At signandsight , a fine English language website out of Germany that covers the European scene, one can find all sorts of interesting material, including a recent interview with Olivier Roy, a French expert on Islam.

Roy makes an observation that reinforces thoughts I’ve had for more than a decade—that Islamic terrorism draws on Western images of revolutionary action. Here’s what Roy says :

Bin laden says comparatively little about religion, but he does talk about Che Guevara, colonialism, climate change etc. Al-Qaida is obviously a generational movement, it is made up of young people who have distanced themselves from their families and their social surroundings and who are not even interested in their country of origin. Al-Qaida has an astonishing number of converts among its members, a fact which is recognised but has not received sufficient attention. The converts are rebels without a cause who, thirty years ago, would have joined the Red Army Faction or the Red Brigades, but who now opt for the most successful movement on the anti-imperialist market. They are still in the tradition of a mostly western revolutionary millenarianism that has turned its back on the idea of establishing a new and just society.

Yes, the Red Army, Red Brigades, Baader Meinhoff gang—and one could add the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, and the whole crowd of burn-down-the-house activists who have played a prominent role in Western politics since anarchist bombs were going off and Russian Czars assassinated in the late nineteenth century.

Nazism was strongly tinged with a millenialist nihilism that glorified violence. Communist revolutionaries entertained visions of a world remade in a moment of social explosion. The West was (and remains) romanced by political violence.

Roy’s observations suggest that Islamic terrorism reflects the Westernization of the Muslim political imagination. An interesting thought.

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