Terrorism’s Causes? Ask Jihadi John!

jihadi john

Last month The Atlantic headlined Graeme Wood’s article, “What Isis Really Wants and How to Stop It.” That article apparently set the tone for President Obama’s White House Summit on Countering Violent Terrorism (Feb. 18th).

Together the article and the Obama’s meeting gave rise to endless talk show discussions about radicalism and its causes. All reformulated the old 9/11 question, “Why do they hate us?”

Most expert answers missed the obvious historical response. They overlooked the basic law of cause and effect.

Instead, they focused on terrorist psychology.

According to the experts, many ISIS radicals are directionless youths without gainful employment. Others are adventure-seekers, or mentally ill psychopaths. Some radicals are medievalists with an unexplainable bias against the modern world. Most are products of bad religion and corrupt imams.

Ostensibly, the majority are easily influenced by Facebook advertising which ISIS rebels have mastered to an art form that somehow escapes the medium’s inventors.

What to do about such problems? The talk show whizzes weren’t sure. Most highlighted better advertising. We’ve got to improve our Facebook skills, they intoned.

Missed or downplayed in all the ruminations is the obvious. Why not ask Jihadi John?

Here’s what he said on YouTube as he pointed his knife at President Obama before beheading yet another victim dressed tellingly in an orange jumpsuit: “As your missiles continue to strike our people, our knives will continue to behead your people.”

Hmm. . . . Wouldn’t you say that’s pretty straight-forward? In a word, the man is talking about blowback. It’s as simple as that.

What causes radicalism? Let me count the ways: everything signified by Guantanamo orange jumpsuits, extra-judicial assassinations, drones hovering over towns terrorizing children, wedding parties whose revelers are suddenly turned into “bug splats,” U.S. soldiers urinating on the lifeless corpses of one’s parents, the work of reassembling body parts for purposes of identification after a U.S. bombing attack, the smell of human flesh incinerated by our napalm and white phosphorous.

The list goes on and on: Abu Grahib, Fallujah, Haditha, the Torture Report, support of dictators throughout the Arabian Peninsula, continued arming of Israel even after Netanyahu incinerated and dismembered more than 495 Muslim children in his latest “turkey shoot” in Gaza, Christian fundamentalists ignorantly crusading against Islam, racist cartoonists lampooning “the Prophet” when they can hardly spell his name, western industrialism destroying the planet by climate change.

Why do they hate us? It’s not rocket science, friends. It’s blowback. It’s what none of our leaders will say because curing the radicalism means drastically reforming U.S. policy.

It means ceasing to be the radical terrorist state “America” itself has become.

For God’s sake, listen to Jihadi John!

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

8 thoughts on “Terrorism’s Causes? Ask Jihadi John!”

  1. Excellent, Mike. In plain English, too. No obfuscation or euphemisms required to tell it like it is.
    But: also tell it like it was – beginning with the Crusades, Spain, Inquisition, colonialism, greed and the still-lingering stench and inequality of hegemony — ours, this time.

    The history of the Middle East has been well documented. Some of it is biased of course, but most of it is excellent and accurate. Problem is, Mike, no one bothers to read it or, more importantly, to learn from it — especially our leadership who are making the decisions that affect our nation well into our future (if we have one).

    George W. Bush should have had his tongue torn out (remember “Crusades?’) or been given a lobotomy before he could do any more damage in that region. Of course he was not alone — he was too stupid to do it on his own. The terrible truth is that those same perps who engineered the Gulf War fiasco and the shame and human suffering that followed are still with us — nameless for the most part. My name tor them and for all their ilk is ‘puppet masters.’

    And now we have Hillary and Jeb warming up in the bullpen. Sweet Jesus and Mary, have mercy on us!


    1. Well put, as usual, Alice. I know you noticed that Jeb’s team is made up of the very same characters that so ably advised his brother. As you say, God help us! Or maybe we should say, “Elizabeth Warren, help us!”


  2. Why stop with Jihadi John? The planet hosts a wide range of aggrieved radicals ready to murder on behalf of their extremist ideologies. Go ask Anders Breivik about HIS ideology. Asia also has its share of radicals with sharpened knives and other lethal weapons all ready to plow into the “other”.

    You could also question why so many claim to hate moderate Western “bourgeois values”, personal belief systems that encourage people do as they will so long as they don’t hurt others. What is so wrong with philosophies that ask you to to be master of your own individual life and choices without seeking forcible domination over others?

    Can you improve the ethics in this system? Yes.

    Is the “Jihadi John” system preferable? I don’t think so.


    1. Mary: I appreciate your point about the individuals and groups you mention. However, my own point in listing the grievances that ISIS and other have is that U.S. policy does not express what you call “moderate Western ‘bourgeois values.'” Instead, it represents a radical extremism of its own that (as Chomsky and Herman remind us) is “wholesale,” in comparison with the “retail” terrorism even of ISIS. Our foreign policy (expressed in the items I enumerated) is terrorism pure and simple and on a (Third) world-wide scale. By comparison, the terrorism of ISIS (though inexcusable) is local and extremely limited.


  3. Mike — this recent interview with 60 minutes journalist Lara Logan contains some information to consider. Among other things, Logan was raped/tortured/injured (recently underwent yet another surgical repair) because someone in the crowd claimed that she was “Israeli”.

    Logan isn’t Israeli, but that truth is not the point — the point is that this near-fatal assault was a political/ethnic hate crime. Logan, who is educated, works for one of the leading television news programs and has traveled widely, said that she had not known that in Egypt, this type of sexual assault is very common and relatively accepted, and it was incited under the premise that Logan was an Israeli! (Logan was rescued after a half hour of brutal torture/beating by a woman in complete hijab and her companions. Those women should get credit for stepping forward).


    1. Mary: Of course I sympathize with your desire to be even-handed in your approach to the horrors you list. However, it seems to me that in view of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, the “Torture Report,” drone miss-hits, widespread religious fundamentalism, institutionalized racism, homophobia, misogyny etc., “Americans” have lost all grounds for criticizing others. We are not champions of human rights, democracy or anything approaching non-violence. Like the nations we pretend to “help,” we need to get our own house in order.
      Also, I was not defending “Jihadi John,” but merely pointing out that he himself answers the question posed at the outset of my blog post, viz. “What Does Isis Want?” His answer however yields the uncomfortable truth that if we want Isis to stop their atrocities, we must stop ours.


      1. Mike, you and I assign different meanings to the word “we”. Maybe this is because my family lineage crosses so many boundaries that are “supposed to be” enemies — but aren’t in reality.

        There are things in U.S. culture that could definitely benefit from cleanup, but in today’s planet, it is not “us” vs. “them” — particularly since this part of North America has such porous borders and at this point “us” includes many foreign cultures and foreign values, some of which ignite conflicts.

        In place of “ussing” and “themming” and guilting, how about a discussion of principles and values, a common language of values, and which values can be shared and upheld as laws.
        Most definitely, and I think you would agree about this, the persecution, enslaving and beheading of minority workers is not acceptable — anywhere.


  4. Would Berea students (especially those who have taken multiple Women’s Studies and Middle Eastern studies classes) graduate with the same degree of naivete as Lara Logan? Logan is educated, widely traveled, a journalist for a major US news production (“60 Minutes”). How could she have not-known that rape is widespread and accepted in Egypt, and only found out after she was maimed and came close to being killed?

    I often feel that our colleges, universities and religious institutions have a tendency to divide the world into hero-and-villain scenarios that adolescents can easily digest. It is tempting to do this, so easy. We all risk falling into that temptation, but there is much more complexity at work. Not a human being on the planet who is without error, and no one who will escape judgments. By the same measure that you mete, you will also be judged.

    How can so many professors be okay with throwing accused homosexuals off of buildings, honor killings, murder of political opponents, rape, beatings, degradation of other human beings? Those things happen here also, unfortunately — but they are occurring at a very high rate within the “Islamic World” also, as much as Berea tried to avoid recognizing this. It is disingenuous to abhor wrongdoing of one “identity group” and then to absolve yet another group for even more of the same behaviors. All humankind can do better. If you are going to judge and condemn Netanyahu for difficult decisions required in response to repeated and ongoing acts of war against his constituents, it is puzzling that you would make-nice for Jihadi John and his murders. There is no logic nor justice nor peace in this; only dog-eat-dog until someone manages to conquer. Be honest about your preferences. You would truly rather accept the leadership of “Jihadi John”? Do you understand what this entails?


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