The dangers posed to the West by radical Islam and its advocates in the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, and al Qaeda (as well as countless other terrorist groups espousing jihad and demanding the imposition of Shariah law around the world) has been a frequent topic of this website.
The following article is a thoughtful review by Dr. Steven Moysey of why radical Islam is so dangerous to the West. It is also a call to action for all Americans to awaken to the real threat facing us.
Radical Islam and Sharia Law: The Psychological Threat to the West
“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.”
Remarks by President George W. Bush at Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. September 17, 2001.
The attacks on London on July 7, 2005, added a new dimension to the issue of terrorism by Radical Islamists. The events of that day had significant psychological impact on the psyche of the British public in that the four homicide bombers were radicalized British citizens, attacking their fellow countrymen in three synchronized blasts on the underground rail infrastructure, with another on the top deck of a crowded bus one hour later. The attacks killed 52 civilians and wounded 700. The four attackers were also killed in the assaults. Three of the attackers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer and Hasib Hussain, were of Pakistani decent. Germaine Lindsay, the fourth member of the team, was born in Jamaica. This was a new factor in the radical Islamist terrorism and we, as a society, needed to adjust to the new reality.
The Psychology of a Changing World
As human beings, we have a strong need to make sense of the world around us and we have developed many mechanisms to make this happen. The world is so complex and ever-changing that we need shortcuts to do this – schemas, heuristics and stereotypes all aid in this process[i]. When we encounter new objects or experiences, we attempt to find something analogous to it in order to make sense of the phenomenon, and we do this by using psychological shortcuts that may not be truly appropriate to the situation. I call this an analogous system – it sort of looks/smells/feels like something we have seen before, and so we use past experiences to assess the new phenomenon and attempt to put it into context. This can lead us to badly misjudge the new experience in a way that may leave us exposed to an unidentified threat.
In this fashion, we attempt to wedge the square peg of the new phenomenon into the round hole of the analogous example. This is what we are doing with the radical Islamists – trying for force fit their actions, beliefs and psychology into our secular society worldviews, and we are having trouble making it fit.
So what has this to do with four British Muslims killing themselves and 52 other British citizens? Simply put, it doesn’t make sense to our Western frame of reference. We in the West tend to live in secular societies, governed by the rule of law, so understanding what appears to be self-destruction in the name of religious fanaticism is an alien concept to our way of thinking. Those of us in the secular societies that are religious look on this violence as being in direct conflict with the notion of peace and brotherly love that dominate our Judeo-Christian philosophies. If Islam truly is a religion of peace, then what drives young men, of British nationality, to voluntarily kill themselves in order to harm other British citizens? Normal well-adjusted children do not grow up into self-destructive homicidal mass killers, but using our analogous system example we often focus on the wrong motivations as we attempt to make sense of the act. The world, and terrorism, had changed and from a societal point of view, we are having trouble dealing with the change.
The West is no stranger to terrorist attacks. We only have to look at what many analysts, including the author, consider to be the “golden age” of terrorism, the 1970’s and ‘80’s. During this period, we saw groups such as the German Red Army Faction, the Palestinian PLO and Black September and the Irish Republican Army conduct hijackings, bombings and political assassination. These events followed a script or schema, which both sides understood: Collateral bargaining chips were taken and demands made of the target nation. These events often ended in bloodshed, but the perpetrators primary goal was not self-destruction in carrying out their missions. Willingness to die fighting for a cause is very different from strapping on an explosive vest and detonating it on a crowded train.
By way of example, the city of London had been exposed to the deadly terror attacks of the IRA from the mid 1970’s through the early 1990’s and the cessation of hostilities with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1993. The typical IRA terror attacks took the form of preplaced explosive devices detonated by timers or remote control, often preceded by a coded warning to either the media or the security authorities.[ii] Again, these attacks followed a script that both the IRA and the London Metropolitan police understood in terms of motive, expected outcome and method. The Irish were not driving car bombs to targets themselves – as the notion of martyrdom is not part of the Catholic doctrine or an operational reality for the IRA.
The Rise of Islamic Terrorism
A new face of terrorism began to emerge with the rise of the radial Islamist groups. In 1983, 241 U.S. service personnel were killed at their barracks in Beirut when two homicide bombers detonated two truck bombs. This was followed by a homicide bomb attack on the refueling USS Cole docked in Aden harbor. A small boat, estimated to be carrying between 400 – 700 pounds of explosive maneuvered alongside and exploded, blowing a 40 foot wide gash in the hull. The blast killed 17 sailors and wounded a further 39 servicemen. The group that claimed responsibility, al-Qaeda – an offshoot of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood organization – would become more infamous as time passed.
The attacks on the USA on September 11, 2001, are well documented as the first real attack on U.S. soil, from an outside aggressor, in the history of the nation. The well-rehearsed and coordinated attack by 19 Islamist terrorists shook the nation, and the western world, out of a trance in believing that the radical Islamist threat was not going to show up on our doorsteps.
Understanding the Islamist Motivation
We tend to look at societal issues, transgressions for past acts against Islam and poverty as motivations for young people to be radicalized against the West, and miss the real reason as collectively we need to avoid the truth. The truth, regarding radical Islamists, can be dissonance producing for the non-confrontational secular societies of the West: we want to believe in a peaceful Islam, but the evidence before us is contradictory to that belief, so we create a false reality for ourselves, thereby further exposing our Western societies to the not-so-hidden dangers of Radical Islam and sharia.
The single root cause of the driving force behind radical Islamists is ideology, and it is an ideology that is totally alien to our western way of thinking. The ideology of radical Islam is defined by two unbendable guiding principles. The first is the word of Allah as passed down to the prophet Mohammed and recorded in the Koran. The second is the Islamic principles of sharia law. Sharia law – “The Path” in Arabic – together with the Koran, are the guidance for Islamists in terms of how to live and how interact with nonbelievers with its fundamental purpose being the prevention of criticism of Islam and total control of the people of the Muslim faith.
In the West, the secular approach to society makes it acceptable, and in many respects desirable, to have a clear separation of church and state. In the United States, the First Amendment gives citizens protections for religious freedom and guarantees the right of free speech. Keeping religion or fundamentalist ideology out of the control of our citizens’ daily lives is expected, and excepted, way of life in the West. We do not punish atheists for not believing in God, we do not coerce people to leave one religion for another, or kill them if they renounce their religion as would the Islamist under sharia law. While it is true that our religious faith may guide our moral compass in the West; it is not enforced on us by either our chosen denominations or state through threats of psychological or physical abuse
For Muslims this is not the case. Everyone, everything, everywhere and all times are at the will of Allah (inshallah) and sharia law. This means total control over issues such as personal hygiene, dress standards, when to pray, how to treat women and how to deal with criticism or insults to Islam. This is in total contrast to the generally non-confrontational secular Western society that protects significant personal freedom of their citizens. This difference is where we begin in our understanding of psychology of the Islamist mindset
Islamist Psychological Strategies
The Islamization of the Muslim mind is a process that starts immediately after birth and continues throughout his/her life. After birth, an adult holds the child and recites the azan, the call for prayers, directly into ears of the newborn. The belief behind the practice is to prime the child’s hearing with the blessed names of Allah and Mohammed. Indeed, that call for prayers soon becomes the most frequently heard sound by Muslim children as they grow in an environment of psychological and social conditioning that could be described as extreme social conditioning - brainwashing.
In psychology, the study of brainwashing, often referred to as thought reform, falls into the sphere of “social influence.” Social influence happens every minute of every day. It’s the collection of ways in which people can change other people’s attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. For instance, the compliance method of influence aims to produce a change in a person’s behavior and is not concerned with the targets attitudes or beliefs. It’s the “Just do it” approach. Persuasion, on the other hand, aims for a change in attitude, or “Do it because it’ll make you feel good/happy/healthy/successful.” The education method which is, incidentally, called the “propaganda method” when you don’t believe in what’s being taught, goes for the social-influence gold, trying to affect a change in the person’s beliefs, along the lines of “Do it because you know it’s the right thing to do.” Brainwashing can be considered a severe form of social influence that combines all of these approaches to cause changes in someone’s way of thinking, often without that person’s consent and often against their will[iii].
Certain personality traits of brainwashing targets can determine the effectiveness of the process. People who commonly experience great self-doubt, have a weak sense of identity, and show a tendency toward absolutism (black-and-white thinking) are more likely to be successfully brainwashed. It is this self-doubt and absolutism that radical Islam seeks to leverage in the molding of the Islamist mind.
The Islamist principle of al-fikr kufr is also interesting as it pertains to the social conditioning of the Islamists psychology[iv]. This principle forbids the Islamists to even think about not following the teachings of the Koran or sharia. To do so renders Islamists as low as an infidel, a second-class citizen to be subjugated or destroyed by Islam. Through this principle, the truly dedicated Islamists no longer needs to think when acting, but automatically obeys the teachings of Islam – because it is the right thing to do under their brainwashed ideology.
The Islamists, when dealing with the infidel nonbelievers, have another psychological weapon in their mental preparation: the principle of taqiyya[v]. This is the practice of deception and disinformation regarding the Islamists true intent to be used against the nonbelievers. These principles also require that Islamists do not speak or act against a fellow Muslim. The Koran-based practices of deception are used to conceal the Islamists true intentions from the nonbelievers; in fact it can be argued that the systematic lying and distortion of facts are required tactics of the Islamists to further jihad against the West. In this fashion, it is acceptable for Islamists to have two simultaneous but mutually exclusive messages; one for the faithful and another for the infidel nonbelievers. In this manner, the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, can attempt to pass itself off to the West as a peaceful secular group while simultaneously preaching civilization and violent jihad against the West and the destruction of Israel to the Islamist faithful.
This deliberate duality of thought and action is a convenient tool to use against the Western mindset and can totally dupe whole societies into a false belief set. Case in point would be the Muslim Brotherhood controlled government of Egypt. The Western facing rhetoric is all about democracy, peace in the Middle East, all of which is frankly meaningless to the aims of the Islamists. Internally, the messaging is all about the destruction of Israel and the Israeli people – a state so vile to the Islamist mind that they cannot mention the nation’s name – while demonstrators in the streets wave banners proclaiming that freedom can go to hell. Occasionally the very acts that the West carries out to understand and simultaneously appease the radical Islamists serve to reinforce the perceived inferiority of the West in the eyes of Islam. When president Obama made his apologist 2009 speech in Cairo, and again this year at the United Nations, to the Islamist mind this is a display of weakness. The notion of honor underpins all of sharia, with Muslim men expected to respond to perceived insults with aggression and threatening behavior. Those that do not behave this way are considered weak and undependable and lose face in their communities. Anger for Muslim men is seen as a sign of strength and a source of respect – unlike the Western views on overt displays of aggression that can lead to ridicule and the loss of social status. The concept of anger management is alien to the Islamist mind.
Therefore the Western approach of diplomacy and concessions to deal with radical Islam is seen as weakness and lacking in courage. This in turn leads the West to be opened up to further manipulation and exploitation. The recent example of this type of exploitation was the praise heaped on Egypt’s president Morsi for his supposed brokering of the cease-fire between Hamas, in Gaza, and the state of Israel this past November. Having lulled the U.S. State Department into a soporific state of self-congratulation, Morsi appointed himself sweeping and unprecedented powers, effectively making himself a new Egyptian dictator.
Because honor is so central to the sharia driven Islamist mindset, it serves a very useful and valuable tool in the brainwashing of young Islamist men. Sharia tells men that insults or criticism of Islam must be taken personally and that, where possible, they must hand out punishment to the offenders. This drives a society valuing threats and violent assaults that justifies beating, mutilating or killing women for actual or perceived slights against men or Islam, or for even wanting basic human rights. The Islamists honor culture creates humorless, emotionally fragile, insecure men that are easily controlled by sharia, the will of Allah and powerful clerics.
The Three Psychological Stages of Islamist Brainwashing
There are three psychological stages of the brainwashing of the Islamist mind that fit well with the violent subculture of honor, and the expected aggressive behavior of young Islamist men. The first stage, the systematic hatred of dissenting or non-Muslims, is driven by the psychology of in group – out group polarization[vi]. Non-Muslims are not “like” the Islamists – they are inferior and must be converted, subjugated or destroyed. Islamist teaching systematically lays out the obligation the Muslims have to destroy the Jews and Christians. This message is repeated over and over again as young Muslim children and teenagers study these writings at school during their formative education and reinforced into adulthood.
The second stage, the suppression of conscience, is driven by the need to totally submit to the will of Allah and not question anything about Islam. As pointed out earlier, to do so would render the Islamists as an infidel. As such, the suppression of conscience leads to a lack of guilt. There is, after all, nothing to feel guilty about as they are mindlessly following the will of Allah, sharia and the controlling direction of the clerics. This lack of guilt is also totally alien to the Western mindset. Here in the United States, for example, bookstores are crammed with volumes on self-help, dealing with our emotions, communication and even getting therapy. All of these, by and large, do not exist for the Islamists.
The third stage, the acceptance of violence in the service of Allah, completes the triad of psychological manipulation. Violence against nonbelievers is expected, as it is towards women and dissenting Muslims. So, through psychological conditioning, the young Islamist mind becomes hateful of outsiders, free of guilt as they mindlessly follow their programming, and totally accepting of the use of violence in the service of Allah and sharia.
If we compare this triad of behaviors to the way we in the Judeo-Christian societies of the West teach our young people, the contrast becomes stark and disturbing. We teach our young to be respectful of differences, to take responsible for their thoughts and deeds, their actions have consequences and that violence outside of self-defense is wrong.
The two mindsets of the Islamists and the Westerner could not be further apart.
Islamist Psychology and the Danger to the West
When we look at the Islamist worldview, it is clear that this pseudo-religious social system perpetuates the mental concept of the eternal victim. It encourages and permits hatred of Jews and Christians through the practice of group and individual jihad. The conditioning Islamists undergo suits fragile personalities that need to hate, with their hate fueled by the need for an enemy: someone to perpetually blame for their condition and position in the world, further reinforcing the role of eternal victim.
So why is this Islamist psychology so dangerous to the West? It is dangerous because it is alien to our worldview and values. We have the naïve belief that Islamists, as they move into our cultures, will change and be absorbed and adopt the values of their host nations. It is dangerous because, through psychological conditioning, it faces the West with an ideology that views self-destruction of the individual as an ideological win-win. The principles in sharia law and Islamists teaching drive behavior down to unthinking blind obedience on the part of the collective group and individuals. From a very young age Islamists are taught, in their schools and mosques, that the only way to truly guarantee admission to paradise is to die in the cause of Allah and Mohammed as a Shaheed – a martyr. As former Islamist Tawfiq Hamind stated, “The idea of dying as a martyr provided the perfect escape from the frightening anguish of eternal punishment,” for not being a good Muslim.[vii]
Therefore in the psychology of the Islamist mind, death is nothing to be afraid of and by killing themselves as a homicide bomber, they may also kill infidel in the process and gain access to and enjoy the fruits of eternal paradise. It is hard to fight an enemy who views their own death as the greatest service to Allah they can perform.
The threat the radical Islam presents to our Western way of life cannot be understated or misinterpreted. We, in the West, represent freedoms that the Islamist both fear and detest. As they fear what is not Islam, the only avenue open to them under their conditioning is to destroy it. The Islamists detest the freedoms we in the West enjoy, as they represent everything that is evil and forbidden to them under the Koran and sharia, such as equality of women and our freedom to be critical of their values.
For the Islamist, national loyalty and identity are meaningless concepts in their psychology. They are driven by a Muslim identity – Muslim first and always as being a Muslim overrides any national identity, which make the views of some media outlets, regarding integration, naive and preposterous . New York Times stated that, “Given time, Muslims, like all other religious minorities before them, will adjust their legal and theological traditions, if necessary, to accord with American values.[viii]” The Muslim Brotherhood’s goal of global sharia law is in direct conflict with the view of The Times.
Ultimately, we in the West have to understand and accept that the reality of the Islamist ideology desires total subjugation and domination of the non-Muslim world. Given they are required to lie about their true intentions, and equally given that Western psychology will always try to find the good in any given situation, the outlook is not positive for the future . The problem for the West is that there is only hate, intolerance and violence toward the non-Muslim world in this Islamist ideology, a situation that the logic seeking, conflict avoidant Western mind finds almost impossible to grasp.
As a society, we are by and large, asleep at the switch when it comes to acknowledging the threat of radical Islam. Collectively, we have fallen foul of the old adage that when faced with a choice of changing our minds or proving there is no need to do so; we have been very busy on the proof. It does not help that many of our institutions and political systems feed into this “proof” by downplaying Islamist acts of civilization or violent jihad against our societies. For example, national intelligence director James Clapper, speaking at a House Intelligence Committee hearing in February of 2011, described the Muslim brotherhood as a “largely secular” group that had “eschewed violence” and “decried al-Qaeda is a perversion of Islam.”[ix] It is interesting to note that al-Qaeda is, in fact, a direct offshoot of the Muslim brotherhood, a fact that Mr. Clapper knows well and conveniently ignored.
Clapper also went on to state that there was no “overarching agenda” for international jihad by the brotherhood, again also conveniently ignoring the Muslim brotherhood’s own plan to destroy the West from the inside and install sharia law worldwide.
We would do well to remember that the goal of the Muslim Brotherhood is to have the Koran and sharia as the “sole reference point for …ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community … and state”. An Explanatory Memorandum was circulated by the Muslim Brotherhood in 1991, which outlined “the General Strategic Goal” for the Islamic movement “in North America.” This document stated that Muslims “must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad: in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within; and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands, and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions…It is a Muslim’s destiny to perform Jihad and work wherever he is and wherever he lands until the final hour comes, and there is no escape from that destiny….[x]”
The Danger of the Islamist Anti-Blasphemy Movement
Having read the Muslim Brotherhood statement, it is an enormous psychological leap to go from Clapper’s espoused view of the Brotherhood as being a non-violent, secular group with no overarching plans. Yet, this is what we, collectively, have been doing aided and abetted by our political system and the collective desire by our political leader to avoid offending the Islamists. After all, we have been psychologically conditioned to be a politically correct society.
The West needs to have more people publicly and unemotionally lay out the facts without fear of being labeled Islamaphobic, but we are at risk of being silenced. That word, by the way, was created by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an alliance of 57 Islamic nations with a powerful lobby the United Nations. They determined that the term homophobia has had a powerful effect on people, labeling homophobia as “hate speech” against gay and lesbian communities. If we are not careful, “Islamaphobia” will effectively silence dissent, or public discussion, and the underlying threat the Islamists represent to the West. There are significant pressures, both domestically and internationally, to criminalize free speech on Islamist activity, which would have far-reaching implications to the United States Constitution.
Mohammad Qatanani, who leads one of the largest mosques in New Jersey – believes free speech that criticizes Islam poses a national security threat to the U.S. and that those responsible should be investigated by the Department of Homeland Security. He stated that “We, as Americans, have to put limits and borders [on] freedom of speech.” He explained that while Americans may “have the freedom” to speak their mind, ultimately, they “have no right to [talk about Muslim] holy issues” as it will incite “hatred or war among people.”
Qatanani said he believes that agitators, who slander Islam, or, more specifically, the Prophet Muhammad, incite violence and hence, pose a national security risk that threatens the safety of Americans at home and abroad. Thus, America should disregard its First Amendment as it is typically applied and instead act in accordance with sharia law for the ultimate “good” of society.[xi]
Calls for an international blasphemy law have come from religious leaders in Egypt, from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In addition, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority, Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al al- Sheikh, the Saudi grand mufti, has also been actively urging governments and international bodies to criminalize insults against religion – i.e. Islam. At the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has been lobbying to get ‘defamation of religion’ laws implemented since 1999. The first such attempts, by Pakistan, were called‘Defamation of Islam’. They have since changed the name, but not the intent.
A Call to Action
As we attempt to rouse the West from its psychologically induced ignorance of radical Islam and the threat that sharia would impose to our rule -of-law societies, some voices are beginning to sound out, although some may argue too few and maybe too late. Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, said In a July 2010 speech to the American Enterprise Institute that “Sharia is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it.[xii]” U.S. Representative Michelle Bachmann stated that “The Washington establishment has two choices: It can either remain asleep about the threat of radical Islam, or it can do everything possible to rally the country to a defense and preservation of American values and our way of life. We owe that to the American people.”[xiii]
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is also one who has come late to the realization. Blair now thinks that he underestimated the power of the bad ”narrative’’ of Islamist extremists. That narrative – that ”The West oppresses Islam is still there. If anything, it has grown.’’ It seeks ”supremacy not coexistence’’. Blair fears that ”The West is asleep on this issue’’, and yet it is the biggest challenge the West currently faces[xiv].
As the rolling Arab Revolution (AKA the Arab spring) continues to make strong inroads for the Islamist forces of the Muslim Brotherhood and their ilk in the Middle East, the West remains silent on the growing threat. Psychologically, we have collectively been lulled into a grievously false sense of security and soon we may awake to find ourselves stripped of our First Amendment right to speak freely and openly about radical Islam. The radical Islamist is psychologically conditioned and obligated to lie and obfuscate their true intentions toward the West, while we are taught to take people at their word as being truthful, until proven otherwise. The only way to combat this insidious threat is an open, clear discourse and fact based dialogue that is devoid of emotionally driven rhetoric and free of ridiculous labels.
The time to speak out is now.
[i] For a discussion on the issues of social cognition, see http://webspace.ship.edu/ambart/Psy_220/SocCog_outline.htm
[ii] For a fully account of the IRA’s most deadly campaign in London, see: Moysey, S.P “ The Road to Balcombe Street: The IRA Reign of Terror in London” Taylor and Frances (2007)
[iii] For further reading on this subject, see the excellent book by Denise Winn “The Manipulated Mind: Brainwashing, Conditioning, and Indoctrination” Malor Books (January 18, 2000).
[v][v] For an interesting discussion on this subject, see http://www.answering-islam.org/Index/T/taqiyya.html
[vi] For a more detailed review of this phenomenon, see http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/faculty/friedkin/Syllabi/Soc147/Week5.pdf
[vii] Tawfiq Hamind: The Development of a Jihadist’s Mind.
[x] For the full text of this document, visit http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=1235
[xii] Gingrich was quoted in Newsmax http://www.newsmax.com/Politics/Sharia-Islamic-law-freedom/2011/12/22/id/421873