Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Two Terrorisms

In the course of conducting research on terrorism, I came across some similarities between two very different books. One is, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956, by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn; the other is, Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, by Jessica Stern. My copy of Archipelago is an abridged version that incorporates all three volumes and seven parts into one volume (ISBN 0-06-000776-1). Stern's book is ISBN 0-06-050532-X.

In today's world we may not see Solzhenitsyn's work describing terrorism. His brand of terrorism came from the state--USSR. 21st Century terrorism is usually referring to groups or individuals that attack non-combatants, such as the September 11th hijackers. Solzhenitsyn is describing state orchestrated terrorism.

This is what he has to say about how evildoers (in his case the Soviet government) justified their actions:

The imagination and the spiritual strength of Shakespeare's evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology.
Ideology--gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others' eyes, so that he won't hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations.
Thanks to ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions. This cannot be denied, nor passed over, nor suppressed. (77-78)

Compare Stern's words from her introduction:

Although we see them as evil, religious terrorist know themselves to be perfectly good. To be crystal clear about one's indentiy, to know that one's group is superior to all others, to make purity one's motto, and purification of the world one's life work--this is a kind of bliss. This is the bliss offered to those who join religious terrorist groups (41). Participants in the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the kamikaze suicide-bombing raids all understood the appeal of purifying the world through murder. It is a bliss I have seen among terrorists described in this book. This powerful yearning for bliss cannot be denied if we are to fight terror in the name of God, the gravest danger we face today. (xxviii-xxix)

Different books. Different themes. Different time frames, and yet, such similarity in content and tone. Solzhenitsyn didn't use religion, but used ideology. Stern used religion, but didn't use ideology. (possibly an unspittable hair) Solzhenitsyn wasn't just talking about the organs of Soviet government, but the Soviet populous as a whole. A population of people who allowed terrorism to be conducted on their friends, relatives and neighbors. A population that knew what was happening, but never attempted to stop the deportations and murders by their government.

Stern addresses religious terrorism by Christians, Jews and Muslims. Stern gives an overview, with amazing depth, to show similarities between terrorist of the three religions, and then goes on to tie everything together. (Yes, Christians, Jews and Muslims are all people.)

How far are each of us from being ideologues? Does a country only know when it has become an ideologue or a terrorist after the Nuremberg trials, . . . after The Gulag Archipelago, . . . after ??? Something to think about.

"The unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates (469-399 BC)

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