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The Jihadist Mind

Tawfik Hamid

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I recently read a fascinating article in the Jerusalem Post. Written by Tawfik Hamid, a moderate Muslim who passed through an Islamist phase as a young man, the lengthy article describes how a young, highly intelligent Muslim was easily turned toward fanaticism . . . but also how he escaped from that iron cage of unreason.

The article, "The development of a jihadist's mind," appeared in the Jerusalem Post's January 18th edition, but this is a reprint of an earlier printing (with footnotes) in volume 5 (pdf) of the Hudson Institute's series on Current Trends in in Islamist Ideology.

The Post's issue is spread out over several pages, which involves a lot of clicking back and forth if one wishes to check a point, and the Hudson's pdf version includes the 5 other articles in the publication, which makes the file rather long (at 90 pages), but a the entire text alone on a single page, albeit without the footnotes, can be easily read on another webpage hosted at the Hudson site.

I will post a few excerpts (citing the pdf version) to indicate what the article has to offer.

Hamid encountered Islamist teachings in the 1980s, during the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He was a young medical student in Egypt and was powerfully influenced in his developing radicalism through a talk given by Aiman al-Zawahiri, a physician who is now better known as the intellectual spokesman for Al Qaeda:

At one 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 introduce us.

Al-Zawahiri was exceptionally bright, one of the top postgraduate students in the medical school. We called him by his title and first name -- Dr. Aiman. He came from a well-known, highly-educated and wealthy family. As was customary for Jamaah members, he wore a beard and dressed occasionally in the Pakistani style of the Taliban. He disapproved of Egypt's secular government; he wanted Egypt to follow sharia law and Coptic Christians to be made dhimmis -- second-class citizens submissive to Islam. To disparage secular Arab governments, he cited the following verse: "For they who do not judge in accordance with what God has bestowed from on high are, indeed, Infidels" (Quran 5:44).

When I met him, Zawahiri welcomed me affectionately. He spoke quietly, gazing intently at me through his thick glasses. With a serious expression he placed his hand on my shoulder and said, "Young Muslims like you are the hope for the future return of Khilafa [Caliphate or Islamic global dominance]." I felt a great sense of gratitude and honor. I wanted to please him by contributing to his "noble" cause. Throughout my membership in Jamaah, I would meet with Zawahiri on six more occasions. He did not have much time to spare however, for he was deeply involved in several Islamist organizations.

One of Zawahiri's significant achievements was to personalize jihad -- that is, to have transformed it from a responsibility of the Umma, the Islamic collective, to a duty of Muslim individuals. His goal is to spread the empire of Islam through the actions of individual radical Muslims, each of whom is incited to wage a personal jihad. This allows young Muslims to carry out suicide bombings without the endorsement of the collective body. Zawahiri and his fellow jihadis base their philosophy on the verse that states, "Then fight in Allah's cause -- you are held responsible only for yourself -- and rouse the believers (to fight)" (Quran 4:84). (Tawfik Hamid, "The development of a jihadist's mind," Current Trends in in Islamist Ideology, Volume 5 (pdf), pages 16-17)

Several 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 non-Muslims.

Hamid also describes the process by which he personally came to share Islamist obsession with hatred and violence:

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.

And critical reasoning can be seductive.

Labels: Caliphate, Dhimmi, Islamism, Jihad, Sharia, Tawfik Hamid, Zawahiri

posted by Horace Jeffery Hodges @ 4:09 AM

 

http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/2008/01/tawfik-hamid-on-jihadist-mind.html

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