ISIS recruits are often portrayed in the West as having been ordinary people prior to some sudden moment of radicalisation, shortly before they carry out their attacks. This is sometimes a false impression. The Manchester bomber Salman Abedi was reported, after the attack, to have had a “wild youth”; but on closer inspection, it turns out he had been reported to the authorities five years before the attack. Not such a sudden conversion.
The researcher Mubaraz Ahmed, at the Centre for Religion and Geopolitics, found that 51 per cent of prominent jihadis had graduated to violence from organisations that were radical but non-violent – most especially, the Muslim Brotherhood. “Non-violent” in this context means not actually practising violence, but these organisations do tend to glorify and promote the concept of violence while saying that it would be politically inopportune at this moment in time.
What is more challenging: the trend towards terrorist violence is rooted in beliefs and attitudes that are quite widely shared among Muslims. The idea of suicide bombing was once anathema but was normalised when it was used against America (with the blessing of Shia clerics) and then Israel (when the Sunnis approved it, too.)
Such attacks came to be called “martyrdom” operations. It was seen as the only resort of a defenceless people: the Palestinians, whose sufferings were broadcast nightly into every Arab home.
Few were willing to condemn it; doing so was made to seem like a betrayal of the Arab cause. This tolerance bred a monster. Now suicide bombing has become the curse of the Muslim world, a blasphemous attempt to make the slaughter of innocents even more gruesome by invoking the name of God.
Just as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was what legitimised suicide bombing, the brutal Syrian conflict revived Sunni extremism and terrorism. Again, pictures of atrocities were pumped into Arab homes; again, a wave of anger empowered the bloodiest and most vicious of Assad’s enemies. And deep down, sad as it is to say, there was not very much concern for the victims, especially Shia and non-Muslim victims, of these terrorist groups. Even the anti-ISIS propaganda which one sees in the Arab world usually focuses only on their Muslim victims. The culture of respect for other faiths is skin-deep in most parts of the Middle East.
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