Death Orders

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It is very important to say that “historical dislocation” transcends the framework of a specific culture, crossing the temporal, geographical, and ethnic boundaries. My research demonstrates the universality of this precondition for modern and post-modern terrorism in various parts of the world.  As much as Russian terrorism in its day, Islamist fundamentalism is bred by historical dislocation, or a “trauma of uprootedness.”  Like the displaced and the insecure Russian extremists hundred years ago, consigned to the periphery of the emerging modern culture, the Islamic terrorists are largely a “lost generation”, dislocated from their traditional societies, confused and miserable.  Like their Russian counterparts, they seek destruction of the world in which they are miserable.

FP: You describe perpetrators of violence as its very first fatalities.  What does this mean?

Geifman: Against their penchant to bemoan the suffering masses, Russian radicals in the early 20th-century persistently exhibited the mentality summarized by a trendy motto:  “the worse, the better”.  The idea presupposed that deterioration of the country’s domestic situation would contribute to the growing instability of the regime and thus benefit the radical cause.  Jessica Stern said correctly: terrorists “thrive on festering conflicts.”  They do so everywhere, from the Middle East and Afghanistan to Indonesia and Kashmir.

The 1881 assassination of tsar Alexander II, the only liberal on the Russian throne, was perhaps the most glaring example and symbol of “the worse, the better” tactic and its consequences.  When the tsar walked out of his palace to die on the fateful day of 1 March, he had left on his desk a completed proposal for a limited form of elective parliamentary representation—a project entailing a gigantic step in the steady course of the country’s liberalization.  Subversion would have been rendered meaningless, and the extremists’ position as self-proclaimed defenders of the common good would have become unjustifiable, had the liberal line been implemented.  As it was, Alexander III, the disheartened son and successor of the assassinated reformer, promptly reversed his broadminded policy for the sake of “tightening the system.”  Violence spared the extremists from the dreaded irrelevance.

Such is the mentality that drives terrorists to set up their headquarters and rocket launching sites near or in kindergartens and schools at times of conflict–to maximize inadvertent civilian casualties and use them to portray the enemy as “baby killers.”  A trademark of the Hamas operations during the 2009 fighting in Gaza was the use of children as human shields which the organization leaders flaunt.  The terrorists have also incorporated other uninvolved civilians into their terrorist network, having built an extensive militant infrastructure in resident and industrial areas.  Booby traps have been installed in homes, hospitals, educational institutions, and mosques; Hamas also placed snipers between buildings in which people were hiding to evade the Israelis during exchanges of fire.  A combatant planting an explosive device and then running to hide inside a building full of civilians waving a white flag has turned into a symbol of Islamist terror strategy.

Terrorist leaders persistently count on hardship as an effective propaganda device, to blame the enemy and validate violence in the eyes of the afflicted Gaza residents.  Suffering—amplified when opportunity allows—thus turns into another means to promote the cause.

FP: What do you hope this book will help achieve?

Geifman: There are several important points.  As in my previous publications, I sought to convey the idea that an archetypal terrorist is not what his comrades (and other image-makers) portray him to be—a robin hood, a fighter for a lofty goal.  Death Orders demonstrates that a very large percentage of terrorists are utterly indifferent to the ideology that supposedly drives them into battle.  Many of them are hard to distinguish from common criminals.  There is also an entire chapter devoted to terrorists as “used goods”, whose acts of suicidal terror are but camouflaged self-destructiveness.  The book creates a portrait of the terrorist as a traumatized, week, and anxious individual for whom violence, justified in ideological terms, is a self-destructive lifestyle, an alternative to his otherwise miserable life.  Before any meaningful policy may be enacted against the perpetrators of violence, we need to be very clear who we are dealing with—the misfits who are out to recast the world, in which they are misfits.

Speaking of policy:  it is certainly possible to combat terrorism and defeat it.  Russia was the first country to do this—and the book describes a rare success story of Prime Minister Petr Stolypin, who meant it when he said “You will not intimidate us!”

Most important for me was to show via comparison between modern-day Jihadism and early-20th century terrorism that both belong to the family of “fundamentalists”.  It does not matter that today’s Islamists profess devotion to Allah, whereas the Russian radicals wanted to replace religion with Marx’s “social paradise”.  This book ventures beyond politics to a less tangible sphere of existence, presenting the new type of terrorism as a “death cult” and a dark spiritual experience.

FP: Anna Geifman, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.

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  • davarino

    It is amazing how hard it is to explain to friends that the Isrealis are the victims and the palestinians are the agressors. The agressors have set the stage to make it look like they are the victims and amazingly the media let them.

  • Yoshi11

    If your only tool is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. Geifman is an undisputed expert on terrorism in Russia, but she doesn't seem to know much about Islamic terrorism. She writes: "It does not matter that today’s Islamists profess devotion to Allah,…" She could not be more wrong!!! Islamic terrorists have all the support they need from their Koran and the sayings of Muhammad. They cite their holy texts all the time to justify their acts. These are not common criminals; they are Moslems who are following the doctrines of their religion. Russia's secular terrorists did not have religion to support them. And, the Islamic terrorists are only the tip of the Islamic supremacist and imperialist iceberg. They have very wide support in the Moslem communities.

    • GKC

      Personally I think she has some insight on these matters and credentials worth taking seriously.

      It does not matter that today’s Islamists profess devotion to Allah, whereas the Russian radicals wanted to replace religion with Marx’s “social paradise”. This book ventures beyond politics….

      A very interesting comparison.

    • Taxpayer1234

      Both Islam and Marxism have the exact same philosophy: The end justifies the means.

  • tanstaafl

    The Communist revolutionaries were only in business for a brief time. Islam has "become victorious by terror" over the last 1400 years.

  • dawning

    I agree, I believe islam will eat socialism/communisim for lunch. It has the same attitude but it is driven with a blind religious zeal which is powerful. The only thing which will stand in it's way is a superior zeal based on reason. Islams blind zeal has a 1400 year history. Reason has a far greater history and power. That is why islam will not allow reason or debate. It would not hold up under scrutiny.

    • Gylippus

      Communists murdered more in their brief history than Islam has in 14 centuries. It can instill the same kind of fervor, and also appeals to 'scientific' thinkers. And it is better able to mobilize sustained political campaigns that resonate in the western world. I think the one remains at least as much of a threat as the other…

      • Gylippus

        I agree that some lefties probably don't realize that they are playing with fire (by courting Islam), but others do. Islam controls a lot of oil, the left controls a lot of money. They need each other and complement each other, while sharing similar objectives. For now they both benefit more from cooperation than antagonism. That may change, but it will be a while, and the situational context may have shifted by then. There will be cooperation so long as pragmatists rather than ideological purists steer overall strategy in either enemy camp. In terms of messaging, particularly in the west, the lefties have a stronger hand. The big difference is that radical Islam is prepared to use mass violence (at least for now). That sort of evens things out. One way or the other, the leftist/Jihadist nexus spells troubled times ahead for liberal democracy, free market economies and Judeo-Christian culture.

        Either way, this book looks like a worthwile read.

        • GKC

          good observations.

  • WeMustResist

    Anna's approach seems to offer both hope and despair. She points to what works against the terrorists and what does not work. That should make us hopeful. But it seems hardly anyone wants to learn what works!

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