rn:K. Armstrong: the roots of terrorism


Jan Slakov

Dear RN list (& others),

I have given this posting high priority because I think it will help us make
a necessary paradigm shift. (And Karen Armstrong comes highly recommended to
me from friends whose judgement I respect highly. See one comment at the end
of this posting.) Some of us see US imperialism and capitalism as inherently
violent and evil, others see the Muslim faith as inherently fundamentalist
and violent. There is some truth in those views, but Armstrong's article
below goes beyond these truths. She can help us see the conflicts we face
now as part of our evolution, as part of "modernity", help us see the
"revelation" in the Sept. 11 attacks... Her vision can help keep us from
getting stuck on just denoucing whoever we see as responsible for the
attacks so that we can be more effective in correcting the underlying
problems which gave rise to those attacks. 
all the best, Jan
From: "Janet M Eaton" <•••@••.•••>
Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2002 16:52:18 -0400
Subject: "To win the war on terrorism, we first need to understand its
roots" by Armstrong

Karen Armstrong concludes her lengthy analysis with an emphasis 
on what we as citizens actively engaged in learning at a deep level 
about our  world and exercising our democratic rights must do  !! 

From: •••@••.••• 
To: •••@••.••• ; •••@••.•••

Sent: Sunday, January 13, 2002 5:24 PM

To win the war on terrorism, we first need to understand its roots

By Karen Armstrong, January 2002
author of "The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism".

About a hundred years ago, almost every leading Muslim intellectual was in
love with the West, which at that time meant Europe. America was still an
unknown quantity. Politicians and journalists in India, Egypt, and Iran
wanted their countries to be just like Britain or France; philosophers,
poets, and even some of the ulama (religious scholars) tried to find ways of
reforming Islam according to the democratic model of the West. They called
for a nation state, for representational government, for the
of religion, and for constitutional rights. Some even claimed that the
Europeans were better Muslims than their own fellow countrymen since the
Koran teaches that the resources of a society must be shared as fairly as
possible, and in the European nations there was beginning to be a more
equitable sharing of wealth.

So what happened in the intervening years to transform all of that 
admiration and respect into the hatred that incited the acts of terror 
that we witnessed on September 11? It is not only terrorists who 
feel this anger and resentment, although they do so to an extreme 
degree. Throughout the Muslim world there is widespread 
bitterness against America, even among pragmatic and well-
educated businessmen and professionals, who may sincerely 
deplore the recent atrocities, condemn them as evil, and feel 
sympathy with the victims, but who still resent the way the 
Western powers have behaved in their countries. This atmosphere 
is highly conducive to extremism, especially now that potential 
terrorists have seen the catastrophe that it is possible to inflict 
using only the simplest of weapons.  

Even if President Bush and our allies succeed in eliminating 
Osama bin Laden and his network, hundreds more terrorists will 
rise up to take their place unless we in the West address the root 
cause of this hatred. This task must be an essential part of the war 
against terrorism.  

We cannot understand the present crisis without taking into 
account the painful process of modernization. In the 16th century, 
the countries of Western Europe and, later, the American colonies 
embarked on what historians have called "the Great Western 
Transformation." Until then, all the great societies were based upon 
a surplus of agriculture and so were economically vulnerable; they 
soon found that they had grown beyond their limited resources. The 
new Western societies, though, were based upon technology and 
the constant reinvestment of capital. They found that they could 
reproduce their resources indefinitely, and so could afford to 
experiment with new ideas and products. In Western cultures 
today, when a new kind of computer is invented, all the old office 
equipment is thrown out. In the old agrarian societies, any project 
that required such frequent change of the basic infrastructure was 
likely to be shelved. Originality was not encouraged; instead people 
had to concentrate on preserving what had been achieved.  

So while the Great Western Transformation was exciting and gave 
the people of the West more freedom, it demanded fundamental 
change at every level: social, political, intellectual, and religious. 
Not surprisingly, the period of transition was traumatic and violent. 
As the early modern states became more centralized and efficient, 
draconian measures were often required to weld hitherto disparate 
kingdoms together. Some minority groups, such as the Catholics 
in England and the Jews in Spain, were persecuted or deported. 
There were acts of genocide, terrible wars of religion, the 
exploitation of workers in factories, the despoliation of the 
countryside, and anomie and spiritual malaise in the newly 
industrialized mega-cities.  

Successful modern societies found, by trial and error, that they had 
to be democratic. The reasons were many. In order to preserve the 
momentum of the continually expanding economy, more people 
had to be involved-even in a humble capacity as printers, clerks, or 
factory workers. To do these jobs, they needed to be educated, 
and once they became educated, they began to demand political 
rights. In order to draw upon all of a society's resources, modern 
countries also found they had to bring outgroups, such as the Jews 
and women, into the mainstream. Countries like those in Eastern 
Europe that did not become secular, tolerant, and democratic fell 
behind. But those that did fulfill these norms, including Britain and 
France, became so powerful that no agrarian, traditional society, 
such as those of the Islamic countries, could stand against them.  

Today we are witnessing similar upheaval in developing countries, 
including those in the Islamic world, that are making their own 
painful journey to modernity. In the Middle East, we see constant 
political turmoil. There have been revolutions, such as the 1952 
coup of the Free Officers in Egypt and the Islamic Revolution in Iran 
in 1979. Autocratic rulers predominate in this region because the 
modernizing process is not yet sufficiently advanced to provide the 
conditions for a fully developed democracy.  

In the West, we have completed the modernizing process and have 
forgotten what we had to go through, so we do not always 
understand the difficulty of this transition. We tend to imagine that 
we have always been in the van of progress, and we see the 
Islamic countries as inherently backward. We have imagined that 
they are held back by their religion, and do not realize that what we 
are actually seeing is an imperfectly modernized society.  

The Muslim world has had an especially problematic experience 
with modernity because its people have had to modernize so 
rapidly, in 50 years instead of the 300 years that it took the 
Western world. Nevertheless, this in itself would not have been an 
insuperable obstacle. Japan, for example, has created its own 
highly successful version of modernity. But Japan had one huge 
advantage over most of the Islamic countries: It had never been 
colonized. In the Muslim world, modernity did not bring freedom 
and independence; it came in a context of political subjection.  

Modern society is of its very nature progressive, and by the 19th 
century the new economies of Western Europe needed a 
constantly expanding market for the goods that funded their 
cultural enterprises. Once the home countries were saturated, new 
markets were sought abroad. In 1798, Napoleon defeated the 
Mamelukes, Egypt's military rulers, in the Battle of the Pyramids 
near Cairo. Between 1830 and 1915, the European powers also 
occupied Algeria, Aden, Tunisia, the Sudan, Libya, and Morocco-
all Muslim countries. These new colonies provided raw materials for 
export, which were fed into European industry. In return, they 
received cheap manufactured goods, which naturally destroyed 
local industry.  

This new impotence was extremely disturbing for the Muslim 
countries. Until this point, Islam had been a religion of success. 
Within a hundred years of the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 
632, the Muslims ruled an empire that stretched from the 
Himalayas to the Pyrenees. By the 15th century, Islam was the 
greatest world power-not dissimilar to the United States today. 
When Europeans began to explore the rest of the globe at the 
beginning of the Great Western Transformation, they found an 
Islamic presence almost everywhere they went: in the Middle East, 
India, Persia, Southeast Asia, China, and Japan. In the 16th 
century, when Europe was in the early stages of its rise to power, 
the Ottoman Empire [which ruled Turkey, the Middle East, and 
North Africa] was probably the most powerful state in the world. 
But once the great powers of Europe had reformed their military, 
economic, and political structures according to the modern norm, 
the Islamic countries could put up no effective resistance.  

Muslims would not be human if they did not resent being 
subjugated this way. The colonial powers treated the natives with 
contempt, and it was not long before Muslims discovered that their 
new rulers despised their religious traditions. True, the Europeans 
brought many improvements to their colonies, such as modern 
medicine, education, and technology, but these were sometimes a 
mixed blessing.  

Thus, the Suez Canal, initiated by the French consul Ferdinand de 
Lesseps, was a disaster for Egypt, which had to provide all the 
money, labor, and materials as well as donate 200 square miles of 
Egyptian territory gratis, and yet the shares of the Canal Company 
were all held by Europeans. The immense outlay helped to 
bankrupt Egypt, and this gave Britain a pretext to set up a military 
occupation there in 1882.  

Railways were installed in the colonies, but they rarely benefited 
the local people. Instead they were designed to further the 
colonialists' own projects. And the missionary schools often taught 
the children to despise their own culture, with the result that many 
felt they belonged neither to the West nor to the Islamic world. One 
of the most scarring effects of colonialism is the rift that still exists 
between those who have had a Western education and those who 
have not and remain perforce stuck in the premodern ethos. To this 
day, the Westernized elites of these countries and the more 
traditional classes simply cannot understand one another. After 
World War II, Britain and France became secondary powers and 
the United States became the leader of the Western world. Even 
though the Islamic countries were no longer colonies but were 
nominally independent, America still controlled their destinies. 
During the Cold War, the United States sought allies in the region 
by supporting unsavory governments and unpopular leaders, largely 
to protect its oil interests. For example, in 1953, after Shah 
Muhammad Reza Pahlavi had been deposed and forced to leave 
Iran, he was put back on the throne in a coup engineered by British 
Intelligence and the CIA. The United States continued to support 
the Shah, even though he denied Iranians human rights that most 
Americans take for granted.  

Saddam Hussein, who became the president of Iraq in 1979, was 
also a protégé of the United States, which literally allowed him to 
get away with murder, most notably the chemical attack against 
the Kurdish population. It was only after the invasion in 1990 of 
Kuwait, a critical oil-producing state, that Hussein incurred the 
enmity of America and its allies. Many Muslims resent the way 
America has continued to support unpopular rulers, such as 
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and the Saudi royal family. 
Indeed, Osama bin Laden was himself a protégé of the West, 
which was happy to support and fund his fighters in the struggle for 
Afghanistan against Soviet Russia. Too often, the Western powers 
have not considered the long-term consequences of their actions. 
After the Soviets had pulled out of Afghanistan, for example, no 
help was forthcoming for the devastated country, whose ensuing 
chaos made it possible for the Taliban to come to power.  

When the United States supports autocratic rulers, its proud 
assertion of democratic values has at best a hollow ring. What 
America seemed to be saying to Muslims was: "Yes, we have 
freedom and democracy, but you have to live under tyrannical 
governments." The creation of the state of Israel, the chief ally of 
the United States in the Middle East, has become a symbol of 
Muslim impotence before the Western powers, which seemed to 
feel no qualm about the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who 
lost their homeland and either went into exile or lived under Israeli 
occupation. Rightly or wrongly, America's strong support for Israel 
is seen as proof that as far as the United States is concerned, 
Muslims are of no importance.  

In their frustration, many have turned to Islam. The secularist and 
nationalist ideologies, which many Muslims had imported from the 
West, seemed to have failed them, and by the late 1960s Muslims 
throughout the Islamic world had begun to develop what we call 
fundamentalist movements.  

Fundamentalism is a complex phenomenon and is by no means 
confined to the Islamic world. During the 20th century, most major 
religions developed this type of militant piety. Fundamentalism 
represents a rebellion against the secularist ethos of modernity. 
Wherever a Western-style society has established itself, a 
fundamentalist movement has developed alongside it. 
Fundamentalism is, therefore, a part of the modern scene. 
Although fundamentalists often claim that they are returning to a 
golden age of the past, these movements could have taken root in 
no time other than our own.  

Fundamentalists believe that they are under threat. Every 
fundamentalist movement-in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam-is 
convinced that modern, secular society is trying to wipe out the 
true faith and religious values. Fundamentalists believe that they 
are fighting for survival, and when people feel their backs are to the 
wall, they often lash out violently. This is especially the case when 
there is conflict in the region.  

The vast majority of fundamentalists do not take part in acts of 
violence, of course. But those who do utterly distort the faith that 
they purport to defend. In their fear and anxiety about the 
encroachments of the secular world, fundamentalists-be they 
Jewish, Christian, or Muslim-tend to downplay the compassionate 
teachings of their scripture and overemphasize the more belligerent 
passages. In so doing, they often fall into moral nihilism, as is the 
case of the suicide bomber or hijacker. To kill even one person in 
the name of God is blasphemy; to massacre thousands of innocent 
men, women, and children is an obscene perversion of religion 

Osama bin Laden subscribes roughly to the fundamentalist vision 
of the Egyptian ideologue Sayyid Qutb, who was executed by 
President Nasser in 1966. Qutb developed his militant ideology in 
the concentration camps in which he, and thousands of other 
members of the Muslim Brotherhood, were imprisoned by Nasser. 
After 15 years of torture in these prisons, Qutb became convinced 
that secularism was a great evil and that it was a Muslim's first 
duty to overthrow rulers such as Nasser, who paid only lip service 
to Islam.  

Bin Laden's first target was the government of Saudi Arabia; he has 
also vowed to overthrow the secularist governments of Egypt and 
Jordan and the Shiite Republic of Iran. Fundamentalism, in every 
faith, always begins as an intra-religious movement; it is directed at 
first against one's own countrymen or co-religionists. Only at a 
later stage do fundamentalists take on a foreign enemy, whom they 
feel to lie behind the ills of their own people. Thus in 1998 bin 
Laden issued his fatwa against the United States. But bin Laden 
holds no official position in the Islamic world; he simply is not 
entitled to issue such a fatwa, and has, like other fundamentalists, 
completely distorted the essential teachings of his faith.  

The Koran insists that the only just war is one of self-defense, but 
the terrorists would claim that it is America which is the aggressor. 
They would point out that during the past year, hundreds of 
Palestinians have died in the conflict with Israel, America's ally; 
that Britain and America are still bombing Iraq; and that thousands 
of Iraqi civilians, many of them children, have died as a result of the 
American-led sanctions.  

None of this, of course, excuses the September atrocities. These 
were evil actions, and it is essential that all those implicated in any 
way be brought to justice. But what can we do to prevent a 
repetition of this tragedy? As the towers of the World Trade Center 
crumbled, our world changed forever, and that means that we can 
never see things in the same way again. These events were an 
"apocalypse," a "revelation"-words that literally mean an 
"unveiling." They laid bare a reality that we had not seen clearly 
before. Part of that reality was Muslim rage, but the catastrophe 
showed us something else as well.  

In Britain, until September 11, the main news story was the 
problem of asylum seekers. Every night, more than 90 refugees 
from the developing world make desperate attempts to get into 
Britain. There is now a strong armed presence in England's ports. 
The United States and other Western countries also have a 
problem with illegal immigrants. It is almost as though we in the 
First World have been trying to keep the "other" world at bay. But 
as the September Apocalypse showed, if we try to ignore the plight 
of that other world, it will come to us in devastating ways.  

So we in the First World must develop a "one world" mentality in 
the coming years. Americans have often assumed that they were 
protected by the great oceans surrounding the United States. As a 
result, they have not always been very well-informed about other 
parts of the globe. But the September Apocalypse and the events 
that followed have shown that this isolation has come to an end, 
and revealed America's terrifying vulnerability. This is deeply 
frightening, and it will have a profound effect upon the American 
psyche. But this tragedy could be turned to good, if we in the First 
World cultivate a new sympathy with other peoples who have 
experienced a similar helplessness: in Rwanda, in Lebanon, or in 

We cannot leave the fight against terrorism solely to our politicians 
or to our armies. In Europe and America, ordinary citizens must 
find out more about the rest of the world. We must make ourselves 
understand, at a deep level, that it is not only Muslims who resent 
America and the West; that many people in non-Muslim countries, 
while not condoning these atrocities, may be dry-eyed about the 
collapse of those giant towers, which represented a power, wealth, 
and security to which they could never hope to aspire.  

We must find out about foreign ideologies and other religions like 
Islam. And we must also acquire a full knowledge of our own 
governments' foreign policies, using our democratic rights to 
oppose them, should we deem this to be necessary. We have 
been warned that the war against terror may take years, and so will 
the development of this "one world" mentality, which could do as 
much, if not more, than our fighter planes to create a safer and 
more just world.  

Karen Armstrong is the author of "The Battle for God: A History of 
Date: Sat, 29 Dec 2001 12:20:06 -0500
From: Hans Sinn <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Karen Armstrong "Holy War"

Hi Jan,

Clearly things are not getting any better in the Palestine Israel conflict.
There are many brave attempts to easy the situation, if not resolve it. I
think I have mentioned Karen Armstrong and her works about the Middle East
before. I would like to do so again. Marian gave me for Christmas Karen
Armstrong's 1988 book "Holy War" in which Armstrong relates the present
Middle East conflict to the Judaic, Christian and Islamic religious
history. "Holy War" has just been republished with an introduction by Karen
Armstrong in which she relates the September 11. attack to her previous
depiction of the Middle East conflict. Karen A. is brilliant and prolific.
I highly recommend her book ISBN: 0-385-72140-4.   


Civilian Peace Service