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Opinion: The Changing face of Terrorism – by Prof. Fathi El-Shihibi
03/06/2013 09:15:00
Whenever most political analysts in the West attempt to identify Muslim fundamentalist or extremist movement it is mostly within the context of a reactionary collective consciousness whose ultimate goal is the restoration of a religious world order.

In terms of the kind of sociopolitical system such movements aim to create critics are usually quick to point to Iran and Saudi Arabia as being representatives of the two contentious poles of such a system.

When members of such movements are identified the focus is usually on groups as a whole and not on individual members per say.

After the tragic bombing at the Marathon in Boston most reports, focusing on the motives behind the attacks in Boston, Massachusetts by Tamerlane and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, seem to suggest that the young recruiters to Jihad (holy struggle) are mainly misguided and frustrated idealists who bought into the idea of being defenders of the faith and pioneers in a movement to restore Islam to its former glory.

Immediately following the bombing the majority of analysts, reporters and other media talking heads in the US were once again quick to link the perpetrators with the larger so-called fundamentalist organizations including but not limited to al-Qaeda and its subdivisions in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Before pursuing the issue pertaining the to the inability of such analysts to zoom in on individuals within the larger so-called fundamentalist organizations it is as important to examine how the Tsarnaev brothers dramatically changed people’s understanding of terrorists who lash out presumably in the name of Islam.

First, the fact that they both look Caucasian has dramatically altered most Americans perceptions regarding the face of terrorism.

Due to the fact that past acts of terrorism in countries such as the United States, England and Spain became associated particularly in the minds of Westerners with individuals of Middle Eastern, African or Asians origins, one cannot help but wonder whether the way the brothers look somehow enabled them to avert close scrutiny and thereby gaining an undetected access into the crowd without raising much suspicion.

Second, the fact that they are originally from Chechnya where I assume the majority of the people direct their ire against Russia for the devastation in their country and yet they decided to lash out against the United States suggest that they both subscribe to the overarching ideology of Islamic Jihadism (holy struggle) targeting the West as a whole hence a sort of “Islam International” if you will upon which the al-Qaeda of Bin Laden was established.

In addition to that let us not forget that the case of the Tsarnaev brothers can also be looked at as a homegrown terrorism which is ironically reminiscent of a sleeper cell yet in plain sight due to having assimilated at least outwardly hence providing them with greater mobility and accessibility.

Moreover they both fit the image of the lone wolf who lies in wait for the right time to strike. The Tsarnaev brothers and Michael Adebolajo, who is one of the assailants who attacked and killed an off-duty British soldier in London, are among such lone wolves.

The Tsarnaev brothers who are of Chechnyan descent and Adebolajo who is of Nigerian descent fit the last creation of al-Qaeda and its affiliates who are now recruiting individuals vie Cyberspace and utilize the same medium to supply them with blue prints for bomb making from readily available materials or launching unexpected attacks on soft targets.

In light of what transpires from the Tsarnaev brothers’ case it is entirely plausible to assume that they acted at the behest of both personal and collective impulses.

Based on what we now know about the brothers and particularly Tamerlane it becomes obvious that while he perceived himself as a vanguard of Islamic Jihadism he also harboured personal grievances and resentments towards his adopted country and her people.

His expressed sense of mental and physical isolation as shown in his admission in which he says "I don't have a single American friend; I don't understand them,” obviously drove him to merge his identity with the collective identity of Muslim Fundamentalists in an attempt to escape his descent into apathy and self absorption. Even though it has been said that Dzhokhar was indoctrinated into the fundamentalist ideology by his brother his actions before and after the bombing show him to harbour as much resentment and hostility as Tamerlane. The scribbles he left behind inside the boat where he was hiding in which he accuses the United States of killing Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan and particularly his statement that "When you attack one Muslim, you attack all Muslims," clearly attest to the fact that his indoctrination goes way beyond his brother’s direct influence.

Here it becomes clear that members of fundamentalist groups are acting on both personal and collective impulses. Once such members are reincarnated as holy warriors their priority becomes the preservation of their newly acquired identity and by extension their ideological persuasion.

As a matter of fact their lashing out in a destructive manner is their way of supposedly preserving the individual and the collective identities in the face of forces that threaten both such as the United States of America, the Russian Federation, England and France. Nowadays most US politicians are convinced that this somewhat new situation requires new measures.

Along with continuing to adhere to social responsibility summed up in the saying popular in the United States which urges citizens that “If you see something, say something” US citizens are urged to become even more involved by being proactive as opposed to being reactive. American politicians have been asking for the involvement of the citizenry across the board to be constantly on the lookout for individuals who may betray signs of impending attacks in American cities.

Even though Muslim leaders in the US were quick to denounce the actions of the brothers as being totally against the teaching of the Islamic faith nonetheless many have expressed apprehension concerning the possible return to racial profiling directed mostly at Arabs and Muslims.

The new directive adopted by many American politicians and officials nowadays calls for citizens to become more alert and increasingly adapt to the use of social media to detect possible perpetrators.

When asked for justification for involving ordinary citizens in identifying and apprehending possible terrorists these same politicians and officials point to the fact that footage gathered from citizens who were eyewitnesses before and after the carnage in Copley Square in Boston, Massachusetts, undoubtedly helped in zeroing in on the culprits behind the attack that claimed the lives of three individuals and injured two hundred and sixty-four others.

After all, several plots in the not so distant past were foiled by ordinary citizens. These include the citizen arrests of the ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid and the Nigerian ‘underwear’ bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who nearly blew up an American airplane in midair.

Furthermore, New York City’s Time Square could have been the scene of a horrible tragedy if it wasn’t for two alert street vendors who alerted authorities to the smoking car bomb planted there by Faisal Shahzad, a naturalised American citizen of Pakistani origin, who was arrested at New York’s John F. Kennedy’s airport on an Emirates airplane bound for Dubai.

(The writer is a professor at the Department of Philosophy and Religion, at the Emmanuel College, Boston, Massachusetts in the USA.)

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