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Why Religious Militants Kill. Terror In The Name of God

Why Religious Militants Kill

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.

  • “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.”

    I do not agree with that you can`t diminish humiliation, deprivation as being marketing hype created by fear mongers and corrupt leaders.

    Whenever you see these groups achieving the support of a sizable group of the population, as they have in Lebanon, Palestine or Pakistan, they are capitalizing on real deprivation, and genuine social and economic problems. Perhaps these reasonable concerns are manipulated by radical groups, but you cannot dimminish the underlying injustice and inequality that allows these groups to put forward their ideology as a solution. For instance, Lebanese Shia have historically been politically marginalized by the political and economic system, Hizbullah (and Amal) are the only parties willing to speak to those claims. While I can`t claim to support Hizbullah, it is undeniable that they have seized upon a genuine and reasonable grievance to push forward their entire platform. A similar argument can be made of Palestine, the group and its tactics should not take away from the condition that produced them.

  • ” 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?”

    Damn straight, Bob. Well said.

  • DJ

    I’ve done some field research in this area myself– it was the topic of my undergraduate thesis, which took a year to research & write, and on which I have continued to work. IMO, there is no shortage of humilation– as Mahmud says, the humiliation is real enough. The fallacy is for one group to claim its humiliation is greater than another’s.

    For example, walk into a village in rural Sri Lanka: there will likely be no electricity or running water, and the villagers may live in mud or palm huts on a monthly budget that wouldn’t buy a 12-pack of Pepsi here in the States. This is true whether they be Tamil or Sinhala. For one side to claim its humiliation is greater than the other is absurd. Yet both sides have (and do).

    The irony I see is that the claims are most often made and promoted by those who do not (and sometimes have never) lived in such conditions. They are the people who convince the poor to join the cause and make the ultimate sacrifice. But isn’t that the nature of war: rich folks sending poor folks to do the dying?

    The greater irony is that so often one side’s poor die to kill the other side’s poor in a misguided attempt to convince the rich elites to change. Look at the market bombings in Iraq, or the border killings in Sri Lanka. These are wars by elite leaders perpetrated against non-elites, based on the supposed presumption that killing non-elites will change the course of the opposing elites. It won’t– it never has. Hence Occam’s Razor suggests that the real motive is somewhat different– that both sides gain something through the cycle of violence. Thus it is sometimes useful (and often educational) to look at a conflict as war between the elites of both sides against the non-elites of both sides.

    As to the role of religion, it is in every case I am familiar with, secondary. It is molded and corrupted to provide the “moral” umbrella under which acts of terror can take place. And it is often used by both parties, as in Iraq, every party including the U.S. justifies its actions in the name of religion. It may be Christianity or Islam, Buddhism (Sri Lanka), or Hinduism (India). Or it may be a civil religion suggesting that the ethnic nation is God (LTTE). But in each and every case, the “religion” used by those committing atricities is far, far from the teachings of its founder(s).

    Perhaps the lesson here is that terrorism stems not from religion, but from humiliation: the grinding poverty that much of the world lives in while a relative minority live in luxury. There are vast pools of cannon fodder who have seen American wealth on TV. (Yes, even in the remote Sri Lankan villages, it’s not uncommon for someone, usually the village headman, to have a battery-operated TV, and “Santa Barbara” is beamed in by satellite– clearly a fair representation of American life. No wonder they hate us!)

    Ever notice how each country’s television rarely shows poor people? I can see how media reinforces the idea that “my humiliation, my poverty” is worse than anyone else’s. And since there’s no shortage of poverty, there are plenty of potential converts to a religion of violence.

    At the risk of sounding like a leftist, imperialism and exploitative capitalism are what’s killing us. Fo me, that’s not Leftism, it’s just plain common sense.

  • But, 9/11 was a blow against imperialism. At the very least, it elicited an imperialistic reaction that the entire world recognizes. After 9/11 W said with his actions that the world is his to take and he will take it in the name of America and Jesus.

    Ultimately, as many say, American society is one that rewards the school bully. W and his entire administration are nothing but bullies seeking to humiliate everybody in the world. In this regard, American complacency is not surprising because Americans are taught to tolerate bullies from a very early age, and the reaction of the rest of the world is entirely understandable because the rest of the world hates bullies. Latin America and the middle east are simply reacting to half century of bullying. Bullying that was unecessary, mind you. After all, we were the economic superpower. We didn’t need to bully or to humiliate anyone anymore to sit pretty.

    It’s all a damn stupid shame.

  • DJ

    “American society is one that rewards the school bully.”

    If it was only limited to America, life would be much simpler, but unfortunately this seems the case throughout much of the world: power goes to he/she willing to sieze it. From Musharraf in Pakistan to Rajapakse in Sri Lanka to Putin in Russia, power goes to the bullies. And they all use militants to strengthen their power– the threat justifies more power. That’s the flip side of the cycle of violence.

  • Agreed. Nevertheless, the question does arise as to whether we need to be a military bully given our economic might. Now that might is evaporating, and, as you can see from Bob’s latest post about missing weapons, it’s not as if our military might is impressing anyone.

  • DJ

    While I agree with you that the U.S. as a nation does not need to be a military bully– and indeed many of our enemies are self-created as a result of this tyoe of foreign policy– I also see that the individuals who do the bullying, and their supporters, gain a great deal of political and financial advantage from this, and therefore continue to try to convince us otherwise.

    Unfortunately, war benefits ANY incumbent leader who handles it with even minimal competence. Hence in Sri Lanka the anti-war oppisition becomes the pro-war incumbent after the election. And need I mention the Democrats, who have much to gain from an anti-war stance, but only as long as the war continues?

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