Sunday, December 20, 2015

Jihadi Culture: "a highly seductive subculture"?

Thomas Hegghammer

Thomas Hegghammer, director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, has written an insightful piece titled "The Soft Power of Militant Jihad" (NYT, December 18, 2015), because Jihadis aren't always fighting. Here's an excerpt:
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to the Islamic State, . . . became known in jihadi circles as the Slaughterer[, but few] people in the West are aware that he also went by the nickname He Who Weeps a Lot. Mr. Zarqawi was known for weeping during prayer and when speaking about Muslim women’s suffering under occupation . . . . [This dichotomy helps explain why] tens of thousands of people from around the world [have] chosen to live under the Islamic State's draconian rule and fight under its black flag . . . . To understand this phenomenon, we must recognize that the world of radical Islam is not just death and destruction. It also encompasses fashion, music, poetry, dream interpretation. In short, jihadism offers its adherents a rich cultural universe in which they can immerse themselves . . . . To really understand a community, we need to look at everything its members do. Using autobiographies, videos, blog posts, tweets and defectors’ accounts, I have sought a sense of the cultural dimensions of jihadi activism. What I have discovered is a world of art and emotions. While much of it has parallels in mainstream Muslim culture, these militants have put a radical ideological spin on it[, and as] the West comes to terms with a new and growing threat - horrifically evident in the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. - we are not only confronting organizations and doctrines, but also a highly seductive subculture. This is bad news. Governments are much better equipped to take on the Slaughterer than they are He Who Weeps a Lot.
This is why a rival religious subculture often has more success in attracting these radicals, which might explain why the apostate-Muslim atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali has suggested that Christianity, with its own "highly seductive subculture," could meet the spiritual needs of Muslims while also providing a rather more peaceful expression of religious fervor.

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