Jihad after bin Laden
13 May 2011
With the death of Osama bin Laden, what is the future for Al-Qaida and Islamist extremism? Some commentators have speculated that support for militant jihad is more likely to increase after the loss of a leader seen as a hero and martyr by many supporters and sympathisers.
As part of the RCUK Global Uncertainties programme Dr Masooda Bano of the University of Oxford has examined the support of Islamic militancy and jihadist recruitment, focusing on Pakistan.
Her interviews with jihadis, supporters and sympathisers indicates that the main motivation for joining a militant jihadi organisation is not religious rewards, but rather a sense of injustice on behalf of a worldwide Muslim identity - directed against those who are perceived as responsible for the current situation.
"My deliberations with the jihadis, across the economic, ethnic or gender divide, show that political events and not Islamic teachings motivated them. The jihadis repeatedly raised concern about the western biases towards the Muslim world", Dr Bano comments in her forthcoming book on jihad in Pakistan.
Co-operation between the Musharraf government and the US, including attacks by the Pakistani army and US drones on the tribal lands along the Afghanistan border, contributed to the sense of injustice against Muslims.
Despite popular perception, it is unlikely that people who are recruited into violent jihadi activity are indoctrinated, as they sustain their motivation in relative stability over a long period of time while living with high risk, argues Dr Bano.
The assumption that recruits are predominantly poor and uninformed is also contested, as a large proportion are relatively well-educated, politically informed and often of higher income.
In the interviews jihadis rationalised the sacrifice of security and material comfort by questioning the meaning of life, stressing its temporary nature and the value of dying for a purpose. Other motivations were the sense of excitement and adventure, and the feeling of personal worth.
Islamic scriptures were used as a moral support, enhancing the jihadi’s sense of courage and pride.
"Where Islamic texts play an important role is to build up psychological courage to stay committed to jihad at the times of weaknesses by providing for other-worldly rewards; the religious texts themselves are not the primary motive for joining jihad," notes Dr Bano.
"What this shows is that, while individuals often adjust their action to reduce the cost of ideological commitment, when the cause of ideological commitment is seriously threatened individuals can forego pursuit of material wellbeing in favour of ideal rewards."
The Rational Believer: Choices and Decisions in the Madrasas of Pakistan (forthcoming, Cornell University Press)