A NARRATIVE OF HEROES: IN THE HEAD OF THE CONTEMPORARY JIHADIST

The contemporary jihadist often lives in the West, perhaps as a second-generation immigrant or convert, or in another fairly secular environment such as post-Soviet Central Asia. He likely knows little or no Arabic, and is not an Islamic scholar. For him, religion and ideology are primarily used as an after-the-fact justification and legitimization for violent acts and could more accurately be referred to as the effect rather than cause of jihadism. For those who wish to take action, indignation over perceived injustice and the decision to engage in armed jihad often precede both ideological awareness and religious justification. Far more important is the narrative: a conviction that a worldwide struggle between good and evil, between justice and injustice, and between true Muslims and enemies of Islam is taking place. The world is hanging in the balance, and heroes are needed. Two conclusions can be drawn. First, it seems unlikely that young jihadists can be deradicalised through religious deradicalisation programmes. Second, an understanding of the importance of the narrative as a cause for jihadist terrorism may suggest a more constructive way of dealing with the problem. It is difficult or impossible to argue against a religion or ideology without alienating its followers. To fight a narrative is easier. If young extremists crave an inspiring narrative; then a suitably positive one should be provided that enables action and heroism but does not involve terrorism.

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