The enduring appeal of the violent jihad
Article RadarTHIS ARTICLE CONNECT:
- Palestinian Islamic Jihad Islamist Jihadist Movement in Palestine known in the West as simply...[+]
- Al-Qaeda Al-Qaeda is a global militant Islamist organization founded by Osama bin...[+]
The Islamic State group (IS) has lost its short-lived caliphate in the Middle East, with hundreds – possibly thousands – of would-be international jihadists stuck in limbo, and tempted to return home despite fears of arrest and imprisonment.
Yet the scourge of violent jihad – where extremists attack those they perceive to be enemies of Islam – has not gone away.
The hotel attack in Nairobi two weeks ago by the al-Qaeda-affiliated militant group al-Shabab was an uncomfortable reminder. Large swathes of north-west Africa are now vulnerable to attack by marauding jihadists. Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan remain ideal refuges for jihadists.
So just what is the enduring appeal of violent jihad for certain people around the world?
The decision to leave behind a normal, law-abiding life, often abandoning family and loved ones to embark on what is frequently a short, dangerous career is a personal one. Jihadist recruiters will play on the notion of victimhood, sacrifice and rallying to a higher cause in the name of religion.
For nearly 20 years now the internet has been awash with gruesome propaganda videos, some portraying the collective suffering of Muslims in various parts of the world, others depicting revenge attacks and punishments inflicted on perceived enemies.
These serve two purposes. The first is intended to arouse sympathy and even shame, that the viewer should be watching comfortably at home on his or her laptop while “your brothers and sisters are being murdered” – in say, Syria, Chechnya or the Palestinian Territories.
Secondly, the revenge videos appeal particularly to those of a sadistic nature, often attracting those with a violent criminal record.
Peer pressure can be the trigger that tips an individual over from being simply angry about events in the world to taking violent action.
In Jordan I interviewed a convict in prison who had been persuaded by his best friend from school to come and join him in Syria with IS. He did, then regretted it, escaped back to Jordan and was then sentenced to five years in prison.
Those who are especially vulnerable to recruitment are young men and women who have grown apart from their families or their societies.
For them, belonging to a secret, illegal organisation that appears to value them can be an attractive alternative. Even if it ends with them being told to strap on a suicide vest and blow themselves up in a market place.