The choice of nihilism

Olivier Roy in the Guardian, ‘. . . Muslim tradition, while it recognises the merits of the martyr who dies in combat, does not prize those who strike out in pursuit of their own deaths, because doing so interferes with God’s will. So, why, for the past 20 years, have terrorists regularly chosen to die? What does it say about contemporary Islamic radicalism? And what does it say about our societies today? The latter question is all the more relevant as this attitude toward death is inextricably linked to the fact that contemporary jihadism, at least in the west – as well as in the Maghreb and in Turkey – is a youth movement that is not only constructed independently of parental religion and culture, but is also rooted in wider youth culture . . . It is too often forgotten that suicide terrorism and organisations such as al-Qaida and Isis are new in the history of the Muslim world, and cannot be explained simply by the rise of fundamentalism. We must understand that terrorism does not arise from the radicalisation of Islam, but from the Islamisation of radicalism . . . As we have seen, jihadis do not descend into violence after poring over sacred texts. They do not have the necessary religious culture – and, above all, care little about having one. They do not become radicals because they have misread the texts or because they have been manipulated. They are radicals because they choose to be, because only radicalism appeals to them. No matter what database is taken as a reference, the paucity of religious knowledge among jihadis is glaring. According to leaked Isis records containing details for more than 4,000 foreign recruits, while most of the fighters are well-educated, 70% state that they have only basic knowledge of Islam . . . Oddly enough, the defenders of the Islamic State never talk about sharia and almost never about the Islamic society that will be built under the auspices of Isis . . . What is more radical about the new radicals than earlier generations of revolutionaries, Islamists and Salafis is their hatred of existing societies, whether western or Muslim. This hatred is embodied in the pursuit of their own death when committing mass murder. They kill themselves along with the world they reject. Since 11 September 2001, this is the radicals’ preferred modus operandi. Living in ‘a true Islamic society’ does not interest jihadis: they do not go to the Middle East to live, but to die. That is the paradox: these young radicals are not utopians, they are nihilists.

The suicidal mass killer is unfortunately a common contemporary figure. The typical example is the American school shooter, who goes to his school heavily armed, indiscriminately kills as many people as possible, then kills himself or lets himself be killed by the police. He has already posted photographs, videos and statements online. In them he assumed heroic poses and delighted in the fact that everyone would now know who he was. In the United States there were 50 attacks or attempted attacks of this sort between 1999 and 2016 . . .’ click here