Loving the Enemy: Militant Visions of the West

Faisal Devji

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This paper makes the argument that militants associated with Al-Qaeda speak from within the world of their enemies and possess no place outside it. Whether these enemies are Western democracies or Muslim liberals, militants derive strength from exploiting their weaknesses and contradictions rather than from some alternative ideology or social order. This accounts for the rapidity of militant mobilization as much as its diversity of recruitment, neither of which depend upon the indoctrination of young Muslims into a wholly foreign movement--however exotic their rhetoric and appearance. This intimacy with the world of their enemies is also what makes many such militants into suicidal individuals rather than the members of a collective movement, since their task is to destroy this world from the inside. The great paradox of violence of the Al-Qaeda variety is that it seeks the fulfilment of its enemies' ideals rather than proffering any of its own, thus rendering militancy conceptually invisible and immune to attack by the liberal societies whose contradictions it seeks to illustrate.

Faisal Devji is Associate Professor of History at The New School for Social Research in New York. He is the author of Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity (2005), and The Terrorist in Search of Humanity: Militant Islam and Global Politics (2008).