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Sunday, 9 October 2011

1.7 – A Short Introduction to Militant Islamism

Contrary to popular stereotypes and depictions in Western media that equate terrorism and radical Islamist groups as being synonymous, ‘there is, of course, no Muslim or Arab monopoly in the field of religious fanaticism; it exists and leads to acts of violence in the United States, India, Israel, and many other countries, but the frequency of Muslim- and Arab-inspired terrorism is still striking…’[1]

The next few articles will explore the relationship between Islam and terrorism and address Islamist ideology and the religious concepts used to justify violence, namely:  cosmic war; self defence; jihad; suicide bombing; Jahiliyya, and Takfir. The close relationship between Islam and politics and the practise of textual reinterpretation by radical clerics will be addressed to conclude if religion is used as a political tool, and distorted beyond recognition, or if violence is indeed part of the fabric of Islam, and a holy duty.

Violence in the name of Islam has become the most recognised form of religious terrorism in the modern era. Despite frequently being referred to as a ‘religion of peace’, the rise in number of attacks perpetrated by Islamists, and particularly the events of September 11th, means Islam has become synonymous with terrorism in the eyes of many. The advent of ‘new terrorism’ has seen a notable surge in the number of emerging Islamist groups, and an increase in the scope and lethality of their attacks. ‘Although religion has played a dominant role in the eruption of Christian, Jewish and Hindi terrorism over the years, the expansion of terrorism inspired by Islam was dramatic.’[2]

The spread of militant Islamism has been worldwide. In 1993 Ramzi Yousef and his accomplices attempted to blow up the World Trade Centre in New York by planting a truck bomb in the underground car park. The intention was to generate a blast of such force that one tower would topple into the other, causing maximum devastation. Several years later in August 1998, Al Qaeda carried out a simultaneous bomb attack on three American embassies in Kenya, Nairobi, and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Over three hundred people were killed in the attacks, and another five thousand were injured. Later that year in December, members of the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group bombed a shopping centre in the Philippines. They directed their campaign against Christians during the Christmas shopping period and injured over sixty people.[3] There is an exhaustive list from which to draw examples, but it would be erroneous not to include the most notorious one, which catapulted the issue of religious (and particularly Islamic), terrorism into the spotlight – the events of September 11. The attack perpetrated by Al Qaeda has become a defining moment in the history of terrorism and one of the clearest examples of the connection between religion and terrorism. However, if ‘God never advocates sin’ (Qur’an 7:28), how is it possible for faith to be the primary motivation for Islamic terrorist campaigns?

Militant Islamists believe that a sinful departure from Islam’s rigid roots has occurred as the religion has been diluted and corrupted by advancing Westernization. Adherents strive to live in accordance with literal interpretations of the Qur’an, Sunnah and hadiths, and desire a return to the perceived purity of early Islam. They believe that only the recreation of a global umma and Islamic Caliphate, and total implementation of Shari’a law, can ‘counteract the subversion of Islamic values’.[4] Islamists attempt to resolve the ‘problems’ within the Muslim world and establish an Islamic theocratic state by implementing a volatile ideological mix of violence, faith, and fanaticism. They see the world ‘in the light of religious doctrine and armed violence’,[5] and use active jihad as their primary method of initiating change. Lastly, Islamic extremists purport to be involved in a constant state of conflict with infidels and unbelievers, which provides the backbone to their call for holy war and legitimises the use of (extreme) violence. 

[1] Laqueur (1999), p. 129
[2] Weinburg & Pedahzur (2004), p. 83
[3] Hoffman (2006), p. 87
[4] Townsend (2002), p. 108.
[5] Kepel (2008), p.219

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