The Utilization and Leveraging of Grievance as a Recruitment Tool and Justification for Terroristic Acts Committed by Islamic Extremists
Prebble Q. Ramswell
It has become commonplace to reference religious tomes as justification for extremist behaviors. The utilization of these texts as tools for recruitment and legitimacy, alongside perceived injustices, continues to burgeon, as does their use in qualifying behaviors many people define as terroristic. This article examines how grievances have become a tool of Islamic extremists intent on righting perceived wrongs as determined by their interpretations of Islam. Aspects of the Collier-Hoeffler model are utilized as a premise to examine independent variables of grievance and their effects on recruitment efforts by Islamic extremists and occurrence of terroristic acts by Islamic extremists.
In recent decades, it has become more and more common to utilize religious tomes as rationalization for extremist and terrorist behaviors and grievances. The employment of such texts as tools for recruitment and legitimacy continues to burgeon, as does their use in qualifying behaviors many people, particularly Westerners, define as egregious and terroristic. DiPuccio (2010) asserts that the radical tendencies which exist in Islam continue to fuel terrorism and supremacist ideologies on a scale not seen in other modern religions. This fact may be politically incorrect despite its legitimacy, and has not escaped the notice of Muslims in the U.S. According to a 2011 Pew survey, 60% of Muslim Americans are concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in the U.S., and 21% feel that there is significant support for extremism in the Muslim community (DiPuccio, 2010).
This article will examine how grievances have become a tool of Islamic extremists intent on righting perceived wrongs as determined by their interpretations and applications of Islam. It is hypothesized that:
H1: Islamic extremists utilize and leverage grievances as a primary recruitment tool; and
H2: Islamic extremists utilize past and present grievances as justification for committing acts of terrorism.
The article will seek to answer the research questions of whether 1) Islamic extremists purposely utilize and leverage past and present grievances in recruitment efforts, and whether 2) Islamic extremists utilize past and present grievances as justification for committing acts of terror. Research will be performed to include qualitative study of historical and practical examples as well as interviews and quantitative examination of relevant surveys and political polls. Mixed method research is research in which the researcher uses the qualitative research paradigm for one phase of a research study and the quantitative research paradigm for another in order to understand a research problem more completely (Creswell, 2005; Migiro and Magangi, 2010). When used in combination in one study, quantitative and qualitative methods are complementary to one other and allow for a more complete analysis of the research problem (Greene et al., 1989; Tashakhori and Teddlie, 1998; Migiro and Magangi, 2010).
Further, this article will utilize aspects of the Collier-Hoeffler model as a premise to examine independent variables of grievance and their effects on recruitment efforts by Islamic extremists and occurrence of terroristic acts by Islamic extremists. In Section II, a brief history of Islamic extremism is presented, as is Collier and Hoeffler’s theory of Greed v Grievance. Section III will explore how Islamic extremists utilize and leverage grievances as a primary recruitment tool. Socio-economic, political, religious, and cultural explanatory variables will be researched and explored. Section IV examines how Islamic extremists utilize past and present grievances as justification for committing acts of terrorism. Again, socio-economic, political, religious, and cultural explanatory variables will be examined to determine their impact. The final section will review research questions and results as well as present policy implications and recommendations.
History of Islamic Extremism
Islam is the religion of the Muslim people, much like Christianity is the religion of the majority of Westerners. Islam is much more than a religion to its followers. It is a faith that gives structure to and template of the proper way of leading one’s life, and with it comes the moral obligation to lead one’s life in accordance with its scripture. This guiding scripture, or sharia, is Islamic law and adherents to the faith must follow its principles, or, more pointedly, the interpretation of the tenets of the school of Islamic law in the area in which a given Muslim resides.
As Moaddel (2002) writes, while various features of Islamic tradition are employed to explain the rise of authoritarian regimes, the failure of democracy in the Muslim world is attributed to Islam's conceptual inadequacy in the area of individual rights. Further, Moaddel (2002) notes that Islamic fundamentalism as "inspired by the belief that Islam, as a complete way of life encompassing both religion and politics, is capable of offering a viable alternative to the prevalent secular ideologies of capitalism and socialism and that it is destined to play an important role in the remaking of the contemporary world" (Lewis, 1993; Arjomand, 1986; Algar, 1969).
What Americans and Europeans historically viewed as piracy, Barbary leaders justified as legitimate jihad (Lee, 2008). Thomas Jefferson related a conversation he had in Paris with Ambassador Abdrahaman of Tripoli who told him that all Christians are sinners in the context of the Qur'an and that it was a Muslim's "right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to enslave as many as they could take as prisoners" (Jefferson, 1904-5). Heck (2004) observes that the Qur'an, in its call for struggle in the path of God apart from tribal goals, established the grounds for a conception of jihad as struggle for a godly order apart from communal concerns, even if the motivation was grounded in Islamic revelation.
DiPuccio (2012) discusses the polarization that surrounds Islam issues, noting that the majority of people think that Islam is a monolithic belief system. Indeed, in the wake of 9/11, many westerners, especially Americans, have tended to pigeonhole all Muslims as terrorists. Though such categorical classifications are certainly false, there is a significant difference between Christianity and Islam. DiPuccio (2012) believes that Islamists seem to be driven not only to establish the hegemony of Islam by supplanting secular governments and legal systems, but also by enforcing religious purity according to their own standards (DiPuccio, 2012). Ironically, though perhaps not as widely recognized or publicized, there exist extremes within Christianity. Consider the differences among, for example, Baptist Churches. Though they hold similar values, the realm and extent of their beliefs are subject to interpretation and application, just as in Islam. Westboro Baptist Church, an anomaly amongst most Baptist Churches in the States, and considered to be an example of extremism. The Kansas-based church, which is vehemently opposed to same-sex relationships, has even been known to picket soldiers’ funerals. Indeed, Hoffman (2006a) describes the Aryan Nations as being “an extremist, anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi group of white supremacists, survivalist and militant tax resisters...” Further, Snyder (2013) points out that a U.S. Army Reserve equal opportunity training presentation entitled “Extremism and Extremist Organizations” actually included “Evangelical Christianity” as an example of “Religious Extremism” in a list that also included al-Qaeda, Hamas and the Ku Klux Klan.
Indeed, DiPuccio (2012) holds that, above all other, the radical tendencies which exist in Islam fuel terrorism and supremacist ideologies, such as Islamism, on a scale not seen in other modern religions. He notes that Islamic extremists, guided by Islamic law which imposes severe punishments for both Muslims and non-Muslims who criticize, question, or oppose either Islam or Muhammad, use shouts, threats, lawsuits, and even violence to shut down any speech that is perceived as disrespectful of Islam regardless of its intent. Indeed, Ambassador Abdrahaman of Tripoli has noted that because the Qur'an promised that making war against infidels ensured a Muslim paradise after death, Islam has given great incentive to fighting infidels (Lee, 2008).
Islamic extremists are also often referred to as political radicals and jihadists. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, the goals of such individuals are distinct and stem from different sources though their actions and methods are singularly categorized as “extremist.” Abbas (2007) defines political radicals as Muslims who began to see integration in society as a negative feature of life in liberal secular nation-states regarded by some as somewhat antithetical to the life of ‘a good Muslim’. Further, he notes that these Muslims have negatives experiences within the system, leaving them with a sense of dislocation and alienation, perceived or real. In turn, they are motivated to seek resolution of Muslim issues both at home and abroad…often resulting in their carrying out horrific acts of violence invariably involving the annihilation of the self and largely for other Muslims (Abbas, 2007).
Oxford Dictionary defines jihad as the spiritual struggle within oneself against sin in Islam. Gorka (2009) elaborates, describing Jihad as consisting of four varieties of human activity agreed upon by Islamic theologians and jurists: jihad of the heart, jihads of the mind and tongue, and jihad of the sword. Jihad of the sword is most relevant for the counterterrorism community today because it rests at the foundation of the global jihadist ideology (Gorka, 2009). This recognition of jihadist motivation has its roots in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Gorka (2009) observes that to the Arab mujahidin recruited by Palestinian Abdullah Azzam, jihad was a crucial concept, redefining a jihadist such that it negated earlier requirements for holy war to be declared by a legitimate authority, and deeming military resistance as an individual duty. Indeed, Akram (1991) posits that Islamic supremacy is tooled for a multi-generational struggle with the West, a "Civilization-Jihadist Process" which, as the Shura Council of the Muslim Brotherhood explains, "is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within."
Collier and Hoeffler developed a theory of conflict, rooted in economics, which they utilized to determine motivations for civil conflict (Collier, Hoeffler and Sambanis, 2005). They constructed two competing models: a ‘grievance’ and a ‘greed’ model. The ‘grievance’ model examined inequality, political oppression, and ethnic and religious divisions as causes of conflict, while the ‘greed’ model focused on the sources of finance of civil war Collier and Hoeffler, 2000). Their study on greed and grievance, known as the CH model, considers greed to be the primary motivator of civil war in addition to other substantive factors such as the role of nationalism and “relative deprivation” (Kalyvas and Sambanis in Collier and Sambanis, 2005). However, even Collier and Hoeffler (2000) acknowledge that one cannot reject grievance in favor of the ‘greed’ model and they ultimately combined the two models.
History, an integral aspect of grievance, also plays an important role in the outbreak of civil war. Collier and Hoeffler (2006) note that a state’s history plays a role in determining its propensity to enter into battle. They argue that if state has a history of conflict then they are 44 percent more likely to experience civil conflict.
Greed posits that groups rebel when they expect to succeed and thereby gain power, regardless of whether they feel any grievance or threat (Collier and Hoeffler, 2000). Grievance posits that groups rebel to redress perceived deprivation, when political opportunity structures open the possibility of success (Davies, 1971). Collier (2001) writes that the patina of legitimacy associated with ethnic historicism and political grievance should disguise neither the tendency of secessionist violence to be concentrated in regions well endowed with primary commodities nor the absence of statistical relationship with inequality and political oppression.
Additionally, Tilly (2003) argues that contentious politics can lead to conflict and violence especially when one group makes a claim that affects another’s interests leading to grievance. Kaufman (2001) believes that symbolic politics precipitates conflict through “hostile myths, ethnic fears, and opportunity,” issues that are the building blocks of grievances. Conversely, Lee (2008) contends that contemporary jihadism is not the result of accumulated grievance; rather it has for cultural reasons been an integral factor in Islamic societies' interaction with the United States.
Relative deprivation theory, developed by Ted Robert Gurr, serves as supporting evidence for grievance in the greed versus grievance debate. Gurr (1970) uses relative deprivation to ‘‘denote the tension that develops from a discrepancy between the ‘ought’ and the ‘is’ of collective value satisfaction, that disposes men to violence.’ Walker and Smith (2001) define relative deprivation theory as the experience of being deprived of something to which one believes oneself to be entitled. Schaefer (2008) describes the concept as "the conscious experience of a negative discrepancy between legitimate expectations and present actualities.”
In his book Trends and Causes of Armed Conflict, Smith (2004) also argues for grievance rather than greed. Smith explains: “the argument about greed versus grievance can be summed up and put into a proper perspective by asking whose greed, whose grievance? That Milosevic is greedy for power, for example, does not in itself mean that ordinary Serbs feel no grievance. In other words, it may not be necessary to choose between greed and grievance as explanatory variables. These may rather be complementary and mutually reinforcing elements of political mobilisation.”
One must also consider the concept of ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one's ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured in relation to one's own. Salguero (2008) writes that ethnocentrism is the nefarious manifestation of a group pride that neglects the other. Ethnocentrism is an inherent problem in society as it is often difficult for people to accept that other people's beliefs, which may be very different or "wrong" to us, are equally right and proper to them.
This article focuses on grievance as the primary motivator and tool for Islamic extremists. Though the CH model found greed to be more significant than grievance in outbreak of civil war, I posit that the model can be utilized to explain the significance of other grievance-based independent variables on a control variable. In this article, various aspects of grievance are examined as explanatory factors for recruitment and commitment of terroristic acts by Islamic extremists.
Variables and Related Data - H1: Islamic extremists utilize and leverage grievances as a primary recruitment tool.
Exclusion or discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin or religious belief, and the failure of many countries to integrate minorities or immigrants, create grievances that can be conducive to the recruitment of terrorists, including feelings of alienation and marginalization and an increased propensity to seek socialization in extremist groups (United Nations, 2006). Smith (2004) observes that shared perception is fostered by two main factors: experiences of discrimination compared with other groups and deliberate political mobilization in defense of the group‘s perceived interests. Additionally, Young (2009) posits that when manipulated by extremists and absorbed by impressionable youth, certain political, socioeconomic, cultural, geopolitical, religious, and external forces exist in the Middle East that aids extremists’ in their recruiting and fundraising activities. In this section, the utilization of grievance as a primary recruitment tool is examined.
Piazza (2006) claims that low levels of economic and social development increase the appeal of political extremism and encourage political violence and instability. Indeed, socio-economic grievances can revolve around, either or both, perceived social and economic slight. On a greater scope, economics can also be utilized to explore the concept of weighing costs and benefits in either securing a recruit or becoming a recruit. According to the Collier-Hoeffler model, if a potential recruit does not have to sacrifice much for joining the efforts, recruitment is easier (Collier, Hoeffler, and Sambanis, 2005). Armed with the knowledge that potential recruits are most likely concerned with “what’s in it for me,” recruiters can craft their pitch around gains in areas of perceived grievance due to inequity. The key is creating a situation of opportunity and the ability to right perceived grievances.
Additionally, in much of the developing world, the most powerful levels of social identity are neither the nation nor the region, but the kin group and the tribe (Collier, 2001). Research has shown that an ethnically diverse country will be more conflict-prone than a homogenous one, regardless of their value on state repression (Jakobsen and de Soysa, 2009). Muller (2008) notes that ethno-nationalism was not a chance detour in European history: it corresponds to some enduring propensities of the human spirit that are heightened by the process of modern state creation, it is a crucial source of both solidarity and enmity, and in one form or another, it will remain for many generations to come. Thus, grievance builds over time and history does matter. As a result, recruiters recognize that many potential recruits will have some level of pre-existing prejudices. Furthering the cause, Kaufman (2001) posits that myths justify the hostility and fears of group extinction and lie at the root of hostilities, and politicians (recruiters) play on these emotions to garner support.
Further, it is noted that Anke Hoeffler found that the incidence of domestic political violence is better explained by the opportunity of insurgents to finance operations and recruit members rather than by ‘‘objective grievances’’ such as poor socioeconomic conditions (Collier and Hoeffler, 2000). That said, it should be underscored that Hoeffler’s study centered on civil wars, not wars of civilization versus civilization as described by Huntington (1968) in which both the players and the game have changed.
Though Islamic extremists are religion-based, politics have an effect and can be equally utilized as a recruitment tool. Rosenau (2005) observes that the scope for extremism is provided through the political marginalization of Muslims and the complaint that the global war on terror is a rationale for religious persecution. In a 2006 Gallup poll, Muslims identified as ‘political radicals’ said their greatest fear was U.S. occupation/domination and that Islam itself was being threatened (The Wall Street Journal, 2006). This perception of invasion by a predominantly Christian country has been repeatedly exploited in the media by Osama bin Laden and serves as primary grievance and rallying point for Islamic extremists (Young, 2009). As a result, the search and recruitment of new members is facilitated.
Interestingly, Title 2 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d) affirms that ‘‘[t]he term ‘‘terrorism’’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.’’ (U.S. Department of State 2001:17). Saideman (1997) makes the argument that if domestic politics shapes foreign policy, the ethnic ties of politically relevant individuals and groups are likely to influence policy. For example, the Muslim Issue (2013) reports that Rashid Ghannouchi is the leader in-exile of the Tunisian Islamist movement known as Nahada (aka Ennahda, Al Nahda) and can best be described as an independent Islamist power center who is tied to the global Muslim Brotherhood by his membership in the European Council for Fatwa and Research led by Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi. He is also one of the founding members of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), a Saudi organization closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and dedicated to the propagation of “Wahabist” Islam throughout the world (The Muslim Issue, 2013).
Political leaders utilize existing fractures and grievances to manipulate and mobilize. Ethnic fractionalization is but one example. Smith (2004) notes that ethnicity is a central component of group identity and a powerful component of common prejudice. As a result, it can easily be manipulated by political leaders seeking to mobilize a population, especially when a society is undergoing major socio-economic change (Smith, 2004). Recruiters, likewise, exploit such issues turning them into driving forces to join the cause. Indeed, recruiters would be most likely to mobilize their constituency successfully if they can present their stance as a battle for national identity, pride and justice (Smith, 2004).
Some scholars opine that it is not ethnic diversity that is a cause of armed conflict, but rather ethnic politics (Smith, 2004). It is the injection of ethnic difference into political loyalties, and the politicization of ethnic identities, that is so dangerous- exactly the strategy a recruiter would take in soliciting new members.
Extremist groups start recruiting by emphasizing religious identity above national identity. States Xhavit Shala, of the Albanian Centre for National Security Studies: "Giving the children and the teenagers deformed knowledge on a religion, many times excluding other religions, conditioning it with economic assistance offered by organizations with suspicious origin and financing, makes this contingent of children easy to manipulate and use” (Karadaku, 2013). For Islamists and, in particular, Islamic extremists, lack of loyalty and failure to adhere to sharia is not only unacceptable, but intolerable, and a grievance which must be rectified.
Religion is a primary unifying element. Durkheim observed that most behaviors are governed by social norms which were usually embodied in religion (Elwell, 2003). Further, “Religion is "an eminently collective thing." Religion is not only a social creation; it is the power of the community that is being worshiped. The power of the community or society over the individual so transcends individual existence that people collectively give it sacred significance. By worshiping God people are worshiping the power of the collective over all, they are worshiping society (Durkheim, 1954).
Lee (2008) discusses how the nineteenth century foreshadowed increasing conflict between the United States and Muslim Middle Eastern countries. He notes that the failure of effective Ottoman political reform coupled with the evolution of Islamic reform toward greater Islamism and less tolerance set up a conflict between the American notion that governments rule at the consent of the governed and the dominant attitude among Muslim potentates who subscribed to an intolerant, coercive, anti-Semitic, and anti-Christian ideology (Lee, 2008). Indeed, Habeck (2006) documents how Qut’b and bin Laden spread a message that the decline of majority Muslim polities is not the result of flaws within Islam itself but is instead the deliberate effort of the United States and the Jews. This builds on already preconceived notions of the divide between Christians in the US and Muslims. Indeed, Huntington (1993) noted that the world is currently seeing the results of religious extremism based on Western-Muslim cultural differences.
As previously discussed, Islamic extremists are guided by Islamic law, which imposes severe punishments for both Muslims and non-Muslims who criticize, question, or oppose either Islam or Muhammad (DiPuccio, 2012). They freely utilize violence to shut down any speech that is perceived as disrespectful of Islam regardless of its intent (DiPuccio, 2010). Perhaps most importantly, this lack of loyalty to Islam manifests as grievance against infidels--Westerners who follow Christianity. Indeed, the tenets of Islam and the punishment for disloyalty allow recruiters to manipulate potential members into believing they have no other choice than to join them in the fight against infidels as it is their duty. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that a 2011 Pew global research poll revealed that even though support for al Qaeda appears to be declining, support for the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah is still strong in Islamic countries—42% - 61% in Jordan, Egypt and Palestinian territories; 33% - 38% in Lebanon and Indonesia, and 5% - 14% in Turkey and Pakistan.
Silvestri (in Abbas, 2007) writes that “the traumatic experiences of the Paris, Madrid and London bombings in 1995, 2004 and 2005, the murder of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands in November 2004, as well as the fact that the 9/11 attacks were partly coordinated in Europe, have demonstrated the vulnerability of Europe’s social fabric to a relatively new type of terrorism whose recruitment strategy resorts to the language and symbolism of Islam.”
The 1979 Islamic Iranian Revolution was a major turning point in the establishment of rule based on sharia law and the means and methods of establishing such rule. Young (2009) notes that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini organized a popular revolt based on a return to fundamentalism and the rule of sharia law. Following the successful overthrow of the Shah of Iran, Khomeini launched his own vision of an Islamic caliphate using violence in the form of support for Hizballah (Marsden, 2002). Thus, the pattern of violent support for Islam and grievance against infidels was established, a pattern of religious intolerance not only condoned but sustained by violence. It is worth noting that the famed Arab spring knows no other world- a fact surely leveraged by recruiters to underscore the importance of joining the fight.
Cultural issues and traditions are often as divisive as they are unifying. Muslims utilize their culture and faith to create bonds which cross other boundaries and can be leveraged to mobilize adherents. To many people, Islamism represents a vehicle of protest against grievances such as lack of access to employment and housing, discrimination of various kinds, and the highly negative image of Islam in public opinion (DST, 2003). Indeed, Mogahed (2006) postulates that a sense of Western encroachment extends beyond political domination to religious and cultural identity. A prime example is Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen who pled guilty to conspiracy for the murder of US citizens in the September 11 attacks. Moussaoui rejected his parents’ Moroccan heritage and failed to assimilate into Western culture despite living and being educated in the United Kingdom (Taarnby, 2005 and USG, 2001). According to the US Government (2001) federal indictment Moussaoui, as a member of Al Qaeda:
“…violently opposed the United States for several reasons. First, the United States was regarded as an "infidel" because it was not governed in a manner consistent with the group's extremist interpretation of Islam. Second, the United States was viewed as providing essential support for other "infidel" governments and institutions, particularly the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the nation of Israel, and the United Nations organization, which were regarded as enemies of the group.” (US Government, 2001)
While moderates and radicals both feel that Islam is disrespected by the West (only 16% of moderates, and 12% of political radicals associated “respecting Islamic values” with Western nations), political radicals appear more likely to feel that Islam is not only degraded, but threatened (Mogahed, 2006). As an example, in June of this year, British Prime Minister David Cameron referred to Islamic extremists as utilizing “an extremist ideology that perverts and warps Islam to create a culture of victimhood and justified violence” (Chu, 2013). As part of their recruitment strategy, Islamic extremists utilize this sense of persecution and grievance to emotionally engage a potential new member.
Silvestri observes that extremist groups in the decade 1995–2005 recruited disaffected Muslim youth in order to carry out murderous actions in Europe, allegedly to punish and cleanse a corrupt Western society in the name of Islam (in Abbas, 2007). It is widely considered that Islam and democracy are not compatible and that the religion is based on one’s need to relinquish personal freedoms for the sake of sharia. Rowley and Smith (2009) report that Muslim-majority countries are less democratic and less free than non-Muslim-majority countries. For the year 2004, the Polity IV data set ranked 153 countries on a scale of democratic governance ranging from -10 (most autocratic) to 10 (most democratic). For non- Muslim countries, the average Polity IV score was 5.24. In Muslim countries, the average score was -2.16. Not a single majority-Muslim country was assigned Polity IV's highest scores of 9 and 10, while 47 out of 115 non-majority-Muslim countries were assigned one of those scores (Rowley and Smith, 2009).
Sageman (2004) postulates that formal affiliation with the Jihad appears to have been a group phenomenon, with friends deciding to join the Jihad together rather than as isolated individuals. He holds that the global Jihad works much like that of a social movement defined by a shared ideology and personal interaction. In this scenario, culture is highly relevant as it serves as a bond and a network. Nonetheless, the recruitment process remains the same; a recruiter need only ascertain a potential member’s vulnerability and grievance.
Variables and Related Data - H2: Islamic extremists utilize past and present grievances as justification for committing acts of terrorism.
Lee (2008) acknowledges that the fundamental premise of much scholarly examination and public discourse is that grievances with U.S. policies in the Middle East motivate Islamist terrorism. Indeed, Young (2009) posits that certain political, socioeconomic, geopolitical, religious, cultural, and external forces, when successfully manipulated by Muslim extremists, are collectively the primary reasons for continued terrorism in the Middle East. This section explores how Islamic extremists utilize past and present grievances as justification for committing acts of terrorism.
Piazza (2006) reports that socioeconomic roots of terrorism permeated the December 2001 gathering of Nobel Peace Prize laureates in Oslo. Desmond Tutu, Kim Dae-Jung, and Oscar Arias Sanchez each noted the causes of terrorism in poverty, inequality, and the absence of social justice in the developing world (Piazza, 2006). Indeed, international poverty has become a widely accepted explanation for the incidence of terrorism is the statement by United States President George W. Bush delivered at the Monterey Development Summit in March of 2002: ‘We fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terror,’ (Piazza, 2006).
Third World countries with legacies of economic stagnation, high levels of unemployment, and uneven economic development have often been referred to as, ‘‘fertile ground on which terrorist seeds can flourish” (Kreisler, 2001). Piazza (2006) concurs, noting what he terms the ‘‘rooted-in-poverty hypothesis’’ to illustrate an understanding of terrorism as an expression of socioeconomic grievance and desperation. As a result, Islamic extremists often qualify their actions as necessary for improving the conditions for all Muslims.
Economic factors are certainly significant motivators. Bodea and Elbadawi (2007) suggested that both grievance and economic factors are relevant to the analysis of political violence. They argue that ethnic, religious and language diversity (fractionalization) increase the chances of civil wars…social fractionalization (ethnically and linguistically diverse societies) does not necessarily increase coordination costs for rebel groups but, rather, increases the likelihood of war” (Bodea and Elbadawi, 2007).
Honderich, in Theory of Determinism, posits that punishment is justified because it satisfies a “grievance-desire.” The cause of such a desire is the product of (i) a sense of being unfairly victimized and (ii) a sense that such a condition is an intolerable affront to one’s dignity as a human being (Kapitan, 2007).
One of Collier-Hoeffler’s main indicators is greed, also referred to as opportunity. The Collier and Hoeffler concept of greed is driven by “an economic calculus of the costs and opportunities for control of primary commodity exports appears to be the main systematic initial impetus to rebellion” (Collier and Hoeffler, 2000). The C-H model holds that it is not political or social issues which lead to civil conflict, but rather the availability of opportunity to finance rebellion which leads to civil conflict, i.e., economic issues (Collier, et al, 2005).
Hoffman (2006a) points out that terrorism is “fundamentally and inherently political” in motivation, and takes the form of a “planned, calculated and indeed systematic act.” Indeed, terrorists’ perspectives are shaped by socio-political realities of their immediate environment, which in turn provoke a radical response in religious cloaking (Juergensmeyer, 2003). Kapitan (2007) observes that the rhetoric of ‘terror’ has become a political tool that governments and their associated media use in labeling those who resort to force in opposing governmental policies.
The term political Islam can be defined as the use of the Islamic faith and religion to act politically. Further, it is the use/abuse of Islamic faith to act and rule politically and further a political agenda, especially in terms of using the Quran to justify otherwise unacceptable political actions. An example of an Islamic extremist group is the Taliban, who controlled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001. Members of the Taliban were originally religious students who developed a very conservative interpretation of Islam and the Sharia (Ghafour, 2010). Aspiring jihadists both admire the Taliban and view them as a symbol of Islamic resistance against American imperialism (Ghafour, 2010). During their rule of Afghanistan, the Taliban enforced their strict interpretation of Sharia law. Indeed, many leading Muslims were highly critical of the Taliban's interpretations of Islamic law and the Taliban were condemned internationally for their brutal treatment of women (PBS, 2007).
The vein of political justification is one echoed by many scholars. Knutson (1984) emphasizes that “terrorists are individuals who commit crimes for political reasons,” and for this reason “the political system has better means to control and eliminate their activities and even to attack their root causes than do the police and security forces working alone.” Political scientists Chalmers Johnson (1978) and Martha Crenshaw (1981) have further subdivided preconditions into permissive factors, which engender a terrorist strategy and make it attractive to political dissidents, and direct situational factors, which motivate terrorists.
Indeed, in an effort to justify terrorist acts on the US, Ayman al-Zawahiri, founding member of the 'World Islamic Front', argued how the command to target idolaters was particularly relevant with respect to Western liberal democracies:
Democracy is a new religion. In Islam, legislation comes from God; in a democracy, this capacity is given to the people. Therefore, this is a new religion, based on making the people into gods and giving them God's rights and attributes. This is tantamount to associating idols with God and falling into unbelief (Holbrook, 2010).
In a 1999 Federal Research Report, Hudson observed a clear correlation between suicide attacks and concurrent events and developments in the Middle Eastern area. In a study of the connection between the commission of terrorist acts and political grievance, he observed that suicide attacks increased in frequency after the October 1990 clashes between Israeli security forces and Muslim worshipers on Temple Mount, in the Old City of Jerusalem, in which 18 Muslims were killed. The suicide attacks carried out by Hamas in Afula and Hadera in April 1994 coincided with the talks that preceded the signing by Israel and the PLO of the Cairo agreement. They were also claimed to revenge the massacre of 39 and the wounding of 200 Muslim worshipers in a Hebron mosque by an Israeli settler on February 25, 1994 (Hudson, 1999).
Though some Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or Muhammad Khatami in Iran speak of their embrace of democracy, seldom do they include Enlightenment concepts such as tolerance, rule-of-law, and property rights (Lee, 2008). These groups do not believe that people are endowed with both the natural right to freedom from coercion and the liberty to improve their lives. Therefore, he holds that in practice, no matter their rhetoric, they eschew democracy (Lee, 2008).
Islamic extremists justify terroristic acts as a necessary response to grievances such as injustice, Western political and economic oppression, and U.S. foreign policy. DiPuccio (2012) asserts that there is some truth to such perceptions, noting that American and European foreign policy includes support for Israel, meddling in Middle Eastern politics, infidel feet on Islamic soil, and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. As such, such grievances serve as a justification or rationalization for aggression and are often used to evoke sympathy for terrorist acts against innocent civilians of all faiths (including other Muslims) by turning the criminals into victims (DiPuccio, 2012).
According to psychologist Jerrold M. Post (1997), the most dangerous terrorist is most likely the religious terrorist. Post observes that, unlike the average political or social terrorist who has a defined mission that is somewhat measurable in terms of media attention or government reaction, the religious terrorist can justify the most heinous acts “in the name of Allah.” Hudson (1999) also observes the phenomenon of religiously motivated terrorists who are prone to using WMD as a way of emulating God or for millenarian reasons. This examination of about a dozen groups that have engaged in significant acts of terrorism suggests that the groups most likely to use WMD are indeed religious groups, whether they be wealthy cults like Aum Shinrikyo or well-funded Islamic terrorist groups like al-Qaida or Hizballah (Hudson, 1999). Indeed, Post (1997) notes that terrorists who bombed New York's World Trade Centre in New York in 1993 justified their violence in the name of God.
Islamic Extremists hold that acts of terror against non-believers are condoned by Islam. Such interpretations of religious doctrine are leveraged to qualify terrorist acts against non-believers. Indeed, extremists hold that the killing of infidels is justified and their own death, incurred as a byproduct of such killings, will result in martyrdom. Muslims are directed to engage in a perpetual holy war against unbelievers until they submit to Islamic rule, a belief shared by Usama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. This longstanding historical interpretation of Islam is fully supported by modern Islamists and serves as the propelling and guiding grievance behind Islamic extremists’ aggression (DiPuccio, 2012).
Such interpretations are powerful motivators and serve as primary justification for the committal of terrorist acts in the name of Allah. Bonner (2009) notes that in the literature of Muhammad's sayings and doings, warfare and martyrdom are emphasized together. Indeed, the Qur'an commends violence and the Hadith literature is steeped in the blood of martyrs, killing and dying violently are not breaches of the moral code or infringements of divine law. They are, on the contrary, regarded as some of the highest achievements of Islamic spirituality. The Qur'an contains numerous exhortations to violent action and promises a divine reward for those who die fighting in God's path (MacEoin, 2009). Such promises are powerful support and reinforcement.
Mark Juergensmeyer asserts that all groups who have advocated religiously-justified terrorism have been marginal, to varying degrees, to their own religious societies (Juergensmeyer 2003). Islamic extremism can be defined as any Muslim who chooses to act violently and terroristically in the name of Islam/sharia. This is especially true for acts against civilians and children and acts intended solely to instill fear. The Royal Aal Al-bayt Institute for Islamic Thought (2009) notes that such extremism is evidenced in the case of Bin Laden’s “fatwa” ordering Muslims to kill both soldiers and civilians is illustrative of the problems involved. Bin Laden is trained as a civil engineer, not an authority in Islamic law, and it takes little investigation to uncover that his interpretations of Islamic law are uninformed and self-serving. He can only draw the conclusions he draws by utterly ignoring everything Islamic law has had to say about such questions (Royal Aal Al-bayt Institute, 2009).
Contrary to popular western belief, traditional Islam does not recognize a civil engineer (Usama Bin Laden) or a physician (Ayman al-Zawahiri) as competent to decide the rules of combat. Those who follow them do so for other reasons, or are much misled as to the orthodoxy of their leaders. Unburdened by precedent, whether through ignorance or disavowal, these rebellious up-starts are free to pursue their goals unrestrained by morality or justice (Royal Aal Al-bayt Institute, 2009).
That said, there are many Middle Eastern adherents to the religious writings of Taqi al Din ibn Taymiyyah (1269-1328), Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) (White, 2006), and Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab (1703-1787) (Marsden, 2002) that preach not only Islamic conservatism but violent rejection of other religions and violence against nonbelievers. Indeed, Pipes (in MacEoin, 2009) quotes known Muslim radicals who explain their concept of ‘innocents,’ stating that non-Muslims are, by definition, not innocent:
“The innocent are not innocent; They're kuffar [infidels, kafirs]. They're not people who are innocent. The people who are innocent are the people who are with us or those who are living under the Islamic state."
“It is imperative for Muslims to "instil terror into the hearts of the kuffar," "I am a terrorist. As a Muslim, of course I am a terrorist" (Pipes, 2009).
Middle Eastern terrorist groups have long relied on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict to justify their continued acts of terrorism (Young, 2009). Indeed, the situation in Palestine and Israel as well as the U.S. war in Iraq form the foundation for the Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups’ justification for many of their regional terrorist activities (Young, 2009).
Al-Zawahiri also illustrate how Al-Qaeda attached the label 'idolater'(worshiper of false gods) to Christians, thus legitimizing their targeting in light of its interpretation of the Qur'an (Holbrook, 2010). In 2006, for instance, he claimed: 'Christianity cannot be accepted by a sound mind because it includes superstitions like the trinity, the crucifixion, redemption, the original sin, the infallibility of the pope, and the church's forgiveness of sins (Holbrook, 2010). Additionally, Qutb’s writings justified jihad to oppose those in power. These teachings provided extremists religious justification for opposing Muslim secular regimes as well as conservative, but autocratic, Islamic governments (Young, 2009).
Huntington (1993) has postulated that world politics has entered a new phase in which the fundamental source of conflict is cultural and not ideological or economic. Cultural factors are an inherent part of Islam, just as they are in other religions. As such, cultural issues often serve as sources of grievance or as a basis for justification for terrorist acts. It has been speculated that “impoverished countries teeming with poorly educated, unemployed masses, qualified by a widening gap between the rich and poor, combined with low literacy rates, are fermentation tanks for dangerous and violent militants,” (Piazza, 2006). World Bank (2013) reports that about 23 percent of the 300 million people in the Muslim majority areas of the Middle East and North Africa live on less than $2 a day.
Young (2009) posits that among these relevant cultural factors are education and socio-economic status. Utilizing education as an example, statistics show that in recent years the numbers of madrasas, or religious schools, in the Muslim world have increased (Young, 2009). The curriculum in these schools is narrowly defined and often contains little more that Quranic recitation...some of these madrasas have become fertile recruiting grounds for Islamic extremists (Young, 2009).
Further, consider that many Muslims cannot read or write and must rely on someone else to read and interpret the Quran for them. Explains Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, “Many Muslims around the world lack fluency in Arabic and that means they cannot read the Scriptures for themselves and must rely upon secondary sources. Correct understanding often depends on the context addressed by a Qu’ran passage, on which even experts may differ.” As such, interpretation of the Qu’ran is quite a personal matter and one person’s inference might very well be opposite of another. Thus, strategic manipulation of an individual as a result of a specific interpretation of the Qu’ran, and promoting mobilization to rectify perceived grievances, is a relatively simple task. Notes Barlas (2007): “No Qur’an interpreter can avoid subjectivity because it is an inescapable human condition.”
Post (1997) believes that the most potent form of terrorism stems from those individuals who are bred to hate, from generation to generation, as in Northern Ireland and the Basque Country. For these terrorists, rehabilitation is nearly impossible because ethnic animosity or hatred is “in their blood” and passed from father to son (Post, 1997). Further: “becoming terrorists is an act of retaliation for real and imagined hurts against the society of their parents; for others, it is an act of retaliation against society for the hurt done to their parents,” (Post, 1984).
It has been proposed that terrorist action may in fact be justified by a moral objective, provided that the action holds a ‘certainty or significant probability’ of delivering its intended political objective (Honderich, 2003). In fact, Smilanski (2004) notes that Islamic extremists justify their violent acts of terror as part of the necessary struggle towards the establishment of universal fundamentalist Muslim rule, their cultural norm.
Smilanski (2004) posits that in terms of just-war theory, there simply is no just cause. “There are 22 independent countries that are members in the Arab League, and dozens of explicitly Islamic countries... There is ample potential for Islamic self-expression, the development of Muslim culture, and the practice of Islam, the religion of over one billion people. That said, Smilansky (2004) holds that though there are many problems within Muslim societies, as well as vast wealth derived from oil that could help deal with them, but nothing there can justify a terror campaign.”
Kaufman (2001) argues that existing perceptions about neighboring cultures and ethnic groups provoke violence, and once violence breaks out such perceptions then justify themselves. King (2001) concurs, asserting that “in some cases, the cultural myths that Kaufman identifies as essential to violence are long-standing - as between Armenians and Azerbaijani "Turks," for example.” In fact, many scholars posit that ethnic differentiation is the prime cause of violent civil conflict (Collier, 2001). Arabs continue to identify the West as modern day Crusaders or as a society trying to impose its cultural values on Muslim society. Young (2009) notes that the widespread conflict between minority Muslim populations and their host countries does not represent a unique Western/Muslim conflict. He posits that the problem lies not necessarily in a cultural gap since cultures can adapt to each other given willingness of both sides. Rather, the problem lies between modernity and fundamentalist Islam and the threat that modernity and globalization pose to Islamic fundamentalists. Thus, he asserts, Muslim world can no longer rely on the cultural crutch to further justify their anger toward the West and the grievances they have supposedly caused (Young, 2009).
To state it succinctly, “Islamists skillfully manipulate the Western mass media to enunciate an à la carte menu of grievances” (Lee, 2008). Whether such grievances are real or simply imagined, Islamic extremists are able to utilize, justify and leverage issues within the socio-economic, political, religious, and cultural realm to recruit members and execute terrorist acts. Taarnby (2005) concludes that the recruitment process is intrinsically linked to factors such as marginalization, questions of identity, religious identity, and political protest. Terrorists are highly dependent on recruiters who possess the ability to move beyond rhetoric and attract followers. Skillfull recruiters know which buttons to push in potential members and, likewise, those which to avoid. Parlaying known sources of grievance into rallying points is a critical skill for recruiters, and one which is ultimately met with great success. Adding the power of the Qu’ran into the mix, recruitment is almost guaranteed. Indeed, Al Qaeda never invested much effort into a comprehensive recruitment drive but instead relied on Allah to guide the curious and the dedicated into their fold for further training and indoctrination (Sageman, 2004).
However, does grievance need lead to terrorist acts, even in the name of Allah? Even devout Muslims have condemned many terroristic acts, including the events of 9/11. Such followers posit that those Muslims who claim the support of Islam for their terrorist attacks are simply abusing religion and Islam. In fact, one Taliban member who serves as the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, said of the attack on the US: “This action is terrorist action. We know this was not Islamic and was a very dangerous action, and we condemn that” (Simpson, 2005).
An observation by Hoffman (2006b) illuminates the fact that extremists are clever strategists. He observes that Al-Qaeda has metastasized its scale of influence by reaching out to like-minded Islamist extremist groups and inspiring new groups and individuals to emerge and carry out independent attacks (Hoffman, 2006b). Indeed, he notes, Al-Qaeda’s ability to export its ideology to terrorist organizations around the world has led to the creation of an international network of loosely affiliated groups that subscribe to its ideology, but often have different goals and agendas (Hoffman, 2006b). As such, recruitment efforts have expanded and developed lives of their own, branches that reach previously untapped resources.
Grievance is, indeed, a powerful motivator. Farhang (2002) observed that terrorists, whether religious or secular, subscribe to an extreme version of consequentialist morality. They believe an act is just if it produces the right results. To prove the rightness of their acts, terrorists are quick to produce a list of grievances and justify their views by referring to sacred texts, ideological tracts, or edicts by deified leaders (Farhang, 2002). Such a mindset is exemplified by Al Qaeda: In the words of Usama bin Laden “For this and other acts of aggression and injustice, we have declared jihad against the US[i]…. We are a nation that does not tolerate injustice and seek revenge forever. (CNN, 1997, and BBC, 2006).”
In sum, it is concluded that Islamic extremists purposely utilize and leverage past and present grievances in their recruitment efforts, and that they utilize past and present grievances as justification for committing acts of terror. Is it possible to counter these actions which are rooted so deeply in past resentments and grievances? The opportunity exists to mitigate such opportunities but is a complex path involving many factors. As discussed, socio-economic, political, religious, and cultural factors must all be addressed and alternate, non-violent remedies discovered, expanded upon, and utilized. A civil society campaign will need to work to convince those with genuine grievances that there exist alternative, non-violent strategies, and that these have in most cases proved more effective. Recent history offers numerous examples of non-violent opposition movements leading to significant change (United Nations, 2006).
Certainly, changing established methods and mindsets is no easy task. Ariel Merari, a prominent Israeli expert on terrorism, noted wryly that for every terrorist killed or captured, there were 10 waiting to take his or her place and that there were now more terrorist volunteers than there are suicide explosive belts (Post, 2005). For them, like the youth drawn to the path of nationalist-separatist terrorism, hatred has been "bred in the bone" (Post, 2005).
Lee (2008) summizes that: “In the new grand strategy to defeat Islamic jihadism, America must campaign, through its scholars and theologians if appropriate, to encourage and facilitate imams and other Islamic religious authority figures to reform Islam in a forward direction, one that breaks from the past and encourages tolerance, the rule of law, free inquiry, and free markets. Imams who support, either passively or actively, jihadism should be undermined and exposed.”
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[i] Bin Laden is referencing the American occupation of Saudi Arabia in his message from August 23, 1996, entitled: “Declaration of Jihad Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Mosques; Expel Heretics from the Arabian Peninsula.” Saudi Arabia is sometimes called "the Land of the Two Holy Mosques" in reference to Al-Masjid al-Haram (in Mecca), and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (in Medina).