Violence and Militants: From Ottoman Rebellions to Jihadist Organizations
Violence and Militants – Book Sample
The Rationalization and Application of Cultural Violence motivation and the expected outcome
This statement by one of the most important critical theorists of the twentieth century clearly explains how reason can be reduced and manipulated once it is weakened. Horkheimer’s argument provides an important perspective on how militants rationalize cultural violence by subjective reasoning.
Such thinking may sometimes manipulate events and information and can be strengthened as ideas originating from politico-religious concerns start shaping actions, rather than the other way around. This is how the rationalization of cultural violence by militant rebels and militant jihadists explored in the previous chapter came about: it was based on subjective reasoning. Similar motives and expected outcomes can be seen in the use of cultural violence.
Militant rebels and militant jihadists express different priorities and sometimes demonstrate contradictory characters. However, the process by which they rationalize their use of violence has some strong commonalities. Cultural preconditions such as ideological isolation from the wider society stimulate the process of rationalizing violence by militants and encourage solidarity among them.1
Their use of rationalization to convince themselves to resort to violence is the first step in transforming their beliefs into actions. This rationalization involves two common principles: (i) the motivation to use cultural violence; and (ii) the expected outcome from the use of cultural violence. Political and religious concerns motivate mili-tant rebels and militant jihadists in similar ways. Even though these two groups belong to different social geographies and may be members of different religions, their rationalization of cultural violence follows similar routes.
Christian militants in their rebellions against the Ottoman Empire were and militant jihadists in modern times are inspired by both political and religious motives, and the expected outcome of cultural violence is the attainment of their political and religious ideals.
Religious concerns combined with cultural traits, language, and ethnic identity in the struggles of militant rebels against Ottoman rule. The divorce of politics from cultural formation is impossible in the discourse of nationalism because the nationalist idea needs a durable homogeneity binding the members of a community together in a particular political space.
A strong attachment to cultural formations always characterizes nationhood. This is the reason that political unity influences national unity formidably as both of the clusters are “congruent” constituents of nationalism.2 When cultural violence is used, political and religious concerns are manifested. The use of violence also signals the cultural goals of the militants.
When religious legitimacy runs deep in everyday life, dogma will prevail in time. Weber explores the enigma of religious evolution by asking how it is “that a power which is said to be at once omnipotent and kind could have created such an irrational world of undeserved suffering, unpunished injustice, and hopeless stupidity.”3 Irony reigns when the peaceful world promoted by religion leads to the followers of that religion interpreting sacred scriptures in order to justify attaining that ideal by using physical force.
The pillars of cultural violence are rational behaviors that open up the path of legitimacy for militants, even though others in the same social setting may perceive this violence as irrational. Violence ushers in a process of irrationality when the more powerful actor is merely interested in ruling.
Those in power often fail to notice other dynamics that may diminish their capacity to rule in the long term. The consolidation of power by violence may even topple the rulers themselves, although the same rulers perceive their behaviour to be fundamentally rational, and thus legitimate.
How did this rationalization process influence militant rebels and militant jihadists? To give a sufficient response to this question, we need to consider political and religious conditions at the com-munity level, and psychological conditions at the individual level. After the expansion of its territories in the Balkans in the late four-teenth century and the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Empire was gradually transformed into a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.
The social and cultural organization of the Ottoman Empire was based on religious and social rather than ethnic or political classifications. The millet system of the Ottoman Empire created confessional communities to rule Muslims through Sharia, Christians through Canon law, and Jews through Halakha. The religious leader of each community was responsible for resolving social and legal problems within it.
After the bloody and volatile years of the first three quarters of the nineteenth century, particularly in the Balkans, the confessional communities were gradually replaced by ethno-religious communities. For example, the recognition of Bulgarians as an independent community occurred with the Ottoman imperial decree in 1870 that was read in the Bulgarian church of St Stephen in Istanbul. The decree allowed Bulgarians to pray in their own language and affirmed that in addition to his religious duties, their priest would be responsible to the Sultan.
A direct connection between the community and the Sultan was established by eliminating the dependency of Bulgarians on the Greek Patriarch. This development in the Tanzimat rendered ethnic background more influential than religion in the state-society nexus.
The cases examined in the previous pages document the struggle of militant rebels to establish independent political entities. An over-whelming number of these rebels were Christians. Considering the importance of religion in the governance of communities, it was not surprising that many priests supported national uprisings against the Ottoman Empire from the nineteenth century onward. These sup-ports created great frustration at the Ottoman palace.
For instance, Patriarch Gregory V was hanged after the order of Sultan Mahmud II on 22 April 1821, even though he had excommunicated the militant rebels upon the Sultan’s request one week earlier.4 Rumours that he had supported rebellion coupled with his inability to prevent uprisings in Greek communities made his death inevitable.
In 1829, Greece became the first ethnic community in the Balkans to gain independence from the Ottoman Empire. Many militant rebels from other ethnic communities embraced the same mission as the Greeks. Resistance against Ottoman rule had both a political and a religious character. Although the Edict of 1839 – and more particu-larly the edict of 1856 – proposed significant reforms to mitigate the unequal status of ethnic and religious minorities, the imperial ideology of Ottomanism still aimed to keep the empire united and tri-umphant through a common identity.
Their continuing desire for political and religious freedom was the principal motivation for mili-tant rebels to revolt against Ottoman rule. Establishing an indepen-dent state represented the epitome of their political ideals. At the same time, the identity of each independent state was to be estab-lished in accordance with the respective religion of each group of mil-itant rebels.
In a similar way, political and religious concerns provide significant momentum for the motivation of militant jihadists. These concerns have been shaped by the historical legacy and socioeconomic and political dominance of Western powers, which consolidated their power more deliberately after the Industrial Revolution.
The invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, the violation of funda-mental human rights by the invading forces, and the death of hun-dreds of thousands of people after these invasions increased the political concerns of militant jihadists.5 The invasions were perceived by militant jihadists as another exploitative attempt at colonization camouflaged by the War on Terror story.
Yet politico-religious concerns are not only under the influence of the colonialist legacy or the present socioeconomic and political agenda of the post-imperialist powers. The internal political concerns among some of the militant jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda and Isis are equally important. For instance, these two groups have denounced the political regimes of Shia rule and all other forms of Islam for con-flicting with their own interpretation of Islam. In addition, the militant jihadists from Hezbollah and Hamas raise their religious concerns through a rejection of secularism in everyday life in predominantly Muslim societies. Turkish society was one such society in which secularism was an important pillar of everyday life until the early 2000s.
These political and religious concerns give militant jihadists the impetus to recruit more members and rationalize cultural violence both against Dar-al-Kufr (the infidel regimes) and Muslim groups other than their own. Jihad and sharia both structure the motivation to fight and determine the outcome of this fight.
The call of militant jihadists to jihad invites every Muslim to join their struggle for the idea of Islamic hegemony and makes their community multi-ethnic and multicultural, formed by dozens of nations across the world. The two nationalist jihadist organizations, Hezbollah and Hamas, also seek opportunities in cyberspace to pro-mote their causes and receive financial support. Although the het-erogeneity of militant jihadists may mislead us into thinking that such a community lacks the unity and solidarity of militants fight-ing for national independence, they are still bound together by a common ideal.
“The nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings”6 Politicized ethnicity paves the way for the use of violence in ethnic wars.7 On the other hand, the rationalization process for using cultural violence is based on an imagined community, which needs to rebel only on the basis of political and/or religious concerns. An individual belonging to this imagined community transfers his or her psychological solidarity to this cohesive ideal.
At the same time, this imagined community is presented by the ideologues to prospective militants, assuring them that they will be relieved from all further challenges if it is attained in the future.
Both the national and jihadist struggles we have been studying aimed to create the idealized fraternity of cultural community by rationalizing violence to create a common value system for the imag-ined community. These common values set the character of the imag-ined community and motivate its members, who employ cultural vio-lence to achieve an independent state (in the Ottoman rebellion examples) or a jihad-oriented ruling system (in the Islamic ones). Cul-tural violence plays a functional role in creating that imagined com-munity through rationalizing the process in accordance with the value system of militants.
Understanding the “sublimation” process gives insight into the rationalization of cultural violence at the individual and community levels. Sublimation is a term used by Freud to explain the way we con-trol our instincts in order to gain the affirmation of the community that we live in. Human beings are fragile, and one of the features of…
A turbulent social environment creates its own conflicting agencies. Violence in a turbulent place becomes a coercive physical force. Suf-fering or even death can be unsurprising outcomes in places of con-flict. However, the most suffering occurs when violence targets the everyday life of people. Bombed roads, demolished bridges, and ruined houses are often the outcomes of violent confrontation. Not only the conflicting groups but also the innocent become part of this confrontation and suffer from despondency and hopelessness as a consequence.
The militant rebels in the Ottoman Empire and the militant ji-hadists of Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaeda, and Isis rationalized violence due to perceived deficiencies the socio-structural system that afflicted their lives. The violence they engaged in was intended to defy the organizational capacity of their opponents. At the same time, this defiance strengthened their own solidarity. This process transcends different time periods and diverse places wherever perceived injustice is used to legitimize violence.
structural violence of the militant rebels
The Tanzimat reforms were aimed at relieving the socio-structural concerns of minority populations within the Ottoman Empire. However, perceived social injustice, socioeconomic challenges, and difficulties in the implementation of these reforms generally ren-dered the efforts of the central authority futile. The dysfunctionali-ty of local governance only exacerbated already notorious problems in the governance of land. The expansion of social justice and con-solidation of a culture of lawlfulness continued to be major con-cerns for the public and for the Porte in the midst of the Tanzimat reforms. The militant rebels used structural violence with the expectation of eliminating these problems. Their ultimate goals were diverse but included punishment of the local ruling classes, attainment of equality in everyday life, and the establishment of social justice and the rule of law. These goals influenced their choice of targets, who were the local governors, pashas, and other representatives of and collaborators with the state authority.
Mis-rule by these targets was believed to be responsible for the prob-lems they were facing. This is the reason that, although the militant rebels sometimes resorted to cultural violence against innocent cit-izens, such attacks remained limited when structural violence was used. If we remember the example of Nevâhî-i Âsîyye in Montene-gro, narrated in Chapter II, the violent attacks against Muslim resi-dents included both political and religious motives. Many Muslim residents were victimized brutally. On the other hand, as we witness in violent scenes in this chapter, attacks shifted towards Ottoman state officials and this shift, in fact, distinguishes cultural violence from structural violence.
Socio-structural concerns such as economic hardship, misgovernance, and injustice were the driving forces that persuaded dissident militant groups to use violence. The tax revolts in Niš in 1841 and Vidin in 1850 are good examples of these socio-structural concerns. These two revolts became symbols that described the gap between the expectations of the center and the realities of the periphery. The Porte hoped to bring social justice through reforms, but militant rebels identified the local authorities as incapable, corrupt, abusive, and dysfunctional.
The ensuing disputes between local governance and the local community made it evident that the central government was ineffective at coordinating the reforms harmoniously. “The Sultan does not know what the pashas are doing, and the pashas what the voevodes1 are doing, likewise the voevodes what the subashis2 are doing, and so on down the line.”3 This pessimistic judgment refers to the fact that local governors did not pay the salaries
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