‘Planting the seeds of hatred’: The legacy of radical turmoil
Beirut - “The white man in Europe or America is our number-one enemy. The white man crushes us underfoot while we teach our children about his civilisation…
“Let us instead plant the seeds of hatred, disgust and revenge in the souls of these children. Let us teach these children… that the white man is the enemy of humanity, and that they should destroy him at the first opportunity.”
Thus wrote Sayyid Qutb, the first of the jihadist ideologues. During long years of imprisonment in his native Egypt, he wrote about Islamist rage against the colonising, exploitive West and the oppressive post-colonial Arab regimes in his landmark manifesto, Ma’alim fi al- Tariq (Milestones of the Road).
It was published in 1964 and promptly banned. Two years later Qutb was hanged.
Qutb preached violent jihad. Among his revolutionary followers was Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden’s mentor in Afghanistan, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian physician from a prominent family who became a jihadist leader and now heads al-Qaeda.
The radicalisation of Islam that Qutb pioneered has accelerated in recent years with the spread of the internet and social media to the extent that it now has a global reach, providing recruits for Islamist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda’s various offshoots.
In the Arab world, mushrooming discontent among young Muslims, not just animosity towards the West but towards dysfunctional, corrupt and usually repressive regimes in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, fuels the steady growth of hard-line Islam.
Many young Muslims in Western Europe, an alienated generation whose members are often from the North African ghettoes on the fringes of the continent’s major cities, drift into crime and become radicalised in prison.
The wars in Iraq and Syria over the last two decades have been sustained by a seemingly endless stream of young Muslim volunteers seduced by jihadist propaganda, which these days has become a powerful, professionally produced arm of the Islamist enterprise.
ISIS’s Library of Zeal recently introduced an application for teaching the Arabic alphabet to children on android devices with jihadist themes.
The jihadists’ capabilities in the digital sphere are now so great that extremist groups, ISIS in particular, run covert networks across Europe that carry out attacks on civilian targets.
These range from so-called lone wolves driving vehicles into crowds to sleeper cells, often composed of veterans of the jihadist wars, trained in handling weapons and explosives and carrying out relatively complex multi-target operations. These are becoming increasingly sophisticated and until security services can penetrate the encrypted message systems the jihadists employ, there is every reason to suppose these attacks will become more ambitious and deadlier.
Recent surveys of Arab millennials, which seek to understand how young people can be curbed from drifting into the clutches of the jihadist groups, unfailingly show that their disillusionment with governments’ failure to provide jobs, education and hopes for the future is one of the jihadists’ greatest recruiting agents.
This pervasive sense of alienation, heightened by the region’s worsening instability and growing sectarian collision, was dramatically heightened with the failure of the much-heralded uprisings of the “Arab spring” in 2011 to bring about meaningful change.
The war in Syria is one of the results and has attracted tens of thousands of volunteers from around the globe to join the fight against the Assad regime or to further the Islamic cause.
A recent region-wide poll showed that six years on from 2011, the overwhelming majority of the 3,500 18-24-year-olds questioned in 16 countries across the Middle East and North Africa in the annual ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller youth survey are more disillusioned than ever, with political indifference a major complaint.
Most rejected ISIS and its savage, apocalyptic brand of Islam, but are convinced that the main problems blighting the region are unemployment, the lack of democracy, the ever-rising cost of living that doom them to an uncertain future — all deficiencies that ultimately benefit ISIS.
Perhaps most tellingly for Arab governments as the heady expectations of 2011 evaporate, only 36% of those surveyed thought the Arab world was better off — down from 72% in 2012.