What Compels Criminals To Become Martyrs?

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It is sensible to assume that the true followers of a religion do not seek to commit iniquity. Therefore, one might wonder why the Brussels’ attackers who were convicted criminals decided to wage jihad — the highest Islamic virtue according to multiple verses of the Quran including Surah 9:111.

The two brothers had criminal backgrounds. “Ibrahim el-Bakraoui was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2010 for shooting at police officers after the attempted robbery of a currency exchange office. In 2011, Khalid el-Bakraoui was convicted on charges of attempted carjacking; at the time of his arrest, he had been in possession of assault rifles,” reports The New York Times.

Analyzing the motive of the Brussels attack will enable us to understand the following factors that moved the brothers to commit such heinous crimes.

1. Multiculturalism: Somehow Western societies have been convinced that the best way to deal with immigrants who migrate to their countries is to ask them not to assimilate into Western culture. They believe that such a policy would add flavor and color to their countries and help their progress and prosperity

2. Resisting Assimilation: Immigrants who come from non-European countries, including Islamic countries, find this attractive and encourage their children to resist assimilation. The byproduct, however, is an unavoidable clash of ideas and cultures.

3. Failure: As a result of resisting assimilation and hating Western culture the children of Muslim immigrants who have been advised not to assimilate with the host country become angry with many aspects of life, including their education and work environment. The people of the host country, on the other hand, become upset observing that some immigrants treat women and animals differently or show resentment toward alcohol and Western appearance.

4. Loss of heritage: Second generation Muslim immigrants are pressed between two different cultures that are almost diametrically opposed. On the one hand, if they try to assimilate, they would be rejected and mocked by their community and even close family members. On the other hand, if they reject assimilation, they have to deal with the clash of cultures and its consequences.

5. Suffering humiliation: Becoming half Muslim and half westerner brings them shame from both sides. To get out of this uncomfortable situation, they look for honor. In the process of looking for honor, they give priority to their Islamic heritage and try to achieve a status that impresses the respected people of their Islamic community. Though before getting to the point of seeking honor they may have committed horrible crimes, they find the Orthodox narration of Islamic sources helpful and interesting. The Orthodox interpretation of verses regarding killing non-Muslims for the guarantee of entering into paradise with all sins already forgiven is especially attractive. Becoming convinced that there is nothing on the earth to satisfy them spiritually, these types of jihadists make an active connection with like-minded young Muslims using the talents and skills they have learned from their criminal backgrounds to slaughter non-Muslims hoping to go directly to paradise without being judged by Allah.

Ghasem Akbari is certified by the Iranian Bar Association as a Number One Attorney, is admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of Iran and is an adjunct professor of law at St. Mary’s University in the US.  He is also the author of two books and numerous articles. Maria Sliwa is an adjunct assistant professor of  Media Law at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism @MariaSliwa