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The Age of Jihad

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As a result, an air of fear hangs over society, regardless of the fact that the likelihood of falling victim to such an attack is very low indeed. But this is how terror works.”

When a group of Muslim men shouted “Jihad, Jihad, Jihad” at a protest following Hamas’s massacre of Israeli civilians, the London metropolitan police downplayed the incident stating that “[t]he word has a number of meanings.” While this is not wrong, the recent terrorist attack on a Moscow concert hall, which killed at least 140 people and maimed and injured many more, serves as a bloody reminder of what we are up against: a fundamentalist ideology that views the murder of innocents and non-combatants as part of a “holy war” against infidels.

The semantic elasticity of the term “jihad” makes it the perfect watchword for Muslim extremists organizing and operating in Muslim-minority countries as it gives them plausible deniability and allows them to denounce any criticism as Islamophobia, which as Andrew Cummins put it, is “a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.” Meanwhile, we do not know when and where the next Islamist terror attack will occur. As a result, an air of fear hangs over society, regardless of the fact that the likelihood of falling victim to such an attack is very low indeed. But this is how terror works.

After a number of years during which Islamic terrorism seemed more of a lone-wolf phenomenon than a well-orchestrated strategy (consider, for example, the 2020 terrorist attack in Vienna), October 7th and the Crocus City Hall attack in Moscow on March 22nd have shown that organized jihadism is back. We live in an age of violent jihad, with international terrorist networks pulling the strings. These networks have embedded themselves in Muslim communities around the globe, including in metropolitan areas in the West. This is, of course, not to say that Muslim citizens are all potential terrorists; however, it does say something about the purported “religion of peace” and its role as a fifth column undermining Western liberal-democratic society.

As a religion and as a culture, Islam fails to draw a clear line between faith and politics. Islamism and specifically jihadism are the result of this pervasive lack of secularism. But it would be a mistake to overemphasize the political component of Islamic terrorism. While political grievances against Israel undoubtedly played a role in the atrocities of October 7th, the deliberate and sadistic slaughter of Jewish civilians only makes sense in the context of a “holy war” waged by religious zealots. One is reminded of the Voltairean aphorism that “[t]hose who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Similarly, the fact that Russia supported Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in his war against ISIS may help explain why the jihadist group, who almost immediately claimed the Moscow shooting attack and even provided video to back it up, targeted Russian civilians. But it is religious zealotry that inspires the killing of infidels. 

Russian president Vladimir Putin’s attempt to blame the terrorist attack on the West and Kyiv is especially ludicrous. After all, the United States had warned Russia of an imminent attack, and Ukraine, whose war effort relies on Western weapons and support, had absolutely no incentive to side with the West’s Islamist enemies. What is more, Russia’s brutal treatment of the four suspected shooters from Tajikistan demonstrates once more that the regime in power completely disregards international law, which prohibits torture under all circumstances. Revenge is an understandable impulse in light of the horrors inflicted, but it is the mark of a civilized society to be able to control such impulses even when dealing with murderous barbarians.

There are many parallels between what happened at Moscow’s Crocus City Hall and the ISIS attack on the Bataclan theater in Paris on November 13, 2015. For me, the Bataclan attack, which tragically killed 90 concert goers and wounded approximately 200, hit home especially hard because my band performed at a similar, albeit smaller, music venue in Vienna on that same night. Soon after we got off stage, we heard the news. Some commentators were quick to blame French foreign policy, colonialism, or Islamophobia, but there was no denying that this was a targeted attack on our way of life—free people enjoying themselves playing and listening to music—by a demonic force hell-bent on destruction. This force is still very much with us today and will remain a factor in public life for the foreseeable future. But we must not let fear shape our outlook on life and society. Moreover, we must not be afraid to call a spade a spade: Islamic jihadism.

Gerfried Ambrosch is an author and writer and holds a Ph.D. in literary and cultural studies. He can be found on X @g_ambrosch

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