(The following article taken from the WorldWatch section of the LIGHT OMEGA website is being offered here in an effort to counteract the movement toward polarization in the world, especially underlined in yesterday's "State of the Union" message by President Bush. I hope you will share it with those who need to read it.)
SPIRITUAL ORIGINS OF RELIGIOUS TERRORISM
There is a hunger abroad in every soul and in every nation to determine its own destiny. This yearning for freedom is part of what it means to be alive at this time. The right to determine one’s own destiny is a fundamental right that has come into focus, worldwide. It is the basis for leading a life of freedom from persecution, a life that does not have to deal with extreme economic deprivation, and a life in which one’s own authority has a primary role in determining the conditions under which one lives.
The cause of freedom to determine one’s own destiny lies beneath the cry of both Islamists and non-Islamists regarding self-determination for their people and their culture. They do not want to be molded according to someone else’s idea of who and how they should be. The pressure tactics and manipulations of the U.S. government are an affront to them, as are the excuses given for military intervention which are seen as a ploy to achieve selfish ends and not ends that are beneficial to the Islamic world.
Paradoxically, it is the right to determine their own destiny and the need to maintain both the freedom and dignity to do so, that fuels the insurgency in Iraq and the ‘jihad’ in other Arab countries. People everywhere, especially young people, feel humiliated by the treatment they have received from the West, and increasingly, they want recognition for their own culture and their own religion. This is part of the movement toward light and toward freedom in the world – the freedom to create one’s own destiny.
Into this picture come forces that wish to achieve other ends than these, forces that co-opt the motives of many, especially those of young people, with ideas concerning how self-determination can best be achieved. These dark forces affect both the mind and the emotions. They interfere with a willingness to take a long-term approach to the problem and create an agitation for things to happen now. The forces of darkness inflame hatred within the Muslim heart that has a genuine desire for freedom so that it begins to see oppression in the most vilified terms, it begins to feel that its very existence is threatened because of the power of the West. The hearts of many in the Arab world would not turn to violence as a way of gaining self-determination if it were not for the forces at work on an emotional level that seek to turn the situation into a violent one, and that exaggerate feelings of pride and humiliation, of oppression and of the need for revenge. These forces want to stir up conflict. They want to sir up agitation. And they want to stir up what will ultimately be a war between the Islamic world and the West.
The presence of poverty throughout much of the Arab world also gives fuel to the rise of religious terrorism. The young people who join such movements are not stupid. They are idealistic. They are aware of the economic wealth that lies with Western nations and the relative lack of wealth and opportunity that is part of the Arab world. They believe that the Islamic nation deserves better . They are proud of their heritage and believe that something more is warranted in terms of the world’s assessment of what being Muslim means. Out of this sense of pride in culture and religion, out of economic deprivation, out of a sense of oppression and of humiliation, comes the mix that is so potent that gives rise to the cry of ‘jihad’ and to the willingness to sacrifice one’s own life for the cause of Arab and Islamic freedom. The two are not the same but they become the same. The Arab world is composed of nations with similarities of culture. The Islamic world is dominated by the religion of Islam, which may or may not dominate the form of government as well.
The particular form of terrorism that is called ‘religious terrorism’ comes from a fundamental orientation toward God and toward God’s purposes that turns itself into a need to stand for God and against the ‘infidel’. The ‘infidel’ in this case is anyone who would interfere with or harm the nation of Islam or the religion of Islam. There is a call to duty among Muslims to stand in this way against those who would harm, limit , violate, or trespass against the people of the faith. It is their solemn duty to take such a stance, and those who are most ardent often find themselves gravitating toward groups whose main purpose is to ‘stand against’ the power of the West. They consider this a religious duty. They consider it a spiritual calling. The factor of violence to others or violence to oneself which some Muslims decry as not being part of Islam or of the Koran is partly true and partly untrue. The call to stand for one’s faith against those who would harm it is very clear in the Koran. And what ‘standing against’ means may be open to interpretation, but for many devout Muslims, it involves doing all that is needed, including sacrificing one’s own life.
The devotion to God that is an inherent part of ‘jihad’ is often underestimated by the West who, especially in the media, prefers to see terrorists, insurgents, and jihadists as fanatics and as irrational madmen. This is far from the case. They are not madmen but people in search of a way of life that will be supported by the world with dignity and respect. The fact that they choose forms of extreme violence in order to do so is an aberration of, on the one hand, their zeal to serve God through devotion, and on the other, the inflammation of feelings of humiliation and of the desire for justice which they believe is a mandate to be carried out on God’s behalf. The reason that so many violent actions are preceded by the affirmation “Allah Akbar,” “God is great,” is because there is truly a feeling that one is carrying out these actions on God’s behalf.
In situations such as this, we must speak of devotion as separated from love, or as devotion that includes love for God in an intense way but excludes brotherly love for one’s fellow man if that fellow man is not a Muslim. Christianity does not allow for such a separation of love and non-love, for the teachings of Jesus emphasize strongly “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” But for the Muslim, love for God may be passionately defended while at the same time violence against one’s brother may be perpetrated, because it is deeply felt that those who are the recipients of violent actions are not one’s brothers. This polarization of consciousness into those who are ‘brothers’ and those who are opponents is further fueled by dark currents that enter the mind and the emotions that create an exaggerated idea of differences in the perception of many.
The fundamental problem for the world at the present time in relation to a religious terrorism that is simultaneously fueled by economic and cultural necessity and by devotion to God, is that the West has its own reasons for seeing ardent Muslims as ‘the enemy’. It has its own reasons for seeking polarization rather than peace. And despite the fact that these reasons do not amount, on either side, to a justification for violence, (however understandable, emotionally, it may be), the West is equally complicit in having its own motives which engage the motives of terrorists, and which further enhance their violent and aggressive behavior.
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Part II. of "Spiritual Origins of Religious Terrorism" follows in the next newsletter.