by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Unfortunately, Islamist terrorism doesn’t need Rolling Stone to make it glamorous. For the right audience, apparently including Tsarnaev, it already is. Understanding the nature of that glamour could offer clues to discouraging future terrorists. But first we have to acknowledge that terrorist glamour exists.
The novelist Salman Rushdie recognized the connection in a 2006 interview. “Terror is glamour–not only, but also,” he said, arguing that many terrorists “are influenced by the misdirected image of a kind of magic … The suicide bomber’s imagination leads him to believe in a brilliant act of heroism, when in fact he is simply blowing himself up pointlessly and taking other people’s lives.”
The interviewer was flabbergasted, but Rushdie was correct. Glamour is about much more than celebrity, sex appeal or shiny dresses. It’s a product of imagination–and a powerful form of persuasion. …
… It’s easiest to imagine an ideal life in a time or place you know only from selective images, whether that’s Ernest Hemingway’s Paris, Ayn Rand’s Galt’s Gulch or Carrie Bradshaw’s New York City. For political movements, the distant ideal may be a future utopia, a past golden age or a faraway homeland. With its dreams of a restored caliphate, Islamist terrorism combines utopia and a golden age. For second-generation immigrants in secularized and non-Muslim societies, it may also draw on the glamour of a distant homeland. A friend told Reitman that Tsarnaev “would always talk about how pretty Chechen girls were” even though he hardly knew any. “I want out,” Tsarnaev tweeted in March 2012.
Critics who fear that putting terrorists on magazine covers may encourage future violence have a point. Fame is a spur. But Islamist terrorism draws on much more complex and powerful forms of glamour than a desire for rock-star treatment. Dispelling that magic is both harder and more essential than denouncing Rolling Stone.