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Jane Sharp Explores Ties between Humiliation and Terrorism

Jane Sharp Photo

On October 22, Jane Sharp, Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Department of War Studies, Kings College London, discussed the role of emotions in the growth and engenderment of terrorist activities as part of the Reppy Institute's weekly brown bag seminar series.

Ms Sharp began her talk by discussing the writings of Dominique Moisi, who in his book, The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope are Reshaping the World, discusses the impact of emotions – particularly fear (described as the loss of confidence), hope (described as an expression of confidence), and humiliation (described as injured confidence and loss of control over one’s own destiny) – on foreign policies of countries.  Moisi sees the nations most influenced by hope are the big Asian superpowers India and China; those most influenced by fear are the former western imperial powers who have lost influence and fear the rise of hostile powers; those most affected by humiliation are Muslims in Arab lands who have seen a steady decline of influence since the demise of the Ottoman Empire.  Moisi, whose father is a holocaust survivor, sees the Israeli-Palestine conflict as the archetypal encounter between humiliation and fear.

Ms Sharp explored Moisi’s contention that too much humiliation, too much fear, and not enough hope leads to the violent revenge, which we call terrorism, especially with respect to the rise of Al Qaeda and ISIS after 9-11.  She noted that Western counter-terrorism strategies have exacerbated the sense of humiliation in the Arab lands, noting in particular the US decision to de-Baathify Iraq in May 2003, which left Iraq without a managerial class to rebuild the country; the torture and abuse of prisoners in Guantanamo and in US detention centers in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as targeted assassinations throughout the region.  An additional source of humiliation are the number of foreign military bases in Muslim countries and Western complicity for illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine. Lack of any progress towards democracy after the Arab Spring (except in Tunisia) has also left many well-educated but deeply frustrated young Muslims as far afield as Northern, Central and Eastern African, Indonesia, Russia, Australia, Western Europe, and even from middle class homes in Denver Minneapolis and the Chicago suburbs.  These humiliated young people are increasingly susceptible to recruiters from Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Elaborating upon what attracts well-educated young Muslims towards ISIS – a new form of terrorism bent on statehood, Ms Sharp suggested that the [ISIS] message is less about religion and much more about raw power, which sadly only seems to enhance the aura of strength. This has proved to be attractive to former Arab spring protestors, for example, those in Egypt who demonstrated against President Mubarak in 2010 are no happier with President Sisi now; these young Egyptians are turning to the ISIS model in the wake of failure of any kind of democratic transition at home. In many parts of Africa, economic growth is very uneven and relatively small elites profit from the markets, leaving large populations aggrieved and susceptible to proselytization from ISIS recruitment videos. In addition, young Muslims growing up in the west are often quite unhappy and unassimilated in the communities where they are being raised by their immigrant parents. Many will see the caliphate as an alternate community in which they will have a definite identity with a sense of purpose.

In concluding her lecture, Ms Sharp suggested that in order to counteract ISIS propaganda, Western counterterrorism initiatives should focus more on using soft power, dealing with local grievances and engaging regional powers instead of traditional military tactics, which have proved to be the most attractive recruiting tool for the jihadists.  In particular international diplomacy should involve neighboring powers such as Saudi Arabia and Iran with a view to healing the Shia - Sunni rift.