Can terrorists be considered the new martyrs?
You may have already heard about the controversial exhibition that took place in Copenhagen this past month of June. The collective The Other Eye of the Tiger (TOETT) made up of five artists and its director Ida Grarup, got interested on the issue of the martyrs . These martyrs are from various time periods, from Socrate to Rosa Luxembourg and anything in between. The exhibition ends with those considered as today’s martyrs : the El-Bakraoui brothers and some kamikazes of the Bataclan. The representation of these contemporary martyrs gave rise to a huge polemic. Condemned by the Minister of culture who called it folly and categorically refused to visit it, the exhibit was also charged and reported to the police as encouraging terrorism.
As visitors perceive kamikazes from Paris and Brussels attacks as terrorists, it is however relevant to try to understand how terrorists see themselves or how they wish to see themselves. TOETT indeed started from the idea that « everyone is the hero of their own story ». The artists also worked on the idea that people who commit martyrdom, or sometimes terrorists attacks, are pushed by the conviction that they can change the world for the better.
Understanding, of course does not induce forgiving, but must be considered as an attempt to explain which could, later on, lead to finding solutions. Flemming Rose, the Danish journalist attacked in 2005 for his caricatures on Mahomet, indeed highlights the absolute need to understand the phenomenon of jihadists in order to win the fight over radical Islam. Therefore, let’s try to answer the question : can terrorists be considered as martyrs ? How can they be considered as such ?
Firstly, the term « martyr » can have different meanings according to the context and how it is used, just like its acceptance varies from one religion to another and thus from Christianity to Islam. For Christianity and for classical Islam, the martyrdom is essentially the testimony of faith raising to bloodshed. Therefore, a martyr is a person who agrees to get killed to express his profound faith rather than to recant. The term also knows a polysemy and is sometimes used in the widest sense to designate « victims » and, by extension, also designs someone who is tortured or killed for a cause or an idea. The word is also subjected to drifts.
Moreover, it is relevant to notice that the arabic word for martyr (« shahid ») does not appear in the Koran in the sense of someone who accepts to give his life for the faith. This is thus during the post Koranic period that the association between the testimony of the faith and jihad raised, as former koranic verses discouraged violence. For the ideologist of the Jihad movement and former adviser of Bin Laden, the suicides of jihadists are not the product of despair and unconsciousness but the will to spread terror and fear among the oppressors. Indeed, as Ida Grarup highlighted, the contrast between heroism and terrorism is raised every time a new terrorist attack is perpetrated in the world.
The exhibit can accordingly be understood in very different ways depending on the chosen meaning of the word, on the knowledge of someone on the subject and according to one’s own culture. Facing all these definitions, TOETT, thereby created its own definition of martyr, namely : people who died in the fight for their beliefs or willing to die for their own convictions.
While terrorists consider themselves as martyr, how can the average Danish citizens look at them as such from their point of view ? Also, how are such martyrs created ? Who are these « martyr trainees » ? And can they be considered as a new kind of martyr ?
In an attempt to discuss these questions, we will first look deeper at the profiles of the jihadists.
Jihadists are very young, 63% are between the ages of 15 and 21, as the 37% remaining percentage matches the 21-28. Persons enlisted after the age of 30 are extremely rare.
These young people are predominantly from the middle-class and come from atheistic families. Many of them have known depression and can be qualified as psychologically fragile. The recruitment method is also enlightening : 91% of the recruitment, and after radicalization, is made through internet. A method which certainly emphasizes the vulnerability of these young adults as, lonely in front of their screen, they don’t have the insight and the ability to have a critical point of view.
There is also a clear disconnection with the religion. Indeed, many jihadists who left for Syria, never paid a visit to a mosque and/or did not show any signs of turning religious.
Considering these aspects, the radicalized youth may rather appear as victims of a system and an extremely efficient manipulation, rather than authentic martyrs ready to die for their intimate convictions they always had. Therefore, the process of manipulation succeeds in making them consider themselves as martyrs which seems to be enough to justify the implement of barbaric acts. This is of course not about removing their responsibility of the crimes they commit. Moreover, we can say that they are guilty of their inability or their refusal to emit a judgement on their acts. They indeed entirely rely on Allah and they absolutely refuse to question barbaric acts that they think of having been put in charge. Terrorists can therefore be condemned on their « absence of thought ». In the shocking indifference of these young people toward barbarity and their inability to be aware of the crimes they are committing, we could apply, to some extend, the theory on the banality of evil theorized by Hannah Arendt in an attempt to understand the killings of the WW2.
Whatever the social or political context, there will always be people manipulating others and taking advantage of their fragility or weakness. We are only starting to be truly aware on the weapon that can constitute the internet and the rise of social medias.
Have we reached the point of the internet being stronger than the nuclear bomb ?