What Sets Off Fundamentalists?

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 13 2015 @ 1:24pm

Ron E. Hassner ponders the triggers of religious violence:

[W]hat is truly puzzling about fundamentalist wrath is not merely why some fundamentalist Muslims but not others choose to resort to terrorism against cartoonists but why there is no such Islamist terrorism against abortion clinics, for example, a prime concern for Protestant fundamentalists.  For reasons anchored in theology, history and politics, these Christians would never consider reacting with force to a cartoon mocking Jesus just as a cartoon mocking Moses would barely elicit a shrug from a fundamentalist Jew. But fundamentalist Jews riot, and violently so, in response to desecrations of the Sabbath and the unearthing of Jewish remains by archaeologists, two themes that neither their Muslim nor their Christian counterparts have much interest in. …

Why don’t Protestant extremists bomb abortion clinics in Europe?  Why have there been no Muslim riots in response to blasphemous cartoons in the U.S.? We cannot explain why fundamentalists attack without studying religion and we cannot explain when and where they attack without studying politics.  This point is lost both on anti-Muslim voices, who wish to forge an essentialist link between Islam and violence, and on postcolonial activists who strive to place the blame for violence anywhere but on the shoulders of its Islamists perpetrators.

Update from a reader:

I had an enlightening conversation with a Kuwaiti medical student who is on placement at my practice today.

He is studying medicine at Queen’s University in Belfast and would describe himself as a “secular” Muslim, horrified by the events in Paris. Nevertheless he recognises why some followers of Islam, are enraged by the care-free willingness of some non-Muslims to mock things that are fundamental to their beliefs, albeit that he does not support their deeds in any way.

However, our conversation got round to the reasons why some Muslims take up this jihad activity. He knows some who have left his own country but others from Iraq and further afield as well, who have been captivated by Islamic State and motivated almost entirely by revenge. Many of these people have been directly affected by the Iraq wars but other conflicts including Afghanistan have had a significant impact on their apparent conversion from relatively secular, peaceful individuals to radical jihads.
Most have been directly affected with the loss of several family members. The messages and propaganda promoted by I.S. have captured their imagination in a much more effective way than previously occurred with organisations such as Al Qaeda. Most of these men are of similar age (early 20s) to him. He does agree though, that there are many other reasons why young men are joining this organisation too. Whether we agree with these views or not, he is certain that the most recent invasion of Iraq was entirely unjustifiable and today’s events are a direct legacy of this.

Like me though, he also believes that organisations such as I.S. will never be defeated militarily. I come from a part of the world where a 30-year conflict eventually ended after the realisation that dialogue and negotiation were the only way to bring about a (mainly) peaceful situation. The IRA could never defeat the British forces or the determination of the Unionist people, just as the British Forces could never defeat the IRA or the aspirations of Irish Nationalist people. That it took 30 years for all involved to find this out is regrettable but should give us an indication of how long it might be before there is an end to fundamentalist jihad activity and the assumption that Western society can, in some way, dictate to people in Middle Eastern countries how they conduct themselves.

It would seem that the lessons of history are lost on too many who believe that (para)military aggression/intervention and war of whatever nature, represent any hope of solution to the horrors that affect our world today.