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Jihad and Death by Olivier Roy

15 September 2017

Simon Ross Valentine on an analysis of the violent jihadi mentality

THE recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London have again raised questions relating to terrorists and why they are willing not only to kill and inflict harm on innocent people, but also to kill themselves.

In this book (written in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, Brusselsm and other European cities), Olivier Roy, an analyst of political Islam in the Middle East at the European University Institute in Florence, gives interesting, if not controversial, insights into the factors motivating terrorists.

Roy begins in section one by discussing the “new characteristic of both jihad and terrorism”: namely, “the desire of the pursuit of death”, as seen in the words of Osama bin Laden: “we love death, as you love life.” But what motivates a jihadist to desire death?

In the following three sections and brief conclusion of this slim volume (it consists of 115 pages), Roy tries to answer that question by examining the “Terrorists’ Profile”; the “imaginary” used by jihadists; and the development of jihadism from Osama bin Laden to Islamic State.

Conventional research indicates that jihadism is caused by social and economic discrimination; alleged Islamophobia; hatred by the jihadist of western jahiliyya (ignorance, godlessness), and a desire to bring all nations under the hakimiyyah (rule and sovereignty) of God.

Policy-makers and analysts of terrorism generally believe that jihadists are also motivated by Islam (albeit a distorted, unrecognisable form of Islam), to commit their brutal, cowardly acts.

Roy, however, rejects such widely accepted views, arguing instead that “Jihadists do not descend into violence after poring over the sacred texts.” In his opinion, jihadists are motivated by “inner disquiets”: personal issues, unrelated to their faith.

As Roy argues “the question is not the radicalization of Islam, but the Islamization of radicalism.” He refers to the process by which jihadists, mostly second-generation immigrants, are caught between the traditional Islamic world of their parents and the secularism of Western societies. Failing to find a place (a sense of belonging), they reject Western society, expressing their angst in terms of Islam.

In making this claim, some may argue that Roy limits, if not ignores, the influence of so-called “Sheikh Google”: hate preachers such as Ahmad Musa Jibril, Zakir Naik, and others who, by their online preaching, have had a significant influence in turning Western Muslims to radicalism. The London terrorist-attack ringleader Khuram Butt was apparently motivated by the online sermons of Jibril.

For those concerned about the increase in terrorist acts (and, quite frankly, who isn’t?), then, this book is essential reading. Even if we disagree with Roy’s conclusions, he makes us think, and encourages us to challenge and reassess received opinions.


Dr Simon Ross Valentine a freelance writer on Islam currently living in Iraq.


Jihad and Death: The global appeal of Islamic State

Olivier Roy

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