Jihad, the ‘shortcut to heaven’
It is often said that in war, truth is the first major casualty. Whether war is limited in scope or engulfs large parts of the world, opposing sides are wont to distort reality in its favor. For our subject matter, one can go as early as the holy crusades in the late 11th century when Christians and Muslims had their own divergent interpretation of their divine missions: the former to reclaim the kingdom of God in Jerusalem and the latter to deny it, in the name of Mohammad.
That violent and fanatical conflict between the two great religions unleashed Pope Urban’s “holy war,” in 1096, a jihad by any definition, where the chopped-off heads of Muslim warriors guaranteed huge heavenly rewards to Christian soldiers led by its foremost champion, King Richard the Lionheart.
Fast-forward to the savage, random murder of many civilian lives in present-day Paris and the obliteration of hundreds of passengers aboard the ill-fated Russian jetliner over the skies of Egypt caused by a bomb planted by the Islamic State. Many think these are a continuation of that ancient conflict between the two faiths. But there is a distinct twist and variation: In the annals of asymmetric warfare, the modern jihadist stands out in sheer brutality, bestiality and loathing for the world. While other apostles of violence and terror have the vulnerability of a decent attachment to civilized society, the radicalized Islamist jihadists, whose deadly trajectory began with spellbinding intensity at the infamous 9/11 suicide jetliner crashes into New York’s World Trade skyscrapers, have none. Theirs is a mission of vengeance, self-fulfillment and empowerment that the world has never seen.
Authorities in human behavior cite a multitude of causes to explain the phenomenon, such as neoimperialism, globalization, the destabilizing effects of modernization, broken homes, migrations, racial and religious discrimination, excessive materialism, lust for adventure, and plain boredom.
There is partial truth in all of these explanations, but their very range and complexity prevent us from getting a good handle on this terrible and perplexing scourge.
In this context, I think it would serve our purpose to enlist the law of parsimony, better known as “Occam’s Razor,” a problem-solving principle formulated by the English theologian William of Ockham: that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.
Removing the chaff from the grain, we can reasonably deduce that the foremost appeal, the seductive, magnetic lure that hooks modern-day jihadists to their cause is the promise of instant martyrdom and everlasting happiness in a heaven blessed with beautiful virgins and a gourmet’s delight in food, drinks and palaces, assisted by a stable of servants. The number of lovely maidens vary, from the most quoted 72 to the outrageous 1,000, but the message is the same: The jihadist’s afterlife is the end-all and be-all of the most extreme hedonistic life on earth. A similar fate awaits the fairer jihadist sex. No wonder the flow of recruits from all over the globe keeps increasing, despite the numerous drone attacks, assassinations, regime changes and counterterrorism campaigns waged by Western and Arab nations. Not even the exhortations of sober Muslim voices, such as the most revered Grand Mufti in Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-as Saikh, who strongly denounced IS and al-Qaida as the No. 1 enemy of Islam, could arrest that flow.
The clever architects of today’s jihad have even managed to mask the fratricidal, intra-Islam strife between the jihadists and the more moderate followers of Islam by transforming the deep and pervasive internal battle, revolving around their different interpretation of the Koran, into a titanic clash of civilization—indeed an unmistakable extension of the ancient battles. The projection of jihad deep into the nerve center and capital cities of Europe and the United States underscores this effective strategy.
Eric Hoffer’s classic, “The True Believer,” harps on the dynamics of mass movements in history. He says all mass movements have a family likeness such as deep hatred of the existing order, self-fulfillment, revenge, and desire for empowerment. Furthermore, they are “interchangeable.” Recall that 2,000 years ago Saul, a fanatical opponent of Christianity, later became Paul, its most ardent apologist and supporter.
But none of the mass movements Hoffer mentions—religious, political, racist and ideological—has supporters imbued with such inordinate desire for self-sacrifice and wanton destruction of enemies’ lives as the present-day jihadists who think nothing of blowing themselves up together with their targets, who are mostly innocent civilians. Most people of faith revere their creator but prefer to die peacefully in their beds. It defies reason, theological tenets, and human experience that there are people in the world who fanatically believe that brutally murdering rival peoples is the shortest path to paradise.
If Occam’s Razor is the correct road map to the defeat of IS and other extreme radicals, the West and, more to the point, its Arab allies, must devise effective psychoeducational campaigns aimed at weakening and discrediting the jihadist’s powerful recruiting concept of paradise in the afterlife. Rather than adopt the jihadist playbook on terror propaganda by replaying on YouTube the grisly images of beheaded and soon-to-be beheaded victims (which backfired), the correct strategy must directly address and expose the jihadist’s idea of heaven for what it really is: a fool’s paradise—for those gullible and crazy enough to believe it.
Narciso Reyes Jr. ([email protected]) is an international book author and former diplomat. He lived in Beijing in 1978-81 as bureau chief of the Philippine News Agency.
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