Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence / Edition 3

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Juergensmeyer asks one of the most important and perplexing questions of our age: Why do religious people commit violent acts in the name of their god, taking the lives of innocent victims and terrorizing entire populations?

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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Kirsch
An unsettling book but also a courageous one. No one who truly cares about matters of faith can afford to ignore the dangers that lurk within religious extremism, and Juergensmeyer is ultimately serving the highest aspirations of organized religion when he insists on shedding light on the darker corners of human belief and human conduct.
Jonathan Groner
Written well and engagingly for a popular audience . . . thoughtful [and] detailed . . . [an] excellent illustration of the beneficent side of the multiculturalism that has swept academia in the last couple of decades.
San Francisco Chronicle
An impressive new book.
Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Takes an academic approach to its subject, but readers outside the academy will find it quite accessible.
Baltimore Sun
The brilliance of Terror in the Mind of God is its dissection of patterns of thought shared by such seemingly disparate figures as Bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh. Like a radiologist revealing the identical skeletal structures in outwardly different creatures,he builds a powerful case for the common elements in five terrorist movements.
LA Times
An unsettling book but also a courageous one. No one who truly cares about matters of faith can afford to ignore the dangers that lurk within religious extremism, and Juergensmeyer is ultimately serving the highest aspirations of organized religion when he insists on shedding light on the darker corners of human belief and human conduct.
Publishers Weekly
This dark, enthralling book not only documents the global rise of religious terrorism but seeks to understand the 'odd attraction of religion and violence.' Juergensmeyer is a powerful, skillful writer whose deeply empathetic interviewing techniques allow readers to enter the minds of some of the late 20th century's most feared religious terrorists.
SF Chronicle
An impressive new book.
Washington Post Book World
Written well and engagingly for a popular audience—thoughtful [and] detailed—[an] excellent illustration of the beneficent side of the multiculturalism that has swept academia in the last couple of decades.
Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Takes an academic approach to its subject, but readers outside the academy will find it quite accessible.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
A timely, persuasive and cogent book. Juergensmeyer is especially astute when constructing the psychological portrait of the men and women who employ terrorist tactics in what they consider to be a cosmic war with evil.
Washington Post Book World
A sensitive, comparative study of terrorist movements and the religious beliefs that motivate them.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This dark, enthralling book not only documents the global rise of religious terrorism but seeks to understand the "odd attraction of religion and violence." Juergensmeyer bases his study on scholarly sources, media accounts and personal interviews with convicted terrorists. He exercises caution with the term "terrorist," preferring to emphasize the large religious community of supporters who make violent acts possible rather than the relatively small number who carry them out. Juergensmeyer identifies certain "cultures of violence" via case studies along the spectrum of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. Such religious communities often perceive themselves and their way of life as under attack. In Japan, for example, a new branch of "socially prophetic" Buddhists released toxic sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system in 1995, shattering their own nonviolent ethic and harming thousands because they had adopted millenarian prophecies about an imminent end to the world. Juergensmeyer is a powerful, skillful writer whose deeply empathic interviewing techniques allow readers to enter the minds of some of the late 20th century's most feared religious terrorists. Yet he is also a sensitive scholar who aptly dissects religious terrorism as a sociological phenomenon. Later chapters pay special attention to issues of "performance violence," enemy formation, martyrology, satanization and "images of cosmic confrontation." (Feb.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Los Angeles Times
An unsettling book but also a courageous one. No one who truly cares about matters of faith can afford to ignore the dangers that lurk within religious extremism, and Juergensmeyer is ultimately serving the highest aspirations of organized religion when he insists on shedding light on the darker corners of human belief and human conduct.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520240117
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2003
  • Series: Comparative Studies in Religion and Society Series , #13
  • Edition description: 3rd Edition
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 348,264
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author


Mark Juergensmeyer is Professor of Sociology and Director of Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the winner of the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for 2003 in the religion category and the author of The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State (California, 1993), and Gandhi's Way: A Handbook of Conflict Resolution (California, 2002), and editor of Global Religions: An Introduction (2003).
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Terror in the Mind of God

The Global Rise of Religious Violence
By Mark Juergensmeyer

University of California Press

Copyright © 2003 Mark Juergensmeyer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0520240111


Chapter One


Introduction: Terror and God


When plastic explosives attached to a Hamas suicide bomber ripped through the gentrified Ben Yehuda shopping mall in Jerusalem in September 1997, the blast damaged not only lives and property but also the confidence with which most people view the world. As images of the bloodied victims were projected from the scene, the double arches of a McDonald's restaurant were visible in the background, their cheerful familiarity appearing oddly out of place with the surrounding carnage. Many who viewed these pictures saw symbols of their own ordinary lives assaulted and vicariously felt the anxiety--the terror--of those who experienced it firsthand. After all, the wounded could have included anyone who has ever visited a McDonald's--which is to say virtually anyone in the developed world. In this sense, the blast was an attack not only on Israel but also on normal life as most people know it.

This loss of innocence was keenly felt by many Americans after news of ethnic shootings in California and Illinois in 1999; the attack on American embassies in Africa in 1998; abortion clinic bombings in Alabama and Georgia in 1997; the bomb blast at the Olympics in Atlanta and the destruction of a U.S. military housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 1996; the tragic destruction of the federal building at Oklahoma City in 1995; and the explosion at the World Trade Center in New York City in 1993. These incidents and a host of violent episodes associated with American religious extremists--including the Christian militia, the Christian Identity movement, and Christian anti-abortion activists--have brought Americans into the same uneasy position occupied by many in the rest of the world. Increasingly, global society must confront religious violence on a routine basis.

The French, for example, have dealt with subway bombs planted by Algerian Islamic activists, the British with exploding trucks and buses ignited by Irish Catholic nationalists, and the Japanese with nerve gas placed in Tokyo subways by members of a Hindu-Buddhist sect. In India residents of Delhi have experienced car bombings by both Sikh and Kashmiri separatists, in Sri Lanka whole sections of the city of Colombo have been destroyed both by Tamils and by Sinhalese militants, Egyptians have been forced to live with militant Islamic attacks in coffeehouses and riverboats, Algerians have lost entire villages to savage attacks perpetrated allegedly by supporters of the Islamic Salvation Front, and Israelis and Palestinians have confronted the deadly deeds of both Jewish and Muslim extremists. For many Middle Easterners, terrorist attacks have become a way of life.

In addition to their contemporaneity, all these instances share two striking characteristics. First, they have been violent--even vicious--in a manner calculated to be terrifying. And, second, they have been motivated by religion.


The Meaning of Religious Terrorism

The ferocity of religious violence was brought home to me in 1998 when I received the news that a car bomb had exploded in a Belfast neighborhood I had visited the day before. The following day firebombs ripped through several pubs and stores, apparently in protest against the fragile peace agreement signed earlier in the year. It was an eerie repetition of what had happened several years before. A suicide bombing claimed by the militant wing of the Palestinian Muslim political movement, Hamas, tore apart a bus near Hebrew University in 1995, the day after I had visited the university on, I believe, the very same bus. The pictures of the mangled bodies on the Jerusalem street and the images of Belfast's bombed-out pub, therefore, had a direct and immediate impact on my view of the world.

What I realized then is the same thing that all of us perceive on some level when we view pictures of terrorist events: on a different day, at a different time, perhaps in a different bus, one of the bodies torn to shreds by any of these terrorist acts could have been ours. What came to mind as I heard the news of the Belfast and Jerusalem bombings, however, was not so much a feeling of relief for my safety as a sense of betrayal--that the personal security and order that is usually a basic assumption of public life cannot in fact be taken for granted in a world where terrorist acts exist.

That, I take it, is largely the point: terrorism is meant to terrify. The word comes from the Latin terrere, "to cause to tremble," and came into common usage in the political sense, as an assault on civil order, during the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution at the close of the eighteenth century. Hence the public response to the violence--the trembling that terrorism effects--is part of the meaning of the term. It is appropriate, then, that the definition of a terrorist act is provided by us, the witnesses--the ones terrified--and not by the party committing the act. It is we--or more often our public agents, the news media--who affix the label on acts of violence that makes them terrorism. These are public acts of destruction, committed without a clear military objective, that arouse a widespread sense of fear.

This fear often turns to anger when we discover the other characteristic that frequently attends these acts of public violence: their justification by religion. Most people feel that religion should provide tranquility and peace, not terror. Yet in many of these cases religion has supplied not only the ideology but also the motivation and the organizational structure for the perpetrators. It is true that some terrorist acts are committed by public officials invoking a sort of "state terrorism" in order to subjugate the populace. The pogroms of Stalin, the government-supported death squads in El Salvador, the genocidal killings of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo, and government-spurred violence of the Hutus and Tutsis in Central Africa all come to mind. The United States has rightfully been accused of terrorism in the atrocities committed during the Vietnam War, and there is some basis for considering the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as terrorist acts.

But the term "terrorism" has more frequently been associated with violence committed by disenfranchised groups desperately attempting to gain a shred of power or influence. Although these groups cannot kill on the scale that governments with all their military power can, their sheer numbers, their intense dedication, and their dangerous unpredictability have given them influence vastly out of proportion with their meager military resources. Some of these groups have been inspired by purely secular causes. They have been motivated by leftist ideologies, as in the cases of the Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru in Peru, and the Red Army in Japan; and they have been propelled by a desire for ethnic or regional separatism, as in the cases of Basque militants in Spain and the Kurdish nationalists in the Middle East.

But more often it has been religion--sometimes in combination with these other factors, sometimes as the primary motivation--that has incited terrorist acts. The common perception that there has been a rise in religious violence around the world in the last decades of the twentieth century has been borne out by those who keep records of such things. In 1980 the U.S. State Department roster of international terrorist groups listed scarcely a single religious organization. In 1998 U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright listed thirty of the world's most dangerous groups; over half were religious. They were Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist. If one added to this list other violent religious groups around the world, including the many Christian militia and other paramilitary organizations found domestically in the United States, the number of religious terrorist groups would be considerable. According to the RAND-St. Andrews Chronology of International Terrorism, the proportion of religious groups increased from sixteen of forty-nine terrorist groups identified in 1994 to twenty-six of the fifty-six groups listed the following year. For this reason former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher said that terrorist acts in the name of religion and ethnic identity have become "one of the most important security challenges we face in the wake of the Cold War."

Throughout this study we will be looking at this odd attraction of religion and violence. Although some observers try to explain away religion's recent ties to violence as an aberration, a result of political ideology, or the characteristic of a mutant form of religion--fundamentalism--these are not my views. Rather, I look for explanations in the current forces of geopolitics and in a strain of violence that may be found at the deepest levels of religious imagination.

Within the histories of religious traditions--from biblical wars to crusading ventures and great acts of martyrdom--violence has lurked as a shadowy presence. It has colored religion's darker, more mysterious symbols. Images of death have never been far from the heart of religion's power to stir the imagination. One of the haunting questions asked by some of the great scholars of religion--including Emile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss, and Sigmund Freud--is why this is the case. Why does religion seem to need violence, and violence religion, and why is a divine mandate for destruction accepted with such certainty by some believers?

These are questions that have taken on a sense of urgency in recent years, when religious violence has reappeared in a form often calculated to terrify on a massive scale. These contemporary acts of violence are often justified by the historical precedent of religion's violent past. Yet the forces that combine to produce religious violence are particular to each moment of history. For this reason, I will focus on case studies of religious violence both within their own cultural contexts and within the framework of global social and political changes that are distinctive to our time.

This is a book about religious terrorism. It is about public acts of violence at the turn of the century for which religion has provided the motivation, the justification, the organization, and the world view. In this book, I have tried to get inside the mindset of those who perpetrated and supported such acts. My goal is to understand why these acts were often associated with religious causes and why they have occurred with such frequency at this juncture in history. Although it is not my purpose to be sympathetic to people who have done terrible things, I do want to understand them and their world views well enough to know how they and their supporters can morally justify what they have done.

What puzzles me is not why bad things are done by bad people, but rather why bad things are done by people who otherwise appear to be good--in cases of religious terrorism, by pious people dedicated to a moral vision of the world. Considering the high-sounding rhetoric with which their purposes are often stated, it is perhaps all the more tragic that the acts of violence meant to achieve them have caused suffering and disruption in many lives--not only those who were injured by the acts, but also those who witnessed them, even from a distance.

Because I want to understand the cultural contexts that produce these acts of violence, my focus is on the ideas and the communities of support that lie behind the acts rather than on the "terrorists" who commit them. In fact, for the purposes of this study, the word "terrorist" is problematic. For one thing, the term makes no clear distinction between the organizers of an attack, those who carry it out, and the many who support it both directly and indirectly. Are they all terrorists, or just some of them--and if the latter, which ones? Another problem with the word is that it can be taken to single out a certain limited species of people called "terrorists" who are committed to violent acts. The implication is that such terrorists are hell-bent to commit terrorism for whatever reason--sometimes choosing religion, sometimes another ideology, to justify their mischief. This logic concludes that terrorism exists because terrorists exist, and if we just got rid of them, the world would be a more pleasant place.

Although such a solution is enticing, the fact is that the line is very thin between "terrorists" and their "non-terrorist" supporters. It is also not clear that there is such a thing as a "terrorist" before someone conspires to perpetrate a terrorist act. Although every society contains sociopaths and others who sadistically enjoy killing, it is seldom such persons who are involved in the deliberate public events that we associate with terrorism, and few studies of terrorism focus exclusively on personality. The studies of the psychology of terrorism deal largely with social psychology; that is, they are concerned with the way people respond to certain group situations that make violent public acts possible. I know of no study that suggests that people are terrorist by nature. Although some activists involved in religious terrorism have been troubled by mental problems, others are people who appear to be normal and socially well adjusted, but who are caught up in extraordinary communities and share extreme world views.

Most of the people involved in acts of religious terrorism are not unlike Dr. Baruch Goldstein, who killed over thirty Muslims as they were praying at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron on February 25, 1994. Goldstein was a medical doctor who grew up in a middle-class community in Brooklyn and received his professional training at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. His commitment to an extreme form of Zionism brought him to Israel and the Kiryat Arba settlement, and although he was politically active for many years--he was Rabbi Meir Kahane's campaign manager when he ran for the Israeli parliament--Goldstein did not appear to be an irrational or vicious person. Prior to the attack at Hebron, his most publicized political act had been a letter to the editor of the New York Times. If Goldstein had deep and perverse personality flaws that eventually surfaced and made him a terrorist, we do not know about them. The evidence about him is to the contrary: it indicates that, like his counterparts in Hamas, he was an otherwise decent man who became overwhelmed by a great sense of dedication to a religious vision shared by many in the community of which he was a part. He became convinced that this vision and community were profoundly assaulted, and this compelled him to a desperate and tragic act. He was certainly single-minded about his religious concerns--even obsessed over them--but to label Goldstein a terrorist prior to the horrible act he committed implies that he was a terrorist by nature and that his religiosity was simply a charade. The evidence does not indicate either to be the case.

For this reason I use the term "terrorist" sparingly. When I do use it, I employ it in the same sense as the word "murderer": it applies to specific persons only after they have been found guilty of committing such a crime, or planning to commit one. Even then I am somewhat cautious about using the term, since a violent act is "terrorism" technically only in the eyes of the courts, more publicly in the eyes of the media, and ultimately only in the eyes of the beholder. The old saying "One person's terrorist is another person's freedom-fighter" has some truth to it. The designation of terrorism is a subjective judgment about the legitimacy of certain violent acts as much as it is a descriptive statement about them.

When I interviewed militant religious activists and their supporters, I found that they seldom used the term "terrorist" to describe what their groups had done. Several told me that their groups should be labeled militant rather than terrorist. A Lutheran pastor who was convicted of bombing abortion clinics was not a terrorist, he told me, since he did not enjoy violence for its own sake. He employed violence only for a purpose, and for that reason he described these events as "defensive actions" on behalf of the "unborn." Activists on both sides of the struggle in Belfast described themselves as "paramilitaries." A leader in India's Sikh separatist movement said that he preferred the term "militant" and told me that "'terrorist' had replaced the term 'witch'" as an excuse to persecute those whom one dislikes. One of the men convicted of bombing the World Trade Center essentially agreed with the Sikh leader, telling me that the word "terrorist" was so "messy" it could not be used without a lot of qualifications. The same point of view was expressed by the political leader of the Hamas movement with whom I talked in Gaza. He described his movement's suicide attacks as "operations." Like many activists who used violence, he likened his group to an army that was planning defensive maneuvers and using violence strategically as necessary acts. Never did he use the word "terrorist" or "terrorism."

This is not just a semantic issue. Whether or not one uses "terrorist" to describe violent acts depends on whether one thinks that the acts are warranted. To a large extent the use of the term depends on one's world view: if the world is perceived as peaceful, violent acts appear as terrorism. If the world is thought to be at war, violent acts may be regarded as legitimate. They may be seen as preemptive strikes, as defensive tactics in an ongoing battle, or as symbols indicating to the world that it is indeed in a state of grave and ultimate conflict.

In most cases in this book, religious language is used to characterize this conflict. When it is, what difference does religion make? Do acts of violence conducted by Hamas have different characteristics from those conducted by secular movements, such as the Kurds? The question is whether religious terrorism is different from other kinds.

In this book it will become clear that, at least in some cases, religion does make a difference. Some of these differences are readily apparent--the transcendent moralism with which such acts are justified, for instance, and the ritual intensity with which they are committed. Other differences are more profound and go to the very heart of religion. The familiar religious images of struggle and transformation--concepts of cosmic war--have been employed in this-worldly social struggles. When these cosmic battles are conceived as occurring on the human plane, they result in real acts of violence.

This leads to yet another question: when religion justifies violence, is it simply being used for political purposes? This question is not as simple as it may first appear. It is complicated largely because of the renewed role that religion plays in various parts of the world as an ideology of public order--especially in movements of religious nationalism--in which religious and political ideologies are intertwined. As the cases in this book will show, religion is not innocent. But it does not ordinarily lead to violence. That happens only with the coalescence of a peculiar set of circumstances--political, social, and ideological--when religion becomes fused with violent expressions of social aspirations, personal pride, and movements for political change.

For these reasons, questions about why religious terrorism has occurred at this moment in history have to be raised in context. By "context" I mean the historical situations, social locations, and world views related to violent incidents. To understand these, we will explore not only the mindset of religious activists who have committed violence but also the groups that have supported them and the ideologies to which they subscribe.


Seeing Inside Cultures of Violence

Terrorism is seldom a lone act. When Dr. Baruch Goldstein entered the Tomb of the Patriarchs carrying an automatic weapon, he came with the tacit approval of many of his fellow Jewish settlers in the nearby community of Kiryat Arba. When Rev. Paul Hill stepped from a sidewalk in Pensacola, Florida, and shot Dr. John Britton and his security escort as they prepared to enter their clinic, he was cheered by a certain circle of militant Christian anti-abortion activists around the country. When the followers of Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman drove a rented truck to the underground garage of the World Trade Center, igniting it and its lethal cargo, they came as part of a well-orchestrated plan that involved dozens of coconspirators and thousands of sympathizers in the United States, Egypt, Palestine, and elsewhere throughout the world.

As these instances show, it takes a community of support and, in many cases, a large organizational network for an act of terrorism to succeed. It also requires an enormous amount of moral presumption for the perpetrators of these acts to justify the destruction of property on a massive scale or to condone a brutal attack on another life, especially the life of someone one scarcely knows and against whom one bears no personal enmity. And it requires a great deal of internal conviction, social acknowledgment, and the stamp of approval from a legitimizing ideology or authority one respects. Because of the moral, ideological, and organizational support necessary for such acts, most of them come as collective decisions--such as the conspiracy that led to the release of nerve gas in the Tokyo subways and the Hamas organization's carefully devised bombings.

Even those acts that appear to be solo ventures conducted by rogue activists often have networks of support and ideologies of validation behind them, whether or not these networks and ideologies are immediately apparent. Behind Yitzhak Rabin's assassin, Yigal Amir, for instance, was a large movement of Messianic Zionism in Israel and abroad. Behind convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh and Buford Furrow, the alleged attacker of a Jewish day-care center, was a subculture of militant Christian groups that extends throughout the United States. Behind Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski was the strident student activist culture of the late 1960s, in which one could easily become infected by the feeling that "terrible things" were going on. Behind the two high school students who killed themselves and thirteen of their classmates in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999 was a quasi-religious "trenchcoat" culture of gothic symbolism. In all of these cases the activists thought that their acts were supported not only by other people but by a widely shared perception that the world was already violent: it was enmeshed in great struggles that gave their own violent actions moral meaning.

This is a significant feature of these cultures: the perception that their communities are already under attack--are being violated--and that their acts are therefore simply responses to the violence they have experienced. In some cases this perception is one to which sensitive people outside the movement can readily relate--the feeling of oppression held by Palestinian Muslims, for example, is one that many throughout the world consider to be an understandable though regrettable response to a situation of political control. In other instances, such as the imagined oppression of America's Christian militia or Japan's Aum Shinrikyo movement, the members' fears of black helicopters hovering over their homes at night or the allegations of collusion of international governments to deprive individuals of their freedoms are regarded by most people outside the movements as paranoid delusions. Still other cases--such as those involving Sikh militants in India, Jewish settlers on the West Bank, Muslim politicians in Algeria, Catholic and Protestant militants in Northern Ireland, and anti-abortion activists in the United States--are highly controversial. There are sober and sensitive people to argue each side.

Whether or not outsiders regard these perceptions of oppression as legitimate, they are certainly considered valid by those within the communities. It is these shared perceptions that constitute the cultures of violence that have flourished throughout the world--in neighborhoods of Jewish nationalists from Kiryat Arba to Brooklyn where the struggle to defend the Jewish nation is part of daily existence, in mountain towns in Idaho and Montana where religious and individual freedoms are thought to be imperiled by an enormous governmental conspiracy, and in pious Muslim communities around the world where Islam is felt to be at war with the surrounding secular forces of modern society. Although geographically dispersed, these cultures in some cases are fairly small: one should bear in mind that the culture of violence characterized by Hamas, for example, does not implicate all Palestinians, all Muslims, or even all Palestinian Muslims.

I could use the term "communities" or "ideologies" of terrorism rather than "cultures" of violence, but what I like about the term "culture" is that it entails both things--ideas and social groupings--that are related to terrorist acts. Needless to say, I am using the term "culture" beyond its narrow meaning as the aesthetic products of a society. Rather, I employ it in a broad way to include the ethical and social values underlying the life of a particular social unit.

My way of thinking about culture is enriched by the ideas of several scholars. It encompasses the idea of "episteme" as described by Michel Foucault: a world view, or a paradigm of thinking that "defines the conditions . . . of all knowledge." It also involves the notion of a nexus of socially embedded ideas about society. Pierre Bourdieu calls this a "habitus," which he describes as "a socially constituted system of cognitive and motivating structures." It is the social basis for what Clifford Geertz described as the "cultural systems" of a people: the patterns of thought, the world views, and the meanings that are attached to the activities of a particular society. In Geertz's view, such cultural systems encompass both secular ideologies and religion.

The cultural approach to the study of terrorism that I have adopted has advantages and disadvantages. Although it allows me to explore more fully the distinctive world view and moral justifications of each group, it means that I tend to study less closely the political calculations of movement leaders and the international networks of activists. For these aspects of terrorism I rely on other works: historical studies such as Bernard Lewis's classic The Assassins; comprehensive surveys such as Walter Laqueur's Terrorism (revised and republished as The Age of Terrorism) and Bruce Hoffman's Inside Terrorism, which covers both historical and contemporary incidents; studies in the social psychology of terrorism by Walter Reich and Jerrold Post; political analyses such as Martha Crenshaw's work on the structure of terrorist organizations in Algeria and Peter Merkl's analysis of left-wing terrorism in Germany; and the contributions of Paul Wilkinson and Brian Jenkins in analyzing terrorism as an instrument of political strategy.

These works leave room for other scholars to develop a more cultural approach to analyzing terrorist movements--efforts at reconstructing the terrorists' world views from within. This research has led to a number of significant case studies, including analyses of the Christian militia by Jeffrey Kaplan, the Christian Identity movement by James Aho, Irish paramilitarists by Martin Dillon, Sikh militants by Cynthia Keppley Mahmood, Jewish activists by Ehud Sprinzak, and Hamas suicide bombers by Paul Steinberg and Anne Marie Oliver. These and other works, along with my own case studies and some interesting reportage by international journalists, make possible an effort such as this one: a comparative cultural study of religious terrorism.

This book begins with case studies of religious activists who have used violence or who justify its use. The first half of the book contains chapters on Christians in America who supported abortion clinic bombings and militia actions such as the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, Catholics and Protestants who justified acts of terrorism in Northern Ireland, Muslims associated with the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City and Hamas attacks in the Middle East, Jews who supported the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the attack in Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs, Sikhs identified with the killing of India's prime minister Indira Gandhi and Punjab's chief minister Beant Singh, and the Japanese Buddhists affiliated with the group accused of the nerve gas attack in Tokyo's subways.

Since these case studies are not only about those directly involved in terrorist acts but also about the world views of the cultures of violence that stand behind them, I have interviewed a number of people associated with these cultures. In the chapters that follow, however, I have chosen to focus on only a few. In some cases I have highlighted the established leaders of political organizations, such as Dr. Abdul Aziz Rantisi, Tom Hartley, and Simranjit Singh Mann. In other cases I have chosen outspoken activists who have been convicted of undertaking violent acts, such as Mahmud Abouhalima, Michael Bray, and Yoel Lerner. In yet other cases I have selected members from the lower echelons of activist movements, such as Takeshi Nakamura and Yochay Ron. The interviews that I have chosen to describe in detail are therefore diverse. But in each case--in my opinion--they best exemplify the world views of the cultures of violence of which the individuals are a part.

In the second half of the book I identify patterns--an overarching logic--found within the cultures of violence described in the first half. I try to explain why and how religion and violence are linked. In Chapter 7 I explain why acts of religious terrorism are undertaken not only to achieve a strategic target but also to accomplish a symbolic purpose. In Chapters 8 and 9, I describe how images of cosmic confrontation and warfare that are ordinarily found in the context of heaven or history are sometimes tied to this-worldly political battles, and I explain how the processes of satanization and symbolic empowerment develop in stages. In Chapter 10, I explore the way that religious violence has provided a sense of empowerment to alienated individuals, marginal groups, and visionary ideologues.

In the last chapter of this book I return to questions directly about religion: why anyone would believe that God could sanction terrorism and why the rediscovery of religion's power has appeared in recent years in such a bloody way--and what, if anything, can be done about it. I have applied what I have learned about religious terrorism to five scenarios in which violence comes to an end.

In order to respond to religious terrorism in a way that is effective and does not produce more terrorism in response, I believe it is necessary to understand why such acts occur. Behind this practical purpose in writing this book, however, is an attempt to understand the role that violence has always played in the religious imagination and how terror could be conceived in the mind of God.

These two purposes are connected. One of my conclusions is that this historical moment of global transformation has provided an occasion for religion--with all its images and ideas--to be reasserted as a public force. Lurking in the background of much of religion's unrest and the occasion for its political revival, I believe, is the devaluation of secular authority and the need for alternative ideologies of public order. It may be one of the ironies of history, graphically displayed in incidents of terrorism, that the answers to the questions of why the contemporary world still needs religion and of why it has suffered such public acts of violence, are surprisingly the same.

Continues...


Excerpted from Terror in the Mind of God by Mark Juergensmeyer Copyright © 2003 by Mark Juergensmeyer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Preface to the Revised Edition
Preface and Acknowledgments
1 Terror and God 3
The Meaning of Religious Terrorism 4
Seeing Inside Cultures of Violence 10
2 Soldiers for Christ 19
Mike Bray and Abortion Clinic Bombings 20
Theological Justifications 24
Eric Robert Rudolph and Timothy McVeigh 30
Catholics and Protestants in Belfast 36
3 Zion Betrayed 45
Yoel Lerner and the Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin 46
Baruch Goldstein's Attack at the Tomb of the Patriarchs 50
Meir Kahane and Jewish Justifications for Violence 53
4 Islam's "Neglected Duty" 61
Mahmud Abouhalima and the World Trade Center Bombing 62
Abdul Aziz Rantisi and Hamas Suicide Missions 70
Modern Islamic Justifications for Violence 80
5 The Sword of Sikhism 85
Simranjit Singh Mann and India's Assassinations 87
Sikh and Hindu Justifications for Violence 94
6 Armageddon in a Tokyo Subway 103
Takeshi Nakamura and the Aum Shinrikyo Assault 106
Can Buddhist Violence Be Justified? 113
7 Theater of Terror 121
Performance Violence 124
Setting the Stage 128
A Time to Kill 135
Reaching the Audience 141
8 Cosmic War 148
Grand Scenarios 152
Symbolic War 158
When Symbols Become Deadly 163
9 Martyrs and Demons 167
Sacrificial Victims 168
The Invention of Enemies 174
America as Enemy 181
Satanization and the Stages of Empowerment 185
10 Warriors' Power 190
Empowering Marginal Men 191
Why Guys Throw Bombs 198
Fighting for the Rule of God 210
11 The Mind of God 219
Empowering Religion 221
Postmodern Terror 228
Destroying Violence 233
Notes 251
Interviews and Correspondence 281
Bibliography 285
Index 305
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 24, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Great Insight Into the Mind of a Terrorist

    Anyone alive who remembers the tragedies that occurred in America on 9/11 will find this book helpful in understanding the mind of a terrorist. To the average thinking human being, the thoughtless murder of innocent people is hard to understand. When someone seeks to justify senseless killing behind the physod of religion, its even more troubling and despicable. Its clear Mr. Juergensmeyer did some indepth research to help provide rational thinking people with a picture into the mind of individuals who are able to commit terrorist acts and simply put their head on a pillow and sleep calmly, without remorse--assuming they are not suicide bombers. Its even more troubling to read the comments of so-called religious scholars who sanction the killing of innocent people simply because they don't believe the same way as the intended victim. This provides details of the thinking behind the terrorism and is a good work for those seeking to understand the single biggest threat facing America today.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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