Will the War Against Religious Terrorism Ever End?

Will the War Against Religious Terrorism Ever End? (Repost for 9-11-2022)

I always feel deep sadness as I recall - as if it was this morning - that awful day 21 years ago when I saw the planes fly into the towers from my vantage on a hill in across the river in Jersey City. 

Mark Juergensmeyer, in Terror in the Mind of God, lays out five ways that the reign of religious terror can come to an end. Let's consider each. First consider the end will come with the forceful eradication of the terrorists, what appears to have been the US response to the 9/11 attacks, continued with the more recent killing of OBL.

Juergensmeyer outlines,
The first scenario is one of a solution forged by force. It encompasses instances in which terrorists have literally been killed off or have been forcibly controlled. If Osama bin Laden had been in residence in his camp in Afghanistan on August 10, 1998, along with a large number of leaders of other militant groups when the United States launched one hundred Tomahawk cruise missiles into his quarters, for instance, this air strike might have removed some of the persons involved in planning future terrorist acts in various parts of the world.

It would not have removed all of them, however, and the attempt may well have elevated the possibility of more terrorist acts in reprisal. The war-against-terrorism strategy can be dangerous, in that it can play into the scenario that religious terrorists themselves have fostered: the image of a world at war between secular and religious forces. A belligerent secular enemy has often been just what religious activists have hoped for. In some cases it makes recruitment to their causes easier, for it demonstrates that the secular side can be as brutal as it has been portrayed by their own religious ideologues.

The 1998 U.S. attack on Osama bin Laden's camp neither destroyed the militant Muslim's operations nor deterred his aggression. Immediately after the attack several other American embassies were targeted, and several months later, in February
1999, George Tenet, head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, announced to the press that he had "no doubt" that "Osama bin Laden and his world-wide allies and sympathizers" were plotting "further attacks" against U.S. installations and symbols of American power. In Algeria, attempts to eliminate Muslim militants also had violent repercussions. When the military junta in Algeria halted the elections and began running the country with an iron hand, popular support for the Islamic party and violent resistance against the junta escalated.
In order for the destructive strategy to work, a secular government must be willing to declare total war against religious terrorism and wage it over many years, as the Israeli government attempted to do against its terrorist opponents.
Second consider the approach of "cracking down" -- one step back from wiping them out. Juergensmeyer suggests this has not been and will not be a fruitful path.
A second scenario is once in which the threat of violent reprisals or imprisonment so frightens religious activists that they hesitate to act. This is the strategy adopted by many law enforcement agencies to "crack down" on terrorists: even if the authorities cannot eliminate the terrorists completely, they can at least frighten them by raising the stakes associated with involvement in terrorist activity.

Though some fringe members of activist groups may have been sobered by such threats, it is doubtful that the "get tough with terrorists" strategy has had much of an effect on the more dedicated members. In the view of most of them, the world is already at war, and they have always expected the enemy to act harshly. In fact, they would be puzzled if it did not. So the threat of an additional increment of penalty to be meted out for their actions has had little if any deterrent effect.

The case that is sometimes offered as a successful instance of terrorist intimidation is the one involving Libya. In the mid-1980s Libya was thought to harbor Muslim activists responsible for a series of acts of international terrorism against the United States. In 1986 the United States undertook an air strike against the leader of the country, Muammar el-Qaddafi, in reprisal. The missiles were aimed at one of his residences, and in fact a member of his family was killed in the attack, but el-Qaddafi himself survived. Over ten years later there were very few terrorist acts aimed at the United States attributed to Libya. Were the air strikes effective?

It is doubtful. Although it is possible that Libya was eventually intimidated by the strikes, the immediate response was quite different. According to the RAND--St. Andrews Chronology of International Terrorism, the number of terrorist incidents linked to Libya and directed against the United States rose in the two years following the U.S. air strikes: fifteen in 1987 and eight in I988. The most devastating terrorist attack against the United States in which Libya has been implicated--the tragic explosion of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 on board--occurred in December 1988.
Third consider the possibility of violence winning. This example that Juergensmeyer cites seems less compelling when you consider that Rantisi was assassinated in April 2004:
The third scenario is the reverse of those cases in which terrorism is defeated or diffused: it is when terrorism, in some way, wins. This is the outcome for which every religious activist, understandably, has yearned. When I asked the Hamas leader Dr. Abdul Aziz Rantisi whether Jews and Muslims could live in harmony in the area he described as Palestine, he affirmed that they could--but not under the present arrangement. He could not accept "Israel's sovereignty over Palestinian land," he said. But the two groups could live in peace if the situation were reversed and the land were controlled by Palestinian Arabs. "Jews would be welcomed in our nation," Rantisi explained, adding that he did not hate Jews as such. He pledged not to mistreat them "when we become strong." He hoped for a South Africa-type solution, where the whole of the area would be united--Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank--and the Palestinians who had left the region would be allowed to return. With Arabs then a majority, Rantisi would accept democratic rule over the united region, which would be called something other than Israel.
It is a solution that would delight Palestinians both inside and outside the Hamas movement. Needless to say, it has not been a solution enthusiastically embraced by Israel. Given that fact, and considering that Israel holds a preponderance of military power in the region, could any part of the radical Islamic Palestinian objective be achieved? As I suggested earlier, acts of terrorism tend to be strategically unproductive and do not usually lead to transformations of power. If one is not willing to wait, as Dr. Rantisi claimed he was willing to do, beyond his own generation and perhaps the next, symbolic action will have to be replaced by the kind of strategic planning aimed at achieving goals either totally or incrementally. Revolutionary changes can occur through a well-organized mass movement, as in Iran, or an effective military force, as in Afghanistan. They might also come about through political pressures, as in Sudan and Pakistan, where regimes have capitulated to religious nationalist ideologies in what have been incremental but virtually bloodless coups. But as noted earlier, none of these cases has involved terrorist acts as the primary means of achieving power.
A fourth path to resolution entails the separation of religion from politics. Many would like to see this happen, but the likelihood now seems more remote than ever. Juergensmeyer discusses,
The fourth scenario for peace is one in which religion is taken out of politics and retired to the moral and metaphysical planes. As long as images of spiritual warfare remain strong in the minds of religious activists and are linked with struggles in the social world around them, the scenarios we have just discussed--achieving an easy victory over religious activists, intimidating them into submission, or forging a compromise with them--are problematic at best. In some cases where religious politics had previously been strong, however, the image of cosmic war itself has been transformed. A more moderate view of the image of religious warfare has been conceived, one that is deflected away from political and social confrontation.

The extreme form of this solution--one in which religion returns to what Casanova described as its privatization in the post-Enlightenment world--is unlikely, however. Few religious activists arc willing to retreat to the time when secular authorities ran the public arena and religion remained safely within the confines of churches, mosques, temples, and synagogues. Most religious activists regard the social manifestation of cosmic struggle to be at the very heart of their faith and dream of restoring religion to what they regard as its rightful position at the center of public consciousness.

Yet, in the 1990s, many Islamic countries witnessed a certain reaction against politicized religion. In 1999, Iranian students demonstrated in support of such leaders as the moderate theologian Abdol Karim Soroush, who argued that interpretations of religion are relative and change over time. He made a distinction between ideology and religion, and claimed that Muslim clergy had no business being in politics. Similar statements have been made by such moderate Islamic thinkers as Hassan Hanafi in Egypt, Rashid Ghannouchi in Tunisia, and Algeria’s Mohammed Arkoun. For them, the image of struggle consists largely of a spiritual battle or a contest between moral positions rather than between armed enemies.
The fifth path is one wherein, "secular authorities embrace moral values, including those associated with religion." Juergensmeyer gives several examples,
These moderate solutions have required the opponents in the conflict to summon at least a minimal level of mutual trust and respect. This respect has been enhanced and the possibilities of a compromise solution strengthened when religious activists have perceived governmental authorities as having a moral integrity in keeping with, or accommodating of, religious values. This, then, is the fifth solution: when secular authorities embrace moral values, including those associated with religion.

In some cases where religious violence has been quelled, religion has literally been subsumed under the aegis of governmental authorities. In Sri Lanka, for instance, the efforts of the government to destroy the Janarha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)--the People's Liberation Front--a movement supported by many radical Buddhist monks, were double-pronged. The harsh measures involved tracking down and killing the most dedicated members of the movement. The more accommodating measures included efforts to win the support of militant religious leaders. In 1990
President Ranasinghe Premadasa provided a fund for the financial support of Buddhist schools and social services, and created a Ministry of Buddhist Affairs, naming himself the first minister. Premadasa created a council of Buddhist advisers, including Buddhist monks who had been quite critical of the secular government previously. One of these told me in 1991 that after Premadasa's pro- religious measures, the government was finally beginning to "reflect Buddhist values."

In other cases, such as the British response to Irish terrorism, the government's stance in following the rule of law and not overreacting to terrorist provocations demonstrated its subscription to moral values. This made it difficult for religious activists--with the exception of Rev. Ian Paisley--to portray the government as a satanic enemy. It also increased the possibility of some sort of accommodation with religious activists on both sides of the Northern Ireland dispute--leading to the signing of a peace accord in 1998.
So, will the War Against Religious Terrorism Ever End? We hope and pray that it will. But based on our learning and experience, we expect that it won't.[reposted]

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