The main and perhaps most obvious question in dealing with the phenomenon of terrorism is usually absent from the official discourse: Why does a person turn to extremism? Or, in other words, what made this person accept and seek extreme religious interpretations? And why does a person rush to follow the propaganda of murder and terrorism?
Indeed, this question on the reasoning of extremism should be put forward in parallel with the confrontation of extremists and terrorists, if we want to get out of the quagmire of terrorism and its siege.
In fact, we are still talking about a deviant intellectual and religious product that needs to be corrected and renewed. This is generally accepted and not disputed, but we do not ask ourselves what are the factors driving these deviant goods popular in our ‘markets’, and what are the factors which contribute to the demand for such goods and perspectives, making them higher than the official or moderate religion discourse.
In fact, answers for this question has been proposed by two different schools: The first answer is that these texts – as a result of their religious and historical depth – can in themselves be a polarizing element for many, regardless of the political and social context surrounding them, and lead to extremism. The other school sees these texts and misinterpretations as having existed since ancient times, believing that they depict certain historical periods – and socio-political conditions – which, in order to meet demand, are taken out of historical books and converted into a charter of action, movement, and terrorism.
Indeed, the Arab and global debate about who bears the responsibility for terrorism – the religious text or the contextual social and political issues – is a legitimate debate, even if many of us respond to the question by saying that it is the religious text, so as to avoid discussing the existence of any political and social responsibility for extremism.
Indeed, the transformations that have hit the extremist currents in the past half century have revived this debate once again. The motives of terrorism throughout the last three decades of the 20th century were mainly due to many people delving into extremist religious interpretations for years, without being victims of injustice, or political and social oppression. They chose to practice violence as a result of religious and ideological convictions (deviant, of course), which spanned around the concept of the governance of God. They considered the existing ruling regimes to be ignorant for their lack of application of the provisions of God, and therefore, in the perspective of the terrorists, deemed it necessary for the regimes to face violent expiation.
The matter has changed since the start of the last decade as the role of religious text as a key determinant in the recruitment process for al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) retreated. It is true that it is still present as a justification for murder or suicide, but what creates hatred and terrorism is no longer simply delving into a deviant religious interpretation for years, as was the case of Jihadis in the 20th century, but it is rather a political and social reality.
The issue of extremism in Egypt is like other countries, no longer far from reality. There is an IS and Muslim Brotherhood propaganda machine promoting political grievance by talking about security abuses, the arrest and killing of innocent people, and discussing ‘legitimacy’ toppled by military intervention. This speech can be refuted in many aspects and its imbalances corrected, especially regarding the injustices and social conditions of the Sinai people.
If we admit that there is a preliminary question to be answered: Why do people become radicalized? And why do they accept this kind of deviant religious interpretation? Then we will take a serious step in the fight against terrorism.