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Why We Need to Understand the Apocalyptic Worldview of a Small Group of Radical Muslims

If we want to understand the genesis of much Islamic terrorism by a small handful of Muslims, a speculative tour of their apocalyptic worldview may help us design a more effective response.

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What began as a resistance by Chechen nationalists seeking independence from Russia eventually morphed into a religious campaign dominated by Muslims. According to Shultz & Dew, "radical Islamists from various Arab and Muslim countries" joined the Chechen resistance, and saw the fight as "part of the international holy war." In 2003, the authors note, "the U.S. State Department designated three Chechen groups as terrorist organizations and charged they had links to al-Qaeda." This has been disputed by some experts. Clearly, not all Chechen resistance fighters were Muslim; some were simply nationalists opposed to the vicious Russian campaign against Chechnya. And not all resistance fighters turned to terrorism.

Why Patriots Day?

Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts, although celebrated on a Monday, is dedicated to the colonial Minutemen patriots of Lexington and Concord and surrounding towns who on April 19, 1775 launched the revolution that gave birth to the United States. This is an important date for right-wing movements in the United States, and there are numerous posts on the Internet explaining why. Early speculation as to the perpetrators of the bombing centered on domestic right-wing militants. As someone who for forty years has studied domestic right-wing militias and neonazi groups (not the same thing) I had trouble imagining how such groups would explain targeting Boston on a day that was an iconic part of their anti-regime philosophy.

What if you believe in the Islamic prophecy? Imagine that you are a devout Muslim who has been drawn into a fanatical totalitarian sociopolitical movement that sees the United States as the Great Satan. Attacking civilians on Patriots day is an act that glorifies God. Bombing the Boston Marathon punishes a country bent on crippling global Islam. A colleague who is a filmmaker pointed out that blowing the legs off of marathon bystanders was symbolically cutting off America at the knees. Boston, once heralded by devout Christians as the apocalyptic New Jerusalem is exposed as the wellspring of evil, not the location where Jesus of Nazareth returns in triumph with a Christian millennium.

Bombing a celebration of Patriots Day in Boston not only targets the claim that America stands for democracy, but also reveals the weakness and powerlessness of the imperial juggernaut helping despoil Muslim lands from Chechnya to Mecca and beyond. This doesn’t have to make sense to the average American, it just has to make sense to two young Muslim men on a mission for God and glory who perhaps are on their way to a hero’s welcome in the afterlife.

The Devil is in the Details

The prophecy about a mighty army of non-Arab Muslims under a sea of black flags storming Jerusalem from the region of Khorasan is very marginal within contemporary Islam. A hadîth is a saying attributed to the prophet Muhammad in one or more collections handed down over time within Islam. Some hadiths are concerned more reliable than others by experts within the faith. According to Sheikh Salman al-Oadah at Islam Today:

The hadîth about the army with black banners coming out of Khorasan has two chains of transmission [historic references and cites], but both are weak and cannot be authenticated.

If a Muslim believes in this hadîth, he believes in something false. Anyone who cares about his religion and belief should avoid heading towards falsehood.

Being an observant Muslim or even a "fundamentalist" Muslim who resents U.S. foreign policy actions in the Middle East and South Asia does not mean that one automatically supports theocracy, violence, or terrorism. The problem is maximized when Fundamentalism is tied to a totalitarian worldview, especially when mixed with apocalyptic or millennial excitement.

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