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researcher senior at programs of study Islámicos e Historia de Oriente Medio. Institute for Culture and Society University of Navarra
Anarchism, nationalism, American abolitionism and the Ku Klux Klan, as well as various nationalist movements in the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, can be considered the main culprits of the first contemporary terrorist attacks. The "Reign of Terror"(1793-1794) was a first example of the annihilation of the political civil service examination , favoring the destruction of the proto-democratic values of the French Revolution.
However, when we talk about terrorism today, the most direct association is with Islamic terrorism, especially with the September 11 attacks and other more recent attacks suffered by different countries in Europe. It is necessary to better understand what we are talking about today when jihadism is identified with the specific Muslim attitude towards terrorism.
As I explain in the book Violence in Early Islam. Religious narratives, the Arab Conquests and the Canonization of Jihadinitially, the word Jihad made reference letter to a specific individual and voluntary (non-remunerated) attitude of the mujahid towards frontier warfare after the creation of the frontier in the 8th century. It was a very staff stance and totally unlinked to economic remuneration; looting; killing women, children or the elderly; or the use of war for political or military gain. In the following centuries, the word Jihad became synonymous with war; the Islamic legal literature on this subject has canonized the relationship between the two terms.
However, in the Qur'an, this root y-h-d, is used with a semantic meaning close to "war" less than ten times in a text of more than 6,500 verses. The most frequent word for "fight, kill" is Qital (q-t-l). This consideration financial aid to recalibrate the erroneous association of Jihad/Jihadism with war and terrorism. Similarly, the Muslim terrorist attitude of today has little to do with the anti-colonial struggle of the centuries. anti-colonial struggle of the 19th and 20th centuries and XX centuries and much more with the image of the enemy that the European-Western world has had since the beginning of the modern era.
Before reaching this point, it is necessary to point out how the canonization of contemporary Islamic terrorism is related to the despotic involution, clientelistic and without expectations for the new generations, which has meant the political evolution of Arab and Muslim countries after the phase of self-determination.
In a book published a few years ago, Engineers of Jihad, the authors establish a direct relationship between the scientific elite - especially engineers and doctors - of the Arab countries in the 1960s and 1970s and the role they would have played in the following decades as leaders of world Islamic terrorism. A generational failure in which neither Islam nor its religious leaders have been willing or able to limit the radicalization of thought.
In parallel, the narrative, as well as the attitude about these violent actions - which, incidentally, overwhelmingly impact on other Muslims - has tried to find its own sources of inspiration in Muslim authors of the past. However, it is clear that it is closer to Western supremacist thought than to those sources.
Some 20th century Muslim authors, such as Abul 'Ala al-Maududi (d. 1979), as well as the Egyptian S. Qutb (d. 1966), have favored a modernist reading of the Islamic religious scriptures and of some words core topic: Jahiliyya, Jihad, Hijra. They have created new concepts such as Hakimiyya (God's sovereignty) and favored a more violent and revolutionary interpretation. At the same time, these authors wanted to seek this new reading by drawing inspiration from religious experts such as Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 1350), al-Qurtubi (d. 1273), who had lived centuries before in a historical phase where the Islamic world was under attack by foreign forces (Mongols, the Reconquest in the Iberian Peninsula...).
Apart from them, we find the next generation of terrorist chiefs, all of them born between the 40's and 60's and with scarce training humanistic and about Islam: Muhammad 'Abd al-Salam Faraj, Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, etc. They have interpreted as their own the thought on violence in Islam, without being able to go deeper.
One of its elements, hatred of urban cosmopolitanism, for example, is very ancient (we find it in biblical references such as Sodom and Gomorrah or the Tower of Babel), but at the same time modern. It is present in both Nazism and communism and clearly emerges in the American white supremacism that arose after the Civil War (1865) and still endures in conservative and evangelical states.
On the other hand, the focus on martyrs and death as the ultimate destiny is a very un-Islamic concept, much more contemporary: in the Koran, the word shahid appears only once (III, 140) with this meaning. Its semantic interpretation, linked to the confrontation of Uhud (625 AD) with the polytheists, deals with the concept of testimony, of absolute trust in God. Likewise, the idea of the martyrs who die trying to inflict the greatest possible damage to the enemy is a very contemporary action. While it is true that the attitude of sacrifice staff to neutralize the enemy dates back to the Battle of Thermopylae, it has a strong connection to World War II.
Another interesting aspect of the struggle against the Western logical-rationalist mentality of Islamic terrorism can be compared to the struggle between different theological schools of Islamic thought: between mu'tazila and ashariyyah in the early centuries, or between Ibn Rushd and al-Ghazali in the following centuries. It is the same between Abelard and Bernard of Clairvaux and in medieval times, between religious conservatism and progressivism, a common aspect in many different civilizations at different times.
The wrath of God against enemies, the secularization of the West and the dehumanization of adversaries are narratives deeply rooted in European modernity. They are present in American history, from the religious wars of the 16th-17th centuries to the annihilation of native prairie cultures that resisted progress, railroads and urban civilization.
The enemy needs to be turned into a beast, a subhuman race, a figure that needs to disappear: in the end, the wrath of God and the fighters of God will destroy him. In the West, the victims of this "dehumanization of the enemy" have been the European Jews, the atheist communists, the American blacks... In the Islamic world, today it is very well seen in the supremacist thought of inspiration Wahhabi.
It can be concluded that the revolutionary and terrorist Jihadist tradition has very little to do with Islam, as well as with the concept of Jihad: on the contrary, the narrative of hatred against the secular West has many aspects in common with the creation of the modern nation state and its purification of internal differences at the political and religious levels.
The ideologization of religions for political reasons can be very useful to control people, as the decades of the Cold War showed. In parallel, religion without culture and without relation to Humanities can generate different forms of fundamentalism that impact on a lack of religious identity and knowledge of the religion itself.