December 8, 2015


The Ties That Bind Jihadists : Scholars explore the culture of radical Islam (Ursula Lindsey NOVEMBER 30, 2015, The Chronicle Review)

Thomas Hegghammer has spent the past 14 years studying jihadist groups. As director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, Hegghammer has, like most scholars of radical Islam, focused on the groups' military tactics and political statements, their doctrines and leaders.

But he has come to believe that what jihadists do in their spare time -- the jokes they tell, the poems they compose and recite, the ways they interpret each other's dreams and cry publicly -- is equally important to gaining a deeper understanding of militant groups.

Jihadist culture is "one of the last major, unexplored frontiers of terrorism research, one that merits an entire new research program," Hegghammer argued in a lecture he gave at the University of St. Andrews in April.

He is one of a growing number of scholars studying the mundane, or seemingly superfluous, activities of jihadists as a window onto the appeal and staying power of Islamic extremism.

He credits several scholars -- including Manni Crone, Behnam Said, and Elisabeth Kendall -- with groundbreaking work on particular cultural practices that accompany radicalization. But he argues that few attempts have been made to link such studies and examine culture "as a category of rebellious activity."

"We are just scraping the surface," he says.

Other scholars agree. That more work has not been done on jihadist poetry, for example, is "astonishing," says Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University. Poetry has always been a key feature of jihadist groups. "There is virtually no speech by Osama bin Laden in which he doesn't recite poetry," says Haykel. [...]

The burgeoning study of jihadist culture is deeply multidisciplinary, with contributors to a forthcoming volume, edited by Hegghammer, hailing from the fields of musicology, literature, and anthropology as well as political science. The book, tentatively titled "Jihadi Culture: What Militant Islamists Do When They're Not Fighting," will be published by Cambridge University Press next year.

By Hegghammer's definition, jihadist culture includes activities that do more than fulfill basic military needs. Some of those are quite unexpected. Public displays of weeping are an aspect of jihadist culture that intrigues Hegghammer, who notes that the practice is so common that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq until his death, in 2006, was known as "the slaughterer" but also as "he who weeps a lot."

The homoeroticism here reminds one of Lee Harris's comparison of Al Qaeda to ancient boys' gangs.  As we've long said, if we had intelligence services they would be playing up this gay death cult angle.

Posted by at December 8, 2015 6:17 PM