The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, or the Graduate Institute, abbreviated IHEID is a renowned post-graduate university located in Geneva, Switzerland. They offer events open to the public on a weekly basis. On May 30, 2018, IHEID brought forth Dr. Amelie Blom to present findings of her extensive research on the individual recruitment for terrorist organizations in Pakistan and what motivates them to join such groups.
Dr. Blom is the responsible for Political Science courses at Sciences Po’s Europe-Asia campus and at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO). She is co-editor of South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal (SAMAJ). Her research focuses on various forms of militancy in the name of Islam in Pakistan, and has several publications, including: “Emotions and the Micro-foundations of Religious Activism, the bitter-sweet experiences of ‘born -again ‘Muslims in Pakistan’” (The Indian Economic and Social History Review, January-March 2017) and “’Do jihadist’ martyrs’ want to die?” An emic approach to the mechanisms of self-sacrificial radicalization in Pakistan (French Review of Political Science, October 2011).
Dr. Blom conducted in loco research and interviews in the Kashmir region, a northern area of India and Pakistan. She has studied the terrorist movements in the region during the 2000s. For her, there is not only one motivation, but a puzzle of many which can be economic, psychological, and/or political. According to her, the terrorist groups notably prey on youths who are alienated or isolated from their families or communities, due to poverty, low social status, exclusion from schools, or the absence of their fathers. They target boys who are young enough to mold, typically in their early teens. A sense of despair, hate, and immense disillusionment with modernity, coupled with the feeling of belonging to a religious and/or national community, the hope of divine salvation, social recognition, happiness, sexual pleasure, et al. For some individuals, having the chance to a job and receive a salary, is a good enough reason to join a terrorist organization. For them, it is a job like any other. For others, psychological aspects play an important role. Especially when the boys come from lower classes and have their own rationality. Other motives proposed include vanity, ambition, the desire to avenge a loved one’s death or a past humiliation, a feeling of inferiority, a quest for purity, or even the need to give meaning to an otherwise tiresome and underprivileged existence. Indeed, what happens if we adopt a perspective that, without denying the death wish of some executants or the interest of determining individual motivations does not consider these questions as the only key to understanding sacrificial violence?
Dr. Blom suggests that the Pakistani martyrs are the product of madrasas, alternatively dubbed schools of hate, indoctrinated by leaders who seek to address the “‘God-shaped hole’ in modern culture” and not to respond to political grievances, as was common in the 1960s and 1970s. For others as well, terrorism in the name of the faith is also a radically new form of terrorism but the determining element predisposing recruits to “martyrdom” is the accessibility of a link to the cause, via a member of a terrorist network. The “martyr” is also presented as a victim of poverty, as in poor families with large numbers of children, a mother can assume that some may die of disease if not in war. This apparently makes it easier to donate a son to what she feels is a just and holy cause.
The 2015 film “Among the Believers” tells the story of Maulana Abdul Aziz, who created a radical Islamic school – the Red Mosque – where he trained and brainwashed thousands of children to devote their lives to holy war, beginning at a very young age. Some of the children were orphans and had no other place to go. The Red Mosque in Islamabad symbolized a new wave of extremism, in which uneducated children who lack any kind of critical thinking become militants. Cleric Aziz still preaches the “martyrdom” ideology and he posits that the solution for Pakistan’s problems would be to adopt a hardline sharia, Islamic set of religious principles. Beside his radicalism, Aziz has connections with al-Qaeda, and the Afghan Taliban.
Thus, for the recruits, joining these radical groups allows them to compensate for frustrated desires. Additionally, some young Pakistanis from the lower class, experiencing great levels of frustration, a feeling of inferiority and/or despair, would wonder to join a terrorist organization or not. The collective techniques of creating consent and absurd individual decisions can also allow for this form of violence to become intelligible.
To conclude, the great diversity – doctrinal, geographical, sociological and political – of organizations would make any generalization hazardous. And yet, public policies, common sense media, just like much of the scholarly literature, strive to make economic frustration the engine of individual commitment, even violent action itself. Rather than looking for reasons beyond the observer’s reach, terrorist recruits should be considered motivated as an eminently political process that should be questioned as such.
Although in her presentation Dr. Blom uses the term “jihad” to identify those who join terrorist organizations, I prefer not to use the word “jihad” because of the intrinsic misconception of it. The right and the true conception of jihad explain that the means must be in total conformity with the end: if one’s struggle is truly for God, it must be conducted in God‚ both the means and the end should be defined by divine principles. This blog contains my views from Dr. Blom’s presentation.
This blog post was written by Patricia Zanini Graca. Patricia is a first-year graduate student at Seton Hall’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Patricia graduated in Business Administration and she holds an MBA in Business and Marketing. Patricia is a UN Digital Representative at the Center for UN and Global Governance Studies, the Executive Director at the Journal of Diplomacy, and the director of International Affairs at the Graduate Diplomacy Council. She specializes in International Organizations and Global Negotiations & Conflict Management.