Terrorism is a religious disease. Louise Richardson, in her stunning new book, What Terrorists Want, tells of an ancient trilogy of terrorism and religion. There were the Zealots (also called the Sicarii) from Biblical times, the Assassins from the medieval period, and the Thugi (or ‘Thugs'), up to the modern times.
The goal of the first group, the Jewish Zealots of Jesus' day, was to eliminate Roman rule in Palestine. They sought to inspire a mass uprising against the Roman Empire and believed that the spiral of violence would herald the arrival of the Messiah. Their fanaticism was unbridled. Every concession from the Romans was met with another atrocity by the Zealots. Their objective was the same as terrorists today, to create massive public panic, fear and terror. Their weapon was the Sicarii, a dagger, which they would pull from beneath their clothes, stab their victim, and then disappear into the crowd.
At least two of Jesus' twelve disciples had been Zealots. One was named "Simon Zealot." But the other disciple whom I think might well have been swayed by the Zealot cause was Judas. It was Judas, remember, who "turned Jesus in" to the Chief Priests and the temple police, with a kiss. I don't believe he did it for the money. I think he intentionally tried to provoke Jesus and the other disciples to go public – to take up arms against the Romans and their sympathizers – believing that Jesus would be forced to violence and declare himself to be the long-awaited political and military King of the Gentiles and Savior of the Jews.
After all, there was an early Jewish tradition of a "Divine War of Extermination," called "the ban," or "herem," which required the killing every human being and animal in every town that would not convert to the God of the Jews – to completely annihilate them. The Book of Joshua mentions 31 kings defeated in bloody battles and after every battle the city and everyone in it was slain by the sword, as ordered by the Lord. (Joshua 12:24)
Jesus, however, refused to take up the sword. He turned their weak violence into powerful non-violence. "No more of this!" he said. And he touched the Roman soldier's ear and healed him. In that symbolic act, Jesus turned the "military industrial complex" upside down. "My kingdom," he told them, "is not like this one. Choose this day whose kingdom you will serve."
The second group of religiously-motivated fanatics was the Islamic Assassins, who operated in the latter part of the Middle Ages, from the 11th to the 13th Centuries. The Assassins were a fanatical and murderous Shia Muslim sect. They were inspired by the goal of purifying Islam through jihad, or "holy war." As with the Zealots, their strategy was a policy of public assassination by stabbing, and their victims were orthodox religious leaders who refused to hear their warnings. They created their own state out of mountain fortresses, where they welcomed refugees. They trained recruits, developed their organization of complex sympathetic cells in urban centers, and dispatched their members to carry out assassinations. They would send a young recruit into the house of an intended victim to develop a personal relationship before stabbing him in front of his family. Unlike the Zealots who quickly disappeared into the crowd, the Assassin considered it shameful to escape, and would wait for the ultimate glorification of being beaten to death or arrested and executed as a martyr.
The third wave of religious terrorists was the Hindu Thugi, who operated in India for about 600 years before being annihilated by the British in the 19th century. They believed that their goddess Kali killed an enormous monster that devoured humans as soon as they were created. But for every drop of blood another monster emerged. Since Kali represented the energy of the universe, the Thugi believed that they were obliged to supply her with the blood necessary to keep the universe in equilibrium. The Thugs, as they were called, were the first precursors of state-sponsored terrorism.
All three of these terrorist movements were deeply religious. Which raises the question: "How does religion become evil…whether it be Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever? What are the warning signs of corruption in religion?"
First, there is the delusion of Absolute Truth Claims – which is present in each of our religions. If we see ourselves alone as having the truth and other people as living in error, it is a short step to…
The Second delusion, which is Blind Obedience. Our inability to see religious and scriptural language as metaphorical and conditioned by the culture of the day can create terrible consequences. That is why it was possible for centuries for Christians to support the institution of slavery with their Biblical texts. That is why young Palestinian suicide bombers are video-taped reciting Koran promises of paradise…
Third is the national commitment to a Theocracy, a political/religious/military society in which a nation's riches and warfare are believed to be the blessing of God's favor…
This is inevitably followed by the conviction that the end justifies the means, which ultimately results in the declaration and unbridled religious passion of a Holy War.
Terrorism is a sign of despair. Suicide bombers announce that theirs is a meaningless life. Their religious mentors play on their despair by suggesting that the cause of their hopelessness is the spiritually decadent West. ‘Allah's martyrs' are then promised a glorious reward if they die while spreading pain and fear among their enemies. That kind of belief will never be deterred by American might.
When Vice President Cheney set the nation's policy by saying that we must ‘destroy them before they strike us,' it seems to me that we simply did not understand the meaning of terrorism. Nothing can protect this nation from those who are willing to sacrifice their lives in the attempt to strike out at the enemy. Our military forces might be victorious in the conventional kind of war, but in the process of that victory they create more despair in the defeated nations and thus more terrorists….
When will we understand that the causes of terrorism are poverty, hopelessness, despair and the lack of education and opportunity [all enflamed by religious vindication]? Terrorism is a response of the powerless to their powerlessness. When we attack the symptoms, all we do is to suppress the problems….Instead of making our world safer, are we not just creating the breeding places for more and more terrorists?
The tragedy is that the massacre of 9/11 was a lost opportunity. It could have been a revolutionary moment to help Americans deepen the quality of our suffering by identifying with masses of others around the world who suffer, and to help us abandon the American illusion of invincibility.
We could have said to the world, "We will respond, but not in kind. We will not seek to avenge the death of innocent Americans by the death of innocent victims elsewhere, lest we become what we abhor. We refuse to ratchet-up the cycle of violence that brings only ever more death, destruction and deprivation. What we will do is build coalitions with other nations. [Not only will we shore up our security], but we will share intelligence, freeze assets and engage in forceful extraditions of terrorists if internationally sanctioned. [We will] do all in [our] power to see justice done, but by the force of law only, never by the law of force."
That is the commitment of a great nation.
Abraham Lincoln, who certainly knew that some wars must be fought, nonetheless asked, ‘Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?'"
"When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?"
NOTE: The above material is copywritten and excerpted from the book, "Lots of Hope…" written by Gary A. Wilburn and published by Progressive Publications, www.progressivepub.com. No reproduction of this material is authorized without written permission from the publisher.