventions destabilized Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and triggered the worst refugee crisis in Europe since the end of World War II, Obama’s latest “success” has created collateral damage that could prove even more devastating.
On the same day he made his boast, The Guardian connected the dots, based on interviews with two ISIL activists. Other observers have confirmed the article’s general thrust.
Nine days before the November 13 terrorist attacks that killed 130 people in Paris, ISIL leaders risked allied airstrikes to bring their senior officials together in the Syrian town of Tabqah, west of Raqqa. There the leadership laid out a decisive shift in strategy.
Instead of putting all their efforts into holding the Iraqi and Syrian land in their self-proclaimed caliphate, a task they saw as militarily hopeless, the leadership had already sent hundreds of their European fighters back home to wreak havoc in Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, and the UK.
ISIL’s leaders “believe that European societies are easily weakened through savagery,” wrote The Guardian. “One of the group’s members said its senior officials had a deep understanding of the European political architecture and of the fears of its people.”
“At the meeting, they talked about which societies would crumble first and what that would mean,” said the ISIL activist. “They thought big attacks would lead to pressure on the European Union and even NATO.”
ISIL’s new threat depends on its European jihadis, making it vital to understand what motivates them in their suicidal, homicidal, and ultimately nihilistic GÃ¶tterdÃ¤mmerung.
At the time of the Paris attacks, the best available information came from French scholar Olivier Roy, as I reported in late November. He had systematically studied the publically available information on thousands of Muslim radicals, including Abdelhamid Abaaoud — celebrated by ISIL as Abu Omar the Belgian — one of the main organizers of the Paris attacks.
“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,” Dr. Roy concluded. 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.”
These young rebels had “a loose or no connection” to the mosques, or to extremist imams. “Many have a past of petty delinquency and drug dealing,” he wrote. “Before turning born-again or converts, they shared a ‘youth culture’, which had nothing to do with Islam.”
The terrorists who attacked Paris and Brussels largely fit the pattern Roy observed. Most grew up in the heavily Muslim Molenbeek suburb of Brussels. They got involved in drugs and petty crime. They became radicalized in a small network of friends and relatives, often brothers, or they found radical Islam in jail. And they went on jihad to Syria, where they joined ISIL or affiliates of al-Qaeda and learned how to use arms and explosives. But, contrary to Roy’s expectation, Abu Omar and many others were very much involved with a very extremist imam.
Belgium officials estimate that some 500 of their citizens have gone to wage jihad in Syria and Iraq, and the biggest recruiter was a Moroccan-born preacher called Khalid Zerkani, who was jailed last year. “Mr. Zerkani has perverted a whole generation, particularly the youth of Molenbeek,” said Belgian prosecutor Bernard Michel at an appeals hearing in February.
Preaching at underground mosques in Molenbeek, Zerkani “ran a network of petty criminals and used the proceeds to send jihadists to Syria,” recalled France 24. “His long beard and habit of allowing thieves to keep part of the spoils earned him the nickname ‘Father Christmas.'”
Zerkani’s network included Abu Omar, Najim Laachraoui, the bombmaker who blew himself up at the Brussels airport, and Reda Kriket, whom French authorities arrested Thursday and accused of planning yet another terrorist attack. The Zerkani network also appears to have been involved in several other recent terrorist attacks.
Scholars like Roy or the University of Michigan’s Juan Cole may argue that Zerkani’s preaching, or that of ISIL, do not truly represent Islam. But, the evidence from Belgium and France suggests that the jidhadis make it a key part of their narrative. ISIL “is a monstrous child of our world and of our epoch,” argues French anthropologist Alain Bertho.
But, in the absence of a political alternative like Marxism that attracted earlier generations, “it offers a mission to rage, a meaning to death, a divine legitimacy to good and evil.”
How far will this motivation go?
In February, the aptly named Belgian daily Derniere Heure [“Final Hour”] reported that the jihadis had been spying on the country’s director of nuclear research and development. The authorities denied that any real threat existed.
The paper then reported on Saturday, March 26, the killing of nuclear security agent Didier Prospero and his dog. Authorities insist that the killing had a very different motive. But, given their mission, why would the jihadis not attack a nuclear facility if they could?
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold.”
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