By Adam Levine
Muslim extremists are more concerned with defending against foreign intrusion than foisting Islam on the world, according to a new study of extremist texts. The study suggests that a Western approach of claiming extremists are seeking world domination is misdirected, and instead should seek to counteract claims of victimhood.
"Continued claims to the contrary, by both official and unofficial sources, only play into a 'clash of civilizations' narrative that benefits the extremist cause. These claims also undermine the credibility of Western voices, because the audience knows that extremist arguments are really about victimage and deliverance," write the researchers, Jeffry Halverson, R. Bennett Furlow and Steven Corman.
The analysis by Arizona State University's Center for Strategic Communication looked at how the Quran was used in 2,000 propoganda items from 1998 to 2011, though the majority were from post-2007, that emanated mostly from the Middle East and North Africa. Among the groups analyzed were al Qaeda and al Shabaab, as well as anonymous postings online.
One result that surprised the researchers, the "near absence" of citations from one of the most extreme passages, the "Verse of Swords," that encourages "all-out war against world domination."
"Widely regarded as the most militant or violent passage of the Quran, it is treated as a divine call for offensive warfare on a global scale," the researchers wrote. "It is also regarded as a verse which supersedes over 100 other verses of the Quran that counsel patience, tolerance and forgiveness."
The study concludes that extremists, at least based on how they quote from the Quran, do not reflect "an aggressive offensive foe seeking domination and conquest of unbelievers, as is commonly assumed. Instead they deal with themes of victimization, dishonor and retribution."
"The verses frequently utilized by extremists from this surah address subjects such as enduring hardships and the importance of fighting against the unjust unbelievers who oppress men, women and children," the researchers wrote about the most cited chapter (called a "surah").
The insights led the researchers to suggest alternative approaches to counteracting the extremist messages, rather than focusing on the fear factor. The Arizona group cites a recent effort by the State Department to counteract al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who said in a 2011 video that "there is no hope to remove the corrupt regimes in Muslim countries except by force. And there is no chance to bring change through peaceful action." The State Department Digital Outreach Team posted a video intercutting that video, which included Zawahiri daring someone to find a single example to prove Zawahiri wrong, with video of Arab Spring protesters in Egypt.
Halverson, Bennett and Corman also suggest undermining the "champion" image aspired to by extremists.
Extremists use a "deliverance narrative to position themselves as the champion that can deliver the community from evil," the researchers wrote. "However, as we have argued elsewhere, extremists do little that is champion-like. They have not unseated any apostate rulers, and their victims are overwhelmingly likely to be Muslims."
The study cites data from the West Point Combating Terrorism Center that estimated al Qaeda militants were 38 times more likely to kill a Muslim than a Westerner, based on data from 2006 to 2008.