Though not entirely crime related, I am currently about halfway through a book entitled 'Jihadi Culture: The Art and Social Practices of Militant Islamists'. The book is edited by Thomas Hegghammer, a senior researcher at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, and comes complete with pieces by other researchers abroad such as:
Finally, the book ends with Thomas Hegghammer himself and a section on the non-military practices of Jihadi groups.
The thing I find most interesting about this book is the way it approaches the subject, it looks at the study of Jihadism through a lens beyond the traditional Western idea that Mujahideen are inhuman monsters which must be vanquished.
Instead, it chooses to study them from a deeper cultural perspective. Which allows the reader to get a broader, more informative idea of the how and why individuals come to join the sorts of organizations that are used as examples in the book.
When we think of violent Jihadi's, we do not often look at them as though they are Human beings. It is a normal response, I think, to view the 'other' as little more than a generalized uniform rather than what they really are at the heart of things.
This book sheds light on their love of poetry and poetic song, or the reasons certain symbols and images become important to their causes. Such as Lions, borders drawn prior to the First World War, and the combination of Mujahideen on horseback like warriors of old next to masked troops toting modern assault weaponry.
It even analyzes all the way down to the more simple things such as how they spend their off time. What games do they play among one another? What slang do they use? Why do they don the sorts of clothes they wear, and are some forms of dress specific to certain events?
These things allow us to understand, I think, that beyond the gruesome and seemingly senseless acts of violence there is a significantly deeper culture to be studied; a Human element. I am a firm believer in the idea that only through understanding the world around you, can you then begin to change it or work to mold it in your view. Be that as it may, this includes any group one might consider to be deviant or opposing to your own beliefs.
To close one's mind off with the simplistic conclusion that they are different, and that they are therefore bad, is to do a disservice to oneself and the people around us.
It denies us the understanding of why people choose the paths that they do. I see this time and time again while studying organized crime, for example. In the majority of cases, when you see outsiders commenting on the criminal strife's that have come to plague Mexico the response is often the same.
It is typically one of hate, and while understandably there is a great deal of anger and grievance involved in any situation of violence, this black and white perspective is not conducive to solving the problem.
Remarks about how wonderful it is that police abuse or extra judiciously murder apprehended criminals, fail to comprehend the fact that this only perpetuates the cycle of violence. Hate is often met with hate, after all.
Remarks about how the youth in Nuevo Laredo are simply lazy and unwilling to work for a living forget the idea that a great deal of businesses had been pushed out of the city by Los Zetas prior to these youngsters growing to a working age. Thus, leaving them with fewer job prospects to pursue.
At the end of the day, problems such as narco violence in Mexico or religious extremism abroad can only be solved at the root, when we begin to take seriously the idea of looking at the economic and cultural factors behind their evolution.
To this end, I think 'Jihadi Culture' is a fantastic book, and certainly worth the read. It is just as interesting as it is informative, and if I can be honest, I wish to see more books like it. It would be great to see studies of that nature specifically on narco or gang violence, where the sole focus of the text is comprehending and understanding criminals and criminal deviancy from a cultural perspective.
Perhaps then, people might begin to understand the notion that violence begets violence, and that throwing an innumerable swathe of people into prison every year is merely a band aid slapped over the core issue of why and how criminal deviancy comes to develop.