The broad appeal of militant Islam

The news that many of the suspects in the failed car bomb attacks in Britain are medical doctors from the Middle East has shocked many and raised questions about connections between class, education and militant Islam.

There is a popular misperception that only the destitute or ill-educated are drawn to the ranks of militant Islamic organisations.

But nothing could be further from the known facts.

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It is true that the appeal of political Islam – from the militant to the more moderate versions – is quite strong among the poor, because it promises a just and equitable society free from corruption and oppression.

But the leaders and the middle echelons of such groups are often well-educated middle class men.

The 19 young men behind the 9/11 attacks on Washington and New York six years ago were middle class university graduates or students.

Not to mention, of course, the leader of al-Qaeda himself, Osama Bin Laden, the son of a Saudi billionaire, and his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian-trained doctor from a very well-known and respected middle class family in Cairo.

Many of the leaders of Palestinian Islamist groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are either medical doctors, engineers or university professors.

And the oldest and most influential movement of political Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, whose doctrine is blamed for the mushrooming militant groups across the world, is largely an organisation of middle class professionals.

Islamic ‘utopia’

Islamist groups are not only transnational in ambition, with members who do not recognise national boundaries, but they also have a wider appeal across the class barrier.

The lure of an Islamic utopia, where justice and virtue prevail according to a puritanical version of Islam, is too strong to resist for rich and poor alike. For some it is an end that justifies any means.

Some believe that their ‘Islamic utopia’ is not only an answer to the problems of their own societies, but for the entire world
It is an idea that has an enormous appeal for the masses in Middle Eastern states lacking in freedom, social justice and the promise of a fulfilling existence.

It is particularly attractive for young idealists who want to make the world a better place.

While far-left groups during the 1960s and 70s (such as Bader-Meinhof in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy) justified violence on the grounds they were battling an evil capitalist order, young Islamist militants feel justified in their jihad against what they see as an immoral and oppressive world order.

The lawyers, the engineers, the doctors and the students who once led the struggle for national liberation against colonial powers are again the standard-bearers of a movement that claims to have a cure for all the ills of their societies.

However, some Islamists are more ambitious and believe that their “Islamic utopia” is not only an answer to the problems of their own societies, but for the entire world, including the “decadent West”.

Ironically, their global ambition has become all the more visible because of the very global forces they wish to vanquish, including of course America’s global “war on terror”.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Magdi Abdelhadi, BBC Arab affairs analyst, BBC, July 3, 2007,

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday July 4, 2007.
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