A Deathly Silence Hanging Over the Dutch and its Ummah


Book Review

Sultan en de lokroep van de jihad
 (Sultan and the Lure of Jihad)
Johan van de Beek and Claire van Dyck
2017 De Limburger/uitgeverij Balans, Amsterdam
256 pages in Dutch

By Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin and David Van Dyke*

The silent echo of a Dutch Moroccan suicide assassin named Sultan Berzel is the distressing subject of this book under review. As we write, the Dutch are going to the polls to vote in what will be the most important election in Europe since Brexit and Trump. This new book is written in Dutch and it lies at the intersection of the clash of civilizations being played out by the Western national-state Holland vs. the Ummah of Turkey.

Two extremely talented Limburg investigative journalists Johan van de Beek and Christine van Dyck have written a gripping narrative -- Sultan and the Lure of Jihad. Just as the topic of recruitment networks are of supreme importance, the book traces out a network of six friends including two children who were radicalized in Maastricht. They went off to fight jihad in Islamic State territories. Sultan, his name wreaks of omnipotence and grandiosity turned malignant anti-social narcissist, blew himself up at a police station in Baghdad murdering twenty-six innocent people.  He left behind a martyr's video so some say he is a martyr even though he could not die alone.

While we are seeing an increase of such narratives concerning recruitment and radicalization, this book's uniqueness is that the authors delve deep below the surface of what the authorities, school classmates, teachers, family members and mosque goers offered up as facile explanations, merely simplistic rationalizations for why the call of jihad was embraced by such troubled youth. Van de Beek and Van Dyck weave into their writing a series of specialists such as the Italian psychoanalyst Franco De Masi, Gilles Kepel, Robert Pape, neuroscientist Jean Decety, Anne Speckhard among others. It makes their analysis far more intense, helping to break the numbness that besets the discussion of Islamic suicide terrorism.

The British author Martin Amis puts the problem well about suicide bombing: "The totally alien nature of suicide attacks means that Western opinion can hardly formulate a sensible response to it.  ... As long as it's done to people we don't know and by people we don't know, it seems we can ignore it."

The message of the book is no matter how hard one examines suicide bombing, "the suicide terrorist remains elusive. Many puzzle pieces are laid on the table:  [long list]... But the picture is never complete.  The suicide terrorist is so horrifying because he is inscrutable." 

Full disclosure:  I do not know Dutch. Fortunately I was able to "recruit" my former doctoral student, Dr. David Van Dyke, who has helped me with all of my books on jihad. He knows the subject well and he is fluent in Dutch. I used Google Translate while he read the book in the original. We then shared our thoughts and lo and behold we had highlighted the same passages.

The authors chose to write about Sultan Berzel not only because he was the first Dutch Moroccan suicide bomber but they sensed that there was something peculiarly wrong with the wall of silence they encountered. They have managed to break that wall down with the writing of this book. While they note that Sultan was a victim too, in the sense that he was preyed upon and brainwashed by recruitment, we prefer the term victim-victimizer in order that the true twenty-six victims who did not murder are still held in our hearts and mind so that the focus is not solely on his suicide but rather him as a homicide bomber.

The authors uncannily develop the inner workers and web of four who took the jihadi bait:  Sultan Berzel who changed his name to Abu Abdullah al-Hollandi (notice how even though he was fighting the kufrs, he retained through this new name a tie to Holland), Rezan a Dutch Kurd, Milana a Dutch Chechen and Lina aka Aicha a Dutch Catholic convert to Islam who radicalized. They were all nested within families that were in denial but it is the echoing silence of the Maastricht Ummah's imams, teachers, classmates, authorities who were aware of Sultan Berzel's radicalization, but who did not intervene nor halt his flight to Iraq. Post-mortem the community still remains shut down and closed to discussing what really went on. Shame rules.

We were both very impressed with the way these authors traced out the lives of Sultan, Aisha and Sultan's friend Rezan somewhat in parallel.  The authors come back to each separately in chapter after chapter to give detailed, personalized information as each one interacts with their environment, and the consequences of their actions.

But it is Chapter 8 entitled "Guilt and Shame" which we found particularly powerful if not overwhelming. In it the authors record all the people left behind. Friends, family, neighbors in Limburg, and how they tried to process the bombing itself, their understanding of Sultan's decision making process etc.

We have seen a glimpse of this before (but not a book) in our extensive work on the Minnesota Somali community when the Minneapolis Ummah tried to process the first American Somali suicide bomber Shirwa Ahmed's suicide bombing and more recently with all those prosecuted for joining the Islamic State.  Minneapolis was identified as a parallel community in 2007 at Rand Santa Monica's May counterterrorism conference. It was no surprise that in less than ten years it would be the epicenter for recruitment to the Islamic State. While the Twin Cities' Little Mogadishu at Riverside near the University of Minnesota is not as yet a no-go-zone as in many places in Europe, nonetheless silence still prevails in certain pockets of neighborhoods where members of the Ummah are not forthcoming. Moreover PC behavior also exists with regard to far too many of the authorities. We were pleased to read that Van de Beek and Van Dyck present both faces of Islam in the Quran and discuss the doctrine of abrogation called Naskh, which the Prophet Muhammad created in order to justify the violence of jihad. This schizophrenic splitting with its striking paradoxes were thoughtfully captured and crafted by Van de Beek and Van Dyck through the characterizations of Sultan, Rezan, Melina and most especially Lina/Aicha. They manage to do so through extensive investigation and interviews undertaken by the authors. This kind of splitting has excellent fit with paranoia.

The authors' summary of the lessons learned by Sultan and his friends may seem mundane since 9/11 but they are not: "A lesser evil is necessary to combat a greater evil. The greater evil must be dehumanized. Those are the unbelievers. The traitors. The Crusaders. The Zionists.  Everything is done to push collective guilt onto the enemy and to create as large of an emotional distance as possible between the shaheed and his goals [emphasis ours]." This goes by another name - identification with the aggressor.

Obviously there should be great concern as the Islamic State jihadis continue to return home. Can we intervene early enough? Can we set effect boundaries? The authors note that Dutch law enforcement has its hands full. Hence it is all the more important that we must not remain silent.

In the words of Elie Wiesel: We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Van de Beek and Van Dyck are to be commended for helping to break the silence by delving beyond superficial explanations. This book merits translation into a series of languages most especially English. It should also be required reading for law enforcement and governmental officials who are at risk to falling prey to facile explanations.

Sultan and the Lure of Jihad _book

kobrin 2015

Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin, Ph.D., Fellow, American Center for Democracy; Psychoanalyst, Arabist & Counter Terrorist Expert; and author of Specializing in Early Childhood Development: Mind & Body Language of the Terrorist.  She is also the author of The Banality of Suicide Terrorism; Penetrating the Terrorist Psyche; The Maternal Drama of the Chechen Jihadi, soon available in Urdu; The Jihadi Dictionary: THE Essential INTEL Tool; and yet-to-be published Children Killing Children and Mailing Mogadishu. 

David van Dyke holds a doctorate in German and Dutch literature and language and is a translator and independent scholar.

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