Understanding Youth Radicalization in the Age of ISIS: A Psychosocial Analysis

Boy with gun

Mojpe/Pixabay

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 11 February 2016.

In December 2015, Malaysian police reported that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had set up camps in Kazakhstan and Syria to train and indoctrinate children as young as two years old to become militants. It was alleged that the camps were training children from all over the world in the use of firearms, as well as immersing them in what one senior Malaysian police officer called a ‘ false jihad’.

While the Kazakh ambassador in Singapore swiftly issued a rebuttal of the Malaysian claim, it is worth noting nevertheless that news is available – including apparently video evidence produced by ISIS itself- of Kazakh children being trained by ISIS. More generally, terrorism researchers have confirmed that ISIS ‘actively recruits children’ to engage in ‘combat, including suicide missions’ (Stern and Berger 2015: 210). In any case, Southeast Asian authorities were hardly surprised at the latest allegations of ISIS targeting youth for Islamist indoctrination. Since September 2014, it has been known that ISIS has set up a Southeast Asian unit of Malay-speaking militants, drawn from mainly Indonesia but also Malaysia. According to some estimates, the unit called Katibah Nusantara (KN), or the Malay Archipelago Unit, held sway amongst 450 Indonesian and Malaysian fighters and their families in the Syrian/Iraq region, as of November 2015 (Arianti and Singh, 2015). » More

Is New Narrative on Fighting Extremism a Fantasy?

NCRI Headquarters Muslims to unite against terrorism and extremism under the name of Islam

This article was originally published by the Global Observatory on 26 January 2016.

Amid the past two weeks’ dehumanizing cataloging of death tolls from extremist violence—in Pakistan, Burkina Faso, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, and Somalia—an attack that claimed relatively few innocent lives likely tells us the most about the evolving ideological response to the threat, as well as its inherent cognitive dissonance.

The haphazard killing of four people in Jakarta on January 14th by sympathizers of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), who also perished in the attack, has altered a popular narrative of Indonesia. The Southeast Asian nation has gone from one that has long been praised for fostering a devout yet peaceful Muslim population to one that might soon explode into flames. Once known as the nation where 50 million Sunnis reputedly told ISIS to “get lost,” Indonesia has been quickly recast in international media as a country in which insufficient and poorly targeted government deradicalization efforts have aided the group’s growth.

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Hasan al-Banna and the Political Ideologisation of Islam in the 20th Century

Poster of Muslim Girls at Prayer, courtesy Adam Jones/flickr

This article was originally published by E-International Relations (E-IR) on 2 February 2016.

The political ideologisation of Islam refers to the interpretation of Islam as a ‘political ideology’: a comprehensive ‘system of ideas for social and political action’ (Safire, 2008: 336) which serve as a functional tool for the ordering of state and society, whilst also outlining how this ideal socio-political order might be attained (Erikson and Tedin, 2003: 64). It is precisely this tendency to interpret Islam as a political ideology which scholars frequently attribute to the twentieth century Egyptian and founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hasan al-Banna. This text will therefore assess the extent to which al-Banna’s thought signifies the political ideologisation of Islam in the twentieth century. To do so, it will first combine a contextual appreciation with an explanation of al-Banna’s call for the establishment of an Islamic State, rooted in his understanding of Islam as a perfect, all-embracing political solution. The text will then proceed to explore al-Banna’s political ideologisation of Islam, focusing on his calling for ‘Islamic governance’, his Fifty-Point Manifesto, his portrayal of Islam as an alternative to competing ideologies and his founding of the Muslim Brotherhood. Next, the text will consider other twentieth century thinkers who have also contributed to Islam’s political ideologisation, notably Sayyid Abu’l-A’la al-Mawdudi and Sayyid Qutb. Finally, this analysis will conclude by outlining the notion that al-Banna’s thought does indeed signify the political ideologisation of Islam, but must nevertheless be appreciated within a broader ‘neo-revivalist’ tendency to politically ideologise Islam.

Characterised by a conservative, Sufi influenced upbringing (Jones, 1960: 1018) and the backdrop of colonial encroachment, al-Banna’s formative years coincided with an intense debate over Egypt’s identity at the turn of the twentieth century (al-Anani, 2013: 44). Western hegemony, experienced by al-Banna first-hand in Isma’iliyya, continued implicitly despite Egypt’s formal independence in 1922. This interference notably included a form of cultural domination manifest in the Egyptian nationalist elite’s tendency to adopt secular, Western ideas at the expense of customary beliefs and practices associated with Islam (Commins, 1994: 127). The subsequent deviation towards a ‘colonised, submissive and servile Islam that accepts its confinement to the private sphere’ (Soage, 2008: 27), exemplified by Kemalist Turkey’s abolition of the Caliphate in 1924, instilled in al-Banna a firm belief that Islam, and by extension Muslim identity, was still threatened by the ‘devil of colonialism’ (al-Banna, 1999a: 103). This formed the latter part of his view of Muslim history as a continuous decline from the ‘true Islam’ exemplified by the Prophet, his Companions and the Rightly Guided Caliphs. Deviation from such ‘true Islam’ had led to Muslim degeneration and vulnerability to the immorality of Westernisation, according to al-Banna. The solution to Muslim decline and Western intrusion, he therefore proclaimed, lay in reviving ‘true Islam’. This required the ummah’s purification of its existing beliefs and practices, which, al-Banna stressed, must be facilitated through the gradual establishment of a creed-correcting, reform-inducing Islamic state that fully implements the Shari’ah. Significantly, al-Banna’s proposed political solution ‘marked a watershed in modern Muslim discourse by making the successful transition of Islam into a [political] ideology’ (Lia, 1998: 72), as the first unambiguous call in the modern Muslim-majority world for the creation of an Islamic state (Turner, 2011: 220). According to Hamza Yusuf (2011: 1), this illustrates a shift away from the widely held belief amongst Muslims that ‘Islam is wahy, a revelation from God’, ‘not a political ideology, and hence does not offer a political solution per se’.

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Small States Have Options Too: Competitive Strategies Against Aggressors

Globe, courtesy Yogendra Joshi/flickr

This article was originally published by the War on the Rocks on 27 January 2016.

Looking back at history, one might reasonably conclude that small states are destined to be on the losing end of geopolitics. Events of the last decade in particular do not give us much reason for optimism about the destiny of small states facing coercion at the hands of their larger and more powerful neighbors. Russia used force against Georgia in 2008, has been using force against Ukraine since 2014, and could prospectively use force against a number of its other neighbors. China, for its part, has used a variety of coercive techniques in its territorial disputes with its neighbors. One common feature of these situations is an explicit effort by the coercing state to stay below the thresholds of a military response and, in particular, outside military intervention. As a result, small states have largely been left to their own devices to defend themselves against their more powerful neighbors.

Small, frontline states do not, however, lack options in the face of coercion. To the contrary, they could pursue a number of competitive strategies in an effort to make coercion less attractive. These include strategies of denial, which seek to harden a state against coercion; cost-imposing strategies, which seek to force an adversary to bear burdens sufficient to cause a reconsideration of coercion; efforts to attack and render ineffective the adversary’s coercive strategy; and strategies that seek to exploit divisions within the enemy’s political leadership to end the coercive campaign. The United States can, and in many cases should, assist small, frontline states in developing and implementing competitive strategies against their larger neighbors seeking to coerce them.

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Libyan Lessons for Europe

Libyan flag graffiti, courtesy Ben Sutherland/flickr

This article was originally published by Carnegie Europe on 2 February 2016.

Almost five years since the start of NATO’s military intervention in Libya, there is mounting speculation that a coalition of Western countries will launch a new military campaign there to tackle the growing threat from the self-styled Islamic State.

Since the 2011 ouster of strongman leader Muammar Qaddafi, a civil war has prevented the formation of a functioning Libyan government, creating the space for both the emergence of an Islamic State–controlled area around the city of Sirte and large flows of migrants and refugees into the EU. (Over 157,000 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy alone since January 2015.)

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