10 Narratives Used by Islamic Extremists

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

  1. Collectivization: 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 pseudokinship, in-group love, al-wala, collective identity, collective action, or collective values.

  2. Otherization: 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 pseudospeciation, out-group hate, wal-bara, group selection, group bias, dehumanization, or devaluation.

  3. Collective Guilt: 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: 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;  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.

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