Monday, August 29, 2011
In Foreign Policy, Charles Kurzman considers at length the following question: "Why is it so hard to find a suicide bomber these days?" He introduces the question and his discussion by considering an incompetent attack in North Carolina that failed to cause even one fatality, pulled off by someone who was easily deterred by gun laws, and who didn't even know the difference between the two major sects of his religion.
If terrorist methods are as widely available as automobiles, why are there so few Islamist terrorists? In light of the death and devastation that terrorists have wrought, the question may seem absurd. But if there are more than a billion Muslims in the world, many of whom supposedly hate the West and desire martyrdom, why don't we see terrorist attacks everywhere, every day?Kurzman comes up with five answers, from which I'll excerpt single-sentence quotes below. My interpretations follow each in bold.
- [M]ost Muslims oppose terrorist violence. In addition to possible differences of interpretation of Islam, I would credit cultural influences outside Islam, and free will and decency for this.
- [M]uch of the support for Islamist radicalism is soft. This can be another manifestation of the above, or due to personal hypocrisy.
- Islamist revolutionaries are divided, and that is a third reason for their relatively small numbers. True, but how important is this?
- [T]he combination of democratic politics and cultural conservatism is far more popular among Muslims than the revolutionaries' anti-democratic violence. This is a rehash of the first reason, but perhaps also with a measure of the second-handedness I'll discuss below thrown in.
- The more that terrorists target Muslims, the less popular the terrorists become -- the fifth reason that their numbers are so low. Both legitimate self-interest and mere tactical considerations can manifest in this way. Regarding the latter: With something like CAIR and an aimless established government around, who needs terrorism?
In my experience, most people are rather second-handed. That is, they are mentally passive, and accept things, like their religious beliefs through a sort of osmosis from those around them. It takes some degree of independence to question something like one's religion -- or the myriad other cultural influences one grows up with. (And that independence will be ultimately be self-defeating if the conclusion one reaches is to stop using his mind.) This fact works against both apostasy and radicalism, but more so the latter, given what Islam demands of its followers: complete mental surrender. (The rampant relativism of our culture, however, can and often does make Islam look like viable guidance, anyway.) So, someone who is Moslem "by default" will be unlikely to go out on a limb to embark on a career of religiously-motivated murder.
But what of the truly radical? To what do they adhere so rigorously? A religion that neuters their minds by demanding the very opposite qualities that a truly effective warrior would need. People can compartmentalize, and act very shrewdly in isolated aspects of their lives, while adhering to ideas that, if acted upon consistently, would kill them. (And shrewdness is much better-motivated by the prospect of personal gain than by that of annihilation.) Despite Kurzman's opening example of Mohammed Taheri-Azar, someone with an incomplete understanding of his religion, the astounding lack of mental acuity and initiative he displays epitomize the end result of someone who has completely surrendered his mind. The leaders of any movement, even Islamic totalitarianism, must necessarily be able to function above Taheri-Azar's level, but what kind of foot soldiers will such a movement produce?
I think that last question is yet another answer to Kurzman's question.