Terrorism, is a complex phenomenon, which stands as one of the most pressing issues in global politics today. While it has many different kinds, Islamic terrorism in particular is considered one of the most serious. This form is the result of an extreme interpretation of Islamic ideology; the idea of jihad. Isis and other islamic extremist groups are heavily focused on the idea of “jihad” to encourage action among more moderate muslims or to convert “infidels to the cause.” There are two types of jihad : the great jihad and the small jihad. The first is an internal struggle within yourself to overcome the animalistic desires; to become a better man. One could compare it to the modern industry of “self improvement.” This is the original meaning of jihad. The second, is the execution of an effort with outward affects. Since it refers to mostly to war, however, it can take place only in special circumstances. As these these texts are open to interpretation, jihadists take full advantage of their indistinct meanings to legitimise their actions. Some of justifications include the conversion of nonbelievers, maintaining Islam’s prominence, and expanding to create a global fundamentalist Caliphate.
Obviously many are aware that Islamic terrorism is a serious issue and the outcomes can significantly affect global politics and legislation but few are aware of the actual motivations behind these acts. It is difficult to reach a consensus through the extreme interpretations, so to critically examine determine the motivators, I will be looking at the social, cultural and political reasons.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to why Islamic terrorism has risen is due to cultural reasons, which have partially stemmed from the history between the three Abrahamic religions. From a fundamentalist’s perspective, the Islamic world during the middle ages was the most advanced civilisation at the time, which was vastly superior to the Christian empire in terms of scientific, architectural and artistic achievements. However there is still resentment towards the fact that it was destroyed by the Western world’s superior war tactics. It has resulted in a hatred which has lain dormant due to momentary helplessness, now manifesting its self fully through numerous acts of modern-day terrorism.
Jihadists utilise this belief of long-awaited revenge to legitimise the acts of violence they carry out. Their proclamation that these acts are done for Allah, also allows them to motivate more moderate muslims to commit similar acts. This bitterness is translated modernly now; it could be argued that extremist Islamist group’s greatest enemies are the United States of America and Israel, demonstrated most clearly in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The birth of Israel in 1948, resulted in the mass relocation of the Jewish diaspora to the Holy Land, had a major effect on the Middle East. The reaction of the Palestinians they had taken the land from in order to create territories for the Jews, led to the formation of Islamic groups who feared that that settlement was the beginning of de-Islamization of the occupied territories. Another point to highlight is the stark difference between Islam and Judeo-Christianity’s cultures. In contrary to the Western perspective on politics and religion which recognises the difference between the two, Islam doesn’t distinguish this. In Iran, all laws are “constructed on the basis of those sacred texts… (which are seen as) acknowledged sources.” and have to be approved by a council of experts on the Koran. In the West, although many claim that the conception of politics and the state was secular, there is a clear distinction between the ends of the State and those of the Church. As Locke stated over three centuries ago, “I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion, and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other.” Following the intense consequences of the industrial revolution and the many social and political transformations the West has witnessed, the state is now assumed as a much more important institution than the church. We judge our leaders by the increase in national income and the fair distribution of it, honestly would many of us in our secular states ask, if during the current government, sinful behaviour had increased or decreased? In fact, in Western society, when we discuss matters of conscience and morality such as abortion, the major political parties even cater to the majority and let the popular vote manifest the wanted outcome.
From moderate Muslims to their cultural elites, they all realise the difference that exists in the West between religion and politics, and that European economic and political reforms could potentially undermine Islam. Its just the extremists who actually translate these thoughts into murderous actions. Another aspect of the cultural reasoning is the idea of community. This is incredibly prevalent as Muslims generally consider themselves as part of a group, rather than as individuals. So Jihadi terrorists believe that by defending Islamic socio-cultural values, they are guarding the Muslim community against toxic Western culture.
Perhaps the most important reason which leads to greatest understanding behind these acts, are the ideological reasons. Islamic ideology, as a whole, is centred around the idea of “uniting individuals” from diverse backgrounds under the banner of preserving Islam. This idea of collectivisation leads to terrorists justifying their actions; the actions of a few to protect the many. In fact, some experts argue that say that the actual origin of Jihadist terrorism is not in Islam but in series of crimes and historical injustices perpetrated from Western imperialism, from the Crusades to the invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2003.
Western civilisation, in their eyes, is a cultural system that has a religious and political form which is totally alien to their culture, and something that should rejected totally. Obviously the fertile soil of this ideology is not suited to the elite, but rather those who are in the lower classes. It is true that the path towards Islamist radicalism is taken by people with prior bad behaviour but for the most part, it is just individuals who feel disenfranchised with the modern Western world. Some are seasoned but most are “young aspiring jihadists with no previous battlefield experience.” The result is a vacuum of identity that some try to fill. The ideology is so potent because it offers the “outcasts” of society a purpose. Which is why there has been so much success in radicalising people, by offering an alternative, to totally reject and alienate the West. So it is not surprising to hear that “various sources estimate that some 2,500–3,000 individuals with European citizenship or residency have been fighting with various jihadist groups in Syria.”
The other common feature of an ideologically motivated terrorist is the pronounced need to belong to a group, as they define their social status by group acceptance. Within some terrorists groups, acceptance is a stronger motivator than the actual objectives of the organisation. Terrorist groups with strong internal motivations are necessary to align the existence of the group continuously. At a minimum, you must commit violent acts to maintain self – esteem of the group and legitimacy. Thus, the terrorists sometimes perform attacks that are not productive or even ineffective its announced target goals.
Another result of the motivation psychological is the intensity of the dynamics of the group between terrorists. They tend to require unanimity and to be intolerant of dissent. With clearly identified and unambiguous evil enemy, the pressure to extend the frequency and intensity of operations is always present. The need to belong to the group discourages resignations, and fear of commitment rejects acceptance. The compromise is rejected, and terrorist groups lean toward maximalist positions. This may explain why terrorist groups are prone to fracture and why chips are more violent than its parent group frequently.
Over the past century, out of all the revolutionary movements, this is perhaps the one that has the most historical fight with Judeo-Christian thought. Although Isis, like other groups of jihadism, sees the main enemy as Western civilization itself, they also consider the Islamic fundamentalists who have different ideological differences such as those who belong to the Sunni, as “infidels.”
This explains the mass numbers of terrorist acts that occur in states governed with moderate Islam, such as Syria, and those based on Islam Shiite, like Iran. For example, ISIS is guilty of persecution and other crimes towards the Christians living in these regions, so that many members of these communities are forced to flee the country.
Lately in the city of Mosul, under the rule of the militant occupants, the homes of Christians have been marked, food and water supplies have been removed, and finally they have been given an ultimatum: that they all must convert to Islam or otherwise they will be driven out of Mosul or exterminated.
To summarise what has been discussed through out this essay, the social, cultural and ideological reasons are the reason behind Islamic terrorism acts.
The reality of the situation is that many people in the Middle East aim to create a break with the Western world. To not only to achieve social and economic independence but to protect their culture.