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Jihadism, 10 things worth knowing. Who’s behind it and how it can be fought

Ten things worth knowing about Jidahism, a phenomenon which, since 2014, has deeply transformed our cities and our lives. We asked Professor Paolo Branca, expert in Islamic Studies and Professor at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, to summarize in ten points the most important aspects of this phenomenon, where it originated from, its transformation, who’s behind it and how it can be fought

Armed with Kalashnikovs and knives. Strapped with explosives. Alone or in organized groups. Terrorism has entered our homes, and since it started inflicting its first mortal blows the challenge has been how to defeat it, and most of all, how to stop it from overwhelming our lives through fear.

According to a recent Report drawn up and published by ISPI (Institute for International Political Studies), since June 2014 – the year when ISIS declared itself and independent Islamic State – to June 2017, there have been 51 terror attacks committed by 65 terrorists in 8 world Countries. In the 51 attacks, 395 people died are 1549 were left wounded (without counting the attackers). But who are the Jihadists? To whom and to which current of thought do they refer to? Against who are we fighting and how can this battle be won? We asked Professor Paolo Branca, expert in Islamic Studies, Professor of Arab Language and Literature at the University of Milan, to compile a ten-point guideline on everything that needs to be known on the phenomenon of Jihadism.

  1. What it is (definition of the phenomenon). It’s an ideology and a practice characterising radical Islamic groups that wage veritable wars (as in the case of ISIS) or forms of terrorism against enemies inside and outside the Islamic world with the purpose of re-establishing the Caliphate or imposing an Islamic form of government, also in political and juridical terms, whose territories are mostly inhabited by Muslims.
  2. The root “jihad”, what does it mean. The root of this term means “effort.” In the Koran, that dates back to 12 years previous to Prophet Mohammed’s preaching in his hometown – Mecca – jihad never refers to “war”, rather, it means the commitment and zeal of the new monotheistic faith opposed by the pagans.
  3. When the term “jihad” took on a different meaning.Only after the forced migration of the Prophet and his followers in Medina, in the following 10 years of his mission, the term took on also the meaning of armed combat. However, it was primarily intended as a reactive and defensive form of combat. After Prophet Mohammed’s death, the Caliphate was established, comparable to what for us was the Holy Roman Empire. The jihad thus also became a war of expansion and conquest, but only the established authority could proclaim it, and it had to respect limits enshrined in Islamic Law which forbids, for example, to harm women, children, old people, sick people and monks.

  1. When “jihad” turned into terrorism. Terrorism is an invention of modernity. Jihadists say they intend to re-establish the ancient Caliphate, but in reality their behaviour resembles that of all contemporary extremist movements, to the extreme right and to the extreme left, marked by indiscriminate and destructive forms of violence. This escalation reveals an internal contradiction and an ideological drift (like the Red Brigades vis a vis the Communist Party). It originates from the major ideologists of 20th century Islamic movements, Egyptian, Pakistani, up to Bin Laden and to today’s ISIS leaders who argue that “the present system must not be changed, it must be destroyed.” Sadly, this ideology is causing a high death toll, especially among the Muslim population.
  2. Their goal.They delude themselves into thinking that they can remove the present ruling classes in most Muslim Countries and re-establish the Caliphate. The reality is that they are financed and manipulated by regional and world powers for hegemonic purposes that bring ethnic and religious divisions pertaining to that context to their extreme consequences.
  3. Who are their “enemies.” Most of their enemies are Muslims who don’t think like them. By striking at the West they are expressing their hatred for a system that is diametrically opposed to their ideal one. Naturally they don’t plan to conquer the United States by striking against New York. However, they intend to undermine the alliances between the US, and, for example, Saudi Arabia.
  4.  Can they be identified? And how? They obviously dissimulate: if they had long beards and wore specific garments they would be immediately recognized. Not even intense religious practice is a sign. In fact they tend to remain secluded, they don’t go to Mosque and grow radicalised on the Internet.
  5. How does one become a Jidahist? The involution often escalates very rapidly. In most cases, youths with serious problems and who are not very religious, sometimes after having served a prison sentence, accumulate anger and a desire for revenge that is cleverly exploited by others who deceivingly offer them a chance to legitimize their claims and make them feel empowered.
  6. Are all jidahists dangerous? In addition to prevention and repression there must always have been a past contact with other forms of terrorism (as in the case of Italy’s Red Brigades), especially to remove those who support the “cause” but not the ways in which its ends are pursued.
  7. How to counter the Jihadist drift. Those who take up arms must be fought also with military means, to ensure that they can do no harm. But they will be truly defeated when they will be alienated from the majority of Muslim believers who don’t identify with their claims. The claims of the latter must be represented by others who do exist, but who lack equal amount of coverage by media outlets.

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