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The Concept and History of Islamist Terrorism

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Table of contents

  1. Words and Organisations to Know
  2. History of Islamist Terrorism
    Conditions led to Islamist Terrorism
  3. Bibliography

Words and Organisations to Know

Islamist terrorism claims to be inspired by Islam. Islamist terrorism or Radical Islamist terrorism is generally defined as “any terrorist act, set of acts or campaign committed by groups or individuals who profess Islamist motivations or goals. Islamist terrorists justify their violent tactics through the interpretation of Quran and Hadith according to their own goals and intentions.”

This term should not be used with the world terrorism, as it is found offensive by the administrations of countries which have a large number of Muslims in their society, such as Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia. It associates Islam in general as a religion with terrorism. Islamic is an adjective to define Muslims and the religion Islam and it refers to the 1.6 billion Muslim population all over the world whereas Islamist is a twentieth century construct that has a political entity to itself and is destructive for people all over the world. (So, the correct term to refer to the terror acts or personas is Islamist or Islamist terrorism not Islamic terrorism.)

The term was originally used to describe the religion Islam, with having no political aspect to it. After the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, the term gained a political aspect. With the establishment of new Islamist Government the term became an ideology just like fundamentalist Islam, radical Islam and literalist Islam. After the 9/11 accidents, Islamism was no longer used to describe the religion Islam but rather was used to describe the ideology which interpreted Quran literally and had the aim of imposing any version of Islam over society. It is the political manifestation (formally or informally) of Islam. It differentiates from Islam as Islam is the religion followed by Muslims without having a political entity whereas Islamism is an ideology that with or without violence tries to enforce their message and terrorise populations into submission. Overall, Islamism includes a variety of Islamist movements and does not represent Muslims or Islam.

With being unconstitutional in many countries, Sheria is laws and legislations of Islam that are regarding the socio-economic, political and cultural aspect of adherents and their code of living. It is inspired by Holy Book Quran, Prophet Mohammed and hadiths.

Jihadism: Jihad in its origin of the word means a struggle in the name of Allah, which can be interpreted as conveying the messages of Allah and Quran to non-muslims. Many extremists of Islam consider it to be the sixth great command of Islam and justify their violent acts against Westerners with it however majority of Muslims are against violent Jihadism.

Al Qeada was originated from the defence uprising against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Al Qeada, began serving as a logistical network at that time and post war, when the Soviets withdrew, the organisation dispersed but did not vanish. It continued serving as a veteran health care. Organisation was reestablished under the name of Taliban in 1990s. The veterans of Soviet- Afghan war were the first members of the new reestablished organisation. Al Qaida has engaged in numerous terrorist attacks, the biggest one being the “9/11 attacks” that took place in USA. After that attack, the leader of the organisation, Osama Bin Ladin was killed in an operation directed by US troops and CIA. Al-Qaeda later released a statement announcing that Ayman Al Zawahiri, had been appointed to replace bin Laden as the organisation’s leader.

Hezbollah, is a political and military organisation based in Lebanon, made up of Shia Muslims. It emerged in the early 1990s. The organisation now holds 12 seats in the parliament of Lebanon. Hezbollah has considered Israel as the biggest enemy since its occupation of Lebanon until 2000. Tension between two forces has built up a war and it has ended in a ceasefire. Having survived from a massive attack from Israel, Hezbollah declared victory, which only made it more recognisable among Arab world.

Also known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Islamic State (IS). The organisation was found in the early 2000s, being allies with Al-Qaeda. It aims to create an Islamic state called a caliphate across Iraq, Syria and beyond. “In June 2014, it declared a caliphate a state. ISIS’s revenue comes from oil production and smuggling, taxes, ransoms from kidnappings, selling stolen artefacts, extortion and controlling crops.” It’s leader is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In 2014, it was controlling over 34,000 square miles in Syria and Iraq, from the Mediterranean coast to south of Baghdad. Now, with the data derived from latest researches, its territory had shrunk to about 23,320 square miles*

History of Islamist Terrorism

The history of Islam, begins in the year 610, when Prophet Mohammed starts receiving Allah’s instructions in the new religion. From that time to 17th century, Islam has lived its golden age. As west gained more military advancement, things started to change. Soon enough, the empire was unraveled. In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte led his expedition into Egypt, after that point, the Arabian peninsula was occupied heavily by lots of states such as the British (occupied modern Yemen), French (occupied Tunisia) and Russia (captured parts of Persia). However, biggest attack to Muslim world was the establishment of Israeli State in 1948. While some Muslims had no problem with adaptation to the new world era, controlled by West, a minority of them did. This tension created a new rigid ideology which was later referred as Islamism. “Islamism came to be seen as a struggle to return to the glorious days when Islam reigned supreme”

They rejected the modernisation that West brought and saw them as the responsible agencies for the demolishment of Islamic Empire. Western influences over Arabs were unstoppable and they did not understand why Islamic values were losing importance in West. So, they not only rejected the developments of West and its modernisation, but also their own governments as well which they considered to be submissive to West. Thus, their ideology of turning Islamic empire back to its glorious days became an ideology that uses force to reject influences of West and overthrowing anybody whom they saw as West sympathiser. With the aim to refuse Western influences and secularism over MENA region, organisations started emerging.

One of the first ones ever to appear was Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. After that Al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, Taliban and more organisations builded up. These organisations follow the ideology of Islamism which is not accepted commonly among other Muslims. They interpret Hadiths and Quran wrongly in order for it to fit with their politic goals. They embrace a perverted version of Islam. Therefore, 1.6 billion Muslims across the globe should not be held guilty for violent acts taken by these Islamist terrorists. It is said by many government officials in the West, that there is a war going on. From the Western point of view, this war is against “evil”, from Islamist point of view, this war is against non-believers. But in reality, this illegitimate war cannot be justified with Quran or Hadiths. Under the five commandments of Islam, there is not an obligation to “Jihad”. So unlike what Islamists say, the war is not in the name of Allah, neither is it in the name of Islam and therefore, it should be referred as The War on Militant Islam and Islamic people should be excluded from being under the classification of Islamist Terrorists. Violent extremism in the Muslim world continues to be a persistent problem. And the way to eradicate it goes through eradicating the conditions lead to it.

Conditions led to Islamist Terrorism

Majority of people just assumes that there are two overriding reasons for islamist extremism, poverty and lack of education. Poverty trap makes potential terrorist grind without any having any apparent escape and seek resentment from those who have more than you.

Ignorance side happens when the poor has no chance of getting a decent education and thus becomes easy to manipulate into joining extremist organisations. Indoctrination of poor and ignorant people are considered to be easier than indoctrination of educated and wealthy people. However, the truth of the matter is not that easy to explain. Many who subscribe to religious extremism are from middle class with a university degree education. So if poverty and lack of education are not the only causes of religious extremism, then what is?

The first one is seeking a place where there is order. Places such as Pakistan and Syria and submerged in chaos and in corruption. Islamist terrorist organisation promises an order which has strict outlines guided by sheri’a laws. Second reason is that a desire for a change. Previously it was stated that these organisations don’t only stand against Western influences but also those governments that are believed to be corrupted and sympathisers of West. So potential not so poor or ignorant adherents get brainwashed into believing that overthrowing of that corrupted system and change can only happen via violent action. Islamist Extremists promises a new government which is intrigued by many.

What can be done?

Acknowledge that this is not a issue caused only by lack of education or poverty.

Take the narrative off these groups they are seen to be promising a better government or state, which influences people most.

Media needs to stop showing extremists as freedom fighters, this is seen commonly in Pakistan,

Instead of the action being taken by the US or Russia in their individual capacity, it is time an International Force is formed with maximum participation from many nations to destroy groups.

Individuals who commit terrorist acts generally go through a period of radicalisation that leads to their violent behaviour, this process needs to be recognised by the members of society and government.

During the Afghan Soviet war, Pakistani army trained warriors militarily against Soviet occupation along with Al Qaeda and other Western forces. Also, the Pakistani military leader General Ziaul Haq, has helped raising an aid from Saudi Arabia for the “Islamic Rival”. However, after the 9/11 attacks, the western and Arabian coalition turned upside down. Pakistan, chose to stay with Western forces against Taliban’s regime in Afghanistan. Other Islamist organisations, since they has sided against Westerns, also sided against Pakistan. Thus, a conflict among Pakistan and other organisations emerged. Pakistan has carried out attacks on these organisations, selecting carefully who they were targeting. “They did not attack Islamists on purpose as they were seen as “strategic assets” to be used as proxies to wage a war in India-administered Kashmir”* A number organisations started attacking back to Pakistan and those attacks on military and civilians became a crucial problem for Pakistani authorities. The control of Taliban and other organisations by Pakistani state weakened when Pakistan teamed up with US.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is one of the organisations Pakistan is having a hard time controlling. The group is allied with Afghan Taliban but also acts independently to impose their Sheri’a in Pakistan. TTP promises to have a government guided by Sheria and the Saudi-Wahhabi brand of Islam therefore they are seen as a group fighting against Western Influences by many. TTP wants to build a Taliban state in the country. they are against the state and the army, because the army has been working closely with the US for a very long time, and US is blamed for the economic and political status of the country. In that sense, the reason why militants are supported by the public is to have a state with a better “welfare” not controlled by US.Another reason why Palestine is supporting Militants is the dispute in Kashmir. The islamist militancy in Pakistan is as nearly old as the Kashmir issue itself. In 1947 the Kashmir monarch was overthrown.

As a result, Indian troops occupied a large part of it. Palestine, on the other hand, occupied a small portion of it.* That portion is still administered by Pakistan. Pakistan and Indian conflict is still ongoing, as Pakistan has taken a narrative in which Indians are seen as enemy. Since 1989, Islamist recruits are fighting in Indian controlled parts of Kashmir. India and international community is pretty disturbed from the actions taken by TTP with the Palestinian government. Despite the alleged support for terrorist organisations from Pakistani State, US and Western forces has not taken any measures against Pakistan. The international community is interested in having a stable state, no matter the consequences. Pakistan has a high number of nukes and the risk of the nuclear weapons falling into the hands of extremists is alarming for the West. Pakistani government states that Nuclear Weaponry and nukes are under strict control however US believes nuclear programmes are never safe.


  1. B. Hoffman, “Inside Terrorism”, Columbia University Press, 1999, pp. 89–

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