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The making of a jihadist

By Carol Devine-Molin
web posted January 5, 2004

According to The Sunday Times (UK), British intelligence unearthed an al-Qaida plan to have terrorists hijack passenger jets and "crash them into high-profile American targets." Americans are always intrigued by what makes these jihadists tick. What would possess anyone to even contemplate heinous acts of mass murder under the guise of religiosity?

Well, we don't have to be flummoxed anymore. In her new book entitled Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, internationally lauded terrorism expert Jessica Stern provides a basic overview of the motivational factors that goad radical Islamists to target both combatants and non-combatants alike. Ms.Stern states, "Perhaps the most truly evil aspect of religious terrorism is that it aims at destroying moral distinctions themselves."

They don't call al-Qaida the "Wahhabi death cult" for nothing. During the 18th century, Saudi Arabia spawned an extremely violent and puritanical form of Islam known as Wahhabism, which has generated repercussions to this day. Wahhabi-inspired radicalism has been disseminated throughout much of the Middle East via madrassahs (religious schools), courtesy of the Saudi royals who provided the impetus and generous funding for these indoctrination mills of hate to flourish. In large measure we have the Saudis to thank for unleashing this terrible blight of worldwide terrorism that we are currently battling.

Who are the enemies of Jihadists? That would be all of us in the western world, including Muslims of a more moderate persuasion that don't share the radicalized views of the terrorists. Sure, the Jihadists are hell-bent on annihilating the "infidels" or non-Muslims, but their targets really extend beyond that finite concept -- Radical Islamists have no qualms about striking in the Muslim world (Turkey, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, etc.) if it benefits their cause. Moreover, America, Israel and the entirety of western civilization for that matter must be destroyed since we represent the corrupt modern life that is at odds with the tenets of Muslim extremism.

Here is the crux of the matter: Jihadists are created by indoctrination and exhibit a cult-like mentality. Vulnerability to indoctrination spans across socio-economic lines, as demonstrated in the case of the September 11th hijackers, most of whom came from upper-class Saudi families. Perhaps they were well influenced by the religious extremism that permeates Saudi society and is even found among the Saudi royals. No explanation is proffered by the author, although she notes that those that feel alienated and disenfranchised, or have perceived humiliations or grievances, are more inclined to find solace in the simplified life of strict dogma and the clear-cut purpose of holy war. Moreover, Stern believes that the poor of the Middle East are particularly vulnerable to religious fanaticism simply because their parents have no other place to educate their children than the madrassahs.

And cults are invariably linked to charismatic leaders such as Osama bin Laden, who frame martyrdom for the cause as spiritual transcendence of the highest order. According to Islamic extremists, in the apocalyptic war of good versus evil, the corrupt world is purified through death and destruction. Stern states, "Good and evil are brought out in stark relief. Life is transformed through action. Martyrdom – the supreme act of heroism and worship – provides the ultimate escape from life's dilemmas, especially for individuals who feel deeply alienated and confused, humiliated or desperate."

But the motivation to join al-Qaida, or any other Islamic terror group, involves more than spiritual "pie in the sky" enticements. In the poverty of the Middle East, many become members of the terror network seeking prestige, power, or simply a job. We find lone wolf types, freelancers that do specific jobs such as bomb-making, and members of terrorist armies including an upper echelon that often live quite well. Al-Qaida and the larger terror network also are affiliated with profiteering thugs that are essentially gangsters involved in a host of criminal activities geared toward providing financial support for the cause. But there is plenty being skimmed by the thug element as they perpetrate drug and arms trafficking, extortion, credit card fraud, and a host of other nefarious activities.

In order to fight terrorism in the Islamic world, we not only have to change hearts and minds, we have to facilitate the formation of economies that provide jobs and hope for these people.

Carol Devine-Molin is a regular contributor to several online magazines.

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