Center for Strategic Decision Research


Muslim Society, Radical Islam, and Terrorism

Dr.-Ing. Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie
Former President of Indonesia

Professor Dr.-Ing. Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie
"No evidence (historical or otherwise) indicates that support for suicide terrorism will evaporate without...achieving at least some fundamental goals that suicide bombers and supporting communities share." 

Giving a presentation on Muslim society, radical Islam, and terrorism today is a challenge; there are many questions. Are radicalism and terrorism typical Islamic or Muslim behaviors? Does only Islam make radical and terrorist acts possible? Are radicalism and terrorism only religious affairs? What is fundamentalism? What is meant by radicalism? What is terrorism? What is the relation between fundamentalism, radicalism, and terrorism? 


Thomas Meyer, a German political science scholar in the 1980s, defined fundamentalism as follows: “Fundamentalism is an arbitrary concluding movement, against any kind of modernization processes, in politics, philosophies and religions.” Representatives of certain political convictions who make radical demands and are not willing to compromise or to exercise tolerance are also called fundamentalists. In addition, people’s movements that have philosophical thoughts and analysis consistent with “basic principles” and “basic understanding” are also called fundamentalist. 

Allow me now to present some analyses of religious fundamentalism, especially the monotheistic religion that has its roots in Abraham and that uses the holy book as its basic fundament and reference. 

Religions that accept “messages from God” as written in their holy book (Torah, Bible, or Al Qur`an) are facing similar problems in the messages’ interpretation and their implementation in daily life. The language, culture, and even grammar that were in place when these holy books were written play a very decisive role in their interpretation. So studying and understanding the impact such traditions and behaviors have had might be helpful. 

The Torah (Talmud, Babbly) has been interpreted for 5,764 years, the Bible (Syllabus, Tradition) 2,004 years, and the Al Qur´an (Sunna, Hadith) 1,425 years. But while the Jewish religion is more than two times older than Christianity and about four times older than Islam, only 0.3% of the world’s population is Jewish compared with 33.2% Christians and 19.9% Muslims— a combined 53.4% of the world’s population. In addition, while all three have the same roots in Abraham and share common ethic and moral values, the Jewish religion is for Jewish people only while the other two religions are open to anyone, independent of culture, race, or ethnic background. 

Interpreting the holy books in a multicultural and multitraditional society can create complex problems because of their incompatibility with modern life and progress. Some who believe that the Bible cannot be reconciled with the view of the origin of life put forward by Charles Darwin oppose the teaching of evolution. Biblical criticism also gained momentum in the 1920s and antievolution crusaders lobbied for legislation to prevent the teaching of evolution in the public schools. John T. Scopes, a science teacher in the small town of Dayton, Ohio, served as defendant against the charge of having taught evolution. Religious fundamentalism came into its own in opposition to modernist tendencies in American religious and secular life. In the late twentieth century, the movement was represented by numerous church bodies, educational institutions, and special-interest organizations. 

In a global economy, where information technologies are developing very fast, making information available in almost every corner of private life, in any place and at any time, could trigger a confrontation of progress and culture. If this happened, global radicalism and global terrorism might be impossible to control. 


What is meant by radicalism? This is change of the most fundamental type, transforming not only the structure of government but all of polity. Such change is not limited to political life but also transforms social order, morality, and social values. The consequences of such change are felt not only where they occur but in many other political systems in which fundamental revolution occurred. These major revolutions result in a basic change in how all people in all political systems view the nature of politics and the purpose of political life. For example, the independence movements in colonial empires following World War II were fueled by principles of individual liberty and representative government that were once the slogans of eighteenth-century American and French revolutionaries. 

Marxist revolutionary concepts emphasizing economic progress and radical social change have shaped the development of many new nations. The continuing impact of such ideas is an example of another way in which fundamental political change occurs. However, political systems may be transformed not only suddenly or violently in the course of revolution but by the gradual, corrosive influence of ideas and by the accumulating impact of different political philosophies. 

What is terrorism? Definitions of terrorism are usually complex and controversial, and, because of the inherent ferocity and violence of terrorism, an intense stigma has become attached to the term. But though terrorism implies an act of violence by a state against its domestic enemies, since the twentieth century the term has been applied most frequently to violence aimed, either directly or indirectly, against governments in order to influence policy or topple the existing regime. 

In order to attract and maintain the publicity necessary to generate widespread fear, terrorists must engage in increasingly dramatic, violent, and high-profile attacks. These have included hijackings, hostage takings, kidnappings, car bombings, and, frequently, suicide bombings. Although apparently random, terrorist attacks are often carefully aimed at their victims and locations in order to achieve the greatest shock value. The goal of terrorism generally is to destroy the public’s sense of security in the places most familiar to them. Schools, shopping centers, bus and train stations, restaurants, and nightclubs have been targeted both because they attract large crowds and because they are places with which civilians are familiar and in which they feel at ease. Targets can also include buildings or other locations that are important economic or political symbols, such as embassies or military installations. The hope of the terrorist is that the sense of terror his acts engender will induce the population to pressure political leaders toward a specific political end. 

The standard definition used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States describes terrorism as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” 

Since the twentieth century, ideology and political opportunism have led a number of countries to engage in transnational terrorism, often under the guise of supporting movements of national liberation. Hence, there is a common saying that “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” 

However, the distinction between terrorism and other forms of political violence became especially blurred when guerrilla groups began to employ terrorist tactics and issues of jurisdiction and legality became similarly obscured. These problems have led some social scientists to adopt a definition of terrorism based not on criminality but on the fact that the victims of terrorist violence are most often innocent civilians. 

Even this definition is flexible, however, and on occasion it has been expanded to include various other factors, such as that terrorist acts are clandestine or surreptitious, that terrorists choose their victims randomly, and that terrorist acts are intended to create an overwhelming sense of fear. 

It is vital to bear in mind, however, that there are many kinds of terrorist movements, and no single theory can cover them all. Not only are the aims, members, beliefs, and resources of groups engaged in terrorism extremely diverse, but so are the political contexts of their campaigns. 

One popular typology identifies three broad classes of terrorism: Revolutionary terrorism; Sub-revolutionary terrorism; and Establishment terrorism. Although this typology has been criticized as not exhaustive, it provides a useful framework for understanding and evaluating terrorist activities. 

Revolutionary terrorism is arguably the most common form. Practitioners of this type of terrorism seek the complete abolition of a political system and its replacement with new structures. 

Sub-revolutionary terrorism is rather less common. It is used not to overthrow an existing regime but to modify the existing sociopolitical structure. Since this modification is often accomplished through the threat of deposing the existing regime, sub-revolutionary groups are somewhat more difficult to identify. 

Establishment terrorism, often called state or state-sponsored terrorism, is employed by governments—or more often by factions within governments—against that government’s citizens, against factions within the government, or against foreign governments or groups. This type of terrorism is very common but difficult to identify, mainly because the state’s support is always clandestine. 

A martyr is someone who voluntarily suffers death rather than deny his religion or ideology or conviction by words or deeds. The French Revolution added ideological, social, and national principles to religious conviction as reasons for terrorist/martyr action. A martyr’s action is afforded special, institutional recognition that greatly influences the terrorist to sacrifice his life or something of great value for the sake of principle. 

Persecution throughout its history has engendered in Judaism an explicit ideal of martyrdom. It began with Abraham, who according to legend was cast into a lime kiln and saved from the fire by divine grace. The tradition was continued by Isaac, who consented to be sacrificed by his father, and by Daniel, whose example compelled the popular imagination. 

The first Christian martyrs were St. Stephen and St. James. Of the apostles the most important martyrs were St. Peter and St. Paul, who were both put to death in Rome. Since the most striking witness that Christians could bear to their faith was to die rather than to deny it, the word martyr soon began to be used in reference to one who was not only a witness but specifically a witness unto death. 

The Islamic designation shahid (Arabic: “Witness”) is equivalent to and in a sense derivative of the Judaeo-Christian concept of a martyr. The full sense of “witness unto death” does not appear in the Qur’an but receives explicit treatment in the subsequent Hadith literature, in which it is stated that martyrs, among the hosts of heaven, stand nearest the throne of God. While details of the status accorded by martyrdom (e.g., whether or not a martyr is exempt from certain rituals of burial) have been debated among dogmatists, it is generally agreed that the rank of shahid comprises two groups of the faithful:

  • Those killed in a jihad, or holy war
  • Those killed unjustly 

The term is used informally to venerate anyone who dies in a pitiable manner (e.g., in childbirth; in a strange land). Among the Shiite branch, the martyr par excellence is Husayn ibn Ali (c. 629–680), whose death at the hands of the rival Sunni faction under Yazid is commemorated every year during the first 10 days of the month of Muharram. 

While distinctly lacking a history of persecution or of violent conflict with other faiths, Buddhism does recognize among its adherents a venerable class of martyrs. The Jataka (q.v.) commentary on the former lives of the Buddha is in a sense a “martyrology” of the bodhisattva (“Buddha-to-be”), recounting their continual self-sacrifice and repeated deaths. In Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) Buddhism, the decision by one destined to become a Buddha in this or another life to postpone his own enlightenment to alleviate the suffering of others is regarded as martyrdom (see bodhisattva). 


Let us now look at the history of terrorism. The earliest authenticated mention of "thugs" took place about 1356 (though there was a report of the use of Thugs in the seventh century). Thugs were members of a well-organized confederacy of professional assassins who traveled in gangs throughout India for several hundred years. They insinuated themselves into the confidence of wayfarers and, when a favorable opportunity presented itself, they would strangle the people with a handkerchief or a noose. Hindus appear to have been associated with Thugs at an early period. In the last three hundred years of Thugs’ existence, they killed around one million people, considered to be the largest number of people ever killed by a purely religious fundamentalist terrorist organization. 

From the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, a religious-political Islamic Shiite sect was known for murdering its enemies as a religious duty. These people were called assassins, from the Arabic word “assas,” meaning guard and hashish smoker (this referred to the Assassins’ alleged practice of taking hashish to induce ecstatic visions of paradise before setting out to face martyrdom). The Assassins might be the first terrorist organization using religious martyrdom for political purposes to fight against a militarily stronger enemy. 

In 1090, the Assassin Hasan and his allies captured the hill fortress of Alamut near Kazvin, Iran. From this fortress, Hasan, as grand master or leader of the sect, commanded a chain of strongholds all over Iran and Iraq as well as a network of propagandists, a corps of devoted terrorists, and an unknown number of agents in enemy camps and cities. In the early twelfth century the Assassins extended their activities to Syria, where the expansion of the Seljuk rule had created a favorable climate for terrorist activities by extremist elements among the local Shiite minority. 

Assassin power came to an end as the Mongols under Hulegu captured Assassin castles in Iran. In 1256 Alamut itself fell. The term Assassin then moved on from Syria to Europe, where the Crusaders took it, and acquired its present meaning of one who murders a politically important person either by hire or from fanatical motives. 

In modern history the Japanese Army, during World War I, used martyrs for political and ideological interests. They introduced the so-called Kamikaze Weapon System, which consisted of Japanese pilots, mostly between 20 and 25 years old, who deliberately crashed into enemy targets (around 4,500 times) and committed suicide. The word kamikaze means “divine wind,” referring to a typhoon that fortuitously dispersed a Mongol invasion fleet that threatened Japan from the west in 1281. Most of the kamikaze planes were ordinary fighters or light bombers, usually loaded with bombs and extra gasoline tanks before being flown into their targets. Kamikaze flights were most prevalent from the Battle of Leyte Gulf, in October of 1944, to the end of the war. The attacks sank 34 ships and damaged hundreds of others. At Okinawa they inflicted the greatest losses ever suffered by the U.S. Navy in a single battle, killing almost 5,000 men. 


Nihilism (from the Latin nihil, meaning “nothing”) is a philosophy of skepticism that originated in nineteenth-century Russia during the early years of the reign of Alexander II. A well-known conservative Russian journalist, Mikhail N. Katkov, was mainly responsible for interpreting nihilism as synonymous with revolution, and presented nihilism as a social menace because of its negation of all moral principles. The philosophy then became associated erroneously with political terror employed by people active in clandestine organizations against absolutism. 

If, to the conservative elements, nihilists were the curse of the time, to the liberals they represented a mere transitory factor in the development of national thought, a stage in the struggle for individual freedom, and the true spirit of the rebellious young generation. They defined nihilism as a symbol of the struggle against all forms of tyranny, hypocrisy, and artificiality. 

Fundamentally, nihilism represented a philosophy of negation of all forms of aestheticism; it advocated utilitarianism and scientific rationalism and rejected the social sciences and classical philosophical systems entirely. Nihilism represented a crude form of positivism and materialism, a revolt against the established social order, and negated all authority exercised by the state, the church, and the family. It was based on belief in nothing but scientific truth; science was the cure-all for social problems, which nihilists believed derived from ignorance. 

Since nihilists denied the duality of man as a combination of body and soul, of spiritual and material substance, they came into violent conflict with ecclesiastical authorities. And since they questioned the doctrine of divine right, they came into similar conflict with secular authorities. In addition, because they scorned all social bonds and family authority, conflict between fathers and sons became immanent. 

The term anarchy is derived from the Greek root anarchos, meaning “without authority.” The words anarchism, anarchist, and anarchy are used to express both approval and disapproval. They encompass laws that are not carried into effect, authorities without force and despised, crime unpunished, property attacked, violation of the safety of the individual, corrupted morality, lack of a constitution, lack of government, and lack of justice. These words could serve as a model for the denunciations delivered by all opponents of anarchism. 

Anarchists deny man-made laws, regard property as a means of tyranny, and believe that crime is merely the product of property and authority. But they would argue that their denial of constitutions and governments leads to the “real justice” inherent in the free development of man’s natural inclination, when unfettered by laws, to live according to the principles and practice of mutual aid. 

All of the conflict-based sources of nihilistic and anarchistic thoughts became the roots of non-religious fundamental terrorist acts. One can only wonder what would happen if religious and non-religious fundamental terrorists were to cooperate and use martyrdom against targets to achieve common political interests.


September 11, 2001, was the day when Islamic extremists and the terrorist group Al-Qaeda struck targets in the United States. The attacks caused extensive death and destruction and triggered an enormous U.S. effort to combat terrorism. Some 2,800 victims were killed in New York, 184 at the Pentagon, and 40 in Pennsylvania; all 19 terrorists died. The emotional distress caused by the attacks, particularly the collapse of the Twin Towers, New York City’s most visible landmark, was overwhelming. 

The hijackers, 15 Saudis and 4 others of Middle Eastern origin, were young single males from middle-class families who had established themselves in the United States prior to the attacks. All were recruited in Europe by religious organizations connected with Al-Qaeda when most were enrolled in a secular higher education curriculum. No personality defects were evident before the attack, and none were discovered afterward despite intense scrutiny. 

Recent research indicates that suicide terrorists from the Middle East have no appreciable psychopathology and are as educated and economically well-off as surrounding populations. Newer studies also confirm earlier reports showing that suicide terrorists and their supporters are not impoverished, uneducated, spiteful, or socially disfavored. 

If the assassination of Franz Ferdinand Erzherzog Von Österreich-este in Sarajevo in June of 1914 was the immediate cause of World War I and the Pearl Harbor attack of 1941 precipitated the entry of the United States into World War II, the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers on 11 September, 2001, could be considered the beginning of the “Global War” against terrorism. However, while the World Wars were international conflicts that embroiled most of the nations of Europe, North America, Asia, the Middle East, and other regions, the Global War is an international conflict against an invisible global terror network without an identified citizenship, nationality, race, ethnic heritage, religion, headquarters location, or army. The threat this network poses is completely different from any the human race has ever faced before, and needs an appropriately sophisticated strategy and paradigm that all nations and organizations of the world must develop. And there must be no negotiations and no compromise, but a better understanding of the principles of terrorism in order to counter and end terrorist acts. 

In an analysis model based on incentive, if terrorists are considered criminals as well as rational individuals acting on self-interest, they will choose illegal activity if the rewards exceed the probability of detection, incarceration, and loss of income from legal activity (“opportunity costs”). Insofar as criminals lack skill and education, as in much blue-collar crime, opportunity costs may be minimal, so crime will pay. (Such rational-choice theories based on economic opportunities do not reliably account for some types of violent crimes, including domestic homicide and hate killings). However, these calculations make even less sense for suicide terrorism, since suicide terrorists generally are not lacking in legitimate life opportunities relative to their general population. 

If martyrs had nothing to lose, sacrifice would be senseless: “He or she who commits suicide kills himself or herself for his or her own benefit, he or she who commits martyrdom sacrifices himself or herself for the sake of his or her religion and his or her nation.” Although humiliation and despair may help account for susceptibility to martyrdom in some situations, this is neither a complete explanation nor one applicable to other circumstances.  

Suicide terrorists apparently span their population’s normal distribution in terms of education, socioeconomic status, and personality type (introvert vs. extrovert). The mean age for bombers is the early twenties. Almost all are unmarried and expressed religious belief before recruitment (but no more than did the general population). Except for being young unattached males, suicide bombers differ from members of violent racist organizations with whom they are often compared. 

Overall, suicide terrorists exhibit no socially dysfunctional attributes (fatherless, friendless, or jobless) or suicidal symptoms. They do not vent a fear of enemies or express hopelessness or a sense of nothing to lose for lack of life alternatives that would be consistent with economic rationality. When they join terrorist groups, charismatic trainers intensely cultivate their mutual commitment to die within small cells of three to six members. In a final step before they martyr themselves, they engage in a formal social contract, usually a video testament. 

From 1996 to 1999 Nasra Hassan, a Pakistani relief worker, interviewed nearly 250 Palestinian recruiters and trainers, failed suicide bombers, and relatives of deceased bombers. Bombers were men aged 18 to 38: “None were uneducated, desperately poor, simple-minded, or depressed…They all seemed to be entirely normal members of their families.” Yet “all were deeply religious,” believing their actions “sanctioned by the divinely revealed religion of Islam.” Leaders of sponsoring organizations complained, “Our biggest problem is the hordes of young men who beat on our doors.” 

Previously, recruiters scouted mosques, schools, and refugee camps for candidates deemed susceptible to intense religious indoctrination and logistical training. Despite these changes, there is little to indicate overall change in bomber profiles (mostly unmarried, average socioeconomic status, moderately religious). Motivation and commitment are evident in the willingness to sacrifice material and emotional comforts (families, jobs, physical security) and to pay their own way from their homes to travel long distances. Thus, a critical factor in determining suicidal terrorist behavior is arguably loyalty to intimate cohorts of peers, which recruiting organizations often promote through religious communion. Such sentiments characterize institutional manipulation of emotionally driven commitments that may have emerged under natural selection’s influence to refine or override short-term rational calculations that would otherwise preclude achieving goals against long odds. 

Most typically, such emotionally driven commitments serve as survival mechanisms to inspire action in otherwise paralyzing circumstances, as when a weaker person convincingly menaces a stronger person into thinking twice before acting. In religiously inspired suicide terrorism, however, these emotions are purposely manipulated by organizational leaders, recruiters, and trainers to benefit the organization rather than the individual. 

And, increasingly, many view martyr acts as most meaningful. During the summer of 2002, 70% to 80% of Palestinians endorsed martyr operations. The frequency and violence of suicide attacks are escalating (there have been more bombings since February 2002 than from 1993 to2000); planning is less painstaking. 

Detainees evince little history of personal grievance, but frequently cite older relatives and respected community members who participated in earlier Jihads as influencing decisions to join the fight. Many told interrogators that if released from detention they would return to jihad. 

However, little tangible benefit (in terms of rational choice theories) accrues to the suicide bomber, certainly not enough to result in maximized “expected utility.” Heightened social recognition occurs only after death, obviating personal material benefit. But for leaders who almost never consider killing themselves (despite declarations of readiness to die), material benefits more likely outweigh losses in martyrdom operations. 


For the sponsoring organization, suicide bombers are expendable assets whose losses generate more assets by expanding public support and pools of potential recruits. Money flows from those willing to let others die, easily offsetting operational costs (training, supporting personnel, safe houses, explosives and other arms, transportation, and communication). Massive retaliation further increases people’s sense of victimization and readiness to behave according to organizational doctrines and policies structured to take advantage of such feelings. 

A middle line of defense, penetrating and destroying recruiting organizations and isolating their leaders, may be successful in the near term, but even more resistant organizations could emerge instead. The first line of defense is to drastically reduce receptivity of potential recruits to recruiting organizations—but how can this be done? 

Raising literacy rates may have no effect and could be counterproductive should greater literacy translate into greater exposure to terrorist propaganda. Lessening poverty may also have no effect, and could be counterproductive if poverty reduction for the entire population amounted to a downward redistribution of wealth that left those initially better off with fewer opportunities than before. Ethnic profiling, isolation, and preemptive attacks on potential supporters of terrorism probably will not help either. Ending occupation or reducing perceived humiliation may help, but not if the population believes this to be a victory inspired by terror. 

If suicide bombing is crucially (though not exclusively) an institution-level phenomenon, it may require finding the right mix of pressure and inducements to get the communities themselves to abandon support for institutions that recruit suicide attackers. One way is to so damage the community’s social and political fabric that any support by the local population or authorities for sponsors of suicide attacks collapses. However, other research suggests that most people have more moderate views than what they consider their group norm to be. Inciting and empowering moderates from within to confront inadequacies and inconsistencies in their own knowledge (of others as evil), values (respect for life), and behavior (support for killing), and that of other members of their group, can produce emotional dissatisfaction leading to lasting change and influence on the part of these individuals. Funding for civic education and debate may also help interfaith confidence building through intercommunity initiatives. 

Another strategy is for the United States and its allies to change their behavior by directly addressing and lessening sentiments of grievance and humiliation, especially in Palestine, where images of daily violence have made it the global focus of Moslem attention. No evidence (historical or otherwise) indicates that support for suicide terrorism will evaporate without complicity in achieving at least some fundamental goals that suicide bombers and supporting communities share. 

Of course, this does not mean negotiating overall goals, such as Al-Qaeda’s quest to replace the Western-inspired system of nation-states with a global caliphate, first in Moslem lands and then everywhere. Throughout mankind’s history, all efforts to achieve global control through an economic, political, and/or military system have always failed. Perhaps instead we need research to understand which configurations of psychological and cultural relationships are luring and binding thousands, possibly millions, of mostly ordinary people into terrorist organizations’ martyr-making web. 

Study is needed to see how terrorist institutions form and to uncover similarities and differences across organizational structures, recruiting practices, and recruited populations. Are there reliable differences between religious and secular groups, or between ideologically driven and grievance-driven terrorism? We also need to investigate any significant causal relations between modern democratic society’s policies and actions and those of terrorist organizations and supporters. We may find that the global economic, political, and cultural agenda of a modern democratic civil society has a catalyzing role in moves to retreat from our worldview (the Taliban) or to create a global counterweight (Al-Qaeda). 

Funding such research may be difficult. As with the somewhat tendentious and self-serving use of terror as a policy concept to reduce dissonance, governments and the media may wish to ignore these relations as legitimate topics for inquiry into what terrorism is all about and why it exists. A call for research may demand more patience than any administration could politically tolerate during times of crisis. In the long run, however, a society can ill afford to ignore either the consequences of its own actions or the causes behind the actions of others. 


Two important documents crucial to the war on terrorism were recently released in the United States. On May 23, 2003, the U.S. General Accounting Office delivered its final report to Congress on “Combating Terrorism.” On June 3, 2003, the Pew Research Center published the latest installment of a multi-year survey on global attitudes to political policies and social values. Social psychologists have long documented what they call “the fundamental attribution error,” an interpretation bias that seems to be especially prevalent in individualistic cultures such as those of the United States and Western Europe. In contrast, many cultures in Africa and Asia in which a collectivist ethic is more prevalent show less susceptibility to such judgments. 

What leads a normal person to suicide terrorism? The primacy of situational over personality factors suggests the futility of attempts to psychologically profile the suicide terrorist. There seems to be a general agreement among psychologists that there is no particular psychological attribute that can be used to describe the terrorist or any personality that is distinctive of terrorists. People who have joined terrorist groups have come from a wide variety of cultures, nationalities, and ideological causes, all strata of society, and diverse populations. Their personalities and characteristics are as diverse as those of people in the general population. 

Months, sometimes years, of intense indoctrination can lead to “blind obedience” no matter who the individual is, as indicated in research on people who become torturers for their governments. However, despite numerous studies of individual behavior in group contexts that show situation to be a much better predictor than personality, the Pew survey found that Americans overwhelmingly believe that personal decision, success, and failure depend upon individual choice, responsibility, and personality. But most of the world disagrees. This is plausibly one reason why Americans tend to think of terrorists as homicidal maniacs whereas the rest of the world tends not to. Whether because of a fundamental attribution error or willful blindness to avoid dissonance with one’s own world view, Americans also mostly view attempts to understand what motivates terrorism at best as a waste of time, at worst pandering to terrorism. 

What terrorists dislike about America is not the country’s internal liberties or culture, but its external actions and foreign policy. Historical data show a strong correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States. There seems to be a direct correlation between U.S. military and counterinsurgency aid, human-rights abuses by the governments being aided, and a rise in terrorism. 

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch regularly document horrific and massive humans-rights abuses occurring in countries that receive the most U.S. aid in absolute terms. A recent National Research Council report, “Discouraging Terrorism,” finds that: “With respect to political context, terrorism and its supporting audiences appear to be fostered by policies of extreme political repression and discouraged by policies of incorporating both dissident and moderate groups responsibly into civil society and the political process.” The situation may be critical in central Asia, an area of intensified U.S. intervention where anti-American and pro-radical Islamic sentiment is rapidly rising and Al-Qaeda appears to be relocating. 


The goal of reducing support for terrorism by strengthening the partnership initiative and winning the war of ideas involves counterterrorism aid, including law enforcement training and military assistance to promote national security interests by contributing to global and regional stability. It also involves strengthening military support for democratically elected governments and fostering democratic values, including respect for internationally recognized civil and human rights in order to kindle the hopes and aspirations of freedom. The “new partners in the war on terrorism” have been condemned by Amnesty International and Human Rights watch for increasing human rights abuses. 

As for winning the war of ideas about democracy and personal freedoms, the Pew survey strongly suggests that Muslim opinion in favor of these values means that the war has already been won. This raises suspicion that the call to battle against haters of democracy and freedom, such as the alarms raised about Iraq’s imminent use of weapons of mass destruction and its ties to Al-Qaeda, are cynically designed to rally the home front for a strategic push into south and central Asia. The Pew survey intimates that, except for America, much of the world thinks so. 


Indonesians can be considered to be religious people. Indeed Indonesia is a religious society. Long before Islam and Christianity entered Indonesia, Hinduism and Buddhism were already well established. Islam entered and expanded in Indonesia peacefully through trade in three areas: 

  • Through Aceh, the northern part of Sumatra, and the eastern part of Indonesia in the tenth century, by Arabs traders
  • Through Aceh and other parts of Sumatra in the eleventh century, through Indian/Gujarati traders
  • Through Java and the southern part of Sumatra in the eleventh century, through Chinese traders 

Since the thirteenth century, Islam has blossomed in Indonesia, and many Islamic kingdoms and sultanates were established and developed in the maritime continent. Therefore, in most literature, Islam is considered to have entered Indonesia in the thirteenth century and then systematically expanded not only through trading activities but also through preaching and cultural approaches. It was peacefully adapted to, and assimilated in harmony with, the local traditions and cultures inherited from the Hindu and Buddhist cultures. 

Islam then expanded throughout the country via five religious institutions:a) prominent personalities in society; b) the establishment of mosques; c) adaptation and assimilation into existing local traditions and cultures; d) education (boarding schools or pesantren) and e) social activities, including marriage. 

Especially in Java, these five networks were successfully created, developed, implemented, and monitored by the “Nine Wise Men,” or “Wali Songo.” 

The colonial masters brought in Christianity: The Catholic Church came in through the Portuguese people in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and the Protestant Church came in through the Dutch people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Islamic movement was influenced as well as driven by the following organizations: a) Syarikat Dagang Islam or Islamic Trading Society, established in 1904 and renamed Syarikat Islam or Islamic Society in 1911; today this organization has developed into several other Islamic organizations. b) Muhammadiyah, established in 1912 and c) Nahdatul Ulama, established in 1926. 

Although 87.6% of the 220 million Indonesian people are Moslem, and Indonesia has the biggest Moslem society in the world, it is not an Islamic state. Indonesia is a secular though very religious republic in which various religions have been peacefully adopted and whose followers have lived in harmony and peace for centuries. 

However, long before the Bali bombings of October 2002, the word terrorism was applied to certain kinds of violence in Indonesia. In the late 1970s, the Indonesian government termed a series of related murders and robberies in Java the “Warman’s terror,” after one of the perpetrators. In 1981, the hijacking of an Indonesian airliner by a group led by a former thug-turned-militant Muslim was deemed a terrorist act, for which the main plotters were executed. During an intensive counterinsurgency campaign in the early 1990s in Aceh, some Acehnes used the term terror to describe acts committed by the army against suspected pro-independence rebels. 

But before the attacks on the World Trade Center, there was never any suggestion that acts of terror carried out in Indonesia had any links to organizations or individuals outside Indonesia’s borders. Indonesians began going to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border for military training in 1985 and some of the first graduates of that training became the leaders of what later came to be known as Jemaah Islamiyah, which was created on January 1,1993, while the Afghan training program was still underway. 

The origins of Jemaah Islamiyah, however, lay in the Darul Islam movement in Indonesia that started in 1949 as a rebellion in west Java. The movement was against the fledgling Indonesian government for ceding too much to the Dutch in order to have a peaceful end to Indonesia’s independence struggle. Led by a man named Kartosoewirjo, it ended up as a movement to establish an Islamic state in the 1950s out of large swaths of west Java and parts of central Java. The movement was finally defeated in 1962. 

Separately and independently, two other movements, also called Darul Islam, arose in Aceh and south Sulawesi. The south Sulawesi movement also spread into north Maluku. Both were expressions of regional resentment against the central government, and both took up the call for the establishment of an Islamic state. 

The Aceh movement, led by a man named Daud Beureueh, began in 1953. Neither it nor the Sulawesi movement was a separatist movement, and both were committed to the idea of an Indonesian Republic; they just wanted an Islamic one. In 1960, as the end was drawing near for all of these rebellions, the Aceh and Sulawesi movements joined forces, at least on paper, and agreed to form the Federal Islamic Republic of Indonesia. The leadership of Darul Islam regrouped in 1974, and over the next few years recruited a new wave of followers. These people did not engage in any violence on Indonesian soil, however, until May 2000, when some of the men later involved in the Bali bombings planted explosives in churches in Medan, north Sumatra. The work was clumsy and unprofessional, and no one in Indonesia or abroad suspected links to an international network. But Hambali, an Indonesian veteran of Afghanistan who was already working closely with Al-Qaeda, was the key figure behind that early effort. 

International awareness of Indonesian involvement in a transnational terrorist network came much later, after the late 2001 arrests in Singapore and Malaysia of men found to be members of Jemaah Islamiyah. But that discovery led to two fundamental misperceptions on the part of many international observers: 

  • That Jemaah Islamiyah was simply the Southeast Asian franchise of Al-Qaeda.
  • That violence perpetrated by Muslim militants in the region had to have international dimensions. 

Both thoughts were wrong, but so was the widespread denial in Indonesia that homegrown radicals could have international ties. However, the 1977 group saw themselves as attacking a repressive government at home; the 2000 group saw themselves as part of a global movement to attack the enemies of Islam. Recruitment of Indonesian mujahidin took place largely through Darul Islam networks, and particularly from religious study groups that doubled as Darul Islam cells in central Java and Jakarta. 

The pull factors of the opportunity to take part in an international jihad and the availability of funding and logistical support coincided with some important push factors in Indonesia. Political Islam was under severe pressure from the state, and many Muslims were eager to sign up for the jihad abroad. Darul Islam members also saw training in Afghanistan as an opportunity to acquire the military capacity to take on the Indonesian state. The “Afghanistan experience” proved to be critical to the establishment of Jemaah Islamiyah and also gave the group a much more international outlook. 

It was in Afghanistan that Jemaah Islamiyah developed bonds with men from other parts of southeast Asia, because all the southeast Asians trained together: Thais, Malaysians, Filipinos, Burmese, and even Muslim Cham from Cambodia. It is where they met fighters from Chechnya, Bosnia, Egypt, and other parts of the Muslim world. And it was in Afghanistan where future Jemaah Islamiyah members developed friendships with Abdulrazak Janjalani, the man who later became the leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group, and with guerrillas from the MILF. Perhaps more importantly, it was where the Darul Islam recruits bonded with each other. 

Between 1985 and 1995, when fighting among different mujahidin factions in Afghanistan made continued training impossible, the total number of Indonesians who went through the Sayyaf military academy was just under 300. Those Afghan alumni came to constitute a powerful base for Jemaah Islamiyah and became the source of most of its top leaders. 

For most members of Jemaah Islamiyah, however, the fundamental objective of establishing an Islamic state in Indonesia never changed. It is therefore critical to understand the Darul Islam roots of Jemaah Islamiyah for a number of reasons: 

  • The men who became part of Jemaah Islamiyah’s central command went to Afghanistan as Jemaah Islamiyah cadres, not as Jemaah Islamiyah. Many of the strongholds of Jemaah Islamiyah support today are in areas where sympathy for Darul Islam was strong in the 1950s and 60s. 
  • Many of the offshoots and splinter groups of Darul Islam that exist around Indonesia today—by one count there are 14 different factions—have sent people to Mindanao and elsewhere to be trained by Jemaah Islamiyah instructors, or have sent fighters to Ambon (Molucca Island) or Poso (a city in central Celebes) where they joined Jemaah Islamiyah networks or invited Jemaah Islamiyah to give training in their own areas. Within Indonesia, the combination of religious-political motivation and military expertise seen in many of the bombing operations after 2000 is particularly characteristic of Darul Islam offshoots, of which Jemaah Islamiyah is one. 
  • Finally, many practices of Darul Islam were adopted by Jemaah Islamiyah, including the notion of raising funds for the Islamic struggle through robbery. Bank robberies, jewelry store robberies, and murders in order to get the victims’ cash have been justified in this way. 

But if the basic network for Jemaah Islamiyah developed in the mid-1980s, why did it only begin to use violence in mid-2000? There are several reasons: 

First, Jemaah Islamiyah sees itself as a religious organization, not as a terrorist group. Its main activities from 1993 onward were religious study and preaching. 

Second, there was a systematic effort to build up the organization so that it had the human and financial resources to focus on its long-term agenda of establishing an Islamic state. 

Third, for many members, the effort to create a mass base through religious outreach was and continues to be far more important than bombing buildings. 

In 1998, Jemaah Islamiyah began systematically increasing its contacts with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda by sending some of its senior members, such as Dr. Azhari, a Malaysian citizen, to Afghanistan for study tours of Taliban governance and additional military training. This same man helped supply arms and ammunition to Poso and was briefly arrested after the Marriott bombing, but released because of lack of evidence. Clearly the political atmosphere for him had changed between 1989 and 2000. The outbreak of communal conflict in Ambon in January 1999 provided a major incentive for Jemaah Islamiyah to undertake acts of terror inside Indonesia. 

There is absolutely no reason to believe that Jemaah Islamiyah had any hand in the initial violence, but its leaders were able to capitalize on this as the first real opportunity to put all their training in jihad to use. Poso, more than anywhere else, proved to be fertile ground for recruiting suicide bombers. And once suicide bombers are in place, preventing terrorist acts becomes infinitely more difficult. Jemaah Islamiyah looked at Poso, and perhaps north Maluku, as the only places in Indonesia where the double agenda of jihad and dakwah could be served: Wage war, but also preach and practice pure Islam in a way that will further the aims of establishing an Islamic state. 

We know that parts of Jemaah Islamiyah continue to function, even with more than 200 people being detained across southeast Asia for involvement in or association with the organization. Jemaah Islamiyah’s stronghold continues to be in central Java, particularly Solo, and some of the top Jemaah Islamiyah leaders seem still to be based there. The group also has a strong presence in east Java, Lampung, and central Sulawesi, and has strong alliances with local partners in west Java and south Sulawesi. This is an organization whose membership almost certainly numbers in the thousands, but most are probably focused on dakwah, not bombing plots. 

Though their communication has been disrupted, in part because of the sophisticated technology provided by the Australian government that permits tracing of mobile phone signals, Jemaah Islamiyah has also become more sophisticated about the security of hand phones and laptops. The fact that senior leaders are in prison also does not mean that communication among members has stopped. Until recently, the prevailing assumption has been that Jemaah Islamiyah is the only organization with the expertise, international ties, and ideology to constitute a likely partner in the region for Al-Qaeda or another international terrorist group. 

However, there are two possibly flawed elements in this assumption: a)Jemaah Islamiyah as an institution is inclined to follow Al-Qaeda’s lead; b) Jemaah Islamiyah is the most dangerous group around. 

Rather, the group is much more focused on building up military capacity and creating a mass base through religious indoctrination to support what would effectively be an Islamic revolution in the country when the time is right— and the members of this faction appear to have a very long time frame. 

The question is whether new leaders will emerge through the dakwah process. Members are now being recruited who will be more inclined to the Al-Qaeda view of the world. 

That prospect could be particularly lethal if the kind of personal ties to other radical jihads around the world that the Afghanistan training provided in the late 1980s and 1990s are recreated. Preventing a similar international training center from developing must be a top priority. However, it could be precisely the lack of lengthy training, the impetus to use the results of that training immediately, and the attraction of martyrdom that could make men from some of the smaller groups more dangerous in the long run than Jemaah Islamiyah. 


During his exile, Khomeini coordinated an upsurge of opposition, first from Iraq and then from France, after demanding the Shah’s abdication. On April 1, 1979, after a landslide victory in a national referendum, Khomeini declared an Islamic Republic, subsequently invested with a new constitution reflecting his ideals of Islamic government. Fundamentalist measures followed and revolutionary committees patrolled the streets enforcing Islamic codes of behavior and dress. Efforts were made to suppress Western influence, and many of the Western-educated elite fled the country. The early years of the revolutionary government were marked by the virtual elimination of political opposition and the consolidation and regularization of revolutionary organizations. All of this triggered an Islamic “awakening” worldwide and influenced some non-Shiite Islamic movements. 

The average age of Palestine suicide bombers is the early twenties. Almost all are unmarried and expressed religious beliefs before recruitment (but no more than did the general population). They apparently span their population’s normal distribution in terms of education, socioeconomic status, and personality type (introvert vs. extrovert). They all are Palestinian or from the Middle East. 

Jemaah Islamiyah was created on January 1, 1993, as a religious organization, not as a terrorist group. Its main activities from 1993 onward have been religious study and preaching. There was a systematic effort to build up the organization so that it had the human and financial resources to focus on its long-term agenda of establishing an Islamic state in Indonesia. The effort to create a mass base through religious outreach was and continues to be far more important than bombing buildings. Indonesians began going to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border for military training in 1985 and some of the first graduates of that training became the leaders of what later came to be known as Jemaah Islamiyah. Beginning in 1988, Jemaah Islamiyah began systematically increasing its contacts with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda by sending some of its senior members to Afghanistan for study tours of Taliban governance and additional military training. 

According to the World Bank Report, in the year 2002 the world population was 6.2 billion, with a Muslim population of 1.2 billion. Around 245 million, or 20% of the world’s Moslems, live in the Middle East and North Africa. The majority (80%) of Moslems live in developing, low-income countries, with an average GNP/Capita ($430 USD), or 19.3% of the average GNP/Capita ($2,230 USD) of the Middle East and North African countries, and only 13.8% of the average GNP/Capita ($3,107 USD) of the Middle East and North African Arabs countries. 

The above-mentioned terrorist acts were carried out directly or indirectly by people coming from the North African and Middle East Islamic Sunnite Society, with an average GNP/Capita seven times higher than the majority (80%) of the Islamic people living in the poor developing countries of the world. 

The “Palestine Case” is based on disputes between Palestine and Israel over possession of a contested homeland. The double standard used by some countries and the U.S. in evaluating and judging the confrontations and clashes in favor of Israel has embarrassed many countries and people in the world, including Islamic people. The Palestine suicide bombings, therefore, should not be considered as an Islamic act of confrontation or war but more as a reaction to the injustice act in solving the “Palestine Problem.” The United States and its allies should change their behavior by directly addressing and lessening their sentiments of grievance and humiliation. The Palestinian suicide bombings are similar to the kamikaze bombings carried out by the Japanese during the Second World War as a last and hopeless attempt to defend itself against an economically and militarily superior enemy. The use of culture, beliefs, and religion (Islam) are the means for preparing, programming, systematically brainwashing, and indoctrinating suicide bombers to take part in military attacks against the enemy. 

The tragedy of September 11 and the Al-Qaeda terrorist acts that took place before and after that time are based on a vision of Osama bin Laden and the people in the visible and invisible network of Al-Qaeda. The vision is to coordinate, control, and command the Islamic people worldwide through a “global caliphate,” and perhaps later through a Western-inspired system of nation-states. The awakening of the Islamic people after the success of the Iranian Islamic revolution, the economic success derived from the oil boom in the Middle Eastern countries, and the success of the Afghanistan war against the Russians, in which Islamic fighters, including the Taliban, were successfully involved, encourage the people in the Al-Qaeda network to create their global caliphate. Following the Afghanistan war, the fall of the Russian Communist hegemony, the change from a bipolar to a unipolar world, and the behavior of the Superpower toward Palestine and the Middle Eastern problem nurse an irrational hatred toward the U.S. The suicide bombings carried out by the Al-Qaeda network are similar to the “Assassin network” mentioned earlier. The use of culture, beliefs, and religion (Islam) are the means for preparing, programming, systematically brainwashing, and indoctrinating suicide bombers. Al-Qaeda has never gained legitimacy in any Islamic society or country for implementing their vision and killing innocent people. 

My final conclusion is that radicalism and terrorism have nothing to do with the Islamic people of the world, almost ninety percent of whom are taking part in a jihad, or holy war, against ignorance, injustice, and poverty. 


Abdal Hakim Murad (British convert to Islam): RECAPTURING ISLAM FROM TERRORIST
Allamah Abu al-A’la Mawadudi: HUMAN RIGHTS IN ISLAM


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