Jihad: Building an Army of Holy Warriors
No matter how many times one has seen the footages of the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City, the question still remains – what drove the extremists to guide a commercial jet, killing themselves in the process but at the same time destroying the lives of thousands of innocent civilians. What are the circumstances as well as the ideology that goaded them to mass murder? The answer could not be simplified in one statement. It will require a lengthy discourse but the focus will be on three concepts: Jihad or holy war, Islam and Muslim extremists. These terminologies will come in handy when discussing the development of a warrior from the recruitment phase to the day of attack. This study will focus on the interesting and at the same time sickening subject matter – the radicalization of the Jihad warrior.
What is Jihad?
Just like the discussion of other controversial topics such as religion an political ideologies there is no one simple explanation that can satisfy experts and critics alike when it comes to finding out the exact definition of Jihad. But first of all it must be made clear that Jihad is popularly understood as the Muslim’s concept of holy war. A holy war means warfare done in relation to defending one’s faith, defending and securing sacred sites and in some cases it is warfare whose end goal is to proselytize unbelievers.
Obviously it is not politically correct to say that Islam is a religion of violence. It will not be acceptable for many Muslim countries to view their religion as such. Thus, Jihad has other meanings aside from being the main concept used to describe holy war. Still it will not be correct to simply say that Jihad is the desire to become a better person. According to Laqueur:
Many interpreters of Jihad in the Muslim world, and an equal number in the West, have explained that Jihad has a double meaning; it stands for jihad bi al saif (holy war by means of the sword) and also for jihad al nafs (literally, the struggle for one’s soul against one’s own base instinct). Both interpretations are true, but Islamic militants have rejected the spiritual explanation as dangerous heresy (Laqueur, 1999).
This radicalized interpretation of jihad as found in the Q’uran is the main reason why suicide bombers have no qualms in destroying public places filled with women and children. This interpretation is currently being used in recruiting men and women to join the fight against infidels. And so far they are successful in wreaking havoc and sowing fear among its targets.
Why They Murder
When Muslim extremists hijacked a commercial airliner, and then rammed it into the World Trade Center, those who saw the plane crashing into the building thought that it was a catastrophic accident. It did not take long before they realized that they were mistaken. When a second plane was intentionally crashed into another tower – kamikaze style – did analysts and security experts realized that the United States of America was under attack by a yet unknown foreign strike force. It was like experiencing the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor but this time with a radical twist.
There was no advance warning and there was no declaration of war. The terrorists acted like soldiers out to destroy a target at the behest of a foreign leader. But they did not belong to any professional army, They were not employed by any legitimate government recognized by the United Nations. Still, they must be considered as soldiers or at least warriors fighting for a cause. This was made clear by the claims of their leader Osama Bin Laden who warned beforehand that the United States government is an evil empire and has to be punished for its many transgressions.
Bin Laden is determined to exact revenge on what the United States has done to the Muslim adherents of Islam. There are two reasons for the murderous rampage. First of all, Muslim extremists hated America for its foreign policy, specifically concerning its support to the nation of Israel. Secondly, Muslim extremists could not forgive the U.S. government for using Saudi Arabia as the launching pad for its military operations in the First Gulf War. The military strategy called for the deployment of troops and military personnel in a region that is relatively a stone’s throw away from Islam’s most holy site – Mecca.
Osama Bin Laden is justified in his declarations as well as his actions because he had the Q’uran to back up his claims. In Islam’s Holy Book in Sura 2, verse 256, violence is sanctified if it is carried out to destroy infidels (Laqueur, 1999). But there is more, “On the philosophical-religious level, there is no room for nonbelievers in the Islamic system, even if minorities are temporarily tolerated. The faithful live, at least in theory, in a permanent state of war with the non-Islamic world and this will change only if and when nonbelievers have accepted one true faith” (Laqueur, 1999). This goes to show why these men are capable of killing themselves and murdering innocent civilians.
There are two main objectives in waging holy war. The first one is with regards to Jerusalem and one Muslim scholar wrote, “It is said that the battlefield of jihad today is the liberation of Jerusalem, since it is part of the Holy Land. It is true that the liberation of the Holy Land is a religious command, obligatory for all Muslims…” (Turner, 2002). Secondly, Jihad is waged in order to, “…recover the government of Islamic states from leaders who are perceived as having themselves taken those states out of the dar al-islam” (Turner, 2002). This means that every believer is duty bound to do whatever is necessary to recover Jerusalem and at the same time strengthen the Islamic states.
Based on the preceding discussion it can be argued that Jihad warriors are used for political as well as religious purposes. This might be confusing for a Westerner but one has to remember that there is no such thing as the “Separation of Church and State” in the vocabulary of Muslim extremists. For them Islam is the state religion and everything revolves around the teachings of Mohammed as seen in the Q’uran. It must be understood that Muslim extremists
There are different ways to recruit a potential Jihadist. The most common method is to appeal to the personal circumstances surrounding the life of the potential recruit. This method can be further simplified into two recruitment processes. The first one targets poor Muslims and the second one target those who are seeking vengeance for their loved ones killed in skirmishes or bombings. Those who are experiencing extreme poverty will see no point in living. Thus, a recruiter who knows how to play their cards well will be able to convince desperate men and women to die for a cause.
Poverty has many complications and one is the fragmentation of families. Due to the lack of resources, money and food, family members can be forced to part ways. The father may seek work far away from home. A young man strong enough to work will be forced to leave the comfort of home and find employment in cities. In the event that a young man will leave the familiar social structure behind, it is also the time that he will be in a vulnerable position and can easily be recruited by Muslim extremists.
As mentioned earlier poverty also breeds hopelessness. This is the feeling that life has no meaning and that there is no point in living. It might as well be practical to end it soon than later. Young Muslim men who are in this state of mind will be easy picking for recruiters who will convince them that their lives will find meaning in the struggle to promote Islam. For these men Islam is a religion that will not only help spiritually but it is also a religion that will help them in their poverty this is because Islam, “…is a kind of refuge for those who are downtrodden and disenfranchised because it has become the religion of the oppressed” (Farouky, 2006). It is no wonder then that Muslim extremists are not having time finding new recruits.
In the case of young Muslim men, poverty can also mean the inability to find a mate. This has nothing to do with physical attributes but has everything to do with culture and the i in most Muslim countries. It is common knowledge that in many countries in the Middle-East a young man is required to pay dowry before they could marry. Imagine the frustration felt by those who could not pay dowry and therefore could not marry. So when a recruiter comes in and tells them that there is a way to both serve Allah and then at the same time satisfy their sexual urges this poor Muslim men will surely listen. The recruiter will tell them that they will immediately be transported to Paradise if they die in battle and they will not only be considered as good Muslims there is also a bevy of young virgin women waiting for them. To be exact there are 72 virgins waiting for each holy warrior (Berko, 2007). It is an offer too hard to resist.
The recruitment process in areas where there are plenty of poor men and women begins with winning the hearts and minds of the population. Hizballah, the militant Shi’ite Muslim group is sending volunteers into war torn communities and offering cash to the people there in order to help them rebuild their lives. One of the recipients was able to receive as much as $12,000 in U.S. $100 bills so that he can have money to pay rent after his house was obliterated by Israeli missiles (Shannon, 2006). For those who received such level of assistance, they will surely know whom to support in the coming months and years of conflict.
The second most effective recruitment technique is to appeal to the potential recruit’s sense of outrage over what the enemy has done to his homeland in general and to his family in particular (McGirk, 2007). The son of a murdered father is motivated by revenge especially in a country where there is a long history of bloodshed. In places like Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Iraq there are many young men who found themselves standing in the midst of rubble, collateral damage in the ongoing war on terror. Their anger burns even hotter after they are told that their loved ones died because of the indiscriminate bombing of enemy warplanes.
The third and perhaps the most effective method is to appeal to the recruit’s religious piety. Those who fall into this category are religious zealots who care less about the methods and only interested in the results. Their main goal is to make Islam the official religion of the world. These young men had the tell-tale signs that draw recruiters and make them set-off the process of radicalizing them even further. An example of such men is Osama Bin Laden. He is a multi-millionaire who has everything he needs to enjoy himself but he instead chose to live a life on the run in the unforgiving mountains of Afghanistan.
The Q’uran plays a major role in the radicalization of young Muslim men. The recruiters and the various teachers will convince potential recruits that Allah is sending them to battle and they will add by saying that, “…the struggle should continue until there is no more sedition or competing religion in the world. As for those who are making war upon Allah and Muhammad, they should be killed, crucified, mutilated or at the very least expelled from the land” (Laqueur, 1999). This is the explanation why these extremists are committed to the destruction of the State of Israel and its allies like the United States of America.
These three methods of recruitment are not mutually exclusive and in many instances these methods overlap. For instance a poor young Muslim man can become radicalized because he is poor and at the same love to see Islam taken seriously in the Western hemisphere. It is also possible for a religious fanatic to have family members killed by non-Muslims and this combination of factors drove him to embrace the dark side of Muslim extremism. It is even possible to have an overlap in al three methods of recruitment.
Radicalization of Recruits
The radicalization of the Muslim extremist is a very lengthy process. But all begins with a radicalized Imam. An Imam is roughly the equivalent of the Roman Catholic priest, a religious leader in-charge of teaching and spiritual guidance (Farouky, 2006). Without a doubt there are many Imams who preach that it is better to make peace not war but on the other hand the world has known many who would rather incite violence rather become peacemakers.
These so-called religious leaders will kill in God’s name. They begin by gathering young men who are either made desperate by poverty or made desperate by their religious convictions that they should do more to serve Allah. When they already have their students before them they start the indoctrination process, “They invoke time and time again those sections in the Koran that say warfare is ordained for faithful Muslims; only cowards and the unfaithful will turn away from this sacred duty to fight those in the path of Allah” (Laqueur, 1999). By the time they are finished these young men are ready to kill and die for Islam.
At first it was difficult to understand the motivations of the terrorists and Muslim extremists who wage war against Israel and the United States. When an airplane hit the World Trade Center in 2001 many thought that it was an accident simply because there is no other logical answer as to why such an accident will occur. As it turned out it was no accident and that someone intentionally guided the plane and turn it into a weapon of mass destruction. It was hard to believe that someone will do that for the sake of following a set of religious guidelines.
The religion of Islam uses a holy book that is known as the Q’uran or Koran and many are surprised to know that inside the sacred texts are commandments that point to the eradication of unbelievers. There are many Muslim scholars who tried to explain the meaning of these verses in a way that will help ease the tension between Muslims and non-Muslims. But the fundamentalists will do everything they can so that the more deadly interpretation will prevail.
Muslim extremists believe that it is their duty as well as all the Muslims living around the world to join hands so that they can recover Jerusalem from the hands of infidels. But there is more, these men are also highly committed to the main goal which is to make Islam the religion of the world. They believe that their methods are justified by the end result and therefore they have no qualms in blowing something up and killing people just so their message can be heard.
An integral part of their strategy is to raise holy warriors who will do the terrorizing for them. This recruitment process involves the exploitation of the potential recruit’s vulnerabilities such as those related to poverty, anger, and religious piety. These recruiters will chose their recruits carefully and then proceed with the indoctrination that will transform them from an ordinary Muslim to someone who is willing to die for the cause.
Berko, A. (2007). The Path to Paradise. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Farouky, J. (2006). “Allah’s Recruits.” Time Magazine Archives. Retrieved 01 November 2008
Laqueur, W. (1999). The New Terrorism. New York: Oxford University Press.
McGirk, T. (2007). “Palestinian Moms Becoming Martyrs.” Time Magazine Archives. Retrieved
01 November 2008 from http://www.time.com/time/
Shannon, E. (2006). “The Middle East War for Hearts and Minds.” Time Magazine Archives.
Retrieved 01 November 2008 from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/
Turner, J. (2002). The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions. Pennsylvania: The
Pennsylvania State University.