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Terrorism as male bonding

Hanging with the boys.

Hanging with the boys.

Some years ago, Columbia University Professor Richard Bulliet was engaged by several British police forces to review and write reports about allegedly jihadist materials seized during investigations in the cities of Leicester and Edinburgh ...

"The Leicestershire constabulary liked my report, recommended me to Edinburgh, Edinburgh obviously did not like my report and Edinburgh never paid me," the professor said in his lecture series, History of the Modern Middle East, "and since that time, no one has sought my expertise.

"I think it's because I said 'most of this literature is aimed at the overthrow of the Algerian government and I don't see anything wrong with that,'" Bulliet said to a hall full of laughing Columbia University students.

If you're new to Algeria, it might help to know that "official" (read, lowballed) unemployment figures in the country were put at 10.2 per cent last year, but unemployment among university graduates has hit 23.5 per cent, with 71,000 Algerian university graduates estimated to have moved overseas between 1994 and 2006.

(Imagine what the real figures are.)

As part of his work for the police, Bulliet said he watched 20 to 30 video tapes put out by various unidentified Islamic groups, advertising their militant activities and looking for recruits.

He also listened to audio tapes and reckoned, "There's a special genre of Jihadist music. I don't think anyone has really studied it, but it's rather interesting.

"It has to be unaccompanied male voices ... it'll start out with a baby crying, gunfire, bombs in the background, then this really jaunty melody will come along."

Aside from the tapes opening the professor's eyes to the musical abilities of jihadists, he had something of an epiphany about what the attraction was to young men for the work done by militant Islamic groups.

The tape he found most "suggestive" was a video made in Algeria, of which he saw more than a dozen different copies, some edited slightly for length.

"It was called The Ambush, one of the few that had a title. You start out tracking a handful of college-age men, and they're going up into the mountains ... They get up into the camp, and most of the film is related to life in the camp. You see them baking bread and sewing equipment and having a good time. It's basically like Outward Bound, combined with a US Army ad.

"The whole idea is you're with the other guys ... you're there, it's male solidarity and finally you load up, you go down the mountain and you blow up an Algerian army convoy, then you zoom in on all the weapons you've captured and then, finally, you show the martyrs.

"And there you see, in split screen, the guys on your side who were killed, lying on their backs, faces up, pieces of white cloth tying the head, and then, on the other split of the screen, you see them back at the camp, joking and singing and baking bread.

"It's really a notion of male solidarity, that you are with the youth and you were together, you camped together, you got to shoot guns together and some guys died and that's sad and maybe it's my turn next but there isn't a mention of Islam, at least not a strong mention of Islam, anywhere in the tape," Bulliet said.

As with my post last week about the Muslim Brotherhood, I guess what I'm trying to illustrate is how little separates your average Aussie bloke from your average Muslim from the Middle East or North Africa - even a so-called terrorist.

Imagine if Australia had a shitty, violent, corrupt, repressive government and you couldn't find work, let alone go out on the piss and get silly - and it had long been this way.

Then you hear about a group which says, "Hey, let's change this. Let's go blow up some of the people who repress us, shoot some guns, but most of all, hang with all your mates doing cool shit!"

You can't tell me there wouldn't be plenty of takers in Australia: you could fill a bus at most pubs, I reckon.

Now imagine that's all you know; you're unemployed, you're no one, Islam isn't some weird foreign thing, it's the very crucible of your life, it's the thing you respect more than anything, that gives you some structure and direction in the world.

And then there's this group of dudes who are heavy, serious, respected and they respect you, they give you juice, they give you gravitas and they let you blow up shit.


I'm in no way trying to justify terrorist acts against innocent people - but there's "terrorism" like the Bali bombing or 9/11 and then there's trying to overthrow a repressive government like they have done in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and are attempting to do in Syria.

Up until a year ago, the dudes in the mountains blowing up the army convoys of any of these governments were called "terrorists" - so you be the judge of how porous that definition is.

And then think about how different you, me and them really are.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.

41 comments so far

  • You've gone from talking about how important feminism is to about how much you understand Islamists and terrorists in the span of about 18 months, de Brito.

    Just sayin'.

    hired goon
    Date and time
    February 09, 2012, 6:10PM
    • The line between freedom fighter and terrorist is a thin one and largely depends on which side of the violence you sit.

      Date and time
      February 09, 2012, 6:18PM
      • India was repressed. And Gandhi came up with a march and silent sit-ins. India won its Independance.
        Gandhi's approach is wiser. Still.

        Date and time
        February 09, 2012, 8:02PM
        • Difference being that Ghandi was up against the British, which even then had factions at home that were anti-Empire.

          Date and time
          February 10, 2012, 8:13AM
        • The British invented the whole "overthrow a democratically elected government in a third world country, install a strong man and economically rape aforementioned country by exploiting natural resources and their citizenry" game in '53, dude.

          hired goon
          Date and time
          February 10, 2012, 10:41AM
        • Thats a gross over simplification . Indian leaders did alot more than non violent sit ins. Ever heard of the very bloody 1857 Indian Army mutiny ? or Indian plot to get weapons from the Japanese and germans to start a civil war ?.

          Just because Gandi was non violent does not mean other Anti British Movements where not violent, plenty where.

          Gandi didnt defeat the British through non violence . Hitler crippled the British Economy and Canada and Australia 'white colonies' demand for home rule smashed the British Global Military Presence.The British where never going to bomb a 'white colony' and with out the 'white colonies' the British had to retreat from World stage that + US Loan conditions ended the British Empire not Gandi haah
          Gandi was a racist, dont u know about comments he made about blacks in south africa ?

          Just as with MLK, not all the credit should go to him. the US as worried how communists in where taking advantage of Racism against blacks to win support in Africa and Asia. Again Geopolitics was a strong reason for the Civl Rights act . Which BTW is still the reason the democrats never win the south .

          over all good article, trying to understand what goes through the minds of egyptians facing a US financed Mubarak

          Date and time
          February 13, 2012, 2:20PM
      • So, most people generally last around 70 to 80 years.

        In the scheme of human existence, which appears to extend back millions of years, this 70 to 80 years is just a blip.

        Yet some feel the need to shortened this "blip" by acts of violence targeting fellow human beings who in most cases are unknown to the perpertrators of the crime.

        It just doesn't make sense.

        Date and time
        February 09, 2012, 8:08PM
        • Hey Sam,

          Would be interested to know what your opinion is of the US Republican candidate Ron Paul?? What do you think of his policies??


          Date and time
          February 10, 2012, 5:04AM
          • They say you should not judge a man unless you have walked a mile in his shoes. It seems to me though, that you can distinguish between attacking the institutions of an unjust regime and flying aeroplanes into buildings full of civilians

            trying to comprehend
            Date and time
            February 10, 2012, 7:48AM
            • And I thought Sam de Brito was doing just that.

              Greg Platt
              Date and time
              February 10, 2012, 9:37PM

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