[guest post by Dana]
That is the current title of an opinion piece in the NYT, which 24 hours ago was titled Militant Jihad’s Softer Side. Thomas Hegghammer, who is the director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, examines the lifestyle of the modern jihadist and what draws so many recruits to the ranks of ISIS:
Why have tens of thousands of people from around the world chosen to live under the Islamic State’s draconian rule and fight under its black flag? To understand this phenomenon, we must recognize that the world of radical Islam is not just death and destruction. It also encompasses fashion, music, poetry, dream interpretation. In short, jihadism offers its adherents a rich cultural universe in which they can immerse themselves.
When jihadis aren’t fighting — which is most of the time — they enjoy storytelling and watching films, cooking and swimming. The social atmosphere (at least for those who play by the rules) is egalitarian, affectionate and even playful. Jihadi life is emotionally intense, filled with the thrill of combat, the sorrow of loss, the joy of camaraderie and the elation of religious experience. I suspect this is a key source of its attraction.
Jihadi culture also comes with its own sartorial styles. In Europe, radicals sometimes wear a combination of sneakers, a Middle Eastern or Pakistani gown and a combat jacket on top. It’s a style that perhaps reflects their urban roots, Muslim identity and militant sympathies. The men often follow Salafi etiquette, for example by carrying a tooth-cleaning twig known as a miswak, wearing nonalcoholic perfume, and avoiding gold jewelry, as they believe the Prophet Muhammad did.
As new recruits shed their jeans and track suits for robes, as they memorize the words to the Islamic State’s anashid and learn to look for glimpses of paradise in dreams, they discover a whole new lifestyle. Music, rituals and customs may be as important to jihadi recruitment as theological treatises and political arguments. Yes, some people join radical groups because they want to escape personal problems, avenge Western foreign policy or obey a radical doctrine. But some recruits may join because they find a cultural community and a new life that is emotionally rewarding.
The comments are about what you would expect: these disenfranchised young people hate because of the West and we must do something! vs. we need to wipe them off the face of the earth. (Of course, there is no tally included for how many of these “disenfranchised” young people who blame the West, actually came from the relative comfort of the West…)
Oh, and Nazis. The current top Readers’ Pick comment:
Yes, and the Nazis were fond of classical music. Which didn’t change the fact that they were Nazis.
The current top NYT’s Pick comment:
Aside from whether Nazis were actually fond of classical music (many of the party’s blue collar recruits, I suspect, were more into beer hall polka,) this is a nonsensical response to the article.
Young Germans didn’t join the Nazi Party because of “classical music.” However, the sharp uniforms, the images of strength, and the propaganda of greatness and destiny, all contributed to the Nazi Party’s appeal. To understand those things is helps us to understand how the Nazi Party came to power. Understanding how the Nazi Party rose to power is one prerequisite to stopping it from happening again under a different name.
ISIS is neither the first nor the only Jihadist group. It will probably not be the last. For the same reason explained above, unless you are interested in being on a Jihadism Merry-Go-Round for decades, it is important to learn how these groups recruit and grow.
But in spite of the analyzing and opining, it’s really too bad these Yazidi girls just weren’t fortunate enough to get to know that softer side of militant jihad…