Friday 14 August 2015

Tomorrow Belongs To Us

Thoughts On Totalitarian Violence and Ideology

(L-R) Abdul Wahid (Chairman of the UK Executive Committee), Jamal Harwood (UK Executive Committee), and Taji Mustafa (Media Representative) at a Hizb ut-Tahrir event in Whitechapel in 2013. (The misplaced hyphen on the event backdrop adds an unintentionally comical touch.)
In a post published in the wake of British Prime Minister David Cameron's July 20 speech on counter-extremism in Birmingham, the anonymous mugwump attacks 'Eustonites', the counter-extremist think-tank Quilliam, and of course Cameron himself in an effort to demonstrate that "there is no causality between Islamism and terrorism". 

Mugwump links to a number of studies and reports which I have not addressed here, since they are used to support an argument I believe has been built on faulty premises. Instead, most of this post is devoted to an alternative reading of the Prime Minister's speech which reflects my understanding of the government's view, as well as some wider thoughts about the nature of Islamist ideology.

Incidentally, while I am happy to accept the 'Eustonite' label, the 2006 Euston Manifesto (the only document 'Eustonites' have in common) takes no line on the relationship between Islamism and jihadism. So, in what follows, I speak for no-one but myself.

The 'Conveyor Belt Theory'

Mugwump's post accuses Cameron of blithely accepting a fatuous 'conveyor belt theory' of radicalisation, which he alleges has been foisted on the credulous Prime Minister by uninformed advisors at Quilliam.

To describe the 'conveyor belt' idea as a 'theory' is to over-promote it. A more accurate description would be a rather poor analogy, which seems to have its origins in a 2004 report on Hizb ut-Tahrir published by the Nixon Center, and authored by its then director of International Security and Energy Programmes, Zeyno Baran.

The limitations of the analogy's explanatory value are readily apparent. Items on a conveyor belt have no individual agency or psychology; they are passively processed by a machine before being churned out, fully reconstituted, at their final destination. But Baran's use of the term was never intended to suggest this kind of direct causality or mechanical and unidirectional progression.

She was speaking more generally about what she called "ideological preparation" as part of a "division of labour", and the recurrent formation of more radical splinter groups such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad (1958), Al-Muhajiroun (1996), Akramiye (1996), and Hizb un-Nusrat (1999), by HT activists who had lost patience with the organisation's gradualist revolutionary strategy. Like every serious analyst dealing with counter-extremism, Baran was perfectly well aware that not every HT activist goes on to become a jihadist.

Nonetheless, Islamists were not slow to seize on the manifest failings of their own literalist interpretation of the term and to use them - absurdly - to claim that Islamist ideology therefore makes no contribution to Islamist terror at all. But pointing out that not everything with four legs is a dog does not alter the fact that dogs are quadrupedal. Unless and until someone produces a jihadist who is not also an Islamist, it ought to be possible for reasonable people to agree that Islamist ideology is a necessary but not sufficient precondition for Islamist terrorism.

The Quilliam View and the Cameron Speech

In his blog post, mugwump extracts and emphasises the following lines from Cameron's speech:
[Y]ou don’t have to support violence to subscribe to certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish . . . [We must confront] groups and organisations that may not advocate violence – but which do promote other parts of the extremist narrative.
Mugwump then remarks:
The basic idea is that non-violent Islamist ideology -> violent Islamist terrorism. It’s an idea referred to as the “conveyer-belt theory of terrorism” propounded by (mostly non-academic) bodies like the Quilliam Foundation. 
No evidence is provided of Quilliam's advocacy of the conveyor belt idea, and if it is as central to the organisation's thinking on radicalisation as mugwump claims, it is reasonable to suppose there would be a substantial amount of Quilliam literature devoted to explaining and defending it. When I contacted the founding chairman Maajid Nawaz by email for comment, he was adamant: "Neither Quilliam nor I have ever advocated the ‘conveyor belt theory’ as understood by its straw-man building critics."

In their FAQs, the organisation argues that Islamist ideology pushes a grievance narrative which provides "the mood music to which suicide bombers dance" - a metaphor first used in Quilliam's 2008 launch publication - which reflects the more complex relationship indicated by Cameron's reference to "a climate in which extremists can flourish".

So while Cameron and Quilliam are indeed making a link between Islamist ideology and Islamist violence, the language they are using falls significantly short of describing the direct, causal link mugwump spends the rest of his post energetically attacking. Causality implied by the formulation "X -> Y" demands that effect Y necessarily follows from cause X, a relationship Cameron does not come close to asserting and which Quilliam's freely-available information explicitly refuses to endorse.

As Quilliam's FAQ page elaborates:
IS THERE ANY PROOF THAT EXTREMISM LEADS TO TERRORIST VIOLENCE? Certain factors, whether they lead to terrorism or not, are highly problematic in themselves in terms of social and national cohesion. It is our contention that ultimately, seeking or demanding empirical proof for complex human behaviour patterns is unhelpful. Just as there is no direct proof that the spread of neo-Nazi or Fascist ideas in society leads directly to violence against Jews or other minorities, we would nevertheless find it extremely problematic if such views were to spread, and would be concerned from a common sense approach about the danger of this rhetoric provoking violence. It goes without saying that all violent neo-Nazis were at some stage non-violent neo-Nazis before they commenced to attack their victims. The same is true of Islamism.

The Totalitarian Analysis Part 1: 
Identity and Victimhood

There are, I believe, two ways of analysing and understanding Islamism. The first approach seeks to understand it as a religious phenomenon. That is to say, to examine Islamism through the prism of Islamic theology and religious history. The second is to consider Islamism as a totalitarian political ideology.

These analyses overlap and both are valuable to a deeper understanding of what Islamism is and how it developed. But it is the latter which, to my mind, offers a clearer insight into Islamism's otherwise mysterious allure and the dangers it presents to liberal democracy. Not least because Western totalitarian ideas exerted a profound influence on Islamist thought, which first emerged in the writings of a handful of Egyptian theorists following the dissolution of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924.

In the section of his speech immediately following his mention of "certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish", Cameron elaborated on what those ideas are.
Ideas which are hostile to basic liberal values such as democracy, freedom and sexual equality.
Ideas which actively promote discrimination, sectarianism and segregation.
Ideas – like those of the despicable far right – which privilege one identity to the detriment of the rights and freedoms of others.
And ideas also based on conspiracy: that Jews exercise malevolent power; or that Western powers, in concert with Israel, are deliberately humiliating Muslims, because they aim to destroy Islam. In this warped worldview, such conclusions are reached – that 9/11 was actually inspired by Mossad to provoke the invasion of Afghanistan; that British security services knew about 7/7, but didn’t do anything about it because they wanted to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash.
And like so many ideologies that have existed before – whether Fascist or Communist – many people, especially young people, are being drawn to it. We need to understand why it is proving so attractive.
Cameron sketches an ideological framework which is anti-democratic, sectarian, supremacist, conspiracist, and anti-Semitic. His concluding lines, which directly compare Islamist ideology to the totalitarian ideologies of Communism and Fascism, invite us to consider Islamism, not as a primarily religious phenomenon, but as the inheritor and most recent incarnation of one of the twentieth century's most destructive and potent political myths.

This myth rests on a cosmic and paranoid but powerfully seductive view of world history, in which the righteous and the chosen have been dispossessed and persecuted by corrupt and powerful elites from without, and beset by treacherous forces from within. (Cameron returned to the theme of conspiracism repeatedly in his speech, mentioning it no less than nine times, in reference to both Islamist conspiracy theories and to those circulated about Muslims by the nativist far-right.)

This is not to suggest that Islamist ideology can be disentangled and neatly separated from Islam. On the contrary, Islamism is explicitly and fanatically Islamic, and Cameron was clear about his refusal to further indulge those who seek to decouple one from the other. But he was also careful to point out that, in the first instance, Islamism appeals to Muslims as members of an embattled community which uses Islam as a marker of identity. In this respect, its narrative closely shadows that of previous totalitarian mass movements.

For the Nazis, the victimised chosen few were the Aryan race. For revolutionary Communists, they were the Proletariat. For Islamists, they are Muslims, all members of a pan-national community of believers known as the Umma. In each case, grievance, resentment, alienation, and a paranoid siege mentality are encouraged and exploited where they already exist. Where they do not, they are sown and then carefully cultivated where the soil is found to be fertile.

Victimology is central to all Islamist propaganda, and as David Paxton's recent essay reminds us, it was a point of repeated emphasis in Osama bin Laden's 1996 Declaration of War, which Paxton describes as "wallow[ing] in the tropes of Muslim victimhood and conspiracism". In keeping with this narrative, anti-Semitism - the world's oldest conspiracist hatred, enjoining the inflammatory scapegoating of Jews (latterly referred to as 'Zionists') - turns out to be salient to all three ideologies.

Palestine. Kashmir. Chechnya. Iraq. Afghanistan. Bosnia. Burma. Sykes-Picot. European colonialism. American bases on sacred soil. Domestic counter-terrorism measures perceived as a mere pretext for the subjugation of Muslims. In the mouths of Islamist propagandists, real instances of persecution become indistinguishable from the complexities of ongoing conflicts and historical grievances stretching back decades, even centuries. Western intervention undertaken in defence of Muslim populations is disregarded, and the persecution and oppression of Muslim populations by other Muslims is either downplayed or somehow blamed on the West (and/or Israel) by proxy.

All of this stuff is simply grist to the anti-Western, anti-Zionist conspiracist mill, identified by Cameron in his speech, which contrives a version of reality in which the world of unbelief is at war with history's eternal victims.

The Totalitarian Analysis Part 2: The Utopian Promise

Totalitarian ideologies offer a millenarian, triumphalist answer to this selective and confected narrative of victimisation and despair - the marshalling of a revolutionary vanguard which will establish a peaceful, orderly, earthbound paradise in which the wretched will be redeemed, their tormentors will suffer, and justice will at last be served. The message may be summarised as: "We are the world's forsaken. But tomorrow belongs to us".

The establishment of a neo-Caliphate in defiance of Western power, international law, and even state borders has given this narrative its biggest shot in the arm since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, and, as Cameron pointed out, it has helped to persuade many of its adherents that their redemptive hour is finally at hand:
[L]ike any extreme doctrine, it can seem energising, especially to young people. They are watching videos that eulogise ISIS as a pioneering state taking on the world, that makes celebrities of violent murderers. So people today don’t just have a cause in Islamist extremism; in ISIS, they now have its living and breathing expression.
For an anecdotal example of the pull this kind of utopian promise can exert on Western Muslims already persuaded that they live in a dystopian nightmare, consider the statement released by the Mannan family (unverified but generally thought to be genuine) which describes British democracy as "totalitarian" and the Islamic State as a "land that is free from the corruption and oppression of man made law and is governed by the Shariah, the perfect and just laws of Allah":
Yes, all 12 of us and why should this number be shocking, when there are thousands and thousands of Muslims from all corners of the world that are crossing over land and sea everyday to come to the Islamic State? That are willingly leaving the so called freedom and democracy that was forced down our throat in the attempt to brainwash Muslims to forget about their powerful and glorious past and now present.  
The simplicity and flexibility of the victimhood-and-utopia message on which mass movements are built is what has made it such an adaptable and resilient meme; one with an appeal so broad, it offers almost unlimited routes to identification and embrace. It knows no boundaries of class or gender and may seduce the educated and the unlettered, the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural.

For those in search of meaning, mass movements provide an instantly comprehensible view of the world. For those estranged from the self, they provide identity. For the alienated, they provide belonging. For the frustrated, they provide purpose. For the lost, they provide order. They remove the need for independent thought, critical reflection, an appreciation of complexity, and personal responsibility, and they provide a convenient receptacle for every kind of personal, political, and psychological grievance, with the comfort of a shared redemptive struggle against injustice in the name of virtue.

And, perhaps most important of all, ignorance is no barrier to acceptance. Albert Camus once remarked that no-one was persuaded to become a Communist by the writings of Marx. "First they convert," he observed. "Then they read the scriptures". An unexamined belief in the manifest corruption of the West, 'Zionist' moral turpitude, and the hypocrisy of democratic ideas comes first; the prescriptive detail - whether found in Mao's Little Red Book or in 7th Century religious texts and the writings of the Islamist theorist du jour - follows.

But follow it must. Mass movements depend for their effectiveness on ideological discipline, which is why Islamist groups - from Raqqa to London's East End - devote so much time and attention to the indoctrination of hitherto uninformed recruits in 'study circles'.

When Cameron referred in his speech to the threat posed by Islamist ideology, he was not talking about the nuts-and-bolts of this-or-that recommended Hudud punishment for apostasy, homosexuality, or theft, but about a conspiracist worldview which insists that reality as we experience it is an illusory fraud. Muslims are the 'new Jews'. Zionists are the new Nazis. Democracy is despotism. Freedom is slavery. Truth is falsehood. Totalitarianism is emancipation.

In this light, Islamism is best understood, not simply as a religiously conservative strain of Islam presenting a threat to social cohesion and tolerant pluralism (although it is indubitably that too); it is foremost a supremacist revolutionary ideology, aggressively irredentist and imperialist in aim and politically fascist in character, which presents an existential threat to liberty and democracy.

Listening to Cameron's speech, I was reminded of something Michael Weiss said during a discussion at the International Peace Institute about ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, the book he co-authored with Hassan Hassan:
At one point we were interviewing an ISIS fighter who was giving us this sense of having been completely brainwashed and having seen the true cause of the revolution through the eyes of ISIS clerics. And it reminded me of the end of [Koestler's] Darkness at Noon. Rubashov is going to his death, and he misremembers a passage in his own memoir [which] says something like: "We are past the ethical ballast of the 19th Century". In other words, all the morality - your false consciousness - is taken away from you, and you are seeing the world anew. 
And that's not just something resonant with Soviet Communism. If you read Orwell's review of Mein Kampf in 1940, he says "I don't understand. How is it that the most industrialised, civilised nation in Western Europe bows down before somebody who says 'I offer you death?'" Well, what happens when the late failure of radical hopes and liberal democracy turns to ash? Strong men come along with a very tidy understanding of the way the world works; they promise you absolution; they promise you heaven - either on earth or afterward - and you bow down. 
I keep saying that one of the problems US foreign policy has today is that we are thinking in a 'post-Cold War mentality' a little too much for our own good. Students of totalitarianism would have a better go at understanding ISIS - the appeal and how to fight it - than people who only know counter-terrorism.

'Non-Violent' Extremism and the Inevitability of Totalitarian Violence

Early in his post, mugwump offers the following distinction:
[A]n Islamist believes in the political application of Islam. A violent Islamist believes in the violent application of Islam. This is the dividing line between non-violent and violent extremism. Both are problems that should be tackled but the Quilliam view treats them as part of the same problem. Both are ideologies - which is why the idea that this isn’t an “ideological” problem is wrong, what matters is which ideology we’re talking about.
This strikes me as a very poor piece of analysis indeed.

First of all, Islamists all believe in both the political and the violent application of Islam given that, once established, an Islamist theocracy will reserve for itself a monopoly on violence with which to enforce Islamic law. Islamists diverge, not over the application of Islam, but over how to go about establishing the totalitarian society in which Islam is to be applied.

Secondly, an ideological commitment to jihad and the veneration of martyrdom are central to all Islamist doctrine. What separates 'jihadists' from those Islamist groups euphemistically termed 'non-violent' is a separate distinction between 'offensive' and 'defensive' jihad, and an understanding of the conditions under which each is permissible.

'Defensive jihad' refers to the use of violence (including terrorism) to overthrow illegitimate 'apostate' regimes on occupied Muslim land. This includes every country which has - at one time or another - fallen under Islamic rule, including the Balkans, Spain, and Southern Italy. 'Offensive jihad' refers to an expansionist holy war of conquest waged on the wider world of unbelief. 'Non-violent' Islamists and 'jihadists' agree that both of these are religious obligations, but the former hold that 'offensive' jihad may only be waged once the Caliphate has been successfully established. In the meantime, if 'non-violent' groups appear to renounce a commitment to 'defensive' jihad in certain theatres of operation, it is not a matter of ideology, but a tactical consideration, contingent upon what is conducive to the attainment of their strategic goals.

In most of the countries in which it operates, the Muslim Brotherhood professes to have foresworn terror for democratic activism and politics. The group's Palestinian chapter, however, is an avowedly jihadist organisation, and its commitment to the violent destruction of Israel is "an individual duty" repeatedly mandated in its foundational charter. As an organisation, it retains its foundational slogan which avers: "Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur'an is our law. Jihad is our path. Martyrdom in the way of Allah is our dearest aspiration." As recently as 2012, the Brotherhood's Egyptian President-to-be Mohammad Morsi could be heard defiantly bellowing these words into a rapturous Cairo rally.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, another Islamist group habitually referred to as 'non-violent', currently has activists in over 40 countries working to create the conditions for a seizure of power by violent coup within the Islamic world, and for the overthrow of non-Muslim nations once the Caliphate's subsequent war of conquest finally gets under way. At an HT rally in London in 2006, Asim Qureshi - research director at CAGE, another putatively non-violent Islamist organisation - said: "it is incumbent upon all of us to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in [Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, and Afghanistan]" and, in 1988, HT's magazine al-Fajr issued an official edict sanctioning the hijacking of Israeli airliners and the murder of Jewish hostages. (I know of no Islamist organisation - Sunni or Shi'ite - which does not sanction and defend 'martyrdom operations' in Israel.)

In one of a series of 'Letters to the Youth', Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, justified the organisation's imperial ambitions with explicit reference to its fascist antecedents (this extract, previously unavailable in English, has just been translated from the original Arabic by Valentina Colombo, a senior fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy):
Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Hijaz, Yemen, Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, Marrakech, and every inch of earth upon which there is a Muslim who says "there is no God but Allah", all this is our great nation that we shall liberate, save, free and whose parts we shall bring together one after the other. If the German Reich imposed itself as a protector of all people who had German blood in their veins, then [the] Islamic faith compels every strong Muslim to consider himself a protector of all who have been impregnated by the teachings of Qur'an [. . .] Andalusia, Sicily, the Balkans, Southern Italy, and the islands of the Mediterranean were all Islamic colonies and must return to Islam. The Mediterranean and the Red Sea have to become again two Islamic seas as it used to be. If Mr. Mussolini considered as his right to recreate the Roman Empire, whose so-called ancient empire was built on nothing but avarice and pleasure, then it is our right to restore the glory of the Islamic Empire which was founded on justice, fairness, and spread light and guidance among the people.
Even if an Islamist revolution were somehow to be achieved without a shot being fired or a neck being severed, consolidating and expanding power and control will unavoidably demand the purging - with extreme prejudice - of the ideologically impure, and the forcible imposition of ideology upon those recalcitrant free-thinkers unwilling and unable to submit to its conspiracist message.

In his short 1951 book about mass movements, The True Believer, the American writer Eric Hoffer made the following observation about the limits of propaganda and the inevitability of totalitarian violence:
Were propaganda by itself one-tenth as potent as it is made out to be, the totalitarian regimes of Russia, Germany, Italy, and Spain would have been mild affairs. They would have been blatant and brazen but without the ghastly brutality of secret police, concentration camps and mass extermination.
The truth seems to be that propaganda on its own cannot force its way into unwilling minds; neither can it inculcate something entirely new; nor can it keep people persuaded once they have ceased to believe . . .
Propaganda by itself succeeds mainly with the frustrated. Their throbbing fears, hopes and passions crowd at the portals of their senses and get between them and the outside world . . . Indeed, it is easier for the frustrated to detect their own imaginings and hear the echo of their own musings in impassioned double-talk and sonorous refrains than in precise words joined together by faultless logic. . . [But] to maintain itself, a mass movement has to order things so that when the people no longer believe, they can be made to believe by force. 
Words are an essential instrument in preparing the ground for a mass movement. But once the movement is realised, words, though still useful, cease to play a decisive role. So acknowledged a master of propaganda as Dr. Goebbels admits in an unguarded moment that "a sharp sword must always stand behind propaganda if it is to be truly effective".
In 2000 Abdul Qadeem Zallum, Hizb ut-Tahrir's global leader between 1977 and 2003, published How the Khilafah was Destroyed in which he described what would be required once the Caliphate had been successfully established: "To spread Islam and to carry its message even if the disbeliever did not attack us.” The killing of civilians in pursuit of this aim would be permissible, he explained, and the massacre of 'apostates' - "even if they number millions" - would be compulsory.

To describe this ideology as 'non-violent' is to empty the term of meaning. No strain of Islamist doctrine is untainted by the cult of suicide and death because, whether or not an individual Islamist decides to engage in violent activity, violence is inextricably bound up in the logic of the ideology to which all Islamists adhere, just as it is inextricably bound up in the logic of all totalitarian ideologies. Quilliam's 2008 launch publication put it like this:
There remains a core of Wahhabite-Islamist activists and groups who continue to advocate separatist, confrontational ideas that, followed to their logical conclusion, lead to violence.
On twitter, mugwump pulled these 25 words from a 4000 word document and proffered them as conclusive proof of Quilliam's supposed commitment to the 'conveyor belt' idea. But, in so doing, he simply confirmed that he is at cross-purposes with those he attacks.

Belief in a 'conveyor belt' transporting radicals from non-violent Islamism into a violent variant presupposes that these categories can be neatly separated into two discrete and mutually exclusive groups in the first place. But this is mugwump's presupposition, not Quilliam's. If, on the other hand, violence is hardwired into Islamist ideology, then the problem becomes the ideology itself, as Quilliam contend. This requires a substantially more subtle and sophisticated reading of the relationship between ideology and violence than mugwump's myopic focus on notions of linear causality will allow.

As Quilliam's website makes clear, the "complex human behaviour patterns" which move an individual to decide that he or she will kill and die in the name of 'resistance' or to further their revolutionary goals are opaque, and likely to remain so: a murky mix of circumstance, strategy/expedience, and individual psychology.

But that some will be so moved should be neither controversial nor surprising, any more than the self-evident fact that Maoist ideology formerly inspired a plethora of revolutionary Marxist groups to radical action in pursuit of their aims. Is it precisely what revolutionary propaganda is purpose-built to achieve among those predisposed to accept it: the steady background drone of humiliation and despair, and the patient stoking of disaffection, hatred, rage, and paranoid despair - the mood music in Quilliam's eerie metaphor.


  1. (This is a copy of my post regarding this piece on the Harry's Place blog)

    In reading Jacobin's full piece, several somewhat disjointed thoughts come to mind:


    ***Beleaguered Solidarity***

    In other comments I have made in the past, I have referred to what I call "beleaguered solidarity" which is the social expression that tends to go hand in hand with the sort of ideas described in Jacobin's essay. This is a very powerful social force, in spite of (or because of?) its negativity and hatred. In the case of beleaguered solidarity, people are drawn together and forge connectedness not from some common benign interest (like, say, that found among members of the George Eliot reading society), but because of a real or perceived assault upon their individual or collective dignity and their hatred of the assaulters.

    This concern speaks to a very fundamental feature of human social organization and interaction. Insult, humiliation and loss of dignity have always been suffered or perceived everywhere--and have always stirred resentment, hostility, and revenge everywhere, although there were different formulations and degrees of it at different times and in different places (honor feuds, duels, sarcastic repartees in journals). Dignity is very important in human life. The broad, generic place of dignity in human life was the centerpiece of Renaissance writings on Humanism and man-centered (as opposed to God-centered) orientations, as expressed in, for example, Pico della Mirandola's essay "Oration on the Dignity of Man" (1486). Today, the concept of dignity has become a self-conscious concern in contemporary political philosophy (as in the writings of Jeremy Waldron or George Kateb and others), in the wake of-, and as an elaboration to, the concept of "justice" which has been so fore-fronted since John Rawls introduced it in the early 1970's--around the same time that multicultural demands for "recognition" took flight. So--the problem of wounded dignity, by itself, is not unusual or necessarily pathological--and very broadly topical today.

    But the sort of demand for dignity that we now see in Jihadism refers to a "pathological dignity", and coupled with its "beleaguered solidarity"--leads to great hatred. To quote Eric Hoffer, in the book referred to by Jacobin (*The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements*):

    "We do not usually look for allies when we love...but we always look for allies when we hate. It is understandable that we should look for others to side with us when have a just grievance and crave to retaliate against those who wronged us. The puzzling thing is that when our hatred does not spring from a visible grievance and does not seem justified, the desire for allies becomes more pressing. It is chiefly the unreasonable hatreds that drive us to merge with those who hate as we do, and it is this kind of hatred that serves as one of the most effective cementing agents. Whence come these unreasonable hatreds , and why their unifying effect? They are the expression of a desperate effort to suppress an awareness of our inadequacy, worthlessness, guilt and other shortcomings of the self. Self-contempt is here transmuted into hatred of others--and there is a most determined ad persistent effort to mask this switch. Obviously, the most effective way of doing this is to find others, as many as possible, who hate as we do...and much of our proselytizing consists perhaps in infecting others not with our brand of faith but with our particular brand of unreasonable hatred..."


    Continued in following post

  2. (continuing previous post)


    ***Jihadism Is Part of Something Larger***

    The above perspective and explanation by Hoffer is heavily psychological--more than a social scientist like myself can readily digest (although it seems plausible). But it does lead me to another social consideration which may get lost in the fray:

    Jihadism as part of something larger (The Seekers of Violence; the New Insurrectionists)

    It seems that there are a fair number of recruits to Jihadism who are not "native" Muslims, but new converts--and I suspect, although I cannot prove, that every such instant-convert to Islam has not suddenly become a knowing and deep believer in Islam. I suspect that a number of these people are just in love with violence--and choose Islamic Jihad as a dramatically convenient vehicle or bandwagon to jump onto in order to have a means for executing (no pun intended) their desires. These people make their seemingly quick and perfunctory conversion to Islam in order to pass on to more "meatier" actions.

    But--in addition to these gratuitous violence-prone players, there is a new, up-dated globalized view of Revolution that, in a way, sees Jihadist Islam as one idiom for that global revolutionary agenda: "The Resistance!!" or, "The Coming Insurrection". This idea has long been humped in certain circles and has now re-emerged in a contemporary-style global avatar--backed by certain theorists.I keep bumping into manifestos about this--the latest was prominently displayed in my local campus bookstore:

    (continued in next post)

  3. (Continued from previous post)

    First Measures of the Coming Insurrection
    by Eric Hazan and Kamo
    Zed Books, 2015
    We have witnessed a beginning, the birth of a new age of revolt and upheaval. In North Africa and the Middle East it took the people a matter of days to topple what were supposedly entrenched regimes. Now, to the west, multiple crises are etching away at a ‘democratic consensus’ that has, since the 1970s, plagued and suppressed any sparks of revolutionary potential. It is time to prepare for the coming insurrection.
    In this bold and beautifully written book, Eric Hazan and Kamo provide a short account of what is to be done in the aftermath of a regime’s demise: how to prevent any power from restoring itself and how to reorganize society without a central authority and according to the people’s needs. They argue that neither a leadership reshuffle, in the guise of constitutional progress, nor a transition period between a capitalist social order and a communist horizon will do.
    First Measures of the Coming Insurrection is more than the voice of a new generation of revolutionaries; it is the manual for the coming global revolution.
    'This has been a period of many insurrections - from the Arab Spring to the Occupy movements in Greece, Spain and the US - but not of revolutions. Why? First Measures of the Coming Insurrection attempts to answer this vital question by soberly examining the logical space between insurrection and revolution and what it takes to traverse it. It is a serious reflection on what constitutes revolution that is bound to attract much attention.'
    George Caffentzis, author of In Letters of Blood and Fire: Work, Machines, and the Crisis of Capitalism
    'In these days of endless crisis and recurring revolt, Hazan and Kamo provide an exhilarating vision of the insurrectionary upheaval that lies ahead - and the steps that can be taken to ensure the creation of the irreversible. Combative, imaginative and exceedingly timely, First Measures of the Coming Insurrection will stand out as a key reference for the post-2011 generation of activists.'
    Table of Contents
    A moment to bring us up to date
    I. It is right to rebel
    II. Creating the irreversible
    III. There's everything to play for

    ---This is not to suggest that Jihadism is just a tool for other considerations beyond certain Islamic orientations--but Islam has "met and married" some of these other considerations in the current globalized atmosphere--probably with lethal offspring looming.


    (Sorry for the length!!)

  4. And yet another point!

    ***The "Day After"***

    As is often the case with Utopian orientations, little consideration is given to the details of routinized life after the "Glorious Moment at the Barricades"--and without the great, romantic push of *striving* for Utopia, the actual matter of *living* in Utopia, and with the Redemption that it supposedly proffers, can be quite dull. The boredom that comes with the eventual routinization of the Great Drama of Striving can carry new problems--or maybe, the antidote to the problem. Who can say?

  5. Lets be concise here, there are certain problematic aspects within Islam which needs to be reformed/annuled/modified. Rest is just a lot of hot air. To deny that Islam has its flaws, which is causing a lot of grievance around the globe, is to be willfully ignorant.

    The main beneficiaries of acknowledging Islam's flaws would be us muslims.

  6. Enjoyed reading your post. I would like to know where do you classify so called "soft" Islamists like AKP in Turkey or Ennhada in Tunisia or PJD in Morrocco who are usually termed "Islamic democrats" are they on the same level as Jihadi groups like ISIS and revolutionary Islamists like HT & The Khomenists in Iran?

    1. I don't trust those people at all. The AKP seems determined to overturn Kemalism by degrees, depending on what it thinks it can get away with. Its rhetoric on Israel and Zionism these days is indistinguishable from much of what comes out of Tehran. Given that Turkey is a NATO ally that's pretty extraordinary.

      This article on Ennahda by Hussein Ibish is worth a read.

  7. A really good read; I thought this was also relevant.

  8. Good article, I really don’t have very much to add.

    To add to your link between Jihadism and fascism. As for Al-Qaeda and ISIS, their ideology may be theoretically universalist, but their goal of reestablishing an Islamic caliphate stretching from Indonesia to Spain seems to me to resemble the ‘great nation’ projects of the fascists. And their mobilisation of chauvinistic violence and glorification of killing outsiders (non-Muslims) seem to me to resemble the fascist or Nazi attitude toward national or racial minorities.

    Add to that the Jihadist’s since of grievance and victimhood; whereby various discrete cases of ethnic conflict (like Bosnia) are portrayed as part of a global conspiracy against Muslims (people actually from Bosnia usually don’t see it that way) and you can see the parallels with fascism and with other forms of extreme nationalism.


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