A piece published by the Guardian, The art of making a jihadist, says "jihadi culture shares a great deal with Salafi (fundamentalist Islam) culture and even mainstream Islamic culture.” Is this a true manifestation of Islamic culture?
Catherine Shakdam: We need to be very careful when we talk about mainstream Islam and what it actually represents. If by mainstream we are referring to what scholars consider to be normative Islam then we need to first establish that Islam is many schools of thoughts. Islam cannot be reduced down to a single digit so to speak, that would be missing the vibrance and pluralism of its traditions.
Islam today suffers from a form of religious colonialism, whereby Wahhabism, Salafism, and Deobandism have literally taken over its landscape - recontextualising its Scriptures to better imprint its absolutism.
Salafism by the way is not fundamentalist Islam - that would imply that Islam is somewhat anchored in violence and exclusion. Salafism, at its most extreme is an expression of Takfirism. It sees Islam detached from its humanity and the mercy it offers. Salafism is Islam cut off from its source of wisdom …
But yes there is a Jihadi culture and it is rooted in Salafism, Wahhabism and Deobandism. The danger of course is that this culture will spread in the same manner Wahhabism spread across the Muslim World - hiding behind a veneer of legitimacy, hijacking the narrative, and most troubling of all manipulating the religious into something abominable.
What is insidious is the fact that mainstream media and the West in general only see Islam through the lens of takfirism, lumping all Muslims to terrorism without understanding that Islam is not what takfiris make it out to be.
What the West continues to refer to is Saudi Arabia’s state religion: Wahhabism and its other variants. Islam cannot be hold responsible for the lunacy of a minority few, however loudly they may scream, and no matter the many friendships their money can buy.
The article claims that terrorists’ religiosity needs to be taken "very seriously”. Is that it? Is being religious directly linked to becoming a terrorist?
Catherine Shakdam: I don’t think that religion has anything to do with anything here, rather it is dogmatism. Mainstream you see has given into the habit of throwing words around without really understanding what those words actually mean, or what they will ultimately carry. We ought to be careful when we attempt to define terrorism and the ideology that sustains it.
Terrorism is the expression of a hate based in exclusionism, a heightened sense of self-righteousness with a side of megalomania sprinkled with sociopathy. Terrorism is antithetical to Islam. Islam is the religion of the middle. Islam is Justice for all beyond all manners of differences on the basis that we are all equal in our humanity. Terrorism negates this since its ideologues call for the killing of all who disagree.
Terrorism is linked to Takfirism, and Takfirism is being promoted by countries such as Saudi Arabia. The issue is not a religious one, but the motives that Terrorism hides behind its violence: control through the imposition of one world view.
It also portrays terrorists as "extremely kind, gentle and soft-spoken”, suggesting that there’s nothing abnormal about their behavior and that religious belief is at the top of the list of contributing factors leading to this phenomenon. What’s your take on this?
Catherine Shakdam: I profoundly disagree with that statement. Many serial killers have proven to be quite charming and well educated, even soft-mannered … such demeanor does not take away from the horrors they committed. To somehow romanticise terrorists only serves to reinforce the narrative they claim to justify their actions. Beyond that it is inferring that Islam is somewhat deceptive and nefarious at its core.
We ought to understand the manipulation of Terror. Terror is a deception that infiltrates one’s mind, to pervert the thinking process. Terror is a seduction that calls for the destruction of one’s humanity.
Despite all this, a new study has found that the so-called radicalized Muslims have little actual knowledge of Islam. What could you say about this?
Catherine Shakdam: I would say that is pretty accurate! If terrorists knew and understood Islam they would not be terrorists to begin with. If, for the sake of argument, we can all agree that Islam is God’s religion perfected then we need to ask ourselves the following question: Why would God need our arms to defend His Scriptures and speak that Truth he imparted through the sword, when He, Himself gifted us with free will? That would be counter-intuitive.
Terrorism is the death of all religions and free will. Terrorism is an abomination that has no relation whatsoever to the religious.
Catherine Shakdam is a political analyst, writer and commentator for the Middle East with a special focus on radical movements and Yemen. A regular pundit on RT and other networks, her work has appeared in major publications such as MintPress, RT, Press TV, the Foreign Policy Journal, Mehr News, the Guardian, Middle East Eye, the Middle East Monitor and many others. The Director of Programs at the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies, Catherine is also the co-founder of Veritas Consulting. In 2015 her research on Yemen was quoted and used by the UNSC in a resolution on Yemen Looted Funds. She is the author of Arabia’s Rising - Under The Banner Of The First Imam.