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10 Narratives Used by Islamic Extremists

10 Narratives Used by Islamic Extremists

There are numerous narratives used in Islamic extremism and terrorism. Here is my ‘top ten’ list:

1. Collectivization Narrative

To arrogantly believe that you speak on behalf of all others and bracket all people together in a collective cause. In this case, for being a Muslim, for being a member of Islam or the Islamic community, the Ummah. Networks and support frameworks are established between those of the ‘same kind.’ For example, ‘the Muslims.’ This may also be known as pseudo-kinship, in-group love, al-wala, collective identity, collective action, or collective values.

2. Otherization Narrative

The assumption that one member of a group represents all members of a group. Therefore they are justified as being ‘the same’ or having similar negative traits (e.g. in the Anti-Westernism stance as being ‘Westerners’ or ‘secularists’). The best word that describes this is ‘all.’ Claims are made against all of a certain group. This is otherwise known as pseudo-speciation, out-group hate, wal-bara, group selection, group bias, dehumanization, or devaluation.

3. Collective Guilt Narrative

Compiling the above is the assumption that one member of a group is responsible for all members of that group. If one commits a crime, all are responsible. If one belongs to a system, and the system is implicated, then all belonging to that system are responsible (e.g. all members of the Military due to the catastrophe of Guantanamo Bay). This also relates to honour-code violations, whereby extremists believe there is a pact between them and Allah, that they work as the ‘body’ of the Ummah. They claim to feel the pain of the Ummah. They claim to fight for their religious honour to emancipate fellow brothers and sisters from suffering or non-Islamic injustices, the Cause of Allah.

4. Oppression Narrative

The grievance narrative is ‘played off’ as the oppression of a group of peoples. They may not be in a minority, they may not be oppressed across the spectrum, there may be violence on both sides caused by both sides, but any interventionist approach or encroachment on their lives is seen as oppression. This feeds the victimhood narrative that oppression is a grievance, you are suffering, therefore you need to act and stop it – you are guilty is you do not help. This also begins the paranoid, conspiracy-like thinking, of the ‘other’ group (e.g. that of the ‘Zionists’, the ‘Crusaders’ and the CIA).

5. Supremacist Narrative

Boundaries are forged between groups of people, absolute boundaries that define one from another. There is decreased interfacing between the groups and thus more backbiting (or ghiba) and slander between groups. The former oppression narrative categorisation leads to unimpeded portrayal of the ‘other’ as in the wrong, as an oppressor, as an aggressor, and as the enemy. Egotistical and emotional backing fortifies the claim (We are ‘the Chosen’, ‘the Mujahideen’, the ‘Vanguard’). The individual sees his or herself as the ‘better’ one. This is admirable to those looking from the outside-in.

6. Retaliatory Violence

Violence is usually not automatically acceptable, it is packaged in the understanding of defence or self-defence. This makes what would be a large meal, easy to swallow in small, edible pieces. Even if the logic does not fit, the violent pathway is offered. ‘We attacked them, so they attacked us, so that means we can attack back‘ is not portrayed. Why ruin the narrative? It goes something along the lines of: ‘They are attacking us, fight back!‘ and the foundation is set. Even when the consequences are to lose your own life, there is always a half-truth that hooks the individual, the precedence is that violence can stop violence (although not necessarily true…). Great bait, mate.

7. Divinity of Violence

The pursuit of violence is pushed into the divine realm. The ideological void is now filled with a God-given solution, an internal conflict – an ongoing identity crisis, and the appeal of the charismatic recruiter. This confuses the sympathetic, enticing him or her into justifying terroristic violence. This personal transformation for self now becomes an act of God. Ultimately, this is a self-destructive pathway to the benefit of nobody but the individual terrorist group itself. They will tell you that this is the only religious option. That this is the only thing that the Holy Qur’an says. That this is your duty as a believer. Violence is now packaged with a pretty little bow on top. Offensive violence is now an attractive claim.

8. False Bargaining

The contract set. You work for them now. This contradicts the fore-claimed divinity of violence (in that you do it for God, you now work for a fascistic organisation conducting State affairs and terrorism). The limits set by terror groups expand beyond any meddling in ‘Muslim affairs‘ or ‘Muslim lands.’ The false bargain is an offer with a whole lot of small print. What some misconstrue as anti-Imperialism turns Imperialistic in nature itself as it claims to hold against all those who do wrong, or sin, by the religion. The confines of religious violence against a perceived persecutor expand and vary (e.g. al-Qaeda and ISIS beating and lashing women on the street, beheading apostates or meddling in the exchange of a shopkeep to customer).

9. False Narratives

The narratives used by terrorist organisations often adjust, sometimes even contradicting one another. I gave a similar example above, but to solidify it: they expand from being in “our homes” or “our land” to that of disbelief, polytheism, ‘corrupting the land,’ and other explanative religious and political reasoning. The narrative one minute is that you ‘have invaded us’ and the next minute that you ‘are disbelievers’ and it is a holy war (e.g. Abdullah Azzam’s Defence of the Muslim Lands). This is known as perpetual jihad: based upon the narrative of defending one land, you are now invading or carrying out atrocities in another (e.g. Chechnya-Dagestan-Russia, Afghanistan-America-Britain-Australia) and has progressed since into an international crisis: International Terrorism. Because there is an eternal cosmic and divine war going on, the attacks will ‘never cease’ says the recruiter, and because all land is Allah’s – why stop? The escalation of violence continues. What is a better narrative than a made-up or flimsy one?

10. Reward Narrative

Psst, kid, want some virgins? Bin Laden may have hated capitalism and consumerism but he loved feeding recruits the prospect of martyrdom in a neat, corporate-like marketed package. The narrative that dying for the “Cause of Islam” was a productive outlet to your hatred, aggression, frustration, and lack of morality; a testament to how self-flagellatory and sadistic Islamic extremism and its target audience really are. It does not just wish to ‘stop’ problems but to punish otherwise innocent people through an individual’s own worldview thereby creating more problems. But that’s alright because you believe you’ll get some virgins in Heaven, right? Ha!


By the end of the process, the marketed package of terrorism is neatly packed with a pretty bow. Inside, you believe, it offers you a divine purpose with a reward, sex appeal, a way of letting out your anger and hatred, and a bit of adventure. But when you open it up… you are left with nothing and yet you have caused so much devastation, destruction and disaster. What a waste of life. See through the narratives.

Wisen up.

Originally Published on my Blog @

Religious Freedom and Islamic Terrorism: Study Analysis

Religious Freedom and Islamic Terrorism: Study Analysis


If the some of the religious community radicalise and kill people… What do we do? Do we shut down their places of worship? Do we monitor their services? Do we restrict growing religious influence? Do we out-right ban the religion? Do we restrict their freedom of religion?

In this article, I will analyse a study, “Explaining religious terrorism: a data-mined analysis” by Nilay Saiya and Anthony Scime, which may directly answer these questions or give you the academic backing of which to answer them.

The Study

The aforementioned study suggests that religious freedom is negatively correlated with religious terrorism, as any overt restrictions on religion feed into the Islamist narrative – who are then able to portray themselves as valiant heroes fighting oppression:

“[…] The classification data mining techniques used in this study find that a country’s level of religious restrictions is the most significant variable predicting the onset of religious terrorism—twice more important than any of the other variables. The conditions under which a regime is able to ‘‘repress away’’ terrorism appear to be so context-specific that repression cannot generally be adopted by governments as an effective antidote to terrorism. This does not mean that other variables are unimportant, however, as this analysis has shown. In certain combinations, a country’s level of democracy, size of population, land area, geographical location, predominant religious tradition, history of foreign occupation, regime stability and the number of religious minorities matter in conjunction with religious liberty. These findings do not suggest, of course, that religiously free countries never experience religious terrorism or that religiously restrictive ones always do. The point is, nonetheless,that efforts to restrict religion do not always succeed in diminishing religion’s influence. Our theory explains why this is the case. Quite often such restrictions serve to foster radicalization and give credibility to the claim made by extremists that their faith is under attack. Repressive environments that strangle religious freedom and independent thinking serve as a natural breeding ground for extremists. When states prevent religious groups from practicing their faith, such groups are likelier to turn to violence as it is seen as the only way to bring about change.”

Reference: Explaining religious terrorism: A data-mined analysis.


The study gives it to us straight: restricting religious freedom is directly correlated with an increase in terror-related activities by said restricted religious community. Extrapolating along these lines, this is probably why we see many movements appear in places like Uzbekistan, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The narrative of violence that the Islamists feed off, within their religion, is strongly connected to the oppression narrative. Uzbekistan has been entangled in cases of mass arrest, overt surveillance of Mosques, and other acts which may be seen as persecutory.

Some interpretations of jihad state that jihad is fighting oppression within and around oneself. What this confirms is that it is quite a supremacist, aggressive, and expansionistic religion, and that any concern by a host population could lead to perceived persecution and backlash violence. This is the “abused wife” predicament: do you continue or do you do something about it? If both lead to violence, which one is predicted to eventually end the violence? The key point is that a particularist view of religious doctrine leads to one ultimate conclusion: to fight oppression of their religious inheritance and freedoms. This on its own promotes religious unity for a common and just cause, in which the community may support, but also one that gives way to violence and potential acts of terrorism.

Some authours have speculated that therefore religious freedom is the best weapon against Islamic terrorism. I disagree, as such interpretations of scripture only feed the oppression narratives of governmental control and religious strangulation. Other oppression narratives may include disbelief in monotheism, shirk, et cetera, which feed violent tendencies in scripture without governmental intervention.

In other words, terrorism is not only affected by top-down approaches but from the ground-up also. To simply suggest that complete religious freedom will dismantle all the narratives that extremists and terrorists exploit is not only naive but bluntly incorrect. However, it is about time that we recognize the “Energizing the Base” theory in action. Clearly, Islamists are “energizing” a population not only based upon governmental actions but upon inter-community and individual understanding of religious pathways to violence. Disrespectful top-down approaches speed up and reinforce that process.


The study cites these recommendations:

  • The inclusion of religious groups and individuals in policy-making and other governmental processes.
  • The usage of religious groups as a buttress between extremism and the oppression narratives at play.
  • For policymakers to carefully and tactfully consider religious liberty as a priority in regards to countering the oppression narrative exploited by extremists.
  • The implied stances are that outright banning, discriminating against, or targetting certain religious groups, will lead to further violence and terrorism. The “abused wife” dilemma.


In conclusion, this study suggests that overt restrictions on religion may lead to more violence. Violence in this capacity, which is often seen as retaliatory and just, and thus supported by a greater population, and may lead to an even bigger terrorist movement. To dismantle the bite of the oppression narrative, religious freedom and liberty must be looked upon carefully and tactfully by policy-makers. But we must also recognise that terrorism is not simply top-down and that other narratives fill the void from the bottom-up.

Originally Published on my Blog @

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