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With the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other, Lee Griffith takes a frank look at the historical events and modern forces that contribute to terrorism. This is not a book about small guerrilla bands of terrorists nor about so-called "Islamic ...
With the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other, Lee Griffith takes a frank look at the historical events and modern forces that contribute to terrorism. This is not a book about small guerrilla bands of terrorists nor about so-called "Islamic terrorists" - it is a cogent, open-eyed analysis of a worldwide epidemic of violence.
In a discussion that will no doubt be controversial, Griffith argues that terrorism and counter-terrorism are identical phenomena when viewed at the spiritual level. To oppose terrorism with violence acknowledges the terrorist assumption that meaningful change is only possible through suffering and fear. Likewise, terrorism and counter-terrorism both employ similar God language to justify horrendous acts of violence. This is true not only of "rogue states" but also of Western leaders who use religious language on the eve of battle.
In response to today's culture of terror, Griffith points the way to a theology of peace. He first looks at specific current events that contribute to terrorism. Next, he mines the history of the church to see how the tradition has responded to violence in the past. Finally, he probes the biblical texts for meaningful answers. The result is a stirring message for our day: rather than serving as an incitement to violence, the biblical concept of "the terror of God" stands as a renunciation of all violence - and of death itself.
Posing a radical faith for radical times, The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God is sure to generate discussion from every quarter.
Does not the ear test words as the palate tastes food? JOB 12:11
The Ideology in a Definition
It is to our benefit that Job did not suffer in silence, nor was the "patience of Job" all that it was cracked up to be. He protests and argues about why God should have permitted or even decreed his fall from considerable social and economic height. More than any other figure in the Hebrew Bible, Job identifies God as the source of "terrors" (Job 6:4). Job finds scant solace from his friends who persist in reminding him that it is usually the wicked who have terror nipping at their heels (18:11). Job seeks escape in sleep but then, Job says to God, "you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions ..." (7:14).
It is this very image of God as the source of terrors which is at issue in the book of Job. Like Job, the book itself is struggling and arguing. It is a struggle for a new model of God, and while the argument is left unfinished, there are glimpses of a God who is not terrifying. It is the God who delighted "when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy" (38:7). Job the patriarch is accustomed to a certain understanding of how justice ought to work. Job the patriarch is familiar with the legal codes by which rewards and punishments are meted out, but God is not a patriarch. If Job sees a God of terror (the book of Job seems to be saying to Job the man), then he has not seen deeply enough or far enough or long enough, for this is a God of snows and constellations, of mountain goats and lions, of ostriches and bear cubs, of fish and lotuses (Job 38-41).
But the theme of God as the source of terror is a persistent one. The image of God as cosmic patriarch who inflicts or at least permits atrocity is revealed in such anguishing questions as "Why would God allow that child to die?" Why indeed? We need to argue with such a God and with such an image of God. It is the argument of the patriarch Abraham against the patriarchal God (Genesis 18:22-33). It is the argument with God of the Jewish people both before and since the Holocaust. Why would God allow this to happen? From differing perspectives, many have sought to struggle with this question of theodicy and with this God who seems too silent. With whom do we struggle? The God of love (1 John 4:16) or the God of terrors (Job 6:4) or somehow both?
No matter how one evaluates Job's estimation of the source of the terror he experiences, his description of the terror itself is lucid and arresting. Does it not give pause to read Job's lament over being scared "with dreams" and terrified "with visions" (7:14)? We are not accustomed to hearing about the dreams of saints and prophets being invaded by terror. Instead, prophets dream of righteous faith and reconciled communities. Prophets have visions of the geography of justice, as when "every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places shall be made plain, and the crooked places shall be made straight and the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh shall see it together." Yet, Job reminds us, not all dreams and visions are benign. There are also dreams and visions of terror. Indeed, the perpetrators of some of the greatest terrors in history have never lacked dreams and visions. These visions have filled the killing fields of Kampuchea and the ovens of Auschwitz. These dreams have launched ships that brought death to the native people of North America, ships that brought slaves out of Africa. These are the visions and dreams of terrorism.
Today, to see a geography shaped by the dreams and visions of terrorism, we might look to Lebanon. Few areas of the planet are free from terror or the threat of terror, but in recent history, it is the tortured land of Lebanon that has played unwilling host to the greatest number of opposing groups who have been labeled "terrorist." In a manner that seems a mockery of spirituality, these groups have also been labeled "Muslim" and "Jewish" and "Christian." What's in a name? In the names of the militia groups and the bands of guerrillas that have roamed Lebanon past and present, there is little cognizance of the human suffering that has been inflicted. Rather, the names of these groups speak of exalted dreams. There is Hope (Amal, "Hope") and Faith (Al Dawa, "Call to Faith" and Hezbollah, "Party of God"). There is Liberation - poor Lebanon has been visited by so much Liberation (among others, the Arab Liberation Front, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and from time to time, the Palestine Liberation Organization). And there is even Salvation (the National Salvation Front).
All of the aforementioned groups have been called "terrorist" organizations, but this too is a name that gives pause, a name that may conceal more than it reveals. Who are "terrorists"? How are they to be identified? Is terrorism that which is perpetrated by non-state or subnational groups in contrast to the legally sanctioned violence of the nation state?
In fact, most of the groups that have precipitated terror in Lebanon are pervaded by the veiled (at times, very thinly veiled) influence of various nation states. Amal, for example, was initially founded by Iranian Imam Musa Sadr, but close ties between Amal and Syria developed after the Libyan government was implicated in the disappearance of Musa Sadr and the support of Iran shifted to Hezbollah. Due to conflicts with Palestinian guerrillas operating in the south of Lebanon, Amal did not oppose the Israeli invasion of 1982.
The Phalange militia provides another example of a Lebanese group with strong ties to a number of governments. Founded in the 1930s in imitation of Fascist, paramilitary Phalangists in Spain and Italy, the Lebanese Phalangist Party sought to preserve the dominant position of Maronite Christians in Lebanon. When segments of the Palestine Liberation Organization moved to Lebanon following their expulsion from Jordan in 1970, the United States and Israel supported the Phalange militia in an effort to oppose the PLO. When their position was threatened in a 1975 civil war, the Phalangists invited intervention by Syria, which occurred on June 1, 1976. In an effort to maintain their own dominance, the Syrians did not confine their support to the Phalange. On some occasions, the Syrian military also supported the Druze militia who were opponents of the Phalange. The Phalange militia welcomed the 1982 Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon during which an estimated 20,000 people were killed. As many as two thousand of those people were killed at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps where Phalangists conducted a two-day massacre in reprisal for the murder of their leader, Bashir Gemayel.
In these brief sketches of only two of the groups that have brought terror to Lebanon, note the direct and indirect involvement of Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Libya, Syria, and the United States. Some speak of "state-sponsored terrorists" as if the word "sponsored" somehow insulated the states from being terrorists themselves. Some have also spoken of Lebanon as being in a condition of "sheer anarchy." It is not true. The Lebanese people have not suffered an absence of power but the presence of an obscene quantity of power - too many guns and bombs, too many groups offering violent visions of faith and hope and salvation, too many nation states bringing too many weapons and invasions and cynical manipulations of the mini-saviors they "sponsor." This is not anarchy. It is a vulgar overabundance of raw power.
Still, mention of the nation state evokes a sense of solidity, legality, and order, whereas mention of "terrorists" evokes images that are the antithesis of civilization. Is it this, perhaps, which distinguishes the violence of the state from mere terrorism? Perhaps terrorists do not fight fairly, striking out as they do at noncombatant targets with unconventional weapons secreted away in the trunks of cars and on the bodies of suicidal zealots. Perhaps, unlike the ordered responses of the state, terror strikes at random.
After her release by hijackers in Beirut, Lebanon, Judy Brown of Delmar, New Jersey said, "They kept yelling about New Jersey. I was afraid to tell them where I was from. Why were they so mad at New Jersey?" It was not the state of New Jersey that had provoked the anger of the hijackers, but the U.S. battleship New Jersey, which was anchored off the coast of Lebanon hurling bombs the size of cars into the Muslim sections of Beirut. This bombing was in turn a response to the killing of 241 U.S. Marines in a 1983 "Islamic Jihad" suicide truck bombing of the temporary Marine barracks at the Beirut Airport. This series of events illustrates the difficulty faced by those who would seek to classify "terrorism" as a distinguishable and uniquely abhorrent category of violence. First, the randomness of the violence is called into question, at least by the perpetrators. The hijacking was in response to the New Jersey shelling, which was in response to the truck bombing, which was in response to attacks by U.S. Marines, which were in response to.... Trust me, the provocations (real and imagined) can be traced into the mists of Lebanese history. Were it not for the deadly consequences, the best analogy for these wranglings back and forth would be to a childhood spat over "who started it." Given the deadly consequences, the apt analogy is that drawn by Dom Helder Camara - the downward spiral, the "spiral of violence" in which each atrocity flows from the one that precedes it.
If "terrorist" actions are not distinguishable by some supposed randomness, what of the claim that terrorists target noncombatants? On this point too, the events in Lebanon provide no reassurance. American and European media freely applied the term "terrorism" to the truck bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks on October 23, 1983 and the bombing on the same day of the French military headquarters in Beirut. Regarding the 241 Marines and the 56 French soldiers who were killed, it must be emphasized that their lives were sacred and the suffering of their survivors is incalculable. Ultimately, the effort to differentiate between combatants and noncombatants entails the crude suggestion that, in times of war, some lives are more expendable than others. By international agreement, in times of conflict, some human beings are "fair game" in ways that others are not. It is the cynical compromise of those who would seek to outlaw "war crimes" without outlawing the crime of war itself. Nonetheless, according to these differentiations between combatants and noncombatants, the U.S. Marines and the French soldiers were clearly the former. Meanwhile, the shelling of Muslim neighborhoods by the New Jersey did not differentiate between soldiers and civilians. While there were doubtless members of militia groups residing in these neighborhoods, the bombs could not set them apart from the children or the grandparents or the other women and men who were clearly noncombatants. If the defining feature of terrorism is the civilian identity of those who are targeted, then the "terrorists" in Beirut were not those who bombed military barracks but those who lobbed car-sized bombs into city neighborhoods.
But, some might object, while shelling from a battleship is certainly deadly, it is a conventional form of military engagement. Perhaps terrorism can be distinguished from other forms of military action by its reliance on exotic weapons and tactics which leave us all vulnerable - truck bombings, kidnappings, hijackings. This protest against unconventional forms of violence has a long history among imperial powers. It was one of the complaints the British lodged against the rebels in their North American colonies. While the British fought in a "civilized" manner, marching in line and firing on command, the insurgents utilized guerrilla tactics. In effect, the rebels refused to stand and fight. Unconventional tactics were also applied against Tory sympathizers. Some were tarred and feathered, some were lynched, and others were slaughtered in raids. It is why to this day a monument still stands by the harbor in Saint John, New Brunswick, dedicated to those who fled terror and tyranny, i.e., those 18th-century refugees who fled the United States and sought freedom in Canada.
The question still looms: What distinguishes terrorism from other forms of violence? In Lebanon, the land of terror, we are brought no closer to an answer. There is only the downward spiral of violence inflicted with a plethora of weaponry (standard or not matters little to the victims) on combatants and noncombatants alike by a welter of nation states and militias and freedom fighters and liberation fronts. And there are the dreams of death, the glorious visions of death inflicted or suffered in a holy cause.
Robin Morgan, founder of the Sisterhood is Global Institute, went to Lebanon in 1986. While there, she met a woman named Ghanima who was the mother of fifteen children. Eight of her children were gone, either disappeared or killed. Two of her sons had died as members of this or that faction of the Palestinian cause; Ghanima did not know which groups they fought for or against. As Robin Morgan spoke with her, a Palestinian man approached to pay his respects to this "Mother of Martyrs," but an angry Ghanima would have none of it. She whirled around and yelled at him, "To what have you given birth? Who have you nursed at your breast? In God's name, I swear I will give you no more martyrs! I am done with being a mother of martyrs!"
O Brother Job, the terrors are with us still. The raiders still come and the firepower falls from the sky; the winds still rage and the edge of the sword is bloody (Job 1:13-19). While some suffer these horrors, others try to sleep. Are these terrifying dreams by which the sleep is invaded a warning from God (Job 33:14-18)? While the source of the dreams is unclear, in Lebanon, the violence can be traced to its sources. When we follow the trail and trace the violence back, we do not find God. We find a mad confluence of godlets. We find principalities and powers, imperial nation states and barely organized guerrilla fronts, all self-exalted, all petty, and all appealing to as much inhumanity as humans can muster. It is called liberation and martyrdom. It is called defense and justice. Call it what you will. It is terrorism.
* * *
Terror is not a rational phenomenon. It possesses people, body, mind, and spirit. In the extreme, it even disables the so-called "fight or flight" response and leaves people "paralyzed by fear."
Excerpted from THE WAR ON TERRORISM and the TERROR OF GOD by LEE GRIFFITH Copyright © 2002 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Excerpted by permission.
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|I||The Meaning of Terror||1|
|II||Terror and the Death of Community||37|
|III||The Ethics of Terrorism||75|
|IV||The Terror of God||129|
|V||Beyond Terror and Counterterror||219|
|Postscript: September 11, 2001: The Terror and the Hope||271|
|Index of Names and Subjects||389|
|Index of Scripture References||395|