Terrorism: From Ressentiment to Action
Religion and Ressentiment
Marx understood religion dialectically. Religion was an expression of the real pain and suffering engendered by the political economy, as well as an opiate that made that suffering tolerable bearable by providing compensations. Religion, as a hegemonic ideology, sustains domination by providing quite genuine social and emotional gratifications, creating a realm of hope outside the political economy. As Durkheim noted, collective rituals evoke the efflorescence of powerful emotions that celebrate and reinforce social solidarity. So too did Freud (1989) argue that religion, while an illusion resting on powerful unconscious longings for a benevolent father figure, could nevertheless evoke powerful feelings, “oceanic feelings” of unity with the universe recapitulating a blissful symbiosis with the mother While religion may well assuage domination and yet sustain it with compensatory emotional experiences from either the group or the unconscious, as Weber would note, religion, providing a theodicy of the distributions of fortune articulated by virtuosos, nevertheless took particulars forms with theologies that had an “elective affinity” with the status positions of its followers. Thus religious values and doctrines, guiding both everyday conduct and eschatological ends, provided its followers with affective gratifications and indeed hope.
Weber was highly influenced by Nietzsche, who called Christianity a “slave religion” in which there had been a transvaluation of the ethical (Stauth and Turner 1988). For Nietzsche, the dominated classes of Rome embraced Christianity, a slave “mentality” with its values of mercy, justice, forgiveness and compassion. Slaves would ask for their master’s mercy and justice rather than plan the overthrow of their masters. Christianity represented a “transvaluation of the ethical,” the values of strong and powerful, the expressions of will, bravery, conquest or indeed cruelty that had been considered “good” were redefined as “bad,” indeed “sinful”. Christianity defined “goodness” from the standpoint of the weak, the powerless, the alienated. Christianity traded docility and subordination for strength and power. But the renunciation of the “will to power,” the subordination of the Dionysian for the Apollonian came at a cost, sickness of the soul and the contraction of the self to the banality of the pitiful masses.
In articulating a critical theory of religion, located in the Frankfurt School tradition of immanent critique Siebert (2001), emphasized the contradictions between the promises of religion, often utopian, and the actual conditions of people’s lives. In order to understand the relation of religion to material factors in the development of religious terrorism, we need consider the important role of ressentiment as first articulated by Nietzsche to note the allure and response of Christianity as a religion of subalterns:
With the emergence of Christianity we have the successful slave-revolt in morality with its accompanying new set of values and virtues, and its underlying ascetic ideal. The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of natures that are denied the true reaction, that of deeds, esteemed, desired and possessed by the noble. It is the rejection of external goods such as honor and prestige, political power and influence, wealth, physical strength and beauty; and as well a disparagement of those virtues, especially courage and pride, characteristic of the Greco-Roman nobleman... The goods and virtues associated with the despised nobility themselves come to be hated as evil. In the place of the negatively apprehended values, traits and devices found expedient for sheer survival of the weak are elevated to the status of goods and virtues. Thus, the weakness of the oppressed is transformed into virtue and the original power and strength of the noble is now considered evil and sinful. (Morelli 2001)
In other words, when superiors possess certain desirable actualities of power, wealth and dignity, as well as possibilities of freedom are and denied to subordinates, they will come to loath what they cannot have, materially, politically or morally and instead will embrace denial and asceticism that become valorized. But this ressentiment, as a repressed form of envy/hatred of the Other, becomes turned on the self as a sickness, as self-hatred that consumes. As Nietzsche put it,
Ressentiment: Everything hurts. Being sick in itself is a kind of ressentiment. The defensive and offensive instinct in man becomes soft-one does not know how to have done with anything-one does not know how to thrust back-everything hurts-men and things come importunately close-events strike too deep-the memory is a festering wound (1969 p.33-4).
For the Christian subalterns of Rome, with the transvaluation of the ethical, their kingdom of God would be the next life-where the vile Romans were consigned to hell. As Greenfeld (1992) has argued, the ressentiment of the bourgeoisie toward dynastic rule impelled the rise of the Nation State that would empower people as citizens with dignity based on membership in an “imagined community”. Similarly, religious terrorists may see terrorism as hope, as the only means to overcome their despised secular oppressors, find agency and even secure dignity in a “purified” state. Following Nietzsche, we suggest that dominated groups, lacking public means for the realization of will qua agency and empowerment, denied recognition and dignity, facing humiliations, experience ressentiment that in turn disposes the embrace of religious fundamentalism a vision of hope in attaining a “better world”, often of restoring a lost “Golden Age” in which the “redeemed” faithful regain a lost sense of agency and dignity. For Nietzsche, the only way to overcome ressentiment was to give up the desire for vengeance-but the hatred to Other typically makes that impossible for all but the “ubermench.”
To bring meaning to the world and control human passions, all societies develop frameworks of meaning and understanding to explain the nature of the world, prescribe ethical regulations of everyday life and explain injustice and promise redemption. Religions typically provide a theodicy that explains the contradictions between the promises of God and worldly injustice. Further, these theodicies typically provide a course of amelioration from the abnegation of the world. “For Horkhiemer, religion or theodicy was the expression of the longing for the Infinite: for perfect justice. This perfect justice could never be realized in the secular history. Even if a better world would take the place of the present social disorder...the past misery would not be made good and the predicament and plight in the surrounding nature would not be superceded” (Siebert 2001, p.11).
As Islam became culturally stagnant in face of a growing Christendom, Christian Europe became economically, politically and militarily vastly superior to what had been a far more advanced culture. One cultural consequence was the development of a long-standing ressentiment against the upstarts, whose crusaders were cast out of the Holy Land, defeated in Constantinople, who would eventually colonize and or control much of the land that had been under Muslim rule. Until the 19th C., Islamic societies mostly ignored the West. Following the end of colonial domination, despite the many Western educated leaders and intellectuals, none of the Muslim states were able to throw off the shackles of history, again fostering ressentiment to the West and attribution of blame almost verging on the paranoid. For example, many Muslims in places like Egypt accept the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and blame underdevelopment on Israel, the US or whomever.
This became even more pronounced following colonization and partitioning of the Islamic world by Europe and the failure of post-colonial Muslim societies to achieve widespread economic growth. Following WWII, there were vast changes throughout the world that impacted Islamic states. This began with the increasing importance of oil and the alliances between dynastic rule in the Gulf States and Western capital. In addition to Western economic domination, autocratic governments, whether secular (Syria, Iraq, Egypt) or theocratic (Iran, Sudan), the suppression of personal freedom and dissent has also maintained political barriers to economic growth. Then came the founding of Israel as an alien, secular, Zionist state. The ressentiment toward modern infidels was evident in 1937 when the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem rejected the Peel commission suggesting partitioning Palestine and granting a “homeland” to Western Jews. In 1947, the UN partitioned Palestine and Israel, leading to that war, as well as wars in 1967 and 1973 that ended in humiliating defeats in which a small, secular power triumphed over the armies of far larger, more populous countries. There were of course other events such as the seizure of the Suez Canal and the CIA engineered overthrow of Mossadeq and installation of Shah Palevi in Iran that showed the political weakness of Islamic states. Western manufactured goods became more common, as well as Western companies providing these goods, attesting to the economic backwardness of their economies.
The conditions of modernity have fostered greater and greater ressentiment. One of the consequences of globalization has been the annihilation of time and space. Islamic cultures have been increasing exposed to the secular values of the West, especially its shallow materialism, individualism and instrumental rationality that have challenged many traditional beliefs of orthodox Islam. The diffusion (and appeal) of the popular culture of the West, with its narcissistic hedonism and sexual freedom, among the educated classes, especially youth, has been an affront to the culturally dominant conservative traditions of Islam. Further, the growth of satellite television and/or VCRs and media representations of the West have highlighted the value differences between Islam and the West. Large numbers Muslims, have access to mass media (many have the internet). Many Muslims receive reports from family members that are part of the migrations and student sojourns to Europe and the US. Muslims witness how they are represented as subalterns in the West. "Orientalism" constructs the Muslim (and Islamic culture) as denigrated Other. S/he is seen as lazy, dirty (despite Islam's almost fanatical concerns with cleanliness), ignorant, treacherous, duplicitous, corrupt, violent and/or barbaric. Muslims everywhere see how blatantly their societies are materially poor compared to the West. They are well aware of the power of the US and the many injustices it fosters. They find that their religious values are challenged and in response, they are more likely to defend their values, even as they often know it is hard to defend certain laws and practices, e.g., slavery, the treatment of women and autocracy. This disposes the embrace of fundamentalism that valorizes and sacralizes their culture that is denigrated by others. Nevertheless, fundamentalism, while rarely violent, may become used as its justification.
Varieties of Terrorism
Radical conservative religious movements have become linked to terrorism in places as diverse as the Middle East, Ireland, Japan, and the U.S. It is necessary to examine terrorism before further exploring the link between radical religion and the embrace of violence. It is difficult to define terrorism. One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. There are various types of egregious political violence that are sometimes conflated. Official documents on terrorism rarely define the term or differentiate it from other forms of violent political action, e.g., guerilla movements, ethno-nationalist conflicts or progressive movements that take direct action. Nations often brand opposition/resistance/demonstrations as “terrorist” to demonize and discredit those who might dissent
Ahmad (1998) offered a typology of five varieties of terrorism: state terrorism, religious terrorism, criminal terrorism, pathological terrorism, and secular oppositional, or political, terrorism. There are different motives for these. Some highly visible expressions of terrorism can be thought of as spectacles of violence, media events staged to dramatize an issue by gaining the attention of the world. Terrorism acts as both a symbolic message and supposed means of social change aiming at political transformation. The terrorist act dramatically “advertises” the grievance to a larger community that may support their goals. Further, the “pain and suffering” inflicted is believed, at least by the terrorists, to avenge a prior injustice and/or attain the organization’s goal.
Some terrorists seek to destabilize a regime through low intensity warfare that is often entwined with foreign policy of states, whether explicit or implicit. The types of terrorism can overlap. While terrorists are not typically members of official State organizations, the line between state terrorism and oppositional terrorism gets blurred at times as imperialistic States or state agencies (e.g., KGB, CIA, MI6 or ISA) often support terrorists to attain geo-political goals. For example, Ahmad notes that the United States has sponsored various types of terrorism and terrorist agents: the contras in Nicaragua, paramilitary death squads in El Salvador, and the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan. While a combination of factors such as hatred against oppressors, poverty and blocked opportunities may breed the conditions for terrorism, terrorist organizations nevertheless require resources provided by rich States, e.g., Iran’s support of Hezbollah or rich individuals such as Bin Laden’s support of Al Qaeda. The focus of Western political and corporate media discourse is on the types of terrorism against its States and/or its globalized political economy. Oppositional and religious terrorism are generally far less destructive than egregious state sponsored violence; 9/11 wanes pale compared to the 500,000 Huks slaughtered by Sukarno, 200,000 Guatemalans killed by US trained/financed death squads or the 20,000 Argentines who “disappeared”.
The spread of terrorism today is facilitated by technologies of media, communication (cell, phones Internet), and advanced means of lethal mass violence. It is increasingly possible, perhaps inevitable, that radical terrorists may gain or develop weapons of mass destruction, whether biological, chemical or even nuclear. Oppositional terrorism, our focus, whether based on secular or religious political struggle, can be understood then as the actions taken by members of quasi-military organizations, more or less unified by a Manichean ideology of good friend and evil foe where there are not innocents. They attack noncombatants, military or civilian, and/or the infrastructures of a “dominating power” in order to attain a certain political or cultural goals or conditions.
Political economic goals and values have long been cloaked with religious justifications and cosmological goals (Juergensmayer 2001). For example, at various historical moments, the Holy Land gave rise to three different monotheistic faiths that have often killed each other, in God’s name. Indeed, the Holy War tradition of God ordained combat that became jihad in Islam or Crusades for Christians originated in Judaism when God bid Joshua do battle against the Canaanites who ordered the soldiers to smite every last man, woman and child. Almost every ethical code tries to establish controls on the impulse life and thus proscribes the taking of life. Religions often preach mercy, kindness, charity and love of neighbor-because as Freud (1930) said our natural inclination is to do otherwise. This is clear in the Abrahamic tradition where “though shall not kill” was carved in stone, yet in the name of God, nation or worthy cause, there are a number of justifications to kill. Consider the many injunctions to smite the criminal, the enemy or the one who violates a religious code. There are religious justifications to smite gays, harlots, adulterers etc. Nefarious Others who (would) do harm to the group, challenge its social hierarchies and/or violate its moral order must face “just punishment,” lex talianis. As Durkheim noted, traditional societies, with mechanical solidarity, demand the most severe punishments. When religious fundamentalism becomes militant, what has been described as “clerical fascism”, and embraces the use of force, it’s exclusive truth claims, eschatology, and intolerance of sacrilegious Others often demands their death. Religious terrorism thus justifies and rationalizes inflicting death upon enemy infidels, unholy Others from within or without.
The development of religious terrorism is complex, historical legacies become intertwined with conservative reactions to modernity and political economy in such ways that ressentiment, mediated through cultural understandings and insults, political/social movements, and characterological factors, sustained by certain individuals, organizations, networks and/or states, are manifested recurring terrorist actions. The willingness to engage modern technology, including modern weapons, creates the conditions for catastrophic religious terrorism.
Ressentiment and Religious Terrorism in Islam
Today, as a deviant “Other” to the hegemonic West, Muslims often experience humiliation and contempt, deprivations of dignity and recognition. Political economic domination, political centralization, capital’s repression of secular lines of democratic resistance, liberal or socialist, absence of a modernizing ideology, together with cultural isolation and denigration have been major factors that have given rise to ressentiment vis-à-vis the West, Islamic fundamentalism, and the rise of religious terrorism. In almost every Muslim country there are a number of anti-Western organizations that would and do embrace terrorist means. For example, Al Qaeda, grounded in both Wahhabist philosophy and adamant militant resistance to the West, is situated throughout the Islamic world. This combination of ultra-conservative worldviews promoting self-sacrifice and militant resistance disposes religious warriors to become terrorist-martyrs, as was seen in 9/11.
While terrorism can be cloaked in the teachings of any religion, there are certain unique aspects of Islamic terrorism rooted in its own history and culture. Foremost is the articulation of ressentiment-based claims of moral superiority in face of the material advantages and secular morals of the West. Thus certain aspects of Islamic traditions, lesser jihad, martyrdom and the primacy of sharia, are drawn upon to legitimate terrorist activities as Islam traditions of tolerance, equality and respect for difference are ignored. Islam ressentiment is rooted in one of the basic polarities of our age, the dialectical conflict between modernity and tradition in the modern age, between religion and the secular. Just as the Catholic Church long resisted modernity (read: class interested culture of the rational bourgeoisie), so too has Islam resisted modernity on a number of levels, e.g., intolerance to any questions of either theological leadership or political leadership that rests on religious claims. Secular, democratic governance is not only feared by indigenous elites who would be quickly replaced, but the repression of modernist elements such as pluralism and intellectual/political dissent is often used by certain authoritarian secular leaders to justify the repressive nature of their regimes, claiming to the world that the alternatives might be fundamentalists. Laquer (2001) has suggested that the basis for the increased Islamic terrorism has been the failure of western ideologies such as secular nationalism to take hold, leaving an intellectual and political vacuum in which the only alternative forthcoming has been Islamism and terrorism-neither of which can ameliorate the lives of those who would embrace their doctrines (See also Juergensmeyer 2001, Kepel 2002).
In militant Islamisms, the moral superiority of Islam is framed in conservative theological terms and is expressed through political resistance articulated through terrorism, legitimated as a jihad, a holy war, against the secular West. However, for the US, Europe and Israel, the bombings of buildings, hotels, malls, discos, embassies, etc., in Lebanon, Kenya, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia etc, the Palestinian intifada, the bombings of the WTC, the attack on the Cole and above all, 9/11, have been seen as acts of terrorists. While oppositional and religious terrorism has been used as a political instrument to attain certain goals for a long time and has often been cloaked in religious justifications, the legacies of Islam give its expressions of terrorism a distinctive hue. Specially, its early legacies of warrior-based jihad now inform contemporary articulations of holy war or “sacred terror” that renders holy warriors mujahadeen. But however brave and fearless these warriors may be, direct military attacks on the vastly more technologically advanced Western militaries is unthinkable. Thus, by the logic of holy war, in which all infidels are regarded as "enemy", there are no innocents. Attacks on civilian targets, including women, children and elderly are seen as morally justified by radical conservative religious militarists. But as many would note, if America were to completely disengage itself from the Islamic world, if Israel ceased to exist, the conditions of the one billion Muslims would not only not improve, but would actually deteriorate.
The Social Psychology of Terrorism
Structural conditions and/or collective sentiments do not “impel” action per se. To understand oppositional terrorism, sacred or secular, we argue that subordination and ressentiment to superordinates is necessary, as are religious (political) justifications of violent means to attain moral or political ends. But these are not sufficient to lead actors to the passionate intensity of terrorism, powerful emotions are needed to realize value rational goals. What must happen for people to savagely kill “innocent” civilians or indeed, martyr themselves to do so? We thus need to consider the relationships of ressentiment to the social psychology of identity and desire that dispose terrorism. This is not to reduce the social and political to the psychological, but rather argue for the importance of psychosocial mediation using multiple levels of analysis, a critical interdisciplinary stance first articulated by the Frankfurt School that stood in the shadows of Marx, Nietzsche, Weber and Freud. As Nietzsche noted, under conditions of domination and ressentiment to the dominator, the will is turned upon the self, the person seeks revenge and this leads to a sickness. In Freudian terms, when the outward expression of aggression is blocked, it turns upon the self as a self hatred that joins with the external forces to sustain and reproduce domination by thwarting and stifling the person, leaving him/her angry, depressed and/or symptomatic or otherwise incapable of resisting domination.
The work of Fromm (1941) remains a source of insight to explain how social conditions intersect with character to dispose an ideological stance that is more or less congruent with behavior, or more accurately, ideologies are embraced if they legitimate certain actions/provide self enhancing feelings such as pride or dignity. Fromm and later Adorno (1950), thus argued that some character types were typical of certain cultures or class locations, e.g., the authoritarian character, rule bound conformists, disposed to dominate subordinates and defer to superiors, showed certain characterological tendencies, especially in response to weakened social ties and structurally based powerlessness. Fromm argued that with the attenuation of social ties and greater powerlessness of the petty bourgeois classes at the time of the Reformation and again with the post WWI conditions of German, there were three responses what he called "mechanisms of escape", social forms of defense mechanism. These were submission to those deemed powerful, projection of aggression to those "outsiders" responsible for one's malaise and legitimate aggression to those seen as responsible for ones misery. In other words, under stress, there was an "escape from freedom". For Fromm, the elective affinity of class-character was a crucial factor in understanding the appeal of Luther and the rise of Protestantism, and later, the appeals of Hitler and embrace of Fascism. Afary (2001) in her biographies of two Iranian women, Zahra Rahnavard and Marziyeh Dabbagh, who “paradoxically” embraced Ayatollah Khomeini’s fundamentalism (patriarchy), suggested that Fromm's insights remain a useful paradigm linking history and the individual. More specifically, authoritarian personalities, intolerant of freedom and individualism, found gratification in 1) submission to rule bound doctrines and the 2) exercise of power over others.
If we look at the death, pain and human suffering that results from terrorist acts whether shooting pro-choice doctors, planting bombs in cars, school buses or mailboxes or crowded public places, gunning down people in streets, crashing planes into buildings, or even the potential use of weapons of mass destruction, our first reaction is that the people who plan human slaughter and/or commit such deeds must be cold, heartless killers or deranged, maddened individuals. Most research suggests otherwise. Psychological profiles of terrorists have revealed that in general, they are fairly typical of the groups from which they come, and these groups are especially prone sensitive to the consequences of domination. Indeed, terrorist organizations do not want unstable, psychotic individuals who may be unpredictable. Terrorists may be more assertive and outgoing, but there is little evidence of striking psychopathology or irrational hatreds (Post 1998). We suggest that the motives for terrorism are little different than the factors that dispose fundamentalism in general. Rather, these motives become more intense due to such factors as social location, age, and most often, a prolonged period of humiliation followed by socialization into a fundamentalist or terrorist organization, e.g., fundamentalist mosques, madrassas, Al Qaeda camps, Hamas camps, etc., where “total institutions” foster particular (intolerant) world views, and squelch alternatives or critical interrogation. What is being suggested is that terrorists are people who desire what most people want, but the conditions in which terrorists live foster limited options, their social ties to larger community attenuated, self realization and fulfillment become blocked by structural conditions and the emotions these conditions generate. Between the humiliation of denigration, powerlessness in face of domination and hopelessness for the expected future, terrorism becomes a means to a goal that ameliorates ressentiment through revenge.
We are not “blaming the victim”. As Nietzsche suggested and Fanon (1961) demonstrated, in face of colonization and domination, the cultures and identities of the colonized were denigrated and deemed inferior compared to the more affluent and powerful colonizer. This of course leads to ressentiment and rage, but the subaltern’s rage is often turned inward, upon the self. The violence done to the culture of the colonized, the “wretched of the earth” fostered self-hatred and self-destructive behavior such as crime, addiction or interpersonal violence Terrorism serves to redirect this rage to the oppressor and thus empowers the person, to restore his/her dignity and honor-qualities highly valued in Islamic societies. Violence to the colonizer is not only cathartic, but becomes viewed as the means to overcome political, economic or cultural domination (Scatamburlo and Langman 2002). Projecting ressentiment outwards, a small number of radical fundamentalists, typically young, unattached, underemployed males, turn militant and turn to terrorism.
As Weber notes, rational action can either be oriented to instrumental rationality (zweckrational) or to realize values (wertrational). But, Weber maintained a Kantian trifurcation of Reason, Emotion and Will. Nietzsche understood the unity of agency and desire. That is people may practice certain actions, self-denial, or rational means to attain certain functional or ideological ends that, at the same time, secure powerful affective gratifications (Langman 2000). We suggest that just as psychopathology is often the extreme of normalcy, terror is one of the most extreme expressions of political, economic or cultural frustrations. Just as religion and/or nationalism may generate positive consequences, terrorism represents the other side of this dialectic. We start by assuming that a person’s identity, his/her narrative of selfhood, is based on his/her membership in an identity granting community of meaning. This can range from the clique of the “popular kids” of an American middle school, to a Nation-State, or even a universal community of faith, the umma, for Muslims. One of the consequences of modernity in general has been to erode traditional collective identities and provide the person with greater freedom and choice. As traditional communities and identities are first eroded and then denigrated, modernity does not provide compensatory alternatives.
Identity and Desire
Identity, as conscious scripts and narratives of selfhood, “self-identity” for Giddens (1991), is a mediating linkage between the individual, dynamically understood, and the larger society. One’s identity is not simply a set of identifications, but is a reflexive, conscious locus of subjectivity, as it moves through the flow of social time and space seeking affective gratifications in the enactment of the routines of everyday life. But this is also the site where frustrations, humiliations or insults are experienced. Otherwise said, people seek emotional gratifications or the avoidance of frustrations. This is not a simple hedonism in that people will suffer great deprivations to sustain their identities. The may even give their lives People: 1) seek membership and attachments in identity granting communities of meaning that provide social bonds and attachments; 2) strive for recognition and dignity granting statuses; 3) exercise agency in striving to overcome powerlessness; and 4) given a universal fear of death, seek a value system that provides explanations for pain, suffering and injustice, remedies and/or promises of amelioration, even if in the next life. (Langman 2000)
1) Community: For most of human history, between the powerful bonds of an infant’s attachments to caretakers, to family/clan work groups, to the periodic solidarity rituals of large groups, people are social creature with needs to be part of a community. (And communities also grant identities, recognition and meaning-see below). For Freud, group life depended on “aim-inhibited cathexes”. Later psychoanalysts like Bowlby and Winnocott, have seen early bonding as the foundation of healthy development. Similarly, sociologists have long argued that collective rituals like religion, national celebrations etc, or interpersonal rituals serve to sustain community, solidarity and engagement. At the same time, capitalism, under girded by Protestantism, served to attenuate social ties and connections. With globalization, this tendency became universalized and has even impacted peripheral societies including most Muslim societies. Given our Western (Protestant) traditions of individualism, it is easy to slight the importance of community in traditional societies, and in the case of Islam, the community of faith (the umma) is sacralized. Between the political-economic impacts of globalization, and the mass consumerism that individualizes people as consumers (even if commodified, pseudo-individualism) social ties are attenuated, if not rent asunder. This social fragmentation is often resisted. In this way, fundamentalism can be seen as a way of resisting, rekindling and affirming those bonds. Terrorism, would act as a penultimate expression, the terrorist might even perish to sustain his/her community, and if s/he died, the funeral would fortify and re-affirm the bonds of community.
2) Recognition: Following Hegel’s understanding of the master-slave struggle for recognition as the basis for self-consciousness, a number of psychoanalysts and scholars have noted the importance of recognition as the basis of self esteem; some consider the pursuit of self esteem, “honorific status” much more powerful a motive than sexuality. And indeed far more men have died for the sake of honor in combat than for the love a woman. Following observations by Sennett and Cobb (1972) echoed by Honneth (1995), and Taylor (1998), struggles for recognition/dignity may be seen as central to both the person and his/her groups.
Conversely, shame and humiliation, assaults on honor and selfhood foster rage to assuage the insult. The failure to acknowledge unconscious shame, leads to destructive conflicts and violence Scheff (1994) For Fanon, the only way to overcome colonization and the denigration of the self was through violence. We would say that his analysis applies to the neo-colonialism of the globalized political economy as well, although the oppressor is more difficult to identity. Terrorism serves as a violent response to the violent conditions that deny recognition, honor and dignity.
3) Agency: A long line of philosophical critique, as articulated by Spinoza, Kant, Hegel and, Marx suggested that active self-constitution, striving for realization and creating reality is an inherent human tendency. With Nietzsche, philosophy moved from epistemology to psychology. Will, now framed as agency, became a central quality of investigation. For Marx, alienation the consequence of wage labor, externalized production. Commodity production stood as an external power, thwarting his/her agency, his/her humanity and selfhood. The humanly constructed systems of domination refluxed back upon the person to render him/her powerless. To understand humans as willful is to see people as active agents, who strive to make their everyday lives meaningful and to attain certain long-term goals and values.
Powerlessness, the denial of agency is generally an extremely potent motive for individuals and groups. To be powerless is often humiliating and shame can be a powerful motive that fosters attempts to gain empowerment, to overcome domination. Indeed from slaves cutting of limbs to escape the chains of servitude, to masses enthralled with the empowering promises of a dictator, people seek empowerment. As Nietzsche suggested, to accept domination, to assent to slavery, leads to the sickness of a revenge denied. So too does fundamentalism dialectically foster subordination to power by establishing “micro-spheres” of empowerment that provide illusory realms of power. But at the same time, fundamentalism can shade into terrorism and provide realms of actual power-indeed what can give a person more power than the power to take the lives of others-the very power of God.
4) Meaning: People have a fundamental need to make their lives meaningful, they need frameworks of meaning that provides anxiety reducing significance to ones life, ethical codes of regulation, a theodicy of the distributions of fortune, and above all, they need to assuage the painful reality of the inevitability of death (Becker 1973). For most of human history, religion has provided people with meaning and direction for their lives, and in many cases, hope for some kind of immortality. But again following Weber, the “disenchantment of the world” eroded the sacred and the realms of transcendent meanings. As religion waned in the West, nationalism emerged as a “modern” political framework in which “invented communities” of meaning granted identities, recognition and above all, meaning. But insofar as nationalism was a secular, Western framework dependent on an autonomous public sphere, it has generally held little sway in the Muslim world. As globalization began to erode the basis of nationalism, a highly fragmented mass mediated popular culture of privatized hedonism became widely diffused. But participation in cultures of consumption of modernity is beyond the means for the vast majority of Muslims. At the same time, Western materialism and narcissism is offensive to Islamic values. Fundamentalism offers an alternative, a repudiation of secular Western ideologies that is easily available. Much like early Christianity provided compensatory ressentiment, so too does fundamentalism provide a palliative alternative to secular Western, meaning systems based on hedonistic indulgence.
Character and Reactions to Domination
When domination is imposed from without and internalized at the level of character, when recognition, dignity and agency are frustrated or denied, when selfhood is humiliated and enfeebled, the person both reproduces the structural conditions of subalterity and thwarts resistance at the price of the person’s actualization and fulfillment. As was noted, with the waning of Islam, the rise of the Christian hegemon, and finally, colonization (or neo-colonization through local intermediary autocrats), fostered ressentiment and the desire for revenge. But that revenge would consume and destroy the self. Moving from Nietzsche to Freud, ressentiment based on domination, denigration, shame and humiliation of being inferior to a powerful Other, can be interpreted in terms of insults to character and dignity, and frustrations/denials of desires for community, agency, recognition and meaning. This is typically handled in at least three intertwined ways:
1) Denial. Denial and external blame are typical ways of handling the shame and humiliation that might come from seeing oneself as culpable or inadequate vis-à-vis the Other. For example, the person fired had a horrible boss, the flunking student had unfair teachers. On a social level, this tendency to project one's shortcomings on other has long been studied in terms of scapegoating, prejudice, etc. In medieval times, ill fortune was blamed on witches, and many innocent women died. Perhaps nowhere was this as clear as Hitler's blaming the Jews and Jewish conspiracies for all of Germany's problems.
In terms of the issue at hand, we can see that denial, blame and projection are typical forms of explanation in Islamic societies. Poverty, illiteracy and scientific backwardness is due to either the infidels of the West, pro-Western leaders like King Hussein or Anwar Sadat, or an Israeli conspiracy. For example, when the WTC was attacked, a common story that appeared in Al Ahram (government newspaper), widely believed in Egypt and Saudi Arabia blamed Mossad. The story claimed that 3,000 Jews were told to stay home from work at WTC. Arabs were said to lack the capability for such an operation. It was almost 6 months later that the Saudis finally acknowledged that 15 of the 19 men were Saudi nationals, and even then most Muslims did not believe other Muslims did it. Such an accounts keep a people from either looking within themselves or questioning their own leaders. Indeed, certain leaders typically blame others for general misfortune and not only deflect self-criticism, but mobilize people to hate and condemn an outside party and in the process, secure their own power and legitimacy. As most people know, or should know, conspiracy theories of history, while quite useless as explanations, are often quite useful for a leader or group to avoid self examination and/or avoid changes that might undermine power. Leaders have long found that scapegoating, casting blame on someone else can mobilize support for a regime. To paraphrase Sartre, if the Israelis didn’t exit, Muslim states would need to invent them.
2) Profound distrust. The limited economic opportunities on the one hand due to both internal and external factors, and the denial of recognition and dignity and the other, have colluded to foster structurally based blocked opportunities that in turn engender anger and rage and a sense of revenge to redress the humiliation. But insofar as much of anger is to the self, and it is denied, not acknowledged, it becomes expressed toward an external object. In psychoanalytic terms, there is a “splitting” a disavowal of dissatisfaction of what is within and its attribution to that which is without is intensely distrusted and hated. In a similar vein, to loosely borrow from Melanie Klein, one of the most archaic forms of agency can be seen in projection/aggression seen in envy. More specifically, given the helpless and dependency of infancy, there is frustration and in turn anger and resentment that are projected to the "bad object" that is both needed and yet is hated and must be destroyed. While for Klien this "paranoid position" is an inevitable part of infancy that is transcended, in later life, certain social conditions reawaken the primitive rage and destructive fantasies of early childhood. Scheler had noted that ressentiment is based on envy, but we are suggesting that this envy has powerful unconscious underpinnings. Following her insights, psychoanalysts like Kernberg or Kohut have theorized that narcissistic insults, primarily the lack of recognition of the self and/or failures to achieve dignity and esteem elicit narcissistic rage toward denigrated objects.
Thus, a number of scholars, from Wilhelm Reich to the more recent work of Scheff (1994), seem to suggest that a combination of humiliation and powerlessness can foster intense, irrational forms of hate, rage and indeed a willingness to die. But, to whom must that rage be expressed? In the case of Islam, distrust and rage to the West have become mediated through selective interpretations of Islam that denigrate the infidel. As such, there is a profound distrust of the Western infidel and intense reactions to those who might seem to advance Western interests or ideas. Sadat was assassinated and Rushdie was condemned in a fatwa.
3) Rage, terror and death. These factors, given both very real and attributed injustices, foster intense anger and rage that would destroy the enemy Other. As Freud argued, there were two fundamental drives, Eros, the sexual impulse (libido) that would bind people through love, sexual or aim inhibited, and Thanatos, the Death Instinct (aggression) that would destroy and tear down. Freud’s formulation should be seen as a poetic metaphor rather than an essentialist psychology. But following Freud’s cultural psychology, Fromm (1967) argued that the domination of the subject, led to impairments of self love, the thwarting of self constitution and realization that leads to the embrace of nihilism and necrophilia, the love of death and destruction whether of self or Other. This attenuated attachments and capacities to love others, and becomes a constraint upon agency that can only be overcome through violence. Perhaps we might also note Theweleit's (1989) study of the Freikorps, the veterans of WWI, petty bourgeois men without jobs or job prospects who disdained women and erotic love, they sought only war, death and destruction. To die in combat was preferable to living in peace. In sum, some who suffer from various forms of domination, social constraints or limitations on agency, may find community, meaning and identities in battle, death and devastation that provide compensatory forms of dignity and agency.
Insofar as both Islam and Christianity condemn suicide, there have instead emerged cults and rituals that celebrate, valorize and imitate death. Salvation religions that promise a better life in this world, offer a ready escape from domination and hopelessness in this life, death. Consider only the passion plays of medieval Christianity, or the various flagellant parades among Catholics and Muslims. Islam, as a warrior religion celebrated the martyred warrior hero who died in holy combat. While Islam forbids both suicide and killing innocent civilians, some fundamentalist clerics have interpreted the Quran in ways that legitimate “sacred terrorism” through suicide missions such as shootings and/or bombings directed at civilians.
In sum, given decline, domination, political economic distress, together with cultural insults, humiliations, degradations and despair, anger, rage and hatred is generated and channeled through the available means of resistance. This kind of rage can be mobilized through secular political channels, e.g., various extremist groups turn to life destroying terrorism, Bader Meinhof, Red Brigades on the left or the Contras on the right. But so too can terrorism become religiously interpreted to be God’s will.
Terrorism and Identity
Young men in particular social/cultural locations are especially prone to certain social and political stresses and influences that foster their identities. The lower middle classes of Islam tend to be religiously observant, fearful of modernity, a resentful of their condition. The rage of the unemployed, subjugated and humiliated, is much the same whether in the ghettoes of America, the marginalized lower middles classes of rural America or the souks of the Middle East. Young men, without alternative sources of agency and respect, turn to compensatory identities of hate and violence preached in cults of death. The difference between the gangbanger, right wing militiaman and terrorist is a function of socialization, institutional support and a justifying ideology. In many Muslim societies, men and women do not date, have sex, nor can they marry unless and until they have jobs and/or means of livelihood. But most Muslim countries are showing demographic explosions and even with modest economic growth, there are not enough jobs for the growing numbers of youth and declining per capita incomes for most. Without jobs or prospects, many unemployed or underemployed young men have nothing to do and nowhere to go. Yet they are welcomed into the mosques or madrassas where they learn a theology of anger that disposes terrorism. This is often the case in refugee camps. Palestinian camps such as Balata and Jenin are notorious spawning grounds for terrorists.
The situation of these dispossessed men stands in sharp contrast with media constructed hegemonic global masculinities; the suited, forceful western businessmen and politicians express a dominant, celebrated masculine identity (Connell 2000). In most Muslim societies, the institutionalization of patriarchy has disposed a machismo demeanor, yet subaltern masculinities are insulted, humiliated. For young men without work and socialized into traditional Islam, ressentiment is not only a hateful envy in response to political-economic domination, but is also directed to racial/cultural subjugation and humiliation, this “emasculation” disposed hate and violence. According to Kimmel (2000), through disenfranchisement, the loss of status and employment, and emasculation in contrast to the empowerment of women in western societies, lower-middle-class men "may continue to feel a seething resentment against women, whom they perceive as stealing their rightful place at the head of the table, and against the governments that displace them." A central complaint by fundamentalists against the West is the brazen, immoral behavior of Western women. Note in this context that the Taliban regime attempted to restore masculinity and empower men, requiring the beard as the marker of masculinity, and to re-feminize and control women by exclusion from jobs, education etc. Most Islamic terrorists, including the 9/11 terrorists, are men under the age of 25, caught in the tension between exclusion from modernity and the inability to realize traditional roles. The violence of terrorism, even if as a martyr, restores the sense of self.
In some cases, even members of the more educated classes embrace terrorist causes. As was noted in the press, the 15 Saudis of 9/11 were not uneducated teenagers of poverty and refugee camps but of the educated classes. Most had come from a rapidly changing region, one of the poorest in a now stagnating, declining Saudi Arabia. Even when living or studying in Europe, or because of it, exposed to prejudice and denigration as Europe’s Other, they gravitated to fundamentalist mosques that provided them as sense of community and valorized identities. Islamism provided them with a solution to society’s problems, pride in their heritage, and affirmed personhood/manhood. But, along with that came hatred to the infidel so great they became sacred warriors facing death and martyrdom. The absolute certainty of Allah's rewards in the next life made earthly sacrifice a component of recognition and dignity that is often wanting in this world. Europe is a relatively closed society, in relation especially to immigrants. Law enforcement officials have found extensive active terrorist networks in Europe, but not in America, for good reason. In this regard, Hundley (2002) notes, "Europe -- with its burgeoning population of Muslim immigrants and relatively limited opportunities for them to gain access to the social and economic mainstream -- has become a factory for turning frustrated men into religious fundamentalists and political fanatics." We might add that the general ethnic monocultural prejudice and racism of European societies is a remnant of the same type of exclusivity that led to the Reformation and the secular Enlightenment. In face of economic retrenchment, Europe shows little welcome for “foreign” immigrants and worker
From what has been said, in face of ressentiment, emasculation and subalterity, becoming a terrorist gives compensations, a valorized identity, a sense of dignity, purpose, meaning, and hope, especially when conditions are hopeless. Consider by analogy, the Jews who fought the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto. Notwithstanding the futility of their efforts, they nevertheless held out against the Wehrmacht longer than did the Polish army. While many died, they did so with a sense of agency and dignity that will long be remembered. We suggest that the motives of the Warsaw Jews, secular or sacred, are not so different than the Islamic terrorists of today, secular or sacred. More specifically, if we consider articulations of desire, 1) Membership in a terrorist organization, from the time of schooling and/or recruitment, to training camps to the planning/execution of missions, places one in a highly valued publicly esteemed, cohesive community. 2) Resting upon the legacy of the esteemed warrior, the terrorist finds recognition and dignity in his acts (on some occasions her acts). Some gain pride in this life (seculars), those who go on to the next (holy warriors), are remembered and esteemed by friends and family. 3) Powerlessness, being without agency to shape one’s own destiny, leads to an intense anger and hatred-that is turned upon the self. But as a terrorist, by turning passivity into activity, empowerment and agency are realized, however destructive and inhumane may be the consequences. 4) Finally, given the historical legacies/current realities that engendered ressentiment, in face of the rapid social changes of the modern world and attendant anomie, exposed to the empty materialism of the West with its “disenchantment of the world”, terrorism, sacred or secular, provides a framework of values and meaning that saves one from insignificance, finitude and even the fear of death.
Islamic cultures provided their followers with various major identities or narratives of self such as the merchant, the warrior and the scientist-scholar. Weber emphasized the warrior tradition for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that in most cultures, warriors are more likely to be heroes than merchants or professors. This phenomenon long antedates Islam, let alone the modern culture industry. Identity formations, and the actions and routines they enact, may provide affective gratifications. But, under the conditions of social fragmentation, humiliation, domination, and meaninglessness, there is often frustration and regression. A readily available identity for a Muslim male is the warrior engaged in lesser jihad against infidels. In many ways, terrorism can be understood as a way of redeeming the self and returning the society to the time of its “Golden Age,” a moment of both religious virtues and culture, free of external domination, where various gratifications can be found.
Globalization and the Dialectics of Terrorism
Following Weber, to end our historical and analytical discussions, we would like to consider some trends and possibilities since 9/11. We suggest two potentials in the confrontation between the West and militarized fundamentalism. First, military and police networks may become highly intertwined and form a de facto global police force. We predict that the “War on Terror” is likely to lead to the gradual decline of large scale terrorist organizations, but will not eliminate terrorist acts in the context of guerrilla warfare in isolated locales nor potentially catastrophic terrorist acts of mass destruction by individuals and small groups. The military technologies of advanced capitalism dispose a potential for imperialist wars, and in turn, destructive terrorism as resistance, whether organized or random. Given the emergence of the Islamic Brotherhood of Egypt in the 1930s, the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in the past few decades, and the proliferation of religious terrorisms such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Abu Sayyif and of course the globalized terror network of Al Qaeda, it might well seem as if there is an emerging “clash of civilizations” and a protracted conflict between Christendom and Islam (Huntington 1996). We reject this thesis for many reasons. The Islamic states vary greatly in their traditions and interests. “Civilizations” include a number of classes and groups there are often very much in conflict, for example, the bazaari vs. intellectuals, westernizers vs. traditionalists, etc. The most deadly conflicts in recent times have been within and/or between Muslim countries: Iran-Kuwait, Iran-Iraq, Turkey-Kurds, or the civil war in Algeria. Moreover, national and regional politics today are very much caught up within various moments of, economic, political and cultural globalization. This, however, is not to deny that Islamisms and the Right wing in the West often frame Islamic-Western conflicts in terms of a “clash of civilizations” whose rhetoric aggravates conflicts and legitimizes military mobilizations (Tibi 1998).
On the other hand, to counter the various adverse consequences of neo-liberal globalization, increasingly powerful global civil social institutions and global governance are emerging to create mechanisms that regulate the global economy and control the forces of militarization to foster peace, justice and equality. The project of modernity, with its emancipatory promises and rationalized institutions creates the possibilities for global democracy. Progressive movements, ironically, are often resisted by secular elites, who might lose power, as well as religious fundamentalists.
Responding to Terrorism
To understand the root causes and possible outcomes of terrorism, it must be kept in mind (dialectically speaking) that terrorist movements, especially in the developing world, are not only resisting the undemocratic, exploitative face of globalization but are reacting to the long standing grievances and injustices based in the hundreds of years of political economic domination by European powers of other societies and their own workers. Religious movements as movements formed at the interaction of cultural and national independence are rooted deep in the psyche and history of dominated peoples. The roots of fundamentalism and hence terrorism are very deep. The ways the contradictions of modernity in a global age may play out is very complicated. There are progressive and reactionary ways to address the issues underlying the drastic consequences of globalization. The potentials of resistance are complicated by the flexible responses of global capitalism. Hence, the solutions to the injustices of global capitalism, if any, will probably be global in scope. The Al Qaeda network is one such global if reactionary response that indicates the necessity of attending to the root causes of the inequality and political domination that disposes the embrace terrorism.
In face of stagnant or declining fortunes, many young Muslims have turned to fundamentalism and a small minority move on to terrorism. For the poor and less educated, and/or often educated in fundamentalist schools and madrassas, there are few job prospects that will allow them to fully participate in their own societies, e.g., to marry, have families and homes. Such men find community and solace in fundamentalist mosques where they can find dignity in religious virtue and devotion. Given the proximity to comparatively affluent Europe with its relatively open borders, many people go there to find jobs. And as we have seen, this includes many of the educated and more skilled that have trouble getting jobs either in their own stagnant societies and go to study or work in Western Europe. But with ten percent unemployed, but the still relatively “homogeneous” European nations regard them interlopers with disdain and contempt. Unemployed or underemployed given their credentials, such men too gravitate to fundamentalist mosques. In both cases, we see the spawning grounds of those might become terrorists. The former take up guns and/or bombs and go on terrorist missions. The later learn to make bombs, design and execute plots, and send the former on suicide missions.
These factors, individually or collectively may bode ill for the future. As we have seen these conditions and attitudes create an atmosphere that condones terrorism as well as generates likely recruits. Islamic countries that are poor, undeveloped, and prone to seemingly ever more religious fundamentalism thus engender people willing to use terrorism on a mass scale. 9/11 may be a preview to the use of weapons of mass destruction against civilian targets. The Al Qaeda network may well have cells in over 60 countries around the globe ranging from Somalia to Malaysia, alliances with a number of local terrorist organizations and perhaps the support of “rogue” states like Iran or Iraq. Such a network of cells, mosques and social welfare agencies spanning perhaps 60 countries cannot be easily or quickly dismantled. And with its careful planning, logistics and autonomous nature of its cells, that may well include well-armed sleeper cells. There may well be more dramatic incidents of terrorist activities. We do expect that to happen.
On the other hand, there have been a number of recent developments that counter these developments and may well reduce terrorism. Kepel (2002) argued (before 9/11) that Islamism was becoming politically and morally bankrupt; jihad had exhausted itself and was in a state of retrenchment following repudiation of its excesses and the failure of theocracies (Iran, Taliban) to improve the living conditions for the masses. Indeed, in a decade or two, historians may look back at 9/11 as the heyday of Islamic terrorism. One unintended consequence of 9/11 has been to mobilize a concerted, worldwide effort against terrorism. While this was perhaps spearheaded by the American retaliation against the Taliban, this effort was indeed underway long before 9/11. The highly unpopular Taliban were quickly overthrown in Afghanistan and the Al Qaeda network and training camps were seriously degraded and are unlikely to be reconstituted. It seems as if a great deal of intelligence was found in notebooks, computers and records of Al Qaeda and the Taliban that listed many terrorists and disclosed many plans leading to a number of arrests and confiscations of explosives, etc. in places like Malaysia and Singapore. Since that time, all over the world we have seen growing cooperation of intelligence agencies that have become far more diligent and aggressive in surveillance and arrest of terrorists. The day of this writing, Italian police stopped a plot to poison the water of Rome. There have also been hundreds of other arrests of terrorists linked to Al Queda in Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, England, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, etc.
A number of governments that have in the past supported terrorism and anti-Americanism have made major changes in direction, often beginning before 9/11. Perhaps most important has been Pakistan where President Musharraf was paid several billion dollars for withdrawing support from the Taliban who were strongly supported by his own ISI (Pakistan’s military intelligence). He then provided a great deal of logistical and intelligence support for the United States military campaign. He closed a number of fundamentalist mosques, changed the curricula of the madrassas and reduced the influence of the ISI.
Yemen, site of the Cole bombing, was relatively uncooperative in investigating the crime. But since 9/11, Yemen has embarked on an anti-terrorism campaign, replete with American military advisors. So too has Sudan, once home to Bin Laden, moved toward the US. In 1999, the Emir of Bahrain, Sheik Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, assumed the throne. He immediately opened the jails, released all political prisoners and allowed the return of political exiles. More recently, he declared himself king, but with plans to create a constitutional monarchy with democratic elections in which both men and women can run for office and/or vote.
The Saudis, who have indeed contributed to the problem of terrorism, are now facing problems of their own (see below). Some Princes have been raising questions about the need for changes. They are suggesting that more should students study banking, science, engineering and business administration. While millions of foreign workers have been sent home to give Saudis jobs, there have been voices for gradual changes of Saudi laws and practices. They have offered Israel recognition if it withdrew to it’s 1967 borders. (Ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would end one major irritant to many Muslims.) They have become more cooperative with US intelligence after 9/11. There have been louder calls for women’s rights and even demonstrations. Teenagers and young people have found more and more creative ways to use cell phones and the Internet to plan rendezvous, out of the sight of the moral police.
Using state military and police networks to control terrorism yields a mixed outcome. With the increase in police and military expenditures and loss of civil liberties there is also is the attempt to recreate a safe world. We question the merit long term of a militarized response. Note the cases of Viet Nam, Ireland, Bosnia, and Palestine: violent suppression often leads to violent resistance rather than the intended outcomes. The “War on Terror” will probably lead to a decline in wide spread terrorist organizations but not to the end of terrorism or resistance to imperialism.
Globalization as both Oppressive and Liberating
Neo-liberal globalization, fostering greater and greater inequalities, has created vast wealth, most of which has gone to elites. While global capital has provided few job-generating investments in the Islamic countries, Transnational Corporations have nevertheless found/created large markets for their products and have developed various “exotic” sites for tourists. The mass media display an outside world of plenty while rich tourists from that world’s display their wealth. At the same time, Western media celebrates a secular, hedonist mass culture that is morally offensive to traditional Islamic values ranging from autocracy to patriarchy. Insofar as globalization has infiltrated many of these countries, clerics and political leaders deplore, resist and condemn the self indulgent, erotic hedonism and quite rightly fear that it will corrupt their culture and their cultural power may erode. In part due to the factors noted, Muslim countries have not been incorporated into the new worlds of commerce. Even a “wealthy” country like oil rich Saudi Arabia has seen its revenues stagnate and its population explode leading to a decline in per capita income from $22,000 to $8,000. Across the Islamic world there are population explosions, unemployment, underemployment and mismatched skills, e.g., many college students graduate with degrees in Islamic studies-with no job prospects rather than science, technology or business administration. There is a generally unfavorable view of the US and its policies based on its hyperpower political-economic status, the geo-politics of oil, its support of tyrants, its uncritical support for Israeli treatment (occupation) of the Palestinians, and the materialistic culture. Many believe that the US is run by the Jews, if not by a Zionist conspiracy. A recent Gallup survey of over 9,000 residents of Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia found that more than half had unfavorable view of the US. While some that resentment is a displacement from dissatisfaction with local leaders, the fact remains that most people have a negative view of the US, not entirely undeserved.
Marx celebrated capitalist modernity as liberating; it rent asunder the personal ties of fealty and ended the idiocy of rural life that sustained the domination by kings, lords and bishops. Capitalism would create the seeds of a socialist society. In much the same way, globalization has liberating effects. It sows seeds of modernity that, if they sprout and flourish, can act in the Muslim world, much like the Reformation in Christendom, initiating a transformed religion that can both lead Islam into the modern world, and at the same time, recapture its own now often forgotten legacies of tolerance, justice, philosophy, and science.
In this light, what are some of positive outcomes and developments since 9/11? At them most recent meeting of the pro-business World Economic Forum in New York, in the shadow of 9/11, such issues and critiques of alternative globalization movements were given attention by the elites of global capital. In contrast to previous WEF meetings, business, political and cultural leaders debated alternative globalization critiques of neo-liberalism. At the same time, at the pro-union/social movement 2nd World Social Forum in Porto Alegro, Brazil, 50,000 participants, including representatives from around the globe, formulated structural strategies for democratic globalization.
We suggest that the events of 9/11 might contribute to the growth of a global civil society and new political structures to administer and enforce international law. Certain global trends interact with the response to terrorism. First, 9/11 and the “War on Terror” highlight the growing importance and power of regional and global political bodies and pacts such as the UN, EU, G-8, and NATO. While there are tensions within and amongst such bodies as well as protest movements against them and while the U.S. has often acted unilaterally, the U.N. and European states were involved in the initial legitimation of the “War on Terror” and have been very involved in the postwar organization of the government Afghanistan and in the peace keeping missions. Secondly, the gradual institutionalization of progressive treaties such as the International Criminal Court may well offer caution to even leaders of the industrial nations, who might sponsor terrorist organizations or engage in state terrorist acts. Third, with the growing pressure of net mediated global justice movements, such as the World Social Forum which produced statements strongly criticizing U.S. policy in Afghanistan and the War on Terror, we can see the beginnings of a transformation towards a global civil society to complement and challenge the U.N. and push for regulation and democratization of the global political economy.
In the light of such and other developments in reaction to globalization, we see possibilities for a struggle between neoliberal and social democratic forces ultimately yielding a more democratic global society. To accommodate critiques and challenges and still sustain profits, there may be a return to neo-Keynsian economics at a global level. This would seem to call for a global, social democratic welfare network state to moderate the domination of some states over others (constrain imperialism), alleviate poverty (moderate capitalism) and modernize education (modernize traditions). The growing calls for debt relief and increasing challenges to IMF/World Bank neo-liberalism should be noted. While various dystopian and utopian scenarios are possible, with a wide range of options in between, we suggest that although there may be risks of further terrorist attacks, the shock of 9/11, followed by the intervention in Afghanistan, War or Terrorism and the increased recognition of the global scope of governance and militarization, in the long run will encourage the world to embrace more global governance serving not only the elites, but all of humanity. In other words, 9/11 and subsequent developments may be a watershed, political and cultural moments, that will lead to greater awareness of the adverse consequences of globalization that dispose globalized terror. Various alternative globalization movements, progressive NGOs, and now even some of the elites of globalization are suggesting ameliorative actions and strategies.
To understand the spread fundamentalism, in this case Islamic fundamentalism, as a search for religious certainty and purity rooted in an imagined past, and violent terrorism as a rare but visible political means to restore that past, we must look at the historical roots of the phenomena. Military conquest and trade networks spread the hegemony of Islamic culture, and it's shariah based codes for life, law and society, from the Atlantic coasts of Iberia through to western China. The growing affluence of the Islamic world fostered great centers of advanced learning and culture. Within 500 years, Islamic civilization reached a level previously comparable only to India or China. Although Islam engendered a very advanced civilization, and indeed enabled the Renaissance in the West, the values and conditions that made the rise of the Islam possible, together with various challenges and defeats from other societies, led to an erosion of its dynamism, to stagnation, dogmatism, and a turning inward and a waning of its hegemony. Lewis (2002) and others have asked, "What went wrong?"
In contrast to Islam, ascendant Protestant Christianity, freeing the person from the shackles of feudalism, with its rationalization of its economy, administration and legal systems, and a rejection of abnegation of the world, together with its subjective moment, "salvation anxiety", impelling an “inner determinant” for instrumental action, disposed the rise and proliferation of rational capitalism. This eventually led to the European subjugation of Islam and the reduction of Islamic societies to peripheral status, and in turn, ressentiment to the wealthy and powerful West. Within 500 years of the Reformation, Christendom, now including the US, achieved global hegemony and unprecedented economic, technological and military might. Following WWII, global hegemony was dominated by America.
In face of modernity and political economic domination, the many assaults on traditional values and identities, and the homogenizing tendencies of globalization, in spite of the liberalization of beliefs and pluralism, there has been a worldwide embrace of fundamentalism. For Islamic fundamentalists, the secular governance, toleration, individualism and personal freedom (sexuality) of the West are abhorrent. Its materialistic culture is seen as shallow and godless, its toleration for democracy, human rights, gender equality and sexual freedom are heresies alien to Islamic traditions. Its mass mediated popular culture is an apostasy. Hence, in face of economic, political and cultural challenges and ressentiment, for societies where the diffusion of globalization has been limited, as has been the case in many Muslim countries, there was a broad impetus for religious renewal.
Islamic societies, at the time of their Golden Age, practiced toleration, justice, pluralism and equality. But that past has also included internal factors that have acted as limits to the growth of modernity. Between fundamentalism and ressentiment, that has been violence against memory that stems from the need for revenge. The "invented" past of fundamentalism that would place the blame for social ills on ethical lapses and reclaim a glorious theocratic future, provides compensatory identities and affective gratifications to its followers by paradoxically preaching dogmatism, intolerance, hatred, blame and violence, all of which sustain poverty and despair. For a marginal few in particular social locations of age, class and gender, there is an elective affinity for terrorism and the celebration of Death. Ressentiment meets the death instinct and joins with the ideology of a Holy war through resistance to external oppression that leads to unspeakable, violent acts. Religious terrorism is a dark moment of the collective soul, grounded in hate. It is a rigidly defensive ideology of retribution that reproduces the very conditions it would seek to ameliorate.
The options for Islamic societies are vexing. Secular westernization at the state level has been undone and/or resisted from within by Islamist reactions and by neo-colonial forces from without. In most Islamic states, efforts to elaborate Islamic modernisms, the pursuit of tolerance, compassion, and understanding, in syntheses of Islamic culture and modernity have either been suppressed or lacking a ready public. Yet there are traditions within Islam of metaphorical interpretations of the Quran, of free speech and diversities of interpretation. In recent years there has developed a cottage industry of Islamic scholarship examining the texts and the actual historical roots of the Quran and its evolution in early Islam (Stilles 2002). What must be noted is that most of this scholarship is located in Western universities; in most Muslim countries, questions that the Quran is anything other than the actual word of God, revealed by Gabriel, are typically met with fatwas and violence. The transformations of Islamic fundamentalism, with its conservatism and literalism that would silence the clerical fascists that preach hate and destruction, that would recapture the vibrant heterodoxy and toleration of its Golden Age, made relevant to our global age, can only come from within Islam. In the West and in the more pluralistic and materially advanced Islamic states such as Lebanon or Turkey, hard compromises and creative syntheses are being worked out between modernization and tradition. Kepel (2002) has argued that we are on the cusp of a new, post-Islamist age in which the traditions of Islam become reconciled with the democratic and pluralistic side of globally based modernity.
It remains to be seen if the emancipatory, liberalizing forces of globalization will temper the adverse consequences of its neo-liberal forms that have unconsciously colluded with the reactionary elements within Islamic societies that prefer stability to democracy while many people suffer. The adverse moments of modernity, American geo-political interests and its mass mediated consumer culture are found everywhere in world in which time and space have been compressed. Throughout the world we have seen fundamentalism growing as a response to pains of globalized modernity. The unique culture, histories and legacies of Islamic societies have led to dislocations, humiliations and ressentiments that have been expressed in Islamisms, ethno-religious conflicts and terrorism that give voice to an oppressive modernity.
Perhaps more important than ideological debates over the nature of Islamic history is the future of reform in Islam. Kepel (2002) suggested that Islamist terrorism does not, nor can it produce its intended goals and has become consumed with a fantasy of a world-wide triumph of radical Islam. Dreams of world domination generally lead to many deaths before they exit from the stage of world history. We are left with the dilemmas and solutions of Marx and Weber. To remedy the injustices of global capital, we must create global solutions through political solidarity across ever more permeable boundaries. To reform the nullity of modern civilization, now freed of any transcendental meaning and based on a frantic pursuit of profit gained through heartless, technical reason, we must base education and understanding on a critical, value-based reason, tolerant of a plurality of differences. The growing numbers of educated Muslim women suggest a gradual tempering of patriarchy, toleration for the individual and voices for justice. The development of the positive possibilities of modernity, social justice, equality, democracy, and pluralism, are needed to balance or, hopefully, to transform oppression. In a global age, to survive terrorism with growing access to technologies of ever more lethal destruction, part of the solution requires that we allow public spaces for the social sources of forgiveness and kindness that reside in most moderate and progressive religious traditions, which also serve as bases for mobilizing alternative globalizations. Notwithstanding the media images of bloody bodies, masked gunmen, falling towers, suicide bombers and fanatical clerics, Islam societies have long traditions of toleration, pluralism, and hospitality to the Other. There are voices within Islamic societies that would reclaim these traditions, as well as progressive forces from without that would join with them in ushering in a new era.