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Towards a New Understanding of Terrorism and Extremism?

Pete Lentini

Many years after 9/11 we are still struggling to categorize groups like Al Qaeda, home-grown cells and others that claim to be perpetrating and justifying terrorist acts under the banner of jihad. This book introduces the concept of ‘neojihadism’ as a new form of political organization, grand narrative, global subculture, counterculture and theological understanding, with an approach to political violence that is unique to the post-Cold War period. What these groups espouse and enact differs radically from fascism, totalitarianism, cults, jihad – and even jihadism.
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Chapter 6: On attempting to name the enemy: Islamo-fascism and Islamo-totalitarianism(s)

Towards a New Understanding of Terrorism and Extremism?

Pete Lentini


German social scientist Ulrich Beck highlighted the need to introduce new approaches to scholarship and political commentary after 9/11: 11th September stands for the complete collapse of language. Ever since that moment, we’ve been living and thinking and acting using concepts that are incapable of grasping what happened then. The terrorist attack was not a war, not a crime, not even terrorism in the familiar sense. It was a little bit of each of them and it was not all of them at the same time. (Beck 2002, p. 39) However, humans rely on antecedent, analogy and context to assist comprehension. Roger Griffin argues that: ‘To perceive or know anything at all, the mind needs a filter […], much in the way a camera needs a lens before it will photograph anything recognizable’ (Griffin 1996, p. 9). These quotes illustrate the dilemma that scholars, politicians and commentators have confronted since 9/11. For many, this type of violence was unprecedented, and its perpetrators’ motives were incomprehensible. However, neither was so remote that observers could not begin to attempt to understand or interpret either or both of them with some degree of precision. Regrettably, violence – especially (at least notionally) religiously inspired violence – has long been a part of the human experience. Bearing in mind Beck’s observations that the current phenomenon the West confronts is ‘a little bit’ of the old, yet ‘nothing of it’ at the same time, we must be able to identify how radically different the new challenges are to existing conceptual toolboxes, policies, and so on.

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