Opposing ‘the West’

The Role of Millennial Mythology in the Brutalization of Resistance to Modernization*

* The following is an adapted version of a lecture held at The Norwegian Conference of Military Ethics in Trondheim September 29, 2004.

———–

Introduction

As a Christian believer, I believe that true faith, inside all religions, is basically about peace. True religion contributes towards peaceful coexistence across cultural and religious diversity. When I have chosen to take the millennial myth as my example of a myth that contributes towards escalating violence, the purpose is to point to the inherent dangers of escapist religion and its mythologies. These are dangers that have become reality in Christianity, maybe more than in any other religion.

What are the conditions leading to the sacralization and a following violent escalation of political opposition? How does political resistance become fervently religious? In his Terror in the Mind of God, Mark Juergensmeyer gives three basic conditions for the sacralization of violence. My purpose here is somewhat different, since I am not only asking how existing violence becomes religious, but how religious myths can conduce to making a legitimate struggle cross an ethical limit and become illegitimate and violent. The contention is that the conditions stated by Juergensmeyer are valid also for my purpose. They are: a) The struggle is perceived as a defense of basic identity and dignity; b) loosing the struggle would be unthinkable; and c) the struggle is blocked and cannot be won in real time or in real terms.1Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God. The Global Rise of Religious Violence. Third edition, revised and updated. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2003, (2000). Page 164-165. A fourth condition, which is highly present in Juergensmeyer’s book, but not explicated as such, is the violent character of the religious mythology available for application as a relevant interpretation of the events.2This could be interpreted the other way around, seeing a violent mythological framework as a condition for religion turning violent. When I here have chosen to see the availability of a violent religious framework as a condition for resistance turning violent, it is because I see the opposition to westernization on the whole as risen by legitimate concerns.

Through seeing ‘millennialism’3The term most commonly designates the teaching of the 1000-year earthly kingdom of Christ, as it is depicted in the last book of the Christian Bible, the Apocalypse of John. I will here, however, use the terms ‘millenarian’ and ‘millennialism’ in a broad sense, i.e. referring to all teachings expecting a more or less immediate coming of the judgment and reign of God. Millenarianism in this broad sense is clearly found within Christianity, Judaism and Islam, but also within certain subgroups of the oriental religions. Millennialism, in more secular versions, will also be found within modern ideologies like Marxism and Fascism. See below for this. as a basic configuration of a violent religious mythology, what follows is an attempt to explicate what such a fourth condition would mean. The impending coming of the reign of God and the final and victorious battle, the Armageddon, serve to make the ongoing battle both just and absolute.

The terrorism associated with extremist Islam4The term ‘extremist Islam’ will be reserved for Islamic terrorists and the organizations, wings and networks that have terrorism as their goal. ‘Radical Islam’ will here point to a broader movement, including legitimate efforts to counter aggressive Western influence. has attracted much attention in recent years and is here chosen as the example of how a decisive, but in some sense seemingly hopeless, struggle to preserve basic identity and dignity gains fervor and ruthlessness through interpreting its struggle in a millenarian framework. This choice of terrorism associated with extremist Islam is in many ways obvious. All four conditions are here clearly in place, and the deeds issuing from these fringe organizations and networks are commonly condemned, also by the majority in Muslim societies.

The hazard of taking terrorism as it originates within an Islamic context as my example might not be as obvious, but it is all the more important to avoid it. The danger is that I in this way contribute towards strengthening a propensity to equate terrorism with the Arab or Muslim world. This is not my intention. The millenarian mythology is of a Judeo-Christian origin, and it has been used and is still used as a framework to justify violence and terrorism, both Jewish and Christian. This violent myth is a successful export-article of the Christian West and has been used to legitimate violence in all parts of the world.5Juergensmeyer takes his examples from Jewish, Christian, Buddhist and Muslim terrorists in his chapter of Cosmic War: Terror in the Mind of God, pages 148-166. Björn Kumm (see below) also refers the Basque millennialism described in Juan Aranzadi, Milenarismo vasco, Edad de Oro, etína y nativismo. Madrid: 2000. To demonstrate how the religious mythology of the West through the centuries has legitimated wars, conquest and imperialism would break the limits of this article. The goal is, nevertheless, that this exposition will contribute towards such an understanding. I will return to this in the concluding policy recommendations, indicating how the War on Terrorism operates within the same mythological framework as the terrorism it claims to combat. When the violent mythology of the final battle between good and evil, between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is accepted also in the West, then millennialism ‘comes home’.

This article will proceed in two steps:

  • I will firstly argue that the combination of a global anti-liberal sentiment and the economic, cultural and social exclusion of the Muslim populaces of the Middle East and South Asia, that this combination can make us understand why radical Islam has becomea natural choice for many of the inhabitants in the region.
  • The second stage will be to show that themythological framework of current extremist Islam contributes towards making extremist Islam totalitarian, cynical, death confirming and beautifying overwhelming violence.

I will conclude by giving some policy recommendations.

Anti-liberalism and humiliation leading to radical Islam

To understand the anger victims of globalization feel when faced with the choices of modernization, we have to try to see modernization and Western liberalism from a non-Western perspective. When human rights, democracy and market liberalism are exported, the actors involved in this export believe, at least I hope so, that this means emancipation and freedom of choice for people that have been subdued by unjust systems.

The problem is that it is not necessarily perceived this way in Muslim societies. What many of them see is secularization and privatization of religion. Richard T. Antoun in his book Understanding Fundamentalism puts it this way:

Modernism is an ideology for a society that prizes consumer-oriented capitalism, competition, specialization, and mobility while repudiating hierarchy. The ethos of fundamentalism, its affective orientation, is one of protest and outrage at the secularization of society; that is at the process by which religion and its spirit has been steadily removed from public space – from schools, offices, workshops, universities, courts, and markets, and even from religious institutions themselves – churches, mosques, and synagogues.6Walnut Creek, Altamira Press, 2001, page 3-4.

Secularization is a prerequisite to make liberalism work, and that entails that many of the choices more traditionally oriented citizens of these states have to take to be able to play a role in the new world order, is taken before they even enter into the game. The alternatives are decided by the rules and ideology regulating the game.

One of the best examples of the paradox of liberalism and democracy in the Muslim world is the elections held in Algeria in 1991. As many know, the fundamentalist party Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) won most of the seats in the parliament, but the elections were cancelled, many argue after heavy pressure from Western governments. The voters used their choice to say that we do not want this choice, but the ruling ideology and ideologists told them that refusing this choice was the one choice they were not allowed to make!

What Westerners see as good gifts to furnish these societies with the basic equipment for living good lives, are perceived by some of the recipients as an assault on the most fundamental values of their societies. When a Western lifestyle is marketed and sold through soap operas, movies, pop music and magazines as something next to heaven, the ‘customers’, at least some of them, see something closer to a completely different place:

These religious protest movements regard Western societies as failures (…). The movements point to the high rates of divorce, out-of-wedlock births, alcoholism, drug abuse, crime, and the prevalence of pornography in these western societies as evidence for this failure.7Ibid., page 15-16.

This was what happened when Sayyid Qutb, the perhaps most central ideologist of extremist Islam, in 1948 left his homeland Egypt to study education in the United States8The presentation of Qutb, both here and below in Part 3, is informed by Chapter III and IV, in Paul Berman, Terror and Liberalism. W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. Translated to Norwegian by Alexander Leborg, as, Terror og liberalisme. Dinamo forlag, 2003. Pages 74-131, and by Björn Kumms: Terrorismens Historia. Revised and augmented version. Historiska Media, 2003 (1997). (In Swedish). Pages 246-247.. He found Western freedom and materialism deeply distressing and returned to Egypt in 1951 with profoundly anti-Western and anti-liberal views. He found the people «violent by nature» and «having little respect for human life». The churches were «not places of worship as much as entertainment centers and playgrounds for sexes.»9Jessica Stern, Terror In The Name of God, pages 45-46 and 264-265.

In the “Introduction” to his most well-known work, Milestones, he says:

The period of the Western system has come to an end primarily because it is deprived of those life-giving values which enabled it to be the leader of mankind. (…) If we look at the sources and foundations of modern ways of living, it becomes clear that the whole world is steeped in ‘Jahiliyyah10‘Paganism’. and all the marvelous material comforts and high-level inventions do not diminish this ignorance. This Jahiliyyah is based on rebellion against God’s sovereignty on earth. It transfers to man one of the greatest attributes of God, namely sovereignty.11“Milestones – Introduction”. http://www.islamworld.net/qutb/mint.txt

Upon his return Qutb became one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and the writer of Milestones and the multi volume In the Shadow of the Koran. His highly influential writings are fuelled by an anti-Western and anti-liberal spirit. At their time of writing they were primarily directed towards the sneaking westernization of the Muslim world. In 1954 Qutb was arrested, the brotherhood was prohibited, persecuted and dispersed. This had important consequences. It meant that the members of the brotherhood, the disciples of Qutb, were spread all over the Arab world, and the message with them, as they were given positions at the schools and universities in the countries were they arrived.12See, Berman, Terror and Liberalism, beginning of Chapter V, pages 132 ff in the Norwegian translation. It also meant that the anti-liberalism of radical Islam was starting to be interpreted more widely, not only as an attack on the westernization of the Muslim world, but on the West in general and particularly as an attack on the United States.

Today we see that radical and anti-Western versions of Islam have gained a strong and popular foothold in many Muslim societies and this is partly a result of this development.13See, e.g.: Reuven Paz, «Global Jihad and the United States: Interpretation of the New World Order of Usama bin Ladin,«, in, PRISM Series of Global Jihad, No. 1, February 2003. To us, this is still surprising: Why do a considerable part of the populaces that we Westerners expected would leave superstition and religion to progress towards enlightenment, why do they turn back to even stricter versions of their traditional faith? From what we have said up to now, we can presume at least three reasons for this: Firstly, when you focus on the night side of Western freedom, it looks rather ugly: pornography, prostitution, promiscuity, drugs, alcohol, broken families and criminality. Secondly, the basic choices regarding the role of religion are already taken; liberal democracy presupposes secularization. Thirdly, maybe it is not as enviable as we think it is to be in a situation where there is a great complexity of choices, in daily matters, and even with regard to your own identity.

Given these three reasons, maybe we should not be too surprised that people say ‘no’ to the freedom of the West and rather resort to other ideologies and theologies. They make out frameworks that give alternatives based in an identity already known.

The fourth reason and the great catalyst in all this is the social, economic and cultural deprivation felt by so many in these regions. The debate over the role of social causes in the rise of extremist Islam is very often too shallow. Identifying the income level and class belonging of known terrorists has very little explanatory power. What we need to know is the general condition of the social basis for extremist Islam.

Although the situation is complex, the general picture is that at the top of Muslim societies in the Middle East and South Asia we find a privileged elite. As for the rest of the populations we find a general feeling of exclusion, marginalization, humiliation and alienation.14For the nuanced picture, see, the UNDP report: The Millennium Development Goals in Arab Countries. New York: United Nations Development Programme, December 2003.

This feeling of deprivation has increased during the last decades. This can look like a paradox: Despite the flood of capital to the region from the increased prizes and production of oil, the poor have become relatively poorer, both compared to the ones nearby, the privileged in Middle East societies, and to the ones further away, the peoples of wealthy nations.15Although there is an increase in absolute economic gains, also for the general populace, the relative gains are plunging and this leads to an increase in the feeling of deprivation. To put it simpler: You do not necessarily become any happier from living from one dollar and twenty cents a day, compared to your grandfathers one dollar, if both the wealthy nearby and the ones further away have multiplied the riches many times. See Richard T. Antoun, Understanding Fundamentalism, page 19. The increase in social and economic deprivation, and cultural marginalization makes an escapist and simple version of traditional religion more tempting to follow and hang on to. To put it simple: «Hopelessness, deprivation, envy and humiliation make death, and paradise, seem more appealing.»16Jessica Stern, Terror In The Name of God, page 38.

Thus, the combination of social, economic and cultural exclusion and the simplicity of a religious revival based on anti-liberalism go a long way to explain why many have chosen to strengthen and radicalize their traditional beliefs in traditionally Muslim countries – it can explain the popular basis of extremist Islam. The question then remains: How does radical Islam become extreme? To answer that question we need to see how extremist Islam meets the longings and traumas of its believers. We need to learn about the mythology of extremist Islam.

Before we do that, here is the place to make a clarification, or rather a demarcation:

It goes to what can be read as a gradual development of dissatisfaction with modernization and globalization. Read this way, we could start with the daily annoyances of modernity that many of us feel. We could then proceed to the anti-globalization movements and the social reactions to liberalism in non-Western societies, before we reach the level of a fundamentalist and reactionary religious opposition, leading e.g. to radical Islam. The next step would then be the violent terrorist war on the West and on its string puppets governing Muslim countries, a war facilitated through a violent mythological framework of interpretation.

Read in this way, as a gradual increase in the violence of the reaction, it would be difficult not to end up as either legitimizing terrorism or as condemning all reactions to westernization, depending on the political position of the observer. When this interpretation of the exposition is not correct, it is because a critical line of demarcation goes through this landscape. Terrorism, on the one hand, andglobalization, on the other, becomes condemnable when they cross this line. This line of demarcation is critical because it is ethical. This line is reached when the dignity of the concrete and other human as a vulnerable individual – as face, in the words of the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas17The concept of ‘the face of the Other’ is the thoroughgoing theme in the philosophy of Levinas and references can be found in almost all of his writings. See, e.g. Totality and Infinity, translated by A. Lingis, Pittsburgh, Duquesne University Press, 1969, Section III, pages 187-253., is blurred and lost out of view. The grand narratives fuelling extremist Islam and important parts of globalization itself push these movements across this line. The vulnerable face of the other human is constitutive of reality as truthful and good, and when this is lost out of view, reality is dehumanized. An important feature of this approach, as it is developed by Levinas, is that it takes a certain religiosity as a necessary framework. The vulnerable face of the other is revelation. It points behind its worldly appearance in the sense that it cannot be included in the knowledge and powers of the one for whom it appears.18See, e.g. Totality and Infinity, page39: “Over [the Stranger] I have no power. He escapes my grasp by an essential dimension.”

This means that inside the line of demarcation drawn in this way, a movement can be established that can include people frustrated with modernization, anti-globalizationists, socially and economically deprived people in Western and non-Western societies and believers of all religions, more or less radically opposed to the effects of Westernization.

The cosmic and violent millennial myth pushes people beyond this human limit. It is not the opposition to aggressive modernization, to an aggressive neo-liberal ideology that makes the opposition illegitimate. The opposition becomes illegitimate when it crosses this ethical limit and becomes terrorist.

The mythology of extremist Islam

There is nothing new about the use of terror to achieve political ends. Jewish Zealots and Persian Assassini are often pointed to as early representatives of this kind of terror. Interestingly, the origin of modern terrorism is often identified as state terrorism, namely La Grande Terreur following the French revolution. From this, terrorism and assassinations spread to revolutionaries, nihilists and anarchists in Russia, in Europe and The New World, eventually leading to the breakout of the First World War through the assassination of the heir to the Austria-Hungarian throne, Prince Ferdinand by the Serbian student Gavrilo Princip. More recent terrorism includes such disparate actors as Jewish terrorists prior to and following the establishment of the Israeli state, Palestinian airplane hijackers, Baader-Meinhof, Black September, IRA, ETA, American fundamentalists, Peru’s Shining Path, the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo and many others.19For the history of terrorism, see, Björn Kumm: Terrorismens Historia. Revised and augmented version. Historiska Media, 2003 (1997). (In Swedish).

The reason for listing all these groups and organizations, and for pointing to the history of terrorism is to remind us that terrorism did not fall down from heaven as extremist Islamic terrorism in the 1990s. Terrorism has a history and a language. Moreover, throughout the ages, kings, princes and sovereign states have been the ones leading the way in using terror to reach political goals. What seems to be common to all these strategies of terror is a grand narrative, justifying the use of violence towards the exterior enemy, gaining interior or domestic support, and promising a golden age to come.

In our example of extremist Islamic terrorism, this grand narrative has an apocalyptical and millennial myth as its general framework. Now is the time to spell out what this mythological framework consists in. The millennial myth goes as follows:20See, Chapter II of Paul Berman, Terror and Liberalism. W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. Translated to Norwegian by Alexander Leborg, as, Terror og liberalisme. Dinamo forlag, 2003. See especially the end of the chapter (pages 67-73 in the Norwegian translation). Here Berman also points to, Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millenium, and, André Glucksman, Le XIe Commandement.

  • There is a golden age where a chosen people live in harmony, with nature, among each other and with God.
  • Evil grows and many fall out from the right way
  • Evil thrives among the infidels
  • Even worse are the ones calling themselves chosen, but who are wolves in sheepskin: the false prophets, the traitors
  • A small remnant of the chosen and pure remains
  • They are persecuted and suffering
  • They rise to take on evil and the great war begins
  • The war demands sacrifices, there is great tribulation and suffering – not at least for the faithful and pure ones
  • The big and final battle is commencing – the Armageddon
  • Goodness prevails and the age of peace begins

This myth is based in Judeo-Christian apocalyptic, found in its purest form in The Revelation of John. Both the literal and symbolic interpretation of it has lead to the legitimizing of violence throughout the centuries of Western history, and up to this day.

This myth can also be found in secular versions: In communism and Nazism, capitalism, modernity or the Jews were seen as the evil enemy. All the Trotskys of this world, all the traitors had to be eliminated. The role as sacrificial victims had to be put on and carried, and the fight had to be fought, putting your own life at stake. And, finally, the war would be won and classless society would emerge, or the society where the Arian race had their rightful place as masters.

In the same way as communism and Nazism, and as the Aum Shinrikyo (the group spreading the poisonous gas in the Tokyo underground) and ETA, in the same way, extremist Islamic terrorism takes the millennial myth as the core of its interpretive framework. Therefore, to take this mythological framework into account can help us understand how struggle becomes violent. More specifically, it can help us explain the following four features of extremist Islam:

  1. Its totalitarian ideology21This is the main argument of Bermans Terror and Liberalism.
  2. The lack of concern towards the innocent victims of its deeds
  3. The sacrificial character, in the meaning suicidal and death confirming22See, Stern, Terror in the Name of God, pages 51-55.
  4. The symbolic and overwhelming traits23This cosmic and symbolic dimension of terrorism Juergensmeyer, in Terror in the Mind of God, finds in diverse terrorist groups. “The metaphor of war” is, however, “more consistently used to characterize its perception of global struggle” by the al Qaida network of Osama bin Laden than any other Muslim group.

What I will do before concluding, is to try to show that these four features can be understood in light of the mythological framework that extremist Islam offers.

  1. To start with, it is important to call attention to the mythological element because it helps us see that terrorism in general and Islamite terrorism especially istotalitarian. Islam means ‘surrender’ and has the same root as the word peace. ForextremistIslam, this peace of the Kingdom of God is only attained when everything, every human being and all areas of life, has surrendered to the will and sharia of God. This is what the great and final battle is about. This is monotheism at its worst and there is no exception. Here we see clearly why extremist Islam hates the social order of the West. The worst fear of the Islamists is that this social order of individual, civil and social liberty shall establish itself within the House of Islam. Extremist Islam is totalitarian and undemocratic in its essence.
  2. The second reason to call attention to the mythological core of violent Islamism is that it helps us understand what must be perceived ascontempt for the value of human life. Through the basic millennial myth, reality is so to say lifted out of itself; it is drawn into a larger narrative. Everything is turned upside down: reality becomes symbol and myth and the myth constitutes reality. When, in the attack of large and symbolic buildings, the harlot is hit and the evil snake in the double figure of Judaism and American liberalism collapses, then one can sit in the Tora Bora mountains in costumes from the 7th century and have an enjoyable time when the television pictures show both living and dismembered bodies fly through the air.It is somehow not real. There are no faces there. What one is seeing is the good news that at last the final battle has begun. Goodness is now starting its victory over evil.
  3. The third reason for the importance of pointing to the mythological framework of extremist Islam is that it contributes towards understandingthe glorification of suicide killings. There is a death cult in violent and extremist Islam and in parts of its social base of recruitment. This willed glorification of suicide is the foulest and ugliest side of this movement, and even some parents take part in it. How do we understand it?

The belief in heavenly rewards and the obliteration of the borders separating myth and reality take us some steps towards comprehending. There is, however another factor at work. To get a grasp of this factor, we have to return to the chief ideologist of extremist Islam, Sayyid Qutb. After having been imprisoned in 9 years, he was eventually hanged, or he ‘kissed the gallows’24See, Berman, Terror and Liberalism, end of Part VI, page 130 in the Norwegian translation. as one of his biographers chooses to call it.

There are many signs that Qutb longed for martyrdom.25See, Kumm, Terrorismens historia, page 247. He is referring to one of Qutb’s biographers, the French Islamologist Gilles Kepel. Ever since his stay in the West, he felt an inward and unlivable conflict. He was drawn towards the selfsame life and ideology of the West that he through his religion detested so vehemently. Qutbs own yearning for death is interesting when we are to understand the death wish, the glorification of suicide killings inside extremist Islam.

In the writings of Qutb there is one thing that he detests maybe more than anything: That is what he calls the ‘ugly schizophrenia’26See, Berman, Terror and Liberalism, chapter IV, (pages 103-131 in the Norwegian translation). of the West. By this he understood the separation of state and religion – and, as we have seen, the civil, social and individual rights that followed from this separation – to mean, think, write, say, organize and do what you want, without this being regulated through religion.27See the quote from, “Introduction”, Milestones, above.

The question is if this ‘ugly schizophrenia’ that he detests so deeply, if this unlivable duality that screams for unity under the sharia of God, if this is primarily found in New York or in your hometown, or if it is rather found in Qutb self, and in the next turn makes out the kernel of the desperation of Islamic terrorism.

This means that in the heart of the mythmaking of Qutb, he knows at the same time that there is no realistic way back to the unity state of sharia. He knows that pluralism and globalization have come to stay and that some kind of liberalism is unavoidable if we are to live in this world. The tension and the schizophrenia he hated so much, he found in himself. Now, it is the same schizophrenia, the same doubt that makes, not the final victory, because neither Qutb nor the suicide bomber really believes in it, but the battle, the sacrifice and death itself the real goal. Here we see clearly the third condition of the sacralization of violence that we pointed to in the “Introduction”: The struggle is blocked and cannot be won in real time or in real terms.

Death then becomes the great dissolver of tension. Remembering what we said of the increased sense of deprivation, we can see that death, in addition to being the gate to paradise, becomes a port of relief, a tension-dissolver. Death becomes the place where the insolvable and unlivable tension is dissolved, the tension between the feeling of deprivation, the dream of a global Islamic kingdom and the doubt that it is going to happen all. This way, both the belief and doubt in the millennial myth can help us understand the sacrificial and suicidal traits of extremist Islam.

  1. The fourth feature that the millennial myth helps us explain is themegalomania and beautifying of violencein Islamite terror. The basic millennial myth is apocalyptic – its theme is judgment day – and therefore, this apocalyptic element is also a part of the signature of the terror. The attack on the World Trade Center speaks the clearest symbolic language. The Western, urban, capitalist and liberal society was hit in its heart. But, the symbolic and beautifying are also parts of the other terrorist operations. To take aim at tourism is to punish promiscuity. To hit embassies is to purify the house of Islam of the evil intruders. The same goes for picking synagogues as targets. In addition to all this come the magic of dates and numbers, and the dramatic and mythological language of the proclamations and pamphlets of extremist Islam.

To see the ‘signature’ of Islamic terror in these operations is somehow to perceive the essence of the terrorism of extremist Islam. It is as if these deeds are not performed; they are written. These grave events are just that: They are engraved into reality with a style pencil, changing reality into myth and artwork – writing the grand narrative of goodness’ final victory over evil.

In this fourth feature, therefore, all the four features are gathered: The esthetic and overwhelming violence is beautifying suicide as sacrifice, making human suffering unreal and seeing everything inside the interpretive framework of the total and totalitarian victory of the people and the law of God.

Conclusion and policy recommendations

In this presentation I have tried to demonstrate how the combination of anti-liberalism and the social, economic and cultural deprivation felt in Muslim countries, for many makes radical Islam a more appealing alternative than the complexity of partly illusory choices that the ideologies of the West offer. I also pointed to a necessary demarcation that separates the reactions to globalization and modernization that still hear the ethical call issuing from the vulnerable face of the other, and the ones that ignore this call. In the last part I have tried to show how a grand narrative, a mythological and violent millennialism can contribute to push movements across that limit, and thus become totalitarian, cynical, suicidal and esthetic.

If there is anything to such an analysis, at least the following four policy recommendations should be assessed:

Firstly, an emphatic approach should be considered followed a long way in the analysis and intelligence directed against excessive movements such as extremist Islam. Only when these groups and movements become obviously criminal, this approach should be supplemented by approximations more enemy-oriented. Such an emphatic approach could also help us understand better the rise of violent criminality in our own societies. Protest and opposition should not be judged hostile until it crosses the ethical limits constituted in and through the call for goodness issuing from the vulnerability of the other human.

Secondly, we have to see that the goal of terrorists is to spread terror and attract attention. Although every unexpected death is tragic, terrorism is not among the gravest threats against societies today.28See, e.g. Alan B. Krueger and David D. Laitin, «»Misunderestimating» Terrorism» in Foreign Affairs (Volume 83, No.5, September/ October 2004), page 12: «The State Department has rightly emphasized that the threat of terrorism remains serious, but a close examination of its data helps put the magnitude of the threat in perspective. In 2003, a total of 625 people, including 35 Americans, were killed in international terrorist incidents worldwide. Meanwhile, 43,220 died in automobile accidents in the United States alone.»

This means that it is important to point out that the probability to get hurt by terrorist acts is infinitely smaller than being hit by a car, mugged by a criminal or having a heart attack. In the world at large, suicides, AIDS, other deceases, sugar and cigarettes make out far greater challenges than terrorism. This does not mean that the efforts to stop the spread of WMDs and the fight against the very serious criminality that terrorism amounts to should not have a high priority. What should be focused is that these efforts should be relative to the threats, and that they should be conducted wisely.29Some even find credible reasons for thinking that the terror of terrorism is more useful to the powerful men of the West, than it is to a group of confused Islamists hidden in caves in the Middle East and East Asia .The reference here is obviously the documentary: Fahrenheit 9/11, by Michael Moore, 2004. Illegitimate Western aggression can contribute towards pushing people over the ethical limit identified above.

This leads to the third point: By exaggerating the problem we mirror the approach of terrorism in our response. The War on Terror is just such a mirroring. The millennial myth of Islamic terror is met by a counter-myth. This is in many ways a paradox, because the original myth of US foreign and security politics is not expansive but isolationistic. From the Farewell Speech of George Washington, through the Monroe Doctrine30From a Latin-American perspective, the latent expansive aggression of isolationism was clearly visible already here. and the reluctance of the US to take part in two World Wars an even until today, the dream has been to create a free, independent and invulnerable society on the other side of the ocean.

One of the first lessons of President Bush after 9/11 was to state that ‘oceans no longer protect us’31This phrase was one of the favourites of President Bush in his search for support following the 9/11attacks. Editor Matthew Rothschild in The Progressive has found that the President used and played on this image at least 29 times in the months following the attacks. See “Web Exclusives: Bush Plays Up Our Vulnerability”, February 11, 2003, at http://www.progressive.org/webex/wx0201103.html. Last entered, November 30, 2004.. The goal of the War on Terrorism then comes to be the restoration of the protection that geography previously gave. This is to be reached through the use of superior military force and technology. This however is not sufficient meeting an enemy that also fights with ideological and mythological weapons. The paradox consists in that isolationism becomes expansive, aggressive and ideological. Every threat has to be eliminated and in the footprint of military and technological power comes what the US interprets under the names of human rights, democracy and liberalism.

Thus, the counter-myth is solidly in place. You have the original state of innocence, the evil enemy, the traitors (the ones who are not for are against), you have the war and the final and global empire of peace. The only thing separating the two myths is that they are the reflected image of one another. In this lies the spiral formed dynamics of the war. Grand narratives give birth to grand counter-narratives, and the absolute limit constituted by the vulnerability of the other human gets blurred.

Our response to terrorism has to be broad. Terrorism has to be met by everything from good police work, robust intelligence, limited military operations, through the fight against poverty and to reforms of the international legal order and the system and organizations of international cooperation. In this connection we who live on the sunny side of globalization have to ask ourselves what it is that creates such fertile conditions for terrorism. From the first Christian and until today the millennial myth has found its foothold and has become the interpretive framework of persecuted and marginalized communities.

The majority of the world population who does not reap the fruits of globalization does just not see its excellence. This means that if we really want to combat terrorism we have to take steps on the macro level with regard to globalization and not just mend its errors through charity and coercion. Albeit globalization, liberalism or modernization can be used as excuses for terrorism, the general feeling of marginalization and deprivation that follow this development is an important part of the force of terrorism and its popular base.

Finally, the answer, neither to Islamic terrorism, nor to any other form of modern terrorism, can be a purely ‘neutral’ and secularized ideology. We have to search for the peace-building resources of all religions: When we choose our ideologies and mythologies, we should never loose sight of the ethical enigma written in the vulnerable face of the other human.

 

Fotnoter   [ + ]

1. Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God. The Global Rise of Religious Violence. Third edition, revised and updated. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2003, (2000). Page 164-165.
2. This could be interpreted the other way around, seeing a violent mythological framework as a condition for religion turning violent. When I here have chosen to see the availability of a violent religious framework as a condition for resistance turning violent, it is because I see the opposition to westernization on the whole as risen by legitimate concerns.
3. The term most commonly designates the teaching of the 1000-year earthly kingdom of Christ, as it is depicted in the last book of the Christian Bible, the Apocalypse of John. I will here, however, use the terms ‘millenarian’ and ‘millennialism’ in a broad sense, i.e. referring to all teachings expecting a more or less immediate coming of the judgment and reign of God. Millenarianism in this broad sense is clearly found within Christianity, Judaism and Islam, but also within certain subgroups of the oriental religions. Millennialism, in more secular versions, will also be found within modern ideologies like Marxism and Fascism. See below for this.
4. The term ‘extremist Islam’ will be reserved for Islamic terrorists and the organizations, wings and networks that have terrorism as their goal. ‘Radical Islam’ will here point to a broader movement, including legitimate efforts to counter aggressive Western influence.
5. Juergensmeyer takes his examples from Jewish, Christian, Buddhist and Muslim terrorists in his chapter of Cosmic War: Terror in the Mind of God, pages 148-166. Björn Kumm (see below) also refers the Basque millennialism described in Juan Aranzadi, Milenarismo vasco, Edad de Oro, etína y nativismo. Madrid: 2000.
6. Walnut Creek, Altamira Press, 2001, page 3-4.
7. Ibid., page 15-16.
8. The presentation of Qutb, both here and below in Part 3, is informed by Chapter III and IV, in Paul Berman, Terror and Liberalism. W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. Translated to Norwegian by Alexander Leborg, as, Terror og liberalisme. Dinamo forlag, 2003. Pages 74-131, and by Björn Kumms: Terrorismens Historia. Revised and augmented version. Historiska Media, 2003 (1997). (In Swedish). Pages 246-247.
9. Jessica Stern, Terror In The Name of God, pages 45-46 and 264-265
10. ‘Paganism’.
11. “Milestones – Introduction”. http://www.islamworld.net/qutb/mint.txt
12. See, Berman, Terror and Liberalism, beginning of Chapter V, pages 132 ff in the Norwegian translation.
13. See, e.g.: Reuven Paz, «Global Jihad and the United States: Interpretation of the New World Order of Usama bin Ladin,«, in, PRISM Series of Global Jihad, No. 1, February 2003.
14. For the nuanced picture, see, the UNDP report: The Millennium Development Goals in Arab Countries. New York: United Nations Development Programme, December 2003.
15. Although there is an increase in absolute economic gains, also for the general populace, the relative gains are plunging and this leads to an increase in the feeling of deprivation. To put it simpler: You do not necessarily become any happier from living from one dollar and twenty cents a day, compared to your grandfathers one dollar, if both the wealthy nearby and the ones further away have multiplied the riches many times. See Richard T. Antoun, Understanding Fundamentalism, page 19.
16. Jessica Stern, Terror In The Name of God, page 38.
17. The concept of ‘the face of the Other’ is the thoroughgoing theme in the philosophy of Levinas and references can be found in almost all of his writings. See, e.g. Totality and Infinity, translated by A. Lingis, Pittsburgh, Duquesne University Press, 1969, Section III, pages 187-253.
18. See, e.g. Totality and Infinity, page39: “Over [the Stranger] I have no power. He escapes my grasp by an essential dimension.”
19. For the history of terrorism, see, Björn Kumm: Terrorismens Historia. Revised and augmented version. Historiska Media, 2003 (1997). (In Swedish).
20. See, Chapter II of Paul Berman, Terror and Liberalism. W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. Translated to Norwegian by Alexander Leborg, as, Terror og liberalisme. Dinamo forlag, 2003. See especially the end of the chapter (pages 67-73 in the Norwegian translation). Here Berman also points to, Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millenium, and, André Glucksman, Le XIe Commandement.
21. This is the main argument of Bermans Terror and Liberalism.
22. See, Stern, Terror in the Name of God, pages 51-55.
23. This cosmic and symbolic dimension of terrorism Juergensmeyer, in Terror in the Mind of God, finds in diverse terrorist groups. “The metaphor of war” is, however, “more consistently used to characterize its perception of global struggle” by the al Qaida network of Osama bin Laden than any other Muslim group.
24. See, Berman, Terror and Liberalism, end of Part VI, page 130 in the Norwegian translation.
25. See, Kumm, Terrorismens historia, page 247. He is referring to one of Qutb’s biographers, the French Islamologist Gilles Kepel.
26. See, Berman, Terror and Liberalism, chapter IV, (pages 103-131 in the Norwegian translation).
27. See the quote from, “Introduction”, Milestones, above.
28. See, e.g. Alan B. Krueger and David D. Laitin, «»Misunderestimating» Terrorism» in Foreign Affairs (Volume 83, No.5, September/ October 2004), page 12: «The State Department has rightly emphasized that the threat of terrorism remains serious, but a close examination of its data helps put the magnitude of the threat in perspective. In 2003, a total of 625 people, including 35 Americans, were killed in international terrorist incidents worldwide. Meanwhile, 43,220 died in automobile accidents in the United States alone.»
29. Some even find credible reasons for thinking that the terror of terrorism is more useful to the powerful men of the West, than it is to a group of confused Islamists hidden in caves in the Middle East and East Asia .The reference here is obviously the documentary: Fahrenheit 9/11, by Michael Moore, 2004.
30. From a Latin-American perspective, the latent expansive aggression of isolationism was clearly visible already here.
31. This phrase was one of the favourites of President Bush in his search for support following the 9/11attacks. Editor Matthew Rothschild in The Progressive has found that the President used and played on this image at least 29 times in the months following the attacks. See “Web Exclusives: Bush Plays Up Our Vulnerability”, February 11, 2003, at http://www.progressive.org/webex/wx0201103.html. Last entered, November 30, 2004.

Legg igjen en kommentar

Din e-postadresse vil ikke bli publisert.