The Privatization of “Jihad”

Modern jihad is exactly that—modern. It is not a revival of an ancient instruction from the Koran, nor is it even what the author of the Koran or its classical interpreters had in mind. Instead, modern jihad as practiced by self-proclaimed Islamic organizations like Al-Queda and the Islamic State(ISIS) is a manifestation of this age of neoliberal capitalism. No longer is jihad carried out with an army of the Caliphate or even a state, but by a private group of individuals acting perhaps in concert, but just as likely as disconnected individuals angry at their lives and the society they exist in. Like those who shoot up high schools and those who murder dozens from hotel windows in Las Vegas or nightclubs in Orlando, the protagonist of this so-called jihad are symptoms of the economics and politics of their time and the atomized society of today.

This atomization is the result, if not the intention, of capitalism’s latest phase—neoliberalism. As the reader most likely knows, the main features of neoliberalism involve the destruction of the social element of human civilization. Services provided by the state are either privatized or just terminated. The process begins with services provided to the poor. From there, other services follow. Universities once generously subsidized by the state find their budgets reduced, causing them to raise tuition, hire part-time instructors, and farm out their research resources to the very industries benefiting from the end of state-funded education. Roads and other infrastructure are left to disintegrate while private developments and their financiers build private roads while state governments push through more and more tolls on existing and new construction. The wealthiest few pay little or no taxes to the state, which now serves them to a degree never before seen in recorded history. Indeed, the system for which Wall Street is a synonym is now the state in the USA, if not the world. Traditional forms of resistance seem increasingly futile; antiwar movements mutate into support for one of the war parties while social democrats and democratic socialists in power lead the rush to transform the government into another set of privatized entities funneling the public money to the bank accounts of that wealthy few.

This is the foundation of author Suzanne Schneider’s new book, The Apocalypse and the End of History: Modern Jihad and the Crisis of Liberalism. Simultaneously a brief history of the roots of jihad, its meaning throughout history and its relationship to the Muslim worshiper, the text is also a critique of modern capitalism and the effects of its predatory nature. The reader is presented with the essence of western colonialism and imperialism and their role in the creation of today’s increasing inequalities and accompanying despair. In addition, the discussions of the changing roles of state actors in relation to private capital and the effect those roles have on the ordinary human provide a context that applies to phenomena well beyond the primary focus of this book—modern jihad. Perhaps even more important is her argument that neoliberal capitalism was “prefigured—if not actively constructed—in the colonial world.” (227) In other words, the trappings of neoliberalism we are growing more familiar with each day—authoritarian mechanisms to control the population, hyper-surveillance, the privatization of the public sphere, and the irrelevance of popular politics—were created and honed by the west in its colonies. Now, not only are the populations of former colonial and imperial powers experiencing the economic and racial inequalities that were the basis of colonial rule, those populations are also experiencing the measures of control developed and refined in the former colonies by the imperial powers. Of course, certain elements of the populations in the imperial states have always been under the regimes of poverty and oppression; especially the Black population in the United States.

In her look at acts and groups of individual terror throughout history, Schneider considers groups as disparate (and similar) as the FLN in Algeria, various anarchists and leftists in Europe, Tsarist Russia and the United States, and certain Latin American organizations. She correctly compares the nature of the works of modern religious terrorists—suicide bombings, car bombs—to those historical actors. The difference in the two lies in their intent. Schneider points out that the majority of the leftist and anarchist terrorists undertook their actions as a means of moving the revolutionary struggle for social justice forward. Targets were usually chosen because of their status and their meaning in the structures of oppression. ISIS, on the other hand, seems to act out of a desire to kill anyone because we are all guilty. The hope for a better existence for the ISIS terrorist exists after they are dead. Making life on earth better is apparently a pointless exercise. This is one reason why she connects the modern “jihadist” with those young men who shoot up schools and other public facilities; they share a similar hopelessness and disconnect from the world the live in. Both have been given lives empty of meaning in a world full of distractions designed for profit-making and without regard to the human need for purpose and connection. In the extreme cases of this “jihadism” and mass shootings identified with solitary young men, their purpose is destruction and their connection is to a glory fostered by hate and despair. As the examples of ISIS and various violence by far right actors especially in the US make clear, when these extremists are provided political/religious rationales for their violence by self-proclaimed leaders, their rage becomes murderous.

The Apocalypse and the End of History makes clear that there is no imperial military solution for the episodic terrorism done these days in the name of jihad. Indeed, it is the actions of the imperial military that help create the grounds for these self-proclaimed jihadists. Although Schneider provides little if any answers to the problems she examines, her discussion of the “jihadists,” their motivations and rationales most certainly need to be heard by those who would send their military to foreign lands. Their reasoning might be more similar to those of these “jihadists” than they think.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: