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Belief Systems and Terrorism


Belief Systems and Terrorism

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Part 2 of 911+ Questions in Seeking UnCommon Ground and protecting the Middle Way from Binary Thinking (2001)

Belief-centered exclusivity

Efforts are being made to frame the horrendous attacks as attacks on "freedom" and "democracy" within civilization as a whole. To what extent does this constitute an exclusive appropriation of the values of freedom and democracy by a "western civilization" that is perceived by the attackers as opposing other peoples and cultures in their legitimate aspirations to "freedom" and "democracy" as they understand and prioritize them?

The Mayor of New York, in addressing the UN General Assembly argued (1 October 2001): "This is not a time for further study or vague directives. The United Nations must draw a line. The era of moral relativism between those who practice and condone terrorism and those who stand up against it must end...We are right and they are wrong. It is as simple as that". Does this clarity focus on every area of moral ambiguity or only on "terrorism"? After so many years of investigating corruption in the metropolitan police force -- and neglecting the conclusions -- will effective action finally be taken? When will it finally become possible to say that organized crime has no foothold in New York?

The President of the USA assumes that "God" is necessarily exclusively on the side of the American people (and the right-minded of the world) in their response to the "evil" nature of the attackers. The cultures with some sympathy for the attackers, and especially suicide bombers, assume that "Allah" is on their side in opposing the "evil" impact on their communities that they associate with aspects of American policy and "western civilization" -- they label the USA and Israel as "Big Satan" and "Little Satan" respectively. Are there more fruitful ways to understand such a situation and what resources are devoted to this?

Does "western civilization", or the preferred religion of the current president of the USA, have an absolute monopoly on the definition of "good" and "evil"? How is provision made for perspectives on "good" that are radically different from those he acknowledges?

Arguments against those implying that the attacks have been the inevitable response of American foreign policy stress that this is the vilest effort at moral justification. From this perspective, any deliberate choice to murder thousands of civilians is a crime against humanity by even the narrowest definitions of international law. However the question is both whether the attackers perceive that the Americans have themselves made such choices as a pattern of policy (Cambodia, Hiroshima, Iraq, etc) and how they understand an appropriate response?

What civilized cause is served by labelling the unknown perpetrators of such acts as having "no regard for the sanctity or value of human life" (Tony Blair, 14th September 2001) -- when it may be precisely because of the value they attach to the lives of their compatriots in misery that they have engaged in such acts, as in any war?

There is an extraordinary parallel between the unusual exclusivist perception of America as "God's own country" with a Manifest Destiny, and of Israel as a gift by God to a "chosen people". Why have these perceptions justified encroachment on the lands of others, the displacement and death of indigenous populations, their restriction to "reservations", and the development of a strategic framework for the expansion of "western civilization" into the spaces of other cultures?

What strategic dangers for the future of civilization are likely to result from an alliance between two countries that perceive themselves to be blessed by a unique God-given innocence that justifies their self-righteousness under all foreseeable circumstances?

Renaming the US-led coalition's operation as Operation Enduring Freedom -- whether "infinite justice" or "enduring freedom", would it not be helpful if some clarification was offered on who these were for? Who might they not be for in the light of the past experience of many?

Will President Bush's ultimatum to the people of the world -- "if you're not with us, you're against us" -- be perceived as presumptuous arrogance confirming their discomfort with American hegemony? Is it a choice that people want to, need to, or should have to make?

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said of the 9/11 attacks (in a Parade Magazine article) that they were caused by people "whose faith has been perverted". Whose faith might that be?

The most successful "terrorist" movement recognized in the UK is that of radical animal rights -- whose members engage in extremely violent actions against laboratories and researchers using animals. Many of these "terrorists" are profoundly inspired by the beliefs associated with veganism and avoidance of the consumption of animal products. To what extent is there any meaningful parallel between such a challenge to mainstream society and that of fundamentalist religion? Does this suggest other ways of exploring dialogue between mutually alien value systems?

Is the invocation that "God Bless America" to be understood as a request for a preferential blessing -- or merely a reminder to God not to miss out on any countries during his regular blessing of all countries without distinction?

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