Just War, Jihad, and Terrorism: A Comparison of Western and Islamic Norms for the Use of Political Violence
Silverman, Adam L., Journal of Church and State
In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the attention of many Americans-both policymakers and ordinary citizens-has been captured by a vision of Islam that appears to be militant, reactionary, and violent. Too often this face of Islam is the only face that many in the U.S. actually perceive. We are deluged with nightly reports of "suicide bombings" in Israel, hostage takings in the Philippines, harsh capital punishment in Afghanistan, and the slave trade between the Sudan and Libya. While what we see on the news does actually happen, it does not represent the reality or totality of Islam and the Islamic experience.
The events of 11 September 2001 have refocused American and world attention upon reactionary Islamic extremism. Osama bin Laden, the expatriate Saudi religious leader, and members of his organization, al-Qaeda, however, have emerged as the prime suspects in the ongoing law enforcement investigations into the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. All nineteen of the hijackers have been identified as Arab Muslims with ties to Islamic revivalist movements in Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. As a result, Americans have taken on a new interest in Islam, as well as the religious and political histories of the Islamic world.
Scholars and analysts who specialize in the study of terrorism were caught flat-footed by the incidents in New York and Washington, D.C. The Islamic identities of the hijackers, an identity based in a unique and peculiar interpretation of Islam not shared by the majority of Muslims, was so powerful that it allowed them to go willingly to their deaths. Thus, while many Americans view these acts as suicidal aggression against noncombatants, the hijackers likely perceived their actions as jihad (struggle) and shahadat (martyrdom), on behalf of Islam and against its enemies. The inability to either predict these attacks or to understand the motivations of the terrorists is due to the lack of attention to the power of identity.1 In order to better understand the recent events of 11 September 2001, as well as other acts of so called Islamic terrorism and "suicide bombings," it is necessary to review what Islam has to say about the use of political violence, compare these Islamic norms with Western norms, and contrast them with the concept of terrorism. This is especially true as very few Muslims actually subscribe to or believe in the type of Islam that has once again grabbed attention in headlines and news reports. Such a review is necessary in order to dispel some of the myths that have developed regarding Islam's position towards the non-Muslim world-myths that have filtered into academia, analysis, and policymaking. The resulting discussion should enhance our understanding of what really happens when Islamic actors engage in terrorism, as well as how groups recontextualize ideas about "just war" and "jihad" in order to justify terrorism.
I will first introduce the concept of just war theory, then discuss the Islamic norms of jihad and shahadat and briefly review the definition and etiology of terrorism. I will then present Western and Islamic examples and discuss how both just war and jihad are recontextualized in order to justify terrorism.
One of the most effective methodological tools for the study of cultural and contextual based phenomena is constructivism. There are two types of constructivism: tethered/thin and postmodern/thick constructivism.2 As this inquiry is intended to present Western and Islamic norms pertaining to the use of warfare and political violence, I have chosen to utilize tethered/thin constructivism, also referred to as positivist constructivism.
This methodology developed within the field of cultural sociology and social anthropology in order to account for cultural and contextual matters, especially in a comparative framework, while also providing some form of empirical results. …