There is a constant stream of reports in the press that describe Muslims doing terrible things, those outside of the Muslim community often suspect the cause for these atrocities lies within the religion of Islam. Within the Muslim community, they find this behaviour by fellow Muslims confusing, they either suspect a complex conspiracy to explain the paradox or they simply say the person was insane, a madman who could have come from any faith. This article will explain the reality of the factors involved in some Muslims choosing to commit these terrorist actions, and what can be done to prevent future issues.
Firstly, the fact so many Muslims behave in a normal, civilised way suggests there is nothing problematic within Islam as a religion, however the fact that so many of the terrorist attacks are done by people who are Muslims, must mean there is an issue with some Muslims. There is definitely a difference between what religion teaches, and what some people practice, there is not one reason or factor involved in someone choosing to take a deviant path, it is often multifactorial. I have identified three “drivers” which can encourage a person to do things they would never normally do not every deviant person has all three, but at least one is present, these are Ideological, Political and Psychological.
The terror attacks conducted in the name of Islam are almost exclusively by Sunni Muslims, in order to understand why, we must examine the ideological beliefs of those groups who openly support terrorist activity, such as Al Qaeda, Al Shabab, ISIS, Boko Haram, Taliban etc. So what makes these groups different to the rest of Muslims? One of the fundamental factors that leads to a warped world view is their views on morality. The vast majority of humanity, and authentic Muslims believe that things such as stealing and hurting people, are wrong in themselves, so they are objectively wrong, it is not based on an opinion of anyone or religion. This sounds obvious, but this is not how the deviant groups see it, they will argue that nothing is good or bad in itself, the religion will arbitrarily determine what is good and bad, and if your own moral compass disagree, then you should ignore your doubts and go with the religion. This policy on morality allows scholars within deviant groups to ask their followers to do the most immoral things, and then claim that it is part of the proper understanding of Islam, and therefore right. For example they will claim that if God wants something to happen, such as attack a certain group of people, then that is the right thing to do, no matter what the consequences. The clue that someone has this ideology, is that if anyone disagrees with their opinion, they will be labeled as an unbeliever (Kafir). That is why these deviant groups are often termed “takferis”, as they equate their own opinions as the opinion of God, there is no room for debate or discussion, their minds are closed to the concept that they may be wrong.
This flaw in their moral code is the crack which allows deviant groups to prey on seemingly devout religious people to get involved in terrorist activities, the flaw is not however endemic, it is limited to those that claim to be part of the Ashari or Salafi branch of the Sunni sect. So what can be done? Essentially this is a matter of education, the Salafi sect is relatively new and already in decline, and the Ashari ideology came several hundred years after the announcement of Islam, those that subscribe to these ideologies need to be challenged and re-educated in the authentic Islam. There are also the lay Muslims who often have no idea of these subtle differences and some would even be shocked at some of the views.
There is no doubt that there are injustices being committed against the Muslim world, whether they are large scale geo-political conflicts such as in Palestine, or individual level biggotism, these events drive some Muslims to think of the world as “them and us”. One of the hall marks of deviant jihadi groups is their media division, they will continuously highlight oppression and injustice against Muslims and then make the case that only their militant ideology will correct the status quo.
There is no simple solution to this, as certainly, there are injustices being committed against Muslims, there needs to be two pronged approach. The first prong is there needs to be a realisation from the Western world that times have moved on and their rights are no greater than anyone elses, so their need for cheap oil, or security should not be achieved at the expense of others rights. Any reasonable person who becomes aware of what has happened in the Muslim world can not help but get angry, there is some justification for legitimate resistance to oppression. The second prong is from the Muslim side, they must deal with oppression and injustice in a proportionate, reasonable manner, for example if Israel acts unjustly, then Israel is guilty, not a Jew who lives in London. If we use the 9/11 attacks as an example, most of those who died were nothing to do with oppressive foreign policy that the deviant jihadis used as their premise for their attack, in fact their response to some legitimate American injustice, was to commit much worse injustice in response. Clearly this is not an appropriate way to behave, and the unjust response has hidden and sidelined the genuine injustices being committed in the first instance.
Many of those that have traveled from the West to join deviant jihadi groups display aspects of the above two points, however they also display a third, they feel their life has not worked out as they hoped, they often feel hopeless in the West and want their life to have more significance and meaning. They feel the only way they can give their life meaning is to go on a military adventure and either die a martyr or live as an adventurer. There is also the issue of living as a second generation immigrant, they lack a real sense of identity, they have a culture and religion that is different to the indigenous people, so they do not quite fit in with the local community, yet they are also seen as “British” by their ethnic home country and therefore not able to be accepted completely there either. The call of the Islamic State to give people an identity, a home and community is therefore appealing.
It is part of the communities duty to identify and support individuals who are vulnerable, who do feel they haven’t “met the grade” and want to take an alternative lifestyle, either in crime or religious deviancy.