The Scatterbrained Syncretist








Saturday March 1, 2003

I responded to This post at The Art of Peace with the following comment:

"Why do they hate us?" is an important question. But it seems that the way we answer it says more about us than it does about "them". We assume that people who are eager to die in the act of killing random strangers think like us. Maybe people who don't act like us, don't think like us either.

We look for reasons in the Israeli oppression of Palestinians (and US support of Israel). But Palestinians have been oppressed by Jordan, Kuwait and others without arousing similar ire. Muslims are massacred by Indians and Russians (in Chechnya) and it passes almost unremarked in the Muslim world. So, our romantic idea of terrorists as "freedom fighters" is hard to reconcile with Islamist acceptance of oppression. Maybe we are overlaying the template of our perspective when we imagine Muslim terrorism as a liberation struggle.

The goal of eliminating (or at least reducing) poverty is a worthy goal in itself, but there is no correlation between poverty and terrorism. The terrorists tend to come from the upper strata of Muslim society while in most poor societies, terrorism is virtually unknown. In this case too, it looks like we are applying our template of social justice and material progress to circumstances where it may not fit. This article by Ralph Peters suggests that illiteracy and the oppression of women may be more significant factors.

If we really want to know "why they hate us", we should take a look at the reasons they provide when they tell us. This is what bin Laden said. He was not speaking about freedom and social justice, he was speaking about religion. For a western analysis of apocalyptic Islamist thought the Center for Millennial Studies is an informative resource. Interested readers might want to start with this article. These ideas probably don't fully explain the phenomenon of Islamist terrorism...but they have the virtue of beginning with the beliefs of the terrorists themselves.

We will not defeat terrorism if we don't understand it. Understanding someone's actions begins with understanding his beliefs. We should be trying to identify the motivations of terrorists rather than trying to identify with their motivations.


Sunday, March 09, 2003

David responds to this note here.

I reply.