Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths
Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths

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9.5 Managing the myth of Muslim religious extremism

These various accounts, both general and specific, shed some light on the dynamics of British Muslim communities and the evolution of the attitudes of the younger generation. They provide some insight into how a very, very few have taken to political violence in the name of a very specific form of Islam. But the insights are far from comprehensive and there are broad differences of interpretation. Tahir Abbas, for example, states that:

It is important to emphasise that the actions of these terrorists are almost entirely political and not at all theological. As young individuals experiencing acute social exclusion and faced with multiple challenges and confrontations in relation to religion, culture and society, their only solution is to take a radical Islamic perspective. They are determined to “go straight to heaven” through a process of creating political change by encouraging the world’s leaders to take action on Iraq specifically but also Palestine, Chechnya and Kashmir as part of the wider struggle to liberate Islam and the Muslims from the offensive they currently experience.

(Abbas 2007 p4–5)

So both Malik and Abbas argue in the above extracts that the radical Islamic terrorist response is more political than religious. Yet the language used to justify acts of terror is generally more religious than political, and the Islamic context is far from irrelevant. At the core of the issue is a volatile mixture of the two and, as Peter Bergen has suggested, 9/11 itself was essentially ‘collateral damage in a civil war within the world of political Islam’ (Bergen, 2006). A think-tank organised by the Bush administration came to a similar conclusion, although stressed more the Islam than the politics (Woodward, 2007, p84).

Not surprisingly in this context, some observers stress the ‘centrality of psychological factors’ to the radicalisation process and dismiss as secondary the purely ideological or religious elements (Silvestri, 2007, p69). But Burke points out that militants are by no means ‘lone wolves’ or isolated psychopaths either (Burke, 2008). Nor, Malik suggests, do suicide bombers as a group seem to be deranged or schizophrenic, or suffer from some other mental illness in the normal sense of the term. It is, he argues, ‘the psychology of the group, not the individual, that is the key’ (Malik, 2007). Views on such matters clearly differ, but dynamics within the broader Muslim community certainly seem to play a large role.

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