An article that I published last week addressed a new breed of criminals committing acts of societal and political violence in a pattern of “gentlemanly” terrorism. The perpetrator seems well-mannered and civilised, not only while preparing to commit the crime, but also in daily life. The violent act that they commit seems to be out of character, and they return to being calm and civilised, in touch with themselves and their surroundings. They appear to be content with themselves, even when they know that they are facing execution or life imprisonment.
Nowadays, we find that there is a common denominator between such a violent “gentleman” and the traditional terrorist. They both adopt an extremist ideology and have a dark outlook on life; so dark, in fact, that it reaches the level of desperation and despair at the possibility of “guiding” humankind and attracting them to believe in what they believe to be the “true religion”. Other people are either Muslims or “infidels” who are irredeemable in their eyes. Hence, they are treated carelessly, with neither enthusiasm nor anger.
The difference between these new and old takfirists — people who declare others to be beyond the fold of the faith — does not lie in the motives behind their ideology that demonises society, but in the fact that the traditionalists have given way to the surrounding society through redemption, while the new extremists do not make any effort to correct or restore society.
The more manifestations of religious distance or disintegration in the eyes of these extremists, the more sure that they are that there is no hope for humanity, except for the believers who follow the correct path. That path, of course, is that trodden by the extremists and no other. Surprisingly, this may not necessarily be the path of religion, as the process of takfirism and isolation from society is no long limited to Muslim extremists; it has manifested itself and spread amongst non-Muslims, especially in Western societies, although the reasons and motives are different. This is confirmed by the repeated acts of extreme violence committed in the US and other Western countries.
Despite the differences in the use of violence and the context, the common denominator is the ease with which weapons are resorted to in order to punish or express anger and dissatisfaction about a particular issue or a reaction to a personal problem. In any case, resorting to violence and the use of weapons reflects a belief in the hopelessness of other means to resolve issues, both individual and societal.
After decades of linking intellectual and religious extremism to the deteriorating economic situation, it has become clear that many extremists and those committing acts of violence in different societies have no economic problems and do not face difficulties in life. In some cases, the perpetrators are bored with their luxurious lifestyle, and look for unconventional means in search of change and development, even those believed to be negative in the opinion of society.
“Excommunicating” people and societies is no longer a religious, let alone an Islamic matter; neo-extremism has no religion. The entire world is facing the phenomenon of extremism that reaches the level of social and psychological excommunication, takfirism by any other name. This results in isolation that leads to separation from society and a widening of the gap between the takfirists and their targets.
As the intellectual and psychological composition of young people is a product of family and community education, responsibility for this gap lies with society, at all levels. This could be official responsibility, represented by the state and educational and cultural institutions; family responsibility; or the responsibility of religious institutions, such as mosques or churches, which are supposed to nurture spirituality and contribute to emotional and ideological development.
The source of extremism, violence and terrorism does not lie in religion, culture or economics; it lies within the social milieu that closes the gates of dialogue and imposes rigid moulds that do not take into account the requirements of the age or the aspirations of young people. Hence, the youth resort to anything strange and modern in search of achievement and self-contentment on an individual level, and in search of justice and rights on the wider, public level.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.