Academic journal article Military Review

Generational Differences in Waging Jihad

Academic journal article Military Review

Generational Differences in Waging Jihad

Article excerpt

FROM NOVEMBER 2003 to July 2004, I read over 600 narratives from prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. While the information I present is anecdotal, I have drawn conclusions about the experiences of the young men (almost all between the ages of 18 to 25) from various countries who had been recruited to fight for Islam and support the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Many of the young detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay relate vivid "they-never-told-me-about-this" narratives describing what happened to them after they left their homes to train at terrorist and jihadist military camps in Afghanistan. Many expected to participate in jihad in Chechnya; few expected jihad would come to them in Afghanistan. For many of the young men shipped to training camps in Afghanistan, the unexpected became routine. They were left to help people they did not know well--the Afghani Taliban--and rub shoulders with brother Muslims with whom they felt uncomfortable. Instead of becoming martyrs, the young men were captured and imprisoned. No one had prepared them for such an unthinkable turn of events. Indeed, the Koran has precious little to say about imprisonment in service to Allah. As I pored over the stories of the young men who had left their homes to go to a training camp in Afghanistan, and who were unexpectedly plunged into jihad there, I noticed much dissonance between what they expected to accomplish by getting a taste of military training and what actually happened to them.

While the anecdotes cited do not reflect the comments or opinions of at least one group of young men at Guantanamo--Osama bin-Laden's ideologically extremist bodyguards--they do suggest that a lot of recruits were unpleasantly surprised by events. Many recruits had left comfortable lives in the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, or Western Europe. Their travels, training, and combat experiences led them to encounter the improbable. Later, only a few would admit how painful this had been.

Why Go on Jihad?

Many of the young men were motivated to leave home for Afghanistan, Chechnya, or Palestine because of the words and influence of imams and recruiters in their local mosques. The call to jihad is seductive to young men because it functions as a rite of passage into manhood and demonstrates one's devotion to Islam, the religion of one's ancestors. Whatever one needed, the imams were quick to position jihad as the panacea for lost, searching, disenfranchised youth--the way to whatever one needed. The recruiters used visual displays of persecuted Muslims, and routinely exposed recruits to films that featured suffering women and children in refugee camps in Chechnya or Palestine. Multiple means of persuasion, from lectures to radio advertisements, motivated the young to go to Afghanistan.

To complete the requirements of jihad, they were told they could--

* Perform zukat (provide charitable donations to help widows, orphans and refugees).

* Teach the Koran or Arabic.

* Visit a country that was a model of sharia (strict Islamic rule).

* Perform one's duty as a Muslim male and learn to use weapons to protect one's family.

* Help Muslim brothers fight off Western oppressors to put an end to the corruption that threatens Islam everywhere.

Then, of course, there were the real reasons why these young men left home:

* Unemployment.

* A failed business.

* Failure in higher education.

* Substance abuse problems.

* A criminal record with impending jail time.

* Disagreements with family members.

Many Gulf States detainees, particularly young unskilled and semi-skilled laborers, took the training camp plunge because they were unemployed. They saw going on jihad as "alternative employment." Nongovernmental organizations frequently hired young men for warehouse and distribution work to provide relief materials such as foodstuffs or blankets to a local population, so the call to jihad appeared to be more of the same. …

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