In a 9/2/15 post, Me, Myself & I in Raqqa & Melbourne, I featured a snapshot of wannabe Australian jihadi Musa Cerantonio.
Although French political scientist Olivier Roy's focus, in his essay Who are the new jihadis? (theguardian.com, 13/4/17), is on French jihadis, he could just as easily have been writing about the likes of Cerantonio. His essay is therefore as relevant here as in France.
He sees "contemporary jihadism, at least in the west," essentially as a "youth movement... constructed independently of parental religion and culture," and stresses, above all, its nihilistic character:
"The systematic association with death is one of the keys to understanding today's radicalisation: the nihilist dimension is central. What seduces and fascinates is the idea of pure revolt. Violence is not a means. It is an end in itself."
Crucially, he makes the point that contemporary jihadist terrorism "does not arise from the radicalisation of Islam, but from the Islamisation of radicalism."
"The typical radical," Roy points out, "is a young, second-generation immigrant or convert, very often involved in episodes of petty crime, with practically no religious education, but having a rapid and recent trajectory of conversion/reconversion, more often in the framework of a group of friends or over the internet than in the context of a mosque. The embrace of religion is rarely kept secret, but rather is exhibited, but it does not necessarily correspond to immersion in religious practice. The rhetoric of rupture is violent - the enemy is kafir, one with whom no compromise is possible - but also includes their own family, the members of which are accused of observing Islam improperly, or refusing to convert."
In addition to their ignorance of Islam, Roy finds that the type has zero engagement with, or interest in, the real problems and issues that afflict the Middle East:
"The Muslim community such terrorists are eager to avenge is almost never specified. It is a non-historical and non-spatial reality. When they rail against western policy in the Middle East, jihadis use the term 'crusaders'; they do not refer to the French colonisation of Algeria. Radicals never explicitly refer to the colonial period. They reject or disregard all Palestinian and religious movements that have come before them. They do not always align themselves with the struggle of their fathers; almost none of them go back to their parents' countries of origin to wage jihad. It is noteworthy that none of the jihadis, whether born Muslim or converted, has to my knowledge campaigned as part of a pro-Palestinian movement or belonged to any sort of association to combat Islamophobia, or even an Islamic NGO. These radicalised youths read texts in French or English circulating over the internet, but not works in Arabic.
"Oddly enough, the defenders of Islamic State never talk about sharia and almost never talk about the Islamic society that will be built under the auspices of Isis. Those who say they went to Syria because they wanted 'to live in a true Islamic society' are typically returnees who deny having participated in violence while there... Living in an Islamic society does not interest jihadis: they do not go to the Middle East to live, but to die. That is the paradox: these young radicals are not utopians, they are nihilists."
Finally, he underlines his thesis that it is not Islam as such that motivates these troubled souls, but rather a form of narcissism:
"There is a temptation to see in Islam a radical ideology that mobilises throngs of people in the Muslim world, just as Nazism was able to mobilise large sections of the German people. But the reality is that Isis's pretensions to establish a global caliphate is a delusion - that is why it draws in violent youngsters who have delusions of grandeur."