The revelation (albeit not surprising) this week that the U.S. is conducting raids inside another sovereign nation’s borders (please quote me the International Law that approves that action) started me thinking about the why and how religion has become a major driving force behind international terrorism, and what are the factors that make religious terrorists different from other terrorists groups with an agenda.
The breakdown of the old conflicts of the cold war gave rise to expectations of a new society that would meet a myriad of needs both in poor and wealthy countries – these expectations were not met and resulted in “the “public sense of insecurity”. This feeling of uncertainty was then accelerated by factors such as population increase, rapid urbanization, and for various reasons the breakdown in public services. In this atmosphere the certainty of religious extremism became more and more attractive.
The post WWII anti-colonialism wars in North Africa and the Middle East left a simmering discontent in some countries and the sense of wrongs (going back to the first Crusades) not addressed in any way that was satisfactory to the populaces.
The feeling of alienation encouraged and fed by religious leaders - Islamic, Christian, Jews, Hindu, other religions and cults - lead followers and potential recruits to turn even more inward to the security of the group. Seeking approval from the group and the recognized leaders in religious garb makes the grooming of martyrs an easier task. The idea of living and dying for a higher purpose rings true for the educated as well as the illiterate.
The Iranian revolution led the way, the vision of the world remade in the vision of Islam. Ten years later none of the world’s major religions were free of the taint of extremism. In 1992 the number of terrorist groups had increased exponentially, and now embraced not only major religions, but also obscure religious sects and cults.
While the conflict in Israel/Palestine continues and feeds the fire of both religious and political extremism, that conflict has remained within its geographical boundaries. However it affects all international and some domestic policy in the area of not only the Middle East, but western nations as well.
When the Arabs of the Mujahadeen were trained and armed in Afghanistan by the United States to fight the Russians there was no way to see that one of the solders, Osama bin Laden would turn so completely against the West. Bin Laden wants all “unclean forces” out of his native Saudi Arabia, a country whose government at least officially, gives him no support, yet his popularity in the Middle East and North Africa remains intact even today. I have seen it here in Morocco.
An important tenet of this way of living in the world is seeing the enemy as anyone outside their religion or sect
Seeing the enemy as less than human,
Seeing the orders to kill the enemy as originating in Holy Text or as a personal call from their god which not only justifies their actions but allows them to take whatever actions seem most effective no matter how brutal or destructive, leading to more heinous acts of violence and a greater number of dead.
The more dead the better, they have no political agenda that calls for future compromise so there is no need, and no time they need to present themselves as an alternative; but rather the agenda is to completely wipe out the enemy and replace them.
Unlike secular/political terrorist groups where a particular need or policy could be addressed and compromise reached, “Perhaps the most sobering realization in confronting religious terrorism is that the threat – and the problems that fuel it – can never be eradicated completely.”
When terrorist acts are motivated in part or entirely by religion, where violence is seen as a religious duty divinely inspired, calls are made on different justification than the secular counterparts. These features lead in turn to increased bloodshed and destruction without remorse. These are the problems we have to confront if we have any hope of ending the terror.