Leaderless Jihad in Diaspora

By Dr. Mohammed Maarouf*

According to Bauman (2004), fundamentalism is not a surprising phenomenon since it responds to the constant change of liquid modernity by cocooning itself in security and certainty. Those who come from the poor parts of the world may watch the western consumer revelry with envy and hatred. Islamic fundamentalism provides tranquillity and peace to those who would otherwise be stripped of their human dignity and humiliated in McDonaldized societies.

Muslim youths living in the affluent West do not escape from the risk circle of terrorism because they may identify with their domestic brothers in distress through sympathy and strong faith. Lack of integration keeps their sense of belonging oriented toward their original societies. Moreover, media representations of “Muslim immigrant scroungers” in the Diaspora fuel their anger. Waleed Aly (2007) applies the concept of liquidity to fundamentalism itself. He argues that because fundamentalism is born in liquid modernity it is itself liquid in that its participants are amateurs without any formal organizational structure and are disconnected, with divergent ideologies. Islam for Aly is not a traditional faith in Europe but a transnational identity movement.

Domenico Tosini (2010) discusses the various emotional responses violent Islamists may dabble in, and he attributes suicidal actions to emotional tendencies rather than to rational choices. For example, participants in suicide attacks express feelings of anger, indignation, and hatred in their videos and messages which are broadcast subsequent to the attack. In a January 2005 television interview, Saleh Jamil Kassar, a captured Saudi fighter, said: Allah is my witness, and I will face Allah on Judgment Day… We saw the Americans massacring the Iraqis. We saw the siege of Najaf. We saw that Imam Al-Sistani issued a fatwa calling for Jihad . . . We saw the pictures of the Abu Ghraib violations, a naked woman violated by an American soldier. We saw our brothers, the prisoners naked . . . I saw them on Al-Jazeera TV, on the internet, occasionally pictures appeared on the internet. This was what motivated me.

It is obvious that Jamil Kassar identified himself as a member of the Islamic Umma, and defended his faith and co-religionists against imperial “infidels”. He was excited by feelings of righteous anger at the abuse and loss of honour to which the Iraqi Muslim population was exposed. He was also cultivated by the power of media into an umma defender. The impending issue at stake here is how media technologies function as stimuli for Jihadists’ responses and reactions worldwide: the notion is that the uses of media texts and technologies cultivate some Muslims into Jihadists and enable their transnational learning of Jihadist abilities, skills and competencies, and broadcast their videos in moral panic crusades amplifying their threat to societal values and interests.

There are other types of emotions and feeling states to be described in the case of suicide bombers. Jon Elster (2007) speaks of shame and guilt as emotions instigating suicide attackers’ actions. Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog (2009) attribute radicalization to the feeling of indignation caused by stultified egoistic expectations and the relative deprivation associated with unfavourable socioeconomic conditions. According to Dipak Gupta et al (2002), desperate youth believe that violence breeds violence to the extent that it becomes a form of indoctrination.

The sociological tradition has often pointed out that poverty breeds terrorism, a very debatable and often discredited theory in the case of Muslim radicals in Diaspora. Vandana Shiva (2003) argues that globalization leads to economic insecurity, which leads to fear and the use of violence. It ultimately breeds fundamentalism. Gary Becker (1968) and Jessica Stern (2003) share the same logic that jihadists are recruited from the poorest segments of societies. The poor worldwide would have exterminated the rich human species if this socioeconomic theory were right. Not all the poor are radicals. Abdessamad Dialmy (2005) argues that certainly not every poor person is a terrorist but Moroccan terrorists are formed from the poorest segments. Terrorist networks may succeed in gaining new recruits from the underprivileged classes, although between poverty and terrorism much mediation is needed: political, psychological, and informational using new technology.

David Cook (2004) maintains that jihadists, I add in diaspora, are recruited from the educated middle class social strata. They evince a certain degree of awareness of seeing Islamic civilization as humiliated and degraded and display an extravagant sense of loyalty to defending it. It is not also surprising to find that suicide attackers are usually drawn from the educated stratum of Muslim societies. It is precisely among this educated group that the tension and sense of humiliation are the strongest.

Nowadays, suicide attackers appear at any time from any social background. What is labelled by Western discourse formations as “suicide bombing” is in the fundamentalist social context indeed an ideology of martyrdom but first and foremost, a force field that recruits people depending on their individual experience and cultural worldview. From perusing media accounts and state reports about the dismantling and detention of small terrorist groups in Africa and Europe, we may deduce that the organizational structure of the new Islamists does not seem to be based on a conventional organization of cells and militants. It is now more a force field of potential rather than tangible structure. When tangible organizations are needed, they are imported or constructed or suddenly appear.

Those who would control the jihadist operations do not need to organize themselves in a conventional manner and maintain a lasting fight. They do not need many regular furtive gatherings and secret armies. Instead, there are people who appear and disappear, actions that mutate, and no leader is required to coordinate all the efforts. One may capture rebels but not necessarily the rebellion, not if the ideals are still rampant, the grievances experienced, and the duty of jihad calling. This jihad may be blessed by ISIS leaders, but the latter have no command or control centre. This is the latest generation of the Islamist commando that may be termed following Sageman (2008) leaderless jihad.

Shaykh Osama bin Laden and other leader ideologues in this liquid social context are eternalized. Their social bodies may be dead but the networked terminal subjects are still alive. Bin Laden and al-Qaeda are now finished. But the United States is not winning the war. As a spirit, a set of beliefs, and a form of political resistance, al-Qaeda will never come to an end as long as Muslims suffer grievances and at the same time realize that this tactic is the only possible effective tool of self-defence to terrorize the tyrant – see also the birth of a new centre of Jihad in Iraq and Syria now under ISIS jurisdiction. This global force field is opportunist in that it may avail itself of the aid supplied by conventional organizations containing cells, spies, intelligence agencies, governments, ideologues, funders, charity people, robbers, smugglers, operational experts, and bomb-makers. Now ISIS leaders provide ongoing support for those who choose to act. But those who act are not necessarily organic members of ISIS. They often seem to appear without warning or preparation.

This is the “lone wolf terrorist”, or in the local cultural idiom, the solitary Mujahid, radicalized online in chat rooms, conspiracy websites, facebook or twitter, framing his local and political grievances in terms of global meanings, taking them as a moral foundation to seek affinities, sympathies and alliances with diasporic and home-grown extremist groups of similar pursuits. He is self-enabled, self-prepared and even self-equipped to trigger the event of terrorism and broadcast it.

According to Bowyer J. Bell (2002), the great advantage of the force field of terrorism is that it does not rely on skills and competence. This may come as a bonus. What is important is the conviction of the recruits. The faithful Jihadists do not learn their terror trade. They rely on their faith and God’s help. The Qur’an substitutes for marksmanship. No one wants to pursue the vocation of a terrorist; they just need to win once. So there are no professional terrorists who want to improve their skills, but there exist faithful jihadists who rebel against the status quo and, unlike their parents who have chosen magical emancipation and escapist solutions (maraboutic/popular Islam), they decide to bear guns to change history. Jihad becomes a duty especially in Arab/Islamic lands, like in the case of Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, occupied/invaded/ attacked by the secular imperial West under the guidance of the “Great Satan Israel and its ally the United States.” Many young Islamists are caught in the dream.

*Dr. Mohammed Maarouf is with the Department of English Studies, Faculty of Humanities, Chouaib Doukkali University, El Jadida, Morocco