by Mark Durie
The West puzzles and puzzles over jihad. The Martin Place hostage taker “Sheikh” Monis certainly seems to have been a very unpleasant individual, and many have been tempted to write him off as crazy. However what fascinates and terrifies most is the utter ordinariness of so many jihadis. Here in Australia article after article has been published in the media pointing out how normal the young men are who have joined Islamic State. We have read how they enjoy social media, made YouTube videos, do well at school, are liked by their friends, go partying, have girlfriends, support local football teams etc. And all this is related to us as if it was the most amazing news.
Given the terrifying ordinariness of the jihadis, it is tempting to apply pejorative labels to them, to write them off as deranged misfits. This is an attempt to marginalize the problem. Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop called it ‘idiotic’ to refer to those who die in jihad as martyrs.
However such attempts to push the jihad phenomenon to the edges of our rational world are doomed to fail. Instead the same question keeps arising, like a persistent itch, that the Barrier Miner put on January 2, 1915: “The question has been asked over and over again, and by many people since yesterday morning’s tragic occurrence, as to the motive of the men in attacking the picnic train with its load of women and children.”
This question will simply not go away. In reality, the will to ‘go forth’ for jihad is not a manifestation of craziness – many of its actors are entirely sane. It is not a manifestation of stupidity – many of its actors are quite intelligent. It is not a manifestation of social dysfunction or poverty – many of its actors come from stable and wealthy homes. It is not a manifestation of weirdness – many of its actors are quite ordinary. Nor is it a manifestation of “morphing” trends in international relations – jihadism is as old as the hills.
Jihadi terror is a manifestation of Islamic theology. Despite the fact that so many Muslims reject jihadism, and millions of Muslims can be counted among its victims, this remains as true today as ever it has been. Yet this is something the West remains disturbingly ill-prepared to accept, engage with, or address appropriately. We stubbornly continue to seek worldview solace in misplaced explanations.