Baker on Screening Jihad

by iyusufphd

Here’s an amazing paragraph to summarises where so much modern jihadi thinking, writing and ideas come from.

These distorted interpretations originated from the prison “think tanks” of repressive and often violent authoritative regimes. Extreme strategists refined and adapted them in the cauldron of a brutal and at times murderous foreign occupation … They wrote them in the blood drawn by torturers.

Baker contends that much modern globalisation literature fails to factor in the reality that much violent jihadi extremism was born in an exceptionally violent ad oppressive environment. Their views, like their experiences, remained the minority which most Muslims in those societies were shielded from or too afraid to go anywhere near.

After 9/11, American pundits and politicians were desperately searching for a “good” Islam to counter a “bad” Islam they barely understood but which they imagined to represent a kind of Muslim mainstream. The good Islam was to be “a fully compliant Islam”.

Baker heavily criticises globalisation literature published since the first edition of Benjamin Barber’s Jihad -v- McWorld. Baker claims this literature projects Islam as being pitted against the unstoppable forces of worldwide markets and technologies. Barber’s book was written before bin Ladin, Taliban and HAMAS became household names of jihad. The “screening” work of these writers and their journalistic students has become so influential that …

Islam has survived as the Western enemy of choice in the global age.

Barber’s definition of jihad is very broad and it is virtually synonymous with his understanding if Islam itself. Hence Islam and jihad become almost interchangeable notwithstanding the caveats. .

… although it is clear that Islam is a complex religion that by no means synonymous with jihad, it is relatively inhospitable to democracy and that inhospitality in turn nurtures conditions favourable to parochialism, anti-modernism, exclusiveness, and hostility to ‘others’, the characteristics that constitute what I have called Jihad.

This broad screening of “jihad” as worldview has filtered into the writing and editorial work of the mainstream Western media in covering not just the so-called “war on terror” but also domestic reportage on things Islamic or deemed Islamic.

Baker rightly says that mindless Muslim apologetics are not enough to meet the intellectual dishonesty of of modern globalisation writers. The fact is that a certain kind of juristic interpretation of Islamic texts (or ijtihad) led to the modern “jihadi” approach to jihad. No amount of denial will change the reality that this ijtihad about jihad did lead to slaughter of innocents and terror.

Ijtihad is both jihad’s linguistic flipside and what grounds it. For 14 centuries jihad has been one of the most contested teachings of the faith and it requires ijtihad to be understood and implemented.

Baker insists that, contrary to Barber’s assertion, modern violent jihadis don’t resist globalisation. Many feel excluded by globalisation and hence are attracted to a certain kind of ijtihad. More likely they want to manufacture their own global order. Certainly this is the rhetoric of groups such as ISIS who appear to have global ambitions and whose recruits are not always excluded from Western modernity.

For Baker, Barber’s work as an emblem for modern globalisation theorists who assume that Muslim extremists have no real competition. That the “good Muslims” are a minority, if not in numbers then certainly in influence. Baker sees such logic as the “mainstream interpretive frames” that journalists rely on and reinforce.  Over a decade on, can we say the dominant media paradigm in Australia is largely the same?


RW Baker, “Screening Islam: Terrorism, American Jihad and the New Islamists” (2003) Arab Studies Quarterly, Vol 25 No 1/2, pp 33-56