"Even though the construction of the future and its completion for all times is not our task, what we have to accomplish at this time is all the more clear: *relentless criticism of all existing conditions*, relentless in the sense that the criticism is not afraid of its findings and just as little afraid of the conflict with the powers that be."
The Abdeslam brothers, with their sudden escalation from dancing in nightclubs to killing in them over the course of a few months, seem to challenge this picture. They also raise a deeper and more troubling question for those seeking to understand the genesis of terrorist acts: What if they were not “radicalized” and underwent no dramatic metamorphosis at all? What if their violence had only the most tenuous connection to what they believed, whatever that was? What if the story of how they came to be involved in terrorism had no real coherent narrative arc? What if the script of terrorism doesn’t always feature the drama of radicalization? According to one of the two friends who filmed the nightclub footage, the Abdeslam brothers “were nice people.… I suppose you could say they lived life to the full.” The other friend, going by the name “Karim,” adds: “I saw Salah joke, smoke, drink, and play cards.… If anything, he liked women. He was something of a ladies’ man, and I heard he had a girlfriend at one point.” The CNN report continues, “At the time, the friends said they had no idea that the two had embarked upon their journey toward radicalism.… ‘They must have been changing bit by bit. Despite its seeming exotic otherness, and for all its theological quiddities, the world of the Islamic State is not wholly disconnected from that of our own. Its ideals of heroic self-sacrifice, adventure, violence, and machismo are mirrored, albeit in a secularized and far more muted form, in our own culture; they find less constrained expression, for example, in our movies. In other words, the breach between those who join the Islamic State and “us” is not as deep as we would like to think. It is even narrower in the case of Molenbeek in Brussels, where a hybrid subculture of crime, violence, and jihadi activism has taken root. The Washington Post’s Anthony Faiola and Souad Mekhennet describe members of this subculture as “part terrorist, part gangster”: liminal badasses who exist between two overlapping worlds, for whom, as terrorism expert Rik Coolsaet documents in a recent study of Belgian foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, “joining [the Islamic State] is merely a shift to another form of deviant behaviour, next to membership of street gangs, rioting, drug trafficking and juvenile delinquency.”