Let us think it over: death wish

Following incidents in Turkey, Egypt, Paris and Mali, that cumulatively ended the lives of nearly a thousand people, the whole world is uneasy. Islamist terrorists even threaten to reach Washington and other American cities, like they did as al-Qaeda. This time they go by the name of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

With so many young men and women ready to blow themselves up, one wonders why there is such a widespread death wish among certain groups. It does not matter where they live and what the economic and political conditions of the countries they live in are, if the youth does not see any future for themselves, the process of radicalization starts. That is why thousands of Muslim youths have joined ISIL from Western countries where they have been born or emigrated to later in life.

If young people live in countries where their values and lifestyles contradict those of their leaders and peers without the chance to reconcile their differences, a combustible situation arises.

So the fierce battle brewing against ISIL, particularly for the city of Raqqa, its de facto capital, is merely a move toward their potential defeat in Syria. But what about the conditions and mindsets which led to this situation as well as the intense indoctrination stemming from extremist clerics and leaders of opinion?

Spiritual transcendence has always drawn the attention of young people wherever they live. This is more relevant if they are suffering from repression in their societies or caught in cultural conflict. In some of these cases, their escape is achieved through violence and acts which express their dissatisfaction. The less they have to lose, the more they resort to violence. The degree of their despair influences their infatuation with violence. This makes their cause all the deadlier.

Disenchanted young people are easily drawn to revolutionary movements. In ISIL’s case, theirs is an anti-Western, anti-imperialist revolution to topple Western civilization and to replace it with an Islamist one. They have come to believe (through the teaching of radical clerics) that they need law and a political body to uphold an Islamic entity of their own. Holding territory is helpful but not altogether necessary.

The most effective instrument, in their minds, to realize these ends is violence. That is why they romanticize death and believe that not only does it bring demise to their enemies but opens the gates of heaven to them for a life they have been denied in this world. The death they choose for themselves is also a punishment aimed at a world that has been unfair and unfaithful to them.

The age of the Internet offers them a wide (virtual) space to communicate their ideas and sentiments. They can organize and plan actions across continents. They use violence not only as an instrument of their revolutionary vocation but for self-fulfillment. They feel powerful. They may not give life as God does, but they can take it away as God does.

The pseudo revolution they have engaged in and readiness to sacrifice themselves empower them, give their lives meaning, offer a community and a means of escape from the frustrations of their personal lives. That is why they have turned their endeavors into a holy war (Jihad), something which possesses far greater import than anything in their “unimportant” lives.

The exalted violence they are engaged in is associated with religion. It is Islam reinterpreted for a political cause and expediently set against Western civilization and its values. In this sense, Islam is being used as a tool to create a “clash of civilizations” by religious Muslim fanatics, who have taken away religion and replaced it with a political and lethal version of itself.

Therefore, declaring war on the outcome (terrorism), a religion (Islam) or a revolutionary cause cannot succeed. Bombing the fanatics will not kill fanaticism. On the contrary it will enhance fanaticism and increase their desire of revenge. Bombing them in Syria and Iraq may be helpful in eroding their concentration, but it will disperse them throughout the world, and they will settle in every possible niche, from failed states, civil wars or to places where oppressive regimes have cultivated popular uprisings.

The youth caught in the civil wars of the Middle East and the discriminated and alienated youth in the West will be instruments of death as long as the death cult inculcated in their minds remains intact

Then what is the panacea? Olivier Roy argues that Islam in Europe must be domesticated, or “Europeanized”. Locally trained Imams, rather than imported clerics ignorant of the West, should give religious guidance to European Muslims. Finally, young Muslims must be better integrated into Europe through more egalitarian educational and employment systems. Furthermore, we must be aware that this is a long-term project with little immediate impact.


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