The connection between populism and terrorism is not obvious. So let me consider it briefly.
What is understood by populism? It expresses a rankling discontent gestated in the commonalty that can assume strength enough, as we have recently seen in the United States, to fracture the liberal consensus. The mass of ordinary folk, belittled in their beliefs, betrayed in their everyday aspirations by a distant establishment elite, will at last seek justification in their own common denominator politics made intelligible to them by a charismatic leader who voices their grievances. Multitude democracy, as can be said of populism, reckoning itself disenfranchised, will threaten civil war against the ‘absentees of privilege’, the middle-class and its unrepresentative minority of party-machine professionals who have claimed sole control of mainstream political orthodoxy.
Populism can have a left or right reformation agenda, or a peculiar conflation of the two, and turns naturally to fundamentalism. A mood, if not the reality, of being on a war footing is symptomatic of populism. Is populism revolutionary? In our day – that is to say, in postcultural, or some might prefer, postnormal times – the answer is uncertain, or, pardon the pun, the dark matter of globalisation. In the first place, there is no such Leviathan ‘multitude’ but socially degenerated class fragmentations, like ice floes adrift and grinding into each other. And in the second place, populism ends by disadvantaging the very people it was supposed to safeguard, their hopes disabused and their ideals tyrannised by populism’s fundamentalist purpose of revindication.
Here I step in to ask: are there not elements in this populist scenario that speak of Islamism? Terrorism is so mesmerising in its gravity that we cannot dare give the least credence to the revolutionary purifying purpose of Islamist jihad. Think of it this way: terrorism is militarised populism. The finality of Islamism’s redeeming purpose assumes a multitude of Muslims summoned to the grand territorial Caliphate – true home of Dar al-Islam. But Muslims socially fragmented by class, sect, tribal loyalties, cast abroad in foreign residence, will gain no advantage but nightmare from Islamism’s populist dream.