Leaving Islam




An Anatomy of a Terrorist’s MindAnalysis and Comments

By Jacob Thomas


There is no dearth of articles in newspapers, news magazines, and learned journals that deal with the growing problem of global terrorism. Needless to say, after 9/11/2001 and

7/7/2005 , our world has become a scary place. We would like to know why so many men, and even some women, engage in such destructive acts that cost them their lives as well as the lives of countless innocent people.  

Specifically, I would like to ask: why is the Muslim world in turmoil, and why have most of the killer-terrorists of today, whether residents of Dar-al-Islam, or of the Western world, continue to commit such hideous acts? Lately, some general answers have been offered by such well-known experts as Bernard Lewis. You may like to consult his book,

“What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response.”  It was published by Oxford University Press in 2002)  

However, if we want to know what drives some Muslims to engage in terrorist acts, and what goes on in their minds as they prepare to perpetrate their crimes, we should listen to what some Arab Muslim writers are saying. This is very important since all discussions of this subject that go on in foreign languages have very little impact on the ever growing Arab and Muslim masses. As I glance daily at the content of some Arabic newspapers on the web, my attention was drawn to an eye-catching title that appeared on August 10, in the London-based Al-Sharq al-Awsat. It read: “Tashrih al-‘Aql al-Irhabi”

“An Anatomy of a Terrorist’s Mind.”  

Having read it over several times, I could not help but admire the honesty and boldness of the author who chose to deal with this difficult topic. I wish more such writings would appear in the dailies of the Arab world, from Kuwait to Casablanca . I plan to give a brief analysis of the article and then add a few of my own comments.  

The author began to deal with this disturbing phenomenon by referring to some recent terrorist attacks that were still in the minds of his readers. He wanted them to realize that these acts of mass and indiscriminate murder have a ripple effect that impacts the entire world. He is trying to draw to the attention of his readers in the Arab World that acts of terror, perpetrated by Muslims, end up by giving a very bad impression of Islam:  

“Every time a terrorist attack occurs, we are faced with several questions. They don’t seem to change, even after the suicide attacks at Sharm el-Sheikh, following the terrorist bombings in London , or the abduction and murder of the Egyptian ambassador, Dr. Ihab al-Sharif, in Baghdad . Unless and until the Arab mind faces up to these questions and deals with them, the current situation dominated by such topics as terrorism, Islam, and Muslims, will add to strained international relations, and will continue to be extremely unsettling.”  

“Why do some people engage in suicide attacks, killing themselves and countless human beings? The question remains very perplexing, especially when the killer makes no specific demands on society or the state. All we Arabs get is a list of general grievances, such as calling people apostates, or pro-Jewish, or pro-Christian! So we will never know what is required of us in order to satisfy their demands and convince them that the rest of us are [true] believers; or in what way we should conduct our international relations in order to win their approval!”  

It is interesting to note that the writer is deploring an almost pathological condition that affects not only the terrorists, but many within Islam. He refers to the habit of regarding any conciliatory move toward the other (i.e. the non-Muslim) as out of the question. So all who would initiate such an action must be consideredas [being] apostates, or pro-Jewish, or pro-Christian.” He goes on to explode any lame excuse that would attempt to give a rational answer to terrorist acts:  

“Thus far, all the answers we have received boil down to the following: ‘we face angry young men who point the finger to occupied Palestine where the Israelis commit atrocities against the Palestinians. They are angry because America occupies Iraq, and their anger has grown into a rage after the revelations of the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and the insults that have been hurled at Arabs and Muslims in Guantanamo.’ The list of grievances keeps on growing and stretches all the way back to the days of Western colonialism, as well as to the present situation in Afghanistan , the Philippines , and Chechnya .”  

Our writer goes on to show that such excuses are unconvincing:  

“These answers remain unconvincing. For example, why don’t all angry Muslims, (numbering more than a billion,) engage in killing [others?] Why don’t others as well, who number by the billions, and who have gone through similar experiences (as Arabs and Muslims) throughout their own history, engage in acts of terrorism?!”  

Not only are such lame answers unconvincing, but they are actually very dangerous. So, he proceeds to expound his thesis and demonstrates the absurdity of the line of reasoning offered by those who have pointed to the ‘grievances’ as grounds or motives for terrorism.  

“Actually, such answers that we have mentioned reveal that any attempt to explain ‘the motives’ for these acts of terrorism end up providing excuses for such crimes. This is so because in order to deal rationally with these motives or root causes that legitimize their fury, one would have to ask such simple questions: ‘what was the relation of the people who were in Sharm el-Sheikh, or London, or Riyadh, or Cairo, with what was going on in Palestine or Iraq? It is certain that none of the [Egyptian] workers or [Arab and European] tourists at Hotel Ghazala [in Sharm el-Sheikh} had ever worked at Abu Ghraib prison! [So why did they become the target for terrorists?]”  

“Thus to approach our problem by searching for the ‘motives’ of terrorism may give comfort to those who want to glorify terrorism by showing that terrorists are actually engaged in the defense of the Umma. [We are told that] while their means are rather disturbing and quite improper, nevertheless their motives are noble. Others who are sympathetic to terrorism want us to stop doing anything about this phenomenon, or dealing with it by asking such questions. They claim that terrorism is linked to the policies of the United States and Israel , so we can do nothing but fight them. And should we decide not to fight the US and Israel , we would then deserve the terrorists’ curse.”  

“Anyhow, the theory of ‘motives’ or ‘root causes’ does not solve our problem with terrorism, or our duty to protect people from getting killed; a responsibility that is based on all revealed and unrevealed laws. Our question retains its urgency regarding the psychological, emotional, and rational condition of a specific person who undergoes such a radical change of mind. His transformation makes a normal person an abnormal one, ready to kill himself with tens or even hundreds of other human beings. One of the first changes that takes place in the mind of a would-be terrorist is an absolute belief that nowadays, Muslims the world over, are in a state of siege. They are besieged by Westerners, and Indians, and Buddhists, and Christians, and Jews, and Russians, and Serbs. Furthermore, he claims that the [rest] of the world is unconcerned about the tragedies that have befallen the household of Islam; and if there are signs for concern for the needs of Muslims, they have come too late. Thus his feeling of utter loneliness and of being the target of some oppressive global forces, form the terrorist’s state of mind. It makes him feel as an outsider vis-à-vis a humanity that has neither recognized nor accepted him.”  

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