Preface to the Revised Edition Perhaps the first question that came to mind when televisions around the world displayed the extraordinary aerial assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, was why anyone would do such a thing. When it became clear that the perpetrators' motivations were crouched in religious terms, the shock turned to anger. How could religion be related to such vicious acts?
It is a question that has arisen with alarming frequency in the post Cold War world. Religion seems to be connected with violence virtually everywhere. The September 11 assaults were only the most spectacular of a series of bloody religious incidents. In recent years, religious violence has erupted among right-wing Christians in the United States, angry Muslims and Jews in the Middle East, quarreling Hindus and Muslims in South Asia, and indigenous religious communities in Africa and Indonesia. Like the activists associated with Osama Bin Laden, the individuals involved in these cases have relied on religion to provide political identities and give license to vengeful ideologies.
In this book I explore this dark alliance between religion and violence. In examining recent acts of religious terrorism I try to understand the cultures of violence from which such acts emerge, Through my interviews with perpetrators and supporters I have come to see these acts as forms of public performance rather than aspects of political strategy. These are symbolic statements aimed at providing a sense of empowerment to desperate communities. The collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center must have created a heady illusion of power to those who conspired to bring them down.
Religion is crucial for these acts, since it gives moral justifications for killing and provides images of cosmic war that allow activists to believe that they are waging spiritual scenarios. This does not mean that religion causes violence, nor does it mean that religious violence cannot, in some cases, be justified by other means. But it does mean that religion often provides the mores and symbols that make bloodshedó catastrophic acts of terrorism.
Violent ideas and images are not the monopoly of any single religion. Virtually every major religious traditionó, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhistó served as a resource for violent actors. Perhaps it is not fair to label Osama Bin Laden a Muslim terrorist or to characterize Timothy McVeigh a Christian oneó if they were violent because of their Islamic and quasi-Christian beliefs. But the fact that religion is in their backgrounds, and behind so many different perpetrators of public violence, indicates that all religions are inherently revolutionary. They are capable of providing the ideological resources for an alternative view of public order.
If this has always been so, why are such violent assaults on public order occurring now? I have looked for the answer to this question in our contemporary global milieu. The perception of an international political conspiracy and an oppressive economic "new world order" has been explicitly mentioned by Osama Bin Laden, the Aum Shinrikyo, and Christian militia groups.
Activists such as bin Laden might be regarded as guerilla antiglobalists. Even local ethnonationalist struggles, such as in Kashmir, have arisen in part because of an erosion of confidence in Western-style politics and politicians. The era of globalization and postmodernity creates a context in which authority is undercut and local forces have been unleashed. In saying this, I do not mean to imply that only globalization causes religious violence. But it may be one reason why so many instances of religious violence in such diverse places around the world are occurring at the present time.
A new edition of the book provides me with this opportunity to clarify what the book is about. I have also made some changes at various places in the text to incorporate recent events. Although the major research for this book was completed before the tragic events of September 11, 2001, many of the incidents described in this book are associated with the Al Qaeda network. Readers will find in my section on the earlier assault on the World Trade Center much that will be useful in understanding motivations and organization of those who completed the destruction of the towers in 2001.
Though I have attempted in this book to expose the way Osama Bin Laden and those like him have appropriated religion in their dark view of the world, ultimately this book is not a judgement against religion. Rather, it is an appreciation of the power that the religious imagination still holds in public life, and the recognition that many will find in it a cure for violence instead of a cause.
Preface and Acknowledgments
I am sometimes asked why a nice guy like me would want to study religious terrorism. Those who ask this question usually brush the intellectual explanations asideó if my interest in the global dimensions of religion and society weren't reason enough. They search for something more personal.
One answer I give is that my work on nationalism and global conflict has led to a concern about areas of the world where social transformations have not been easy, and where peaceful options have shredded into violence. I have seen the unraveling of social order close at hand, having lived for a time in India's Punjab, a region torn apart by spiraling violence between militant Sikhs and the Indian government. With the horrors of that era of terror in mind, I have sought to understand how civil order can collapse, and I have looked for a more general explanation for the merger of religion and violence than this one example can offer.
Yet another answer is more personal still. As someone who was raised in the religious milieu of midwestern Protestantism, I know the power of religion to provide a transformative vision of the human potential. In my experience this transformative quality of religion has been a positive thingó has been associated with images of personal wholeness and social redemptionó it has mostly been nonviolent. I say "mostly" because I can remember moments from my own religious involvement in civil rights and antiwar movements a generation ago that were dangerously confrontational and occasionally bloody. So I feel a certain kinship with present-day religious activists who take religion seriously, and I wonder if one of their motivations might be a spiritual conviction so strong that they are willing to kill and to be killed for moral reasons.
Yet my own social activism never reached such extremes, nor could I imagine a situation where even the most worthy of causes could justify taking another person's life. Thus I have looked for other motivations for those who have perpetrated acts of religious terrorism rather than simply struggling for a worthy cause. I have wondered why their views of religion and social engagement have taken such a lethal turn and why they have felt so justified in undertaking actions that have led to destruction and death, often committed in brutal and dramatic ways.
In seeking answers to these questions, I found myself looking not only at particular people and case studies, but also at the larger social and political changes that affect the globe at this moment of history and provide the context for many violent encounters. It is this theme that runs through my previous book, The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, and to some extent this work is a continuation of that interest, though here I focus on events rather than on activist movements. Thus I find myself returning to what attracted me to the subject of religious terrorism intellectually: my sense that a study of this striking phenomenon can tell us something about religion, about public violence, and about the character of contemporary society on virtually a global scale.
In this attempt to understand the recent rise of religious violence around the world, I have a number of colleagues to thank. The case studies that are the heart of this project would not have been possible without the help of those who provided both insight and contacts. In Israel I relied on Ehud Sprinzak, and Gideon Aran for information on Jewish activism; Zaid Abu-Amr, Ariel Merari, and Tahir Shreipeh for insight into the Hamas movement; and the support of the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies in Tel Aviv, the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, and the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem, for housing and travel arrangements. For the prison interviews in Lompoc, California, I relied on the assistance of Terry Roof, Warden David Rardin, Associate Warden Jack Atherton, and Congressman (and colleague) Walter Capps. For an introduction to the Algerian community in Paris I thank François Godement and Michelle Zimney. Regarding Christian militia and abortion activists in the United States, I am grateful to Michael Barkun, Julie Ingersoll, and Matt Miller. In Belfast I appreciated the help of Jim Gibney and the Sin Féin Press Office, and I learned much from Tom Buckley, Brian Murphy, and Martin O'Toole. For help in contacting Sikh activists in India and the United States and in understanding Sikh politics, I value the suggestions the of Cynthia Mahmood, Gurinder Singh Mann, Hew McLeod, Harish Puri, and several Sikh colleagues who prefer to remain nameless. In Jummu and Kashmir, I appreciate the arrangements provided by Pramod Kumar and the Institute for Development and Communication. In Japan my contacts with, and understanding of, the Aum Shinrikyo movement were facilitated by Koichi Mori, Ian Reader, and Susumu Shimazono.
Specific chapters related to these case studies were read by Sprinzak, Aran, Barkun, Ingersoll, Miller, Mahmood, Mann, McLeod, Puri, Reader, Shimazono, "Takeshi Nakamuru" (a pseudonym), Mahmud Abouhalima, and Michael Bray. In addition, portions of early drafts and related essays were reviewed by Karen McCarthy Brown, Jack Hawley, Roger Friedland, and Robin Wright; and the entire manuscript was read by William Brinner, Martha Crenshaw, Ainslie Embree, Bruce Lawrence, and Richard Hecht.
I have also learned much from the circle of scholars involved in terrorist research. It includes Crenshaw, Sprinzak, Bruce Hoffman, Ariel Merari, Jerrold Post, David Rapoport, Paul Wilkinson, and the helpful staff at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, St. Andrews University, Scotland, which I visited in 1997. It was Rapoport who first used the quotation from Exodus that I have borrowed for the front of this book. At Santa Barbara I have appreciated the support of my colleagues, Friedland, Hecht, Richard Appelbaum, Marguerite Bouraad-Nash, Juan Campo, Benjamin J. Cohen, Don Gevirtz, Giles Gunn, Barbara Holdredge, Wade Clark Roof, Ninian Smart, Alan Wallace, David White, and the faculty associated with Global and International Studies.
I am grateful to my students, who have challenged me to present these ideas in a clear and forthright manner. I appreciate especially those in my graduate seminars in religious violence at Santa Barbara and, in 1996, at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley; the undergraduates in my courses in terrorism and global conflict at UCSB, and a host of research assistants over the years, beginning with the many in Berkeley whom I have seen mature in their professional careers. For this book, it was Greg Kelly who helped me in Honolulu; and at Santa Barbara Joe Bandy, Amaury Cooper, Christian Garfield, Robert Gedeon, Omar Kutty, Shawn Landres, John Nemec, Brian Roney, Amory Starr, and consistently reliable Justin Pawl. I am especially grateful for the diligence and impertinence of several former students who worked closely with me on several of the case studies, who wrestled with many of the ideas, and whose imprint can be found throughout these pages. Antony Charles helped bring South and Southeast Asia into focus, Darrin McMahon despaired over and then enhanced my understanding of Europe and the Enlightenment, and Aaron Santell helped make sense out of Japan and the Middle East.
Support for my research came from a senior research fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies and matching funds from the Division of Social Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, facilitated by Dean Donald Zimmerman. I also appreciate the patience and insight of several audiences who heard parts of this manuscript presented as lectures, including the K. Brooke Anderson Lecture at Brown University and the Eugene and Mary Ely Lyman Lectures at Sweet Briar College, as well as presentations at Delta College, Haverford College, the University of California at San Diego, the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies in Tel Aviv, The George Washington University, the EPIIC International Seminar of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown, the Center for American Religion at Princeton University, and faculty seminars of the communications and sociology departments at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Portions of some chapters were published in articles in Mark Juergensmeyer, ed., Violence and the Sacred in the Modern World; David Rapoport, ed., Inside Terrorist Organizations; Journal of Terrorism and Political Violence; Fletcher Forum; and Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Portions of my article "Religion and Violence," which was published without attribution in the Harper Dictionary of Religion, are also utilized in various places in this book.
In the process of publication I was aided by the able staff of Publication Services and the University of California Press. I am grateful especially to Doug Abrams Arava for helping to craft the manuscript, Reed Malcolm for guiding it through publication, and James Clark for his unwavering support. For many years Doug and Reed have helped to uphold the high standards of the Comparative Studies in Religion and Society series of the Press, and I am pleased that this book bears that series' imprimatur. A standard of a different sort has been set by Sucheng Chan, my colleague and spouse, who insists on the best and whose own writing is a model of elegance and conceptual clarity.
To those activists I interviewed and who are named in the list at the end of this book, I extend my appreciation. I know that many of them, especially those who have supported acts of violence for what they regard as personal and moral reasons, will feel that I have not fully understood of sufficiently explained their views. Perhaps they are right. An effort at understanding is just that, an attempt to enter other people's worlds and recreate the moral and strategic logic of the decisions they make. The effort is always, perhaps necessarily, imperfect, for I do not inhabit their lives nor, in these cases, do I concur with their choices. I hope, however, that the subjects of this book will agree that, not just for their sakes but also for the sake of a more peaceful world in which understanding replaces anger and hate, at least I have tried.
For some people, however, whatever contribution this and the many other efforts at understanding and alleviating violence may offer will come too late. I refer to those who have victims of terrorist attacks. As I worked on the first edition of this book, I was interrupted by pictures of the tragic bombing of the American embassy in Kenya, where shards of glass rained down from the office building adjacent to the embassy and slashed the innocent Kenyans on the streets below. As I worked on this revised edition, it was the images of innocent workers trapped in the World Trade Center and mangled bodies of college-age revelers in the bombed nightclubs of Bali and Tel Aviv that seared my consciousness. No one witnessing these tragic scenes broadcast to the world could fail to be moved by the destructive power of terrorist acts. I dedicate this book to these and the many other victims of religious violence in recent years. Their sacrifices will not be forgotten. My conviction is that the same religion that motivates such potent acts of destruction also carries an enormous capacity for healing, restoration, and hope.