(redated post from March 26, 2006)
Jim Still’s recent entry on this blog, “Everything is Permitted Under God,” reminded me of a Larry King interview of Benjamin Netanyahu from several years ago (2001?), in which Netanyahu made a very interesting comparison of the behavior of atheistic communists vs. the behavior of theistic terrorists. Ever since watching that interview, I have been trying to track down the exact quotation as I think it would be useful in the context of theistic complaints that if there is no God, there is no reason for someone not to behave according to pure self-interest. I just found what I was looking for. A transcript of Netanyahu’s speech used to be available at the website of the US House of Representatives, but it has been removed. (A copy may be found on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.) In that speech, Netanyahu makes basically the same point he made during the Larry King interview. Here is the relevant excerpt:
To understand the true dangers of Islamic militancy, we can compare it to another ideology which sought world domination – communism. Both movements pursued irrational goals, but the communists at least pursued theirs in a rational way.
Anytime they had to choose between ideology and their own survival, as in Cuba or Berlin, they backed off and chose survival.
Not so for the Islamic militants. They pursue an irrational ideology irrationally – with no apparent regard for human life, neither their own lives nor the lives of their enemies. The Communists seldom, if ever, produced suicide bombers, while Islamic militancy produces hordes of them, glorifying them and promising them that their dastardly deeds will earn them a glorious afterlife.
This highly pathological aspect of Islamic militancy is what makes it so deadly for mankind.
As Netanyahu shows, sometimes it will be in the self-interest of some theists to sacrifice their own life while committing evil acts. As Netanyahu says, when the Communists had to choose between ideology and their own survival, they chose survival. In contrast, Islamic terrorists do not have to choose between ideology and survival; they are able to consistently act as suicide bombers in support of their irrational ideology.