February 17, 2009


The Islamist Mindset 'Is Very Comfortable': Ghaffar Hussain was once a radical Islamist with the group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Now he is part of the Quilliam Foundation, a British think tank seeking to combat extremism. He spoke with SPIEGEL ONLINE about the Islamist world view and the pleasant feeling of omniscience. (Der Spiegel, 2/16/09)

SPIEGEL ONLINE: As we speak, around three dozen German Islamists are supposedly living in terrorist training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some of them have radicalized very quickly, within months. You yourself were a radical Islamist at one time and are now an expert in the field. What is it that makes some young Muslims tick?

Hussain: Primarily they buy into a certain narrative, and a specific world view, which seems to be particularly appealing for young Muslims in Europe. Quite a few of them feel marginalized, they don't feel they fit into society and they can't connect with their parents' generation. So they look for something they can belong to and some of them feel very attracted by the Umma concept, the idea that all Muslims form a unity. This is then where your allegiance lies and nothing else matters. From there, they develop an urge to do something good, and then they are sometimes confronted with what I call shock tactics: graphic images of Muslim victims, for example. They reach the conclusion that they have to do something about it. Plus there is the scriptural side: They are being told that they have to fight, that fighting is a duty.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Some of those who have become radicalized have not been very succesful in their former lives. It's like they are losers who seek to transform themselves into winners...

Hussain: Yes, and the elite factor definitly plays a role as well. I have met many radical people who wouldn't want to discuss their ideas with someone knowledgable, because they knew they would not win that debate. But for them their mindset is very comfortable. They are the vanguard, everything makes sense for them. They have a network, a group of friends. It can be very attractive to suddenly be convinced that you alone now know what's really going on.

Just considered from the viewpoint of psychological warfare, why don't we use the media and public dialogue to belittle the Islamicists precisely in order to counteract that elite factor? Just as a for instance, why not make a big production out of Mohammad Atta's will and how it reveals his obvious homosexual tendencies and bizarre sexual fetishes and then portray al Qaeda and company as a rather standard issue sodomite boy-gang for whom the homoeroticism trumps any vestiges of Islam. To the extent that we take them seriously and act like they're a significant threat we play into their ability to empower losers. Treat them as objects of contempt and ridicule and don't you rob them of their best weapon?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 17, 2009 9:31 AM
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