by Rüdiger Lohlker
Since 2014, LibForAll Foundation has worked closely with Dr. Rüdiger Lohlker, one of the world’s leading experts regarding the online/offline activities of al-Qaeda, ISIS and other terror groups.
A senior professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Vienna and respected counter-terrorism advisor to the European Union and various Western nations, Dr. Lohlker heads the Vienna Observatory for Applied Research on Terrorism and Extremism (VORTEX), whose founding partners include the University of Vienna, Nahdlatul Ulama, GP Ansor, LibForAll/IIQS and Bayt ar-Rahmah.
Dr. Lohlker recently published a landmark article in Strategic Review, refuting the widely held and frequently asserted view that Western governments, scholars and media outlets should neither critically examine, nor address, the religious dimensions of Islamist terrorism. Dr. Lohlker writes that:
[I]t is crystal clear—to virtually anyone who has the linguistic capacity to grasp and the opportunity to witness what jihadists are actually saying, writing and doing, both online and offline—that religion matters…
[W]ithout deconstructing the theology of violence inherent in jihadi communications and practice, these religious ideas will continue to inspire others to act, long after any given organized force, such as the Islamic State, may be destroyed on the ground….
Flatly denying the importance of religion causes many in the West to overlook a crucial element of jihadi thought and action. This is particularly evident with regard to the mantra so often repeated in the wake of each new terrorist attack, viz.: “Islam is the religion of peace.” The claim that religion motivates only positive behavior among human beings, and the implicit denial that religion may ever legitimize negative behavior, cannot withstand intellectual scrutiny. History provides countless examples of both positive and negative behavior legitimized by religion….
It is understandable that many Muslims react by declaring that IS-Islam is “un-Islamic” and alien to their religion. However, since IS and other jihadi propaganda does not target persons who are firmly anchored in an alternate understanding of their faith, and does actually tap into significant elements of Islamic heritage, the aforementioned “denial response” may be viewed as that of believers who do not recognize—or do not wish to recognize—the religion they profess when confronted with the brutal crimes committed by terrorists in the name of Islam, and thus refuse to acknowledge the terrorists’ thoughts and actions as religiously-based.
Whatever motivates this reaction on the part of mainstream Muslims—and their counterparts in the West—this denial response will not solve the problem we face, nor destroy the religious appeal of jihadi Islam….
As history clearly proves: violence is a contingent possibility in religion(s). Acknowledging this fact, and possibility, does not constitute an insult to—nor “defamation of”—religion. Rather, it is a necessary step if we are to understand, identify, marginalize and ultimately defeat those who advocate violence. By acknowledging the contingency of a violent turn, the possibility of religious adherents embracing non-violence is acknowledged as well….
One simple fact needs to be emphasized at this point, in order to avoid a misconception that often results from the innate human tendency to think in terms of antitheses. Acknowledging and even stressing the importance of religion to contemporary jihadism does not imply that religion is the sole reason for the existence of jihadism, or any other form of religiously-motivated terrorism. Jihadism is, in fact, a multi-determined, multi-factorial phenomenon. The misconception referenced above leads many otherwise rational people—including Western policy makers, analysts, scholars and journalists—to deny the importance of religion in contemporary jihadism.
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