The author of Why Religious Militants Kill, Jessica Stern, is no armchair analyst. She’s “the foremost U.S. expert on terrorist” and to research the book she traveled worldwide, and met with terrorists. She, a Jewish woman traveling alone, met with jihadi and mujahideen in Pakistan — something most would say is seriously dangerous.
Stern defines terrorism as the deliberate targeting of civilians so as to cause dread, fear, destruction, and loss of life among the populace. In her view (and mine) terrorism is morally repugnant and given the blowback it causes, generally creates even more trouble. The decades of retaliation bombings, tortures, and murders in Northern Ireland serve as proof of that.
Why do religious people sometimes murder in the name of their religion? Stern interviewed Christian, Jewish, and Muslim fundamentalist extremists and terrorists. Some are in prison in the US, others running madrassas in Afghanistan. She sees similarities between them.
The techniques of terror – the deliberate murder of innocent civilians – are counter to every mainstream religious tradition. That is why the mission – the articulation of the grievance – is so important. It must be so compellingly described that recruits are willing to violate normal moral rules in its name.
Bizarrely, some of the racist Right in the US want to join up with al Qaida because they think both are fighting the same New World Order. Apparently some leftists agree. I do not. The foe of my foe is not always an ally. If religious fundamentalists were to seize complete political power, whether they are Muslim or Christian, the first thing they’d do is kill and imprison the leftists. That means me, and probably you, since you’re reading this.
The War on Terror is phony, terrorism is not. Someone flew those two planes into the Twin Towers on 9/11, and it wasn’t the Bushies, sorry, 9/11 conspiracists. Despicable comments like Ward Churchill calling the 9/11 victims “little Eichmann’s” only hurts our cause. I mean, what is it with lefties who exult in the death of 3,000 innocents, in the unfeeling belief that 9/11 struck a blow against imperialism?
Call me crazy, but I want to continue walking down city streets without fear of car bombs. Or having a lunatic Christian accidentally shoot me rather than the abortion doctor he’s aiming at. Or be in the wrong place when a Jewish extremist decides to slaughter Muslims. All in the name of God, you understand.
During an interview with a jihadi, he asks her views of the Kashmir situation. Stern replies that none of the sides care about the Kashmiris. That it’s not about self-determination or religion, but rather about political power, profits, real estate, and national identity. That the fight continues because all sides depend on it. They make money running guns and selling drugs and get to feel good about religion too.
What really counts, I say, are perceived humiliation, relative deprivation, and fear – whether personal, cultural, or both. The rest is sloganeering and marketing. I see this all over the world, including in America. But holy wars only take off when there is a large supply of young men who feel humiliated and deprived; when leaders emerge who know how to capitalize on those feelings; and when a segment of society – for whatever reason – is willing to fund them.