What do Sexuality and Humiliation have to do with Terrorism?

Mark Juergensmeyer in Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence engages in some broad personality analysis in one of the latter chapters of his book. This nicely augments his social and cultural insights earlier in the text. The theories may be on shakier ground.

Here is a brief excerpt. You can formulate an opinion on your own.
Nothing is more intimate than sexuality, and no greater humiliation can be experienced than failure over what one perceives to be one’s sexual role. Such failures are often the bases of domestic violence; and when these failures are linked with the social roles of masculinity and femininity, they can lead to public violence. Terrorist acts, then, can be forms of symbolic empowerment for men whose traditional sexual roles— their very manhood— is perceived to be at stake....

Although supporters of the Christian militia in the United States have not had the Indians’ experience of being a colonized people, their attitudes toward modern liberal government is similar to those of neoconservative Hindu nationalists. Both would agree with the characterization offered by William Pierce that liberal government expects an obedience that is “feminine” and “infantile.” These are fears not only of sexual impotence but of government’s role in the process of emasculation. Men who harbor such fears protect themselves, therefore, not only by setting up veiled defenses against the threats of powerful women and unmanly men, but also by attempting to reassert control in a world that they feel has gone morally and politically askew.

In Israel, the Jewish activist Avigdor Eskin, who accused Yasir Arafat of having a sexual penchant for boys, meant this as not so much a character assault as a political criticism. Eskin offered the example of Arafat’s alleged bisexuality to show that the Palestinian leader could not even control his own passions, much less the destiny of a geographical region that Eskin regarded as sacred. 61 Eskin, a somewhat effete musician and philosopher, might have gained encouragement in his attitudes from the American religious right, for whom antihomosexuality is something of a virtue, and with whom Eskin had frequent contact. Raised in Russia, Eskin for a time traveled through the United States appearing on the television programs of evangelists such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as a spokesperson against the Soviet oppression of the Russian Jewish community. Eventually emigrating to Israel, he became politically active among the Russian Israeli community and was selected in 1998 by Russian immigrants as the fourth most well-known person in the country. When I visited him in March 1998, he was deeply involved in anti-Arab political activism and was under detention for charges of planning to toss a pig’s head into the quarters of the Muslim shrine the Dome of the Rock, charges he denied. Whether or not the charges where true, however, his comments confirmed that Eskin’s main social concern was not homosexuality but politics and the restoration of what he regarded as righteous biblical order.

The point I have been making is that the homophobic male-dominant language of right-wing religious movements indicates not only a crisis of sexuality but a clash of world views, not just a moral or psychological problem but a political and religious one. It is political in that it relates to the crisis of confidence in public institutions that is characteristic of postmodern societies in the post– Cold War world. It is religious in that it is linked with the loss of spiritual bearings that a more certain public order provided.

When the lead character in The Turner Diaries saw on television the horrific scenes of mangled bodies being carried from the federal building he had just demolished with a truckload of explosive fertilizer and fuel oil, he could still confirm that he was “completely convinced” that what he had done was necessary to save America from its leaders— these “feminine,” “infantile” men “who did not have the moral toughness, the spiritual strength” to lead America and give it and its citizens a moral and spiritual purpose. From his point of view, his wretched act was redemptive.

Trivializing the effect of their violence, this character and his real-life counterparts Timothy McVeigh, Mahmud Abouhalima, and many other calculating but desperate men have tried to restore what they perceive to be the necessary social conditions for their sexual and spiritual wholeness. Their rhetoric of manhood has been a cry to reclaim their lost selves and their fragile world.

What they have in common, these movements of cowboy monks, is that they consist of anti-institutional, religio-nationalist, racist, sexist, male-bonding, bomb-throwing young guys. Their marginality in the modern world is experienced as a kind of sexual despair that leads to violent acts of symbolic empowerment. It could almost be seen as poignant, if it were not so terribly dangerous.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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