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…
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.
Why is this? Abdelhadi’s explanation almost seems to make sense:
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 many 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. [my emphasis]
But the argument is unsound; indeed, it’s nonsensical. Yes, by Western standards a place like Egypt lacks “freedom, social justice and the promise of a fulfilling existence” for the great majority of its citizens. But of course the remedy suggested, an Islamic state, will not provide those things, at least not in any sense that we understand those terms. Such a state is characterized precisely by totalitarianism, inequality, and injustice.
And I’m convinced that these highly educated Islamists understand this quite well. It’s not social justice or especially freedom that they crave.
If they live in the West, even if they were born in the West, where these things are much more available than in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, they don’t revel in them — they reject and try to destroy them.
The problem with modern society for the radical Islamist, it seems to me, is that there is too much freedom, too many choices. They don’t want to have the option of drinking alcohol or spending time alone with attractive women, because then they would have to struggle with their desires. Their “better place” is a world in which they are not stressed by the need to make moral choices. Islam for them is the ‘religion of peace’ in the sense that they are at peace from the turmoil of souls for whom everything is not already decided.
Interestingly, this explains why, as Abdelhadi says, “it is an end that justifies any means.” Or, as I prefer, it explains their psychopathological behavior.
One of the most difficult moral questions that we all face is the balancing of ends vs. means. Should a person cut ethical corners in business in order to send his children to college? If it is really, really important to replace the government, is it therefore acceptable to spread lies about it?
But the Islamist rejects moral questions. His goal is to live life without moral stress, to simply submit. He has already made his decision to live in this way. So it’s not exactly that the end justifies the means, but rather that the question of means vs. ends doesn’t even come up. He doesn’t deliberate, he just does. Some day the world will be a better place, in which nobody will have to deliberate, inshallah.