Review Continued: Terror In The Name Of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, Jessica Stern, NY: Harper Collins ECCO, 2003. For the first installment of this review, see https://www.gordongrose.com/why-terrorists-kill-gods-name/
Why Do Terrorists Kill in God’s Name?
Michael Bray, pastor of the Reformed Lutheran Church near his home in Bowie, MD, explains why terrorists kill in God’s name. Stern asked Bray if Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount doesn’t supersede teaching on violent retribution in the Old Testament. “Christians tend to be opposed to violence,” Bray acknowledged. “Some oppose capital punishment,” he continued. “But there is nothing in the Scripture to support this view. Violence is amoral—its moral content is determined on the purpose of the violent act…There has been a progression of understanding, but there is still judgment of sin. The grace of God was manifested in his sending His Son to earth. But God did not change His standards.” (p. 162)
Bray seems to say he is God’s instrument to judge sin. I would then challenge Bray with St. Paul’s Old Testament quotation, “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay.” (See Romans 12:17-21) But, as with any cultist, he likely will have another rationalization.
At one extreme some terrorist groups lack organization. Here, the leader inspires lone-wolf attacks. At the other end of the spectrum stands Al Qaeda. “The Ultimate Organization,” Stern calls them. With their Networks, Franchises, and Freelancers (Chapter Nine), they show great recruitment, training, and deployment. Stern, however, expresses one regret. “It’s too bad that the terrorists’ revelations, including about the organization’s vast businesses holdings, its detailed planning of operations, its emplacements of sleepers, and its attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, didn’t receive more attention.” (p. 237) We continue to ignore Al Qaeda at our peril.
In her final chapter on why tourists kill in God’s name, Stern provides her summary conclusions and policy recommendations. “As a result of my interviews,” she says, “I have come to see that apocalyptic violence intended to ‘cleanse’ the world of ‘impurities’ can create a transcendent state. All the terrorist groups examined in this book believe—or at least started out believing—that they are creating a more perfect world…purifying [it]…of injustice, cruelty, and all that is inhuman…all of them describe themselves as responding to a spiritual calling, and many report a kind of spiritual high or addiction related to its fulfillment.” (p. 281)
Stern singles out the Muslim world as particularly vulnerable to terrorism. She mentions the United States’ support for Israel. Also, Middle Eastern regimes successfully suppress terrorism within their borders. But they ignore terrorist organizations as they shift focus outside, to more vulnerable targets. Egypt successfully shut down Egyptian Islamic Jihad, for example, members of which are exceptionally well-trained. But the group then shifted its target from its “near enemy” to its “far enemy”—the United States and the West. (p. 286)
Muslim militants, humiliated by the “axis of envy,” the result of our economic and military might, globalization, and the New World Order, also respond to our hypocrisy, perceived and real, in our dealings with Middle Eastern nations. Also, allowing failed states, such as Afghanistan and several Latin American countries, to continue, creates a safe haven “for a variety of terrorist groups.” (p. 294)
Terrorism: Ancient As Well as Modern
Terrorism is as ancient as it is modern. National policies lead one tribe or nation to conquer another to enslave their neighbors. The ancient story of Job, in addition to natural disasters, identifies two unprovoked attacks on Job’s holdings and murder of his servants, requiring of him a lengthy road to recovery. (See my Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope for Yours, 2015) The violence which befall terrorists’ victims creates tragedy in personal, family and national life now as it did then.
For anyone interested to learn how terrorists today think, organize, and how they can be thwarted, read Jessica Stern’s Terror In The Name of God.