This is a somewhat interesting take on the psychology of Muslim terrorists. Some of this may deal more with suicide bombers than conventional fighters, since it takes place in Israel, but it may have wider applications.
For 20 years I studied and interviewed Islamist mujahedeen (jihad fighters) imprisoned in Israeli jails, examining their inner worlds and discovering the obsessive thoughts leading them to carry out terrorist attacks.
They were addicted to fantasizing about an alternative reality, describing their compulsions in metaphors similar to those used by obsessive gamblers and drug addicts. They likened them to “worms” (duda in Arabic) burrowing into their brains and driving them to seek not another game of cards or a fix, but dead Israelis, Americans, Europeans, or anyone else they considered infidels.
They did not try to resist their compulsions or consider that their actions might be wrong, because they felt completely controlled and manipulated by the concept of jihad, which dictated their behavior in every sphere of life.
Or as the Koran says, “Jihad is ordained for you, though it is hateful unto you; but it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knoweth, ye know not.” (Koran 2:216)
There is no psychopathology among Muslim terrorists. That is, none of them can be diagnosed as having a recognizable mental illness, even those who attempted to carry out suicide bombing attacks. What remains to be examined is whether or not there is a collective pathology, and if it is a question of a society, many of whose members find it difficult to suppress violence and control their urges and anger.
The problem here lies in the limitations of language or rather modern ideas that treat horrifying behavior using the illness metaphor. Cultural pathologies that tap into the worst instincts of people are hardly unusual throughout history.
The terrorists I interviewed told me that waging jihad is, for the mujahed, the way to partake of Allah’s mercy for themselves and the members of their families, and to go directly to paradise without the Islamic “tortures of the grave” and without undergoing a painful examination by angels before they are allowed to enter.
In America, someone who killed people because of a pathological obsession with post-death tortures would be considered insane. In the Muslim world, he would be considered… Muslim.
And that is why language fails us. There are cultural differences here and we have dismissed too many of those differences as incomprehensible.
Jihad tourism is a subculture of fun and excitement, a festival of violence, similar to the Western criminal and gang subcultures. The jihadist lifestyle allows them to shake off the confines of the disintegrating patriarchal family. As opposed to ordinary criminals, whose social status is lowered when they are classified as felons, the Islamic terrorists feel they are performing good deeds for the sake of Allah, raising their status.
That’s the gang religion aspect that I wrote about earlier this week.
Islam may have become a religion, but it began as a code. Like the Pirate Code or the Thieves Law of Russia, it was a set of rules that allowed a select group of bandits to choose leaders, plan attacks and divide the loot.
The code invested their actions with meaning, it kept order in their ranks and allowed the members to believe that dying for the gang was more than a martial ethos, but also contained a spiritual element. Similar attempts to invest gang life with spirituality can be found in the tattoos, rap songs and graffiti memorials of every street gang in America.
Berko goes on to write…
I would like to propose calling murder for the sake of Allah “shahadamania,” which might make it easier for the West to understand and fight the syndrome. It refers to the obsession for istishhad [martyrdom for the sake of Allah] and includes feelings of transcendence and euphoria after killing the infidel
We would consider this kind of thing serial killer territory in America. What Berko is saying, in a way, is that serial killers are terrifyingly common in the Muslim world. So common that they can form the backbone of entire armies.