The faith that makes a terrorist tick

Osama bin LadenSometimes I wonder how often journalists covering Islamic terrorism actually get to interview a terrorist. That’s a scary proposition in many ways. One way or another, those responsible for giving the public a clear understanding of Islamic terrorism must understand the religious underpinnings of terrrorists’ worldview and moral philosophy.

For those disinclined to understand the terrorists personally — or unable to reach them in the rocky coves of Afghanistan or Pakistan — a well-researched book seems to be the next best option, as noted earlier in this space.

This book review by Los Angeles Times writer Tim Rutten on Knowing the Enemy Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror by Mary Habeck digs into the broad subject of Islam and where jihadis get their religious philosophy. It isn’t pretty:

Because Habeck is deadly serious about the jihadis’ religiosity, she is scrupulous about their relationship to contemporary Islam. It would be “evil,” she argues, to contend that a billion-plus Muslims supported or desired the mass murder that occurred on 9/11. Nor is it correct to conflate jihadi ideology with Islamist politics, such as those of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party. On the other hand, she writes, it “would be just as wrong to conclude that the hijackers, Al Qaeda and the other radical groups have nothing to do with Islam.”

Nor can the jihadis’ key beliefs be dismissed as “the marginal opinions of a few fanatics. The principal dogmas that they assert … have roots in discussions about Islamic law and theology that began soon after the death of Muhammad and that are supported by important segments of the clergy today.”

Here an American reader confronts the necessity of reaching beyond the undergraduate impulse that equates a facile acceptance with tolerance. It’s a step that requires the recognition, as the philosopher Richard Rorty once put it, that some ideas, like some people, are just “no damn good.”

Reporters are not inclined to dismiss ideas merely because they “are just ‘no damn good.’” In covering terrorism, the argument that “one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter” is very attractive, particularly if one is attempting to write articles that are not biased in one direction or another. But those types of comparisons are fraught with moral inconsistencies.

Here’s a bit of information that I had not seen elsewhere and should be considered when people call for us to withdraw our military from Iraq to appease the terrorists:

One of Habeck’s more interesting insights concerns the violent jihadis’ tendency to borrow strategies directly from the narratives contained in the Koran and hadith. For example, Bin Laden’s recent offer of a “truce” with the United States actually recapitulates a tactic Muhammad is said to have employed to conquer the tribe that controlled Mecca.

The real import of Habeck’s book is its suggestion that because the jihadis really believe what they say they do — and act on it — studying their texts and comments could yield the effective anti-terrorism that so far has eluded George W. Bush’s administration.

I suggest reading the article and then the book if one has the time. The implications to getting the Islamic terrorism threat wrong are staggering for both journalists and our nation’s leaders.

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  • Tony D.

    “…when people call for us to withdraw our military from Iraq to appease the terrorists…”

    I’m sorry but I couldn’t let that slide, one doesn’t follow from the other. Rep. Murtha calls for withdrawing troops from Iraq because their job is done: they removed Saddam, gave Iraq back to its people, did some preliminary rebuilding, and now it’s time to focus on real threats to U.S. security.

    I know it’s not really what the post was about, but please, have some respect for the motivations of those who may disagree with you.

  • Theway2k

    Islam by nature is violent according to it’s own scriptures. I am certain that there are Muslims who seek a spirituality of peace, but that is contrary to the nature of their scripture. Sufi mystics are probably the closest to a Muslim who seeks a oneness with their deity, however they are an extreme minority among Muslims. Even a Muslims concepts of heaven are male oriented suggesting there is nothing of acceptance for a woman in heaven. There are the 72 virgins whose only purpose is to fulfill the fleshly carnal desires of males. What are saw on Sept 9, 2001 was a global muslim celebration of the deah of American lives. I can’t get that out of my head.

  • Dina

    It breaks my heart to read such offensive things about a great (and greatly misunderstood) religion. Bil Laden is no authority on Islam, it is wrong to decide on an idealogy based on ppl who, by their nature, make mistakes. Some ppl’s mistakes are greater than others, though, and killing innocent ppl really isn’t what islam is about. We are not about hate, each war that has happened during the time of Mohammed (peace be upon him) had a justifyable reason. And the Prophet (peace be upon him) showed great tolerence to ppl different from him. We just need to dig a little deeper and look at the issue with a little objectivity and evaluate them within their true context (which I admit is very hard for both sides under the current circumstances). I believe that the unrest happening in the world today is due to political reasons and attributed falsely to Islam (by Muslim jihadis themselves). I just want to point out one thing, what we as Muslims object to with regards to the Danish cartoons is not that it says something bad about Muslims, it is that it went directly against our sacred beliefs. We have no problem with the West saying whatever it wants about the Muslim ppl, after all, that is freedom of speech. But when you attack a figure of Islam, that we are supposed to honor and revere, sterotyping a whole ppl in the process, I think this is where you have to draw the line. The claim that cartoons or whatever else about Israelis in the Middle East being comparable to the Danish cartoons is not founded as the Israel cartoons are political, while the Danish cartoon tackles a religious issue. By all means criticize Muslim politics and behaviors all you want, but I really think that what is held sacred (not just to Muslims, this includes all religions), should be kept sacred.

  • Dina

    “Even a Muslims concepts of heaven are male oriented suggesting there is nothing of acceptance for a woman in heaven. There are the 72 virgins whose only purpose is to fulfill the fleshly carnal desires of males.”
    As a Muslim I can assure you that this statement is not true. I don’t know about the number of virgins a man gets (technically they’re not simply virgins, they’re extremely beautiful creatures that God has created to reward believers in heaven); but I do know that women do go to heaven, they are judged just as a man is and rewarded just as a man is. In fact, women who go to heaven will be far more beautiful than these “virgins”. To suggest that there will be sexism, racism, or any kind of segregation in heaven strikes me as an odd concept in any religion not just Islam, after all, wasn’t it God who created all these creatures alike?

  • dpulliam

    I think it’s one thing to mock a religious deity and another to mock the slaughter of 6 million people. Sure, Muslims have to draw a line somewhere, but don’t also the journalists who were threatened after they exercised their freedom of speech? Threats of violence and kidnapping cannot be excused.

  • Dina

    I completely agree that death threats are inexusable.
    I also think that mocking a religious deity, whatever the religion is, is a very grave error, and such disrespect is never justified.
    I was not talking about the holocaust in specific, I just wanted religion and politics to be treated seperately, one should not be confused with the other.

  • mott woolley

    Greetings, I recently reviewed Mary Habeck’s book on Jihadis Ideology which was punlished by Asia Times on April 18, Front Page, under the Speaking Freely heading. It may be of interst to your readers.