Zwei maskierte, bewaffnete Islamisten vor dem Schwarzen Banner zur Illustration des Arbeitsfelds „Islamismus“, Keyvisual Islamismus

Jihadism as an ideology of violence – The abuse of Islam for terrorist purposes

For some time now, the BfV has noticed a process of increasingly fast radicalisation, particularly among young Muslims. This process sometimes even includes the willingness to use violence and to participate in terrorist attacks in Germany and abroad. The attack at Frankfurt/Main Airport on 2 March 2011 that – according to intelligence gained so far – was staged by a radicalised single perpetrator and that left two persons dead and two others severely injured is an example of the effect of jihadist messages that have, for years now, been distributed via the worldwide web by Islamist terrorist organisations and/or their propagandists as well as sympathisers of the jihadist scene.

Abuse of religion

Islamist terrorists base their acts of violence on the claim that these are allegedly justified by Islam or even requested by 'order of God'. They call for a worldwide fight against the supposed enemies of Islam, and they glorify violent offenders killed during combat actions as 'martyrs' for God's cause.

In fact, however, religious experts hold the unanimous view that Islam prohibits both murder and suicide. The armed fight for the defence of Muslim territory is permitted only under clearly defined terms, and it has to be expressly approved by religious scholars. Leading terrorists like Usama Bin Ladin are no religious scholars, hence they are not authorised to declare violent jihad or to promote it. Terrorism – the execution of most serious acts of violence against humans and facilities – is under no circumstances reconcilable with Islamic standards.

Jihadist propaganda and the justification of terrorist attacks are incompatible with Islam; they abuse religion for the purposes of gaining political power. Terrorists deliberately misinterpret religious terms in order to indoctrinate young people and to recruit them so that they can push through their objectives.

Jihadism as an ideology of violence

Numerous violence-oriented argumentation patterns – illustrated by self-declarations, claims of responsibility and calls for mobilisation, legal reports or video messages, etc. – have developed into a catalogue of ideology in the course of the actual violent past of terrorist organisations so that one can speak of jihadism as a self-perpetuating ideology of violence. This very ideology has become independent of authoritative consideration processes under Islamic law and is freely available also in numerous translations – especially on the Internet. Jihadism describes a pure ideology of violence that is separated from the religious context of explanation and justification.

Modern jihadism: internationalisation and narrow definition

Having mainly evolved in the course of al-Qaeda’s development, this ideology of violence is now intensified by the “successes” of Islamic State (IS) and their preparation for propaganda purposes. The main characteristics of al-Qaeda’s concept of jihad include:

  • The violent struggle takes place independent of territories, defined as a struggle without regional or national borders: Jihadist propagandists take the view that attacks are a duty – attacks against the West, against institutions of Western states, or against military missions of Western states in the Islamic world – even peacekeeping missions. The ideology of Islamic State (IS) is also in line with these goals. IS moreover aims at setting up a worldwide caliphate, which has sharia – according to the extremist interpretation of IS – as its only legal basis.

  • According to the terrorists' logic, the fight against the West will persist for an indefinite time. Jihadists propagate total war against the supposed enemies of Islam all over the world that will only stop when the USA and its allies have withdrawn from all Islamic regions. This concept includes Israel's destruction.

  • Civilians are one explicit target of terrorist attacks, too. It was already in 1998 that Usama Bin Ladin declared that each and every Muslim had the duty to kill Americans and their allies – be they civilians or soldiers. Violent acts against civilians are justified with the fact that the values and standards of Western democracies allegedly conflict with Islam and that citizens of democratic states are responsible for the decisions of their governments – for example on military missions in Islamic countries – given the principle of sovereignty of the people. Jihadists propagate violence against people of all origins and not being involved – hence, they fundamentally violate the ethical and legal commandments of Islam.

  • The Arabic term jihâd has a broad range of meanings. For one thing, this term describes the peaceful and honest striving of mankind following the path of God and it is thus an ethical duty of every believer (‘big jihad’). For another, the term means the military fight for religion, which is, however, only to be used in an actual state of defence (‘small jihad’). Declaring this 'small jihad' requires a complicated case-by-case examination that takes into consideration all legal aspects laid down in the Koran, and that has to be decided by legal scholars. The jihadist declaration of total and indefinite terror against Western states and their citizens as well as against all those whom jihadists regard as ‘infidels’ and the call for acts of terrorism against the very same are under no circumstances reconcilable with Islam.

  • Terrorists generally rule out peaceful ways of solving conflicts. Terrorist organisations' activities of the past decades illustrate that they regard the fight against supposed aggressors – the USA, Israel, all other Western democracies, and what they see as 'dissident' regimes in Muslim states – as imperative at all times and in all places. Jihadists take the view that a state and social system based on Islamic law according to their own interpretation can only be established by the use of force. The ideologues of terrorist organisations do not benefit from peaceful revolutions, such as the ones called for and partly realised by movements referred to as 'Arab Spring' in early 2011, but from civil war and violence. With this point of view, they ignore the right of the people in the Islamic world to determine themselves what kind of society they want to live in – and thus also their right to determine their own way of achieving democracy, the rule of law, and freedom.

Jihadism as a modular concept

The Internet provides a multitude of supposedly authorised fatwahs, papers, extracts from preaches or comments regarding the justification of terrorism – all of them being translated into several languages and edited in a way suitable for the specific addressees. As a consequence, kind of a 'copy and paste' jihadism can be observed: Individuals with no or only little command of Arabic and without any firm religious background may be easily led into the world of terrorist thought and make up “their own” jihad. This way, a general affinity towards violence, indefinite aggression, individual feelings of frustration, psychological traumata or the wish to be part of a community can be deliberately used for terrorist recruitment activities. Jihadist propagandists are well aware of how to use this potential for their purposes. A compelling example in this context is the text posted by Silvio K. on the Internet in July 2014. He has joined the jihadist Islamic State (IS) in Syria/Iraq. Silvio K. combines Koran verses, stations of his life and explicit fantasies of killing people.

Own 'histories of martyrdom'

Islamist terrorist organisations and propagandists have meanwhile been looking back on a decade-long history of violence. Accordingly, terrorist organisations have developed a heroic narrative glorifying 'martyrs' of the movement or heads of terrorist organisations and presenting them as idols that have to be emulated. Hence, young people searching for the sense, order, and aim in life do not convert to true Islam – as they are told – but to terrorism. Virtual communities set up in social networks contribute to encourage their members to follow this wrong path, while further isolating them from their families and friends, and supporting their way to violence. Salafist networks appearing as isolated sub-cultures and claiming to represent the only correct interpretation of Islam pave the ideological way and create the social environment for such 'careers of radicalisation'. Their number in Germany is rising. In their statements, Salafists refuse the use of violence. However, at the same time it can be observed that almost all individuals with links to Germany who have joined the global violent struggle had been in contact with Salafist structures before or have emerged from Salafist milieus.

Peaceful coexistence instead of terrorism and exclusion

With their acts of violence, terrorists discredit most citizens of Muslim faith in Germany, who live out their constitutional right to freedom of worship in everyday life in a peaceful manner and in abiding by the law or who strive for a political and social acceptance of their religion with civil society activities or commitments – as it is the case in other democratic countries, too. As a democratic state under the rule of law, Germany advocates the central idea of a peaceful coexistence of all people regardless of their origin or religion.

Jihadism and terrorism both discredit Islam. They describe a pure strategy of violence in theory and practice – a strategy that abuses religion for its purposes and that recruits young people for murder and suicide. Terrorism and terrorist ideology are countered with all constitutional means. The clear principle of zero tolerance towards terrorism applied by Muslims and non-Muslims additionally contributes to preventing the extension of hostility towards Islam that right-wing extremist/right-wing populist efforts in Germany want to benefit from.

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Anti-terrorist Hotline: +49(0)221/ 792-3366

Anti-terrorist Hotline: +49(0)221/ 792-3366

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