The Jihadist Mind
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
afternoon prayer session, an imam I had never met before gave a sermon. He was
one of the fiercest speakers I had ever heard. His passion for jihad was
astonishing. He advocated complete Islamic dominance, urging us to pursue jihad
against non-Muslims and subdue them to sharia -- the duty of every
true Muslim. His rhetoric inspired us to engage in war against the infidels,
the enemies of Allah.
He particularly condemned the West for the freedom of its women. He hated the
fact that Western women were permitted to wear what they pleased, to work and
to have the same opportunities as men. He dreamt of forcing the West to conform
to a Taliban-style system in
which women were obliged to wear the Islamic hijab, were legally beaten by men
to discipline them, and were stoned to death for extramarital sex. After the
Imam's speech my friend, Tariq Abdul-Muhsin, asked me if I knew this speaker.
When I said I did not, Tariq told me that he was Dr. Aiman Al-Zawahiri and,
because I was a new member of Jamaah, offered to
significant conclusions can be drawn about Zawahiri from Hamid's description.
First, he hates the West primarily because of the freedom that it gives women
rather than keeping them covered in hijab and beaten into submission. Second,
he wants Islam to dominate the West and the entire non-Muslim world and force
everyone to submit to Muslim law. Third, he encourages a worldwide jihad
carried out by each individual Muslim as a means toward achieving Islam's
domination over the world. Whatever additional motives Zawahiri and other
Islamists might have, we should never forget that the Al Qaeda and many other
such Islamist groups share the imperialist aim of radical Islamic rule over all
I passed through three psychological stages to reach this level of comfort with death: hatred of non-Muslims or dissenting Muslims, suppression of my conscience, and acceptance of violence in the service of Allah. (Hamid, "The development of a jihadist's mind" (pdf), page 18)
What saved Hamid from a jihadi fate was the resurrection of his conscience through his irrepressible habit of critical thinking:
As I considered attending a terrorist training camp, however, my conscience reasserted itself. The habit of critical thinking that my parents had instilled in me when I was growing up began to undermine the violent indoctrination to which I had been subjected. If I had taken the next step toward jihad, I might well have become a terrorist killer. Instead, I experienced an intense inner struggle that felt like an earthquake shaking my principles. I realized that harming innocent people is immoral and that a religious ideology pledging war on non-believers must be bankrupt. (Hamid, "The development of a jihadist's mind" (pdf), page 19)
The habit of critical thinking that Hamid could not entirely suppress resurfaced and led him to listen to his conscience rather than to his Islamist mentors, but Hamid did not learn critical thinking from his education, and certainly not from the Islamists (who emphasize rote memorization and demand unquestioning obedience). Rather, he had learned critical thinking from his parents, and he returned to their values, which he had earlier described in his article:
I was born in Cairo to a secular Muslim family. My father was an orthopedic surgeon and an agnostic at heart; my mother was a French teacher and a liberal. Both considered Islam to be, primarily, an integral part of our culture. With the exception of my father, we would fast on Ramadan. Even though my father was not religious, he understood our need to fit into the community and never forced his secular views on us. He espoused diverse philosophical ideas but encouraged us to follow our own convictions. Most importantly, he taught my brother and me to think critically rather than to learn by rote. (Hamid, "The development of a jihadist's mind" (pdf), page 11)
I suspect that
Hamid's childhood was radically unlike the childhood of most Muslims, which
suggests that his habit of critical thinking would probably not be widely
shared, but it also suggests that the West has as its most powerful 'weapon'
against Islamism the power of critical thought.
posted by Horace Jeffery Hodges @ 4:09 AM
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