The inevitable attachment of Islam to terrorism in the ubiquitous phrase “Islamic terrorism” is one example of this habit of thinking.

This explosive cocktail has the necessary ingredients to tear our world apart. TERMS OF USE Though religion can be a problematic partner in confrontation, it also holds the potential of providing a higher vision of human interaction than is portrayed in the bloody encounters of the present. Most Muslims refused to believe that fellow members of their faith could have been responsible for anything as atrocious as the September 11 attacks—and hence the popular conspiracy theory in the Muslim world that somehow Israeli secret police had plotted the terrible deed. What I discovered, however, was that Bhindrawale was essentially a country preacher. Examining closely these tapes and transcripts, however, I found an occasional aside or reference to contemporary political leaders.

Religion Needs a Savior. But a more damaging influence has to do with the long-standing history of religion meddling in politics. For this reason the very starting point in discussions about religious violence often contain assumptions about religion’s role that should be contested.

As a result, the lines between nationalistic hatred, racial prejudice, ethnic rivalry, and religious enmity are virtually indistinguishable. What makes religious violence particularly savage and relentless is that its perpetrators have placed such religious images of divine struggle—cosmic war—in the service of worldly political battles. Initially I was baffled at the apparent lack of political or social content to Bhindranwale’s message. The idea of cosmic war was a remarkably consistent feature of all of these cases. So religion is not the problem. They see the symbols and rituals of religion as essential in symbolically acting out violence as a way of displacing real acts of violence in the world. In some cases the hatred of the global system was overt, as in the American Christian militia’s hatred of the “new world order” and the al Qaeda network’s targeting the World Trade Center. It, by imagining them to be satanic powers. But this is not true. Ultimately, however, they knew they would succeed.55xAbdul Aziz Rantisi, co-founder and political leader of Hamas, personal interview in Khan Yunis, Gaza, 1 March 1998. Those people whom we might think of as terrorists regarded themselves as soldiers in what they imagined to be sacred battles.

For instance, according to one estimate, Christendom is broken up into more than 30,000 denominations.

In fact, there have been more attacks—far more, in fact—by Christian terrorist groups on American soil in the last fifteen years than Muslim ones. He portrayed a sacred war, but one that could be waged in the streets as well as in the soul.

This is essentially the stance that Bruce Lawrence takes in defending Islam in. It is not easy to answer the question of religion’s role in contemporary world politics by an all-or-nothing answer.

Particular religious images and themes were marshaled to resist the global secular systems and their secular nation-state supporters. They evoke great battles of the legendary past, and they relate to metaphysical conflicts between good and evil. Similar concepts from Christianity informed the insights of the American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, who advocated countervailing power and the institutions of justice as peaceful ways of countering social evil.66xSee Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society (New York: Scribner, 1932).

Is this the fault of religion? The recipient of numerous awards, he received the National Grawemeyer Award in 2003 for his work on religion and conflict. The assumption of the State Department official was that religion was the dependent variable, a rhetorical gloss over the real issues that were invariably economic or political. Is religion the problem or the victim?

It is good to be assured that there are religious resources for peace to be tapped, even as we know that religion provides the ammunition for some of our generation’s most lethal acts. Most Muslims refused to believe that fellow members of their faith could have been responsible for anything as atrocious as the September 11 attacks—and hence the popular conspiracy theory in the Muslim world that somehow Israeli secret police had plotted the terrible deed. See Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society (New York: Scribner, 1932).

What is problematic about this view is that it brings an impatience with moderate solutions that require the slow procedures of systems of justice. Yet there is seldom agreement about the most basic issue, whether religion is the cause of violence or its unwilling servant. In a similar vein, Skerry hoped that the Democrats would be more tolerant of people with religious views and that they would invest their time in attracting religious voters, especially progressive ones. The Hedgehog Review for further details. Would you like to read this article in %%?

Instead of the politicization of religion, it appeared in the Sikh case that Bhindranwale was describing the religionization of politics.

The notion of cosmic war gives an all-encompassing worldview to those who embrace it. I argued that Israel’s military force was such that a Palestinian military effort could never succeed.

He referenced historian Bernard Lewis’.

In many cases, it provides an organizational network of local churches, mosques, temples, and religious associations into which patterns of leadership and support may be tapped. Even Connecticut’s liberal Senator Christopher Dodd, in a television interview in November 2003, cautioned Americans not to expect too much tolerance from Islam given its propensity for ideological control over public life.

(Spring 2004). However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion.

I am happy to report that it does. Christianity was merged with nationalism in Ireland and formed the ideologies of anti-state militia in the United States. They were issues of social identity and meaningful participation in public life that in other contexts were expressed through Marxist and nationalists ideologies.

Reprinted from The Hedgehog Review 6.1

For one thing religion personalizes the conflict. What makes religious violence particularly savage and relentless is that its perpetrators have placed such religious images of divine struggle—cosmic war—in the service of worldly political battles.

Supporters of Christian militia movements, for instance, describe their “aha” experience when they discover the worldview of the Christian Identity totalizing ideology that helps them make sense of the modern world, their increasingly peripheral role in it, and the dramatic actions they can take to set the world right.

Whatever bucolic and tranquil notions we may have had were rudely replaced by those that were tough, political, and sometimes violent.

© 2020 Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, On the one hand, religion—Islam in particular—is often assumed to be the problem.

This position—that religion is essentially innocent—is supported by many mainstream religious leaders in the faiths in which violence occurs. In each case those who embraced radical anti-state religious ideologies felt personally upset with what they regarded as the oppression of the secular state. Abdul Aziz Rantisi, co-founder and political leader of Hamas, personal interview in Khan Yunis, Gaza, 1 March 1998. Most traditional societies have had a close tie between political leadership and religious authority, and religion often plays a role in undergirding the moral authority of public life.

It seemed that he was speaking to young men in particular about their easy compromises with the lures of modern life.

However you answer, one fact is undeniable: Religion has not united mankind. To understand how religion was related to these grievances, I turned to the speeches of the fallen martyr, Bhindranwale.

solutions to problems.

But this is not true. So religion is not the problem. I call such notions of warfare “cosmic” because they are larger than life. What I didn’t know was whether this was idiosyncratic to the Sikh case or whether it was a world-wide phenomenon. Most Christians in America saw the religiosity of Timothy McVeigh as anti-Christian, even anti-religious, despite the strong Christian subtext of the novel, See Andrew Macdonald [pseudonym for William Pierce], The Turner Diaries (Hillsboro: National Vanguard, 1978). Democrats Have a Religion Problem .

It is problematic in that religion brings new aspects to conflicts that were otherwise not a part of them. There were other similarities among these cases. The timeline of sacred struggle is vast, perhaps even eternal. ; and in Christianity the political history of Europe is rife with contesting and sometimes merging lines of authority between church and state. Such expressions of power are meant to at least symbolically regain their sense of manhood. Most Buddhist leaders in Japan, for instance, distanced themselves from what they regarded as the pseudo-Buddhism of the Aum Shinrikyo sect that was implicated in the nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subways.

Using Max Weber’s dictum that the state’s authority is always rooted in the social approval of the state to enforce its power through the use of bloodshed—in police authority, punishment, and armed defense—religion is the only other entity that can give moral sanction for violence and is therefore inherently at least potentially revolutionary.44xMax Weber, “Politics as a Vocation,” From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, ed. The human family is divided by religion, with several major religious powers locked in perpetual rivalry.

The failures of the state, though economic, political, and cultural, were often experienced in personal ways as humiliation and alienation, as a loss of selfhood. More moderate forms are the attempts by political commentators and some scholars to explain—as if there was need for it—why Islam is so political.

Often activists employ images of sacred warfare that are found in every religious tradition—such as the battles in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), the epics of Hinduism and Buddhism, and the Islamic idea of jihad. In Judaism the Davidic line of kingship is anointed by God; in Hinduism the kings are thought to uphold divine order through the white umbrella of dharma; and in Christianity the political history of Europe is rife with contesting and sometimes merging lines of authority between church and state. Sunni Islamic ideologies accompanied nationalist movements in Iran, Egypt, Palestine, and elsewhere in the Middle East, and in Israel violent activists were motivated by Messianic Judaism. Supporters of Christian militia movements, for instance, describe their “aha” experience when they discover the worldview of the Christian Identity totalizing ideology that helps them make sense of the modern world, their increasingly peripheral role in it, and the dramatic actions they can take to set the world right.

The term “fundamentalism”—applied not just to Christianity but to a whole host of religious traditions—is another way of excusing “normal” religion and isolating religion’s problems to a deviant form of the species. In the rubble following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in the violent assault of September 11 lies the tawdry remnants of religion’s innocence. That is, the solution to our current moment of religious violence may involve an understanding of religion that is not parochial and defensive, but expansive and tolerant in the manner advocated by virtually all religious scriptures and authorities. (Reprinted by the National Alliance, Arlington,VA, in 1985, and by Barricade Books, New York, in 1996.

This is exactly the position taken by those at the other extreme in the public discussion over religion after September 11. Beginning in the late 1980s and continuing into the 90s and after, I began looking at a variety of cases of recent religious activism. Alas, such a position can fuel the fires of retaliation, leading to more acts of terrorism instead of less. .