The Root of Terror

Though there is plenty of "moral relativism" around, one hears precious little about "factual relativism." Everyone heard that "one's terrorist is another's freedom fighter," but I wonder how many among the advocates of that position would state with similarly genuine conviction that "one man's round Earth is another's flat one."

This is because the physical reality has a cruel way of imposing itself on us, of brutally reminding us who is the boss, of firmly pressing on us the fact that we are her slaves, bound to Earth by gravity, bound to each other by the needs of sheer survival, bound by inescapable passage of time to the fate of gradual decay and eventual passing from this world. There is simply nothing that we can do to change the inexorable facts of nature. We are forced to respect them, and we do.

We respect them, that is, when we know them.

Which is not always the case. Progress of the sciences notwithstanding, many facts remain unknown. And, since we do not know everything, it is only natural that we do things detrimental to our own well-being and to that of others, things which we would not have done, had we known their full impact.

It is gaps in knowledge, not deliberate sabotage, that causes us to make and take drugs that are later discovered to cause serious side effects, to make machines with deadly malfunctions; it is imperfect knowledge that, at the present, makes us unable to decide on what to do about global warming, and causes many to doubt that it is happening at all.

This is not to argue that all human misery results from the lack of knowledge, and that deliberately malicious human will - something we call "evil" - plays no role at all. But let me suggest that, contrary to everything we hear from the press and the politicians, the plague of Islamic terrorism is not the case of "evil," but is caused precisely by the deficiency of knowledge.

For one - though this is a minor point - Islamic terrorists are very good people indeed. Dedicated to the highest cause there can possibly be - the cause of God, they are so selfless as to be willing to be killed for Him, and they depart this world happily, with satisfaction of knowing that they gave all they had to what is highest and noblest. Though spending eternity in a bordello is certainly an added bonus, many die not just for that reward, but out of sheer love of God. They love God with self-abnegating, self-denying abandon, unhesitant in following His will.

But is it God that they love? In following the Koran, is it God's will that they fulfill?

Obviously, the answer to that question hinges on their ability to know that Koran is indeed God's word, that it is indeed the expression of His will. And it so happens that, for reasons which have nothing whatsoever to do with religion, nothing at all to do with God, nothing to do with the tenets of Islam, whether moral or amoral, whether peaceful or violent, whether good or bad, they do not have that ability.  The reasons have everything to do with the structure of universal cognitive frameworks. (I cannot elaborate here as that would entail compressing a whole chapter of my book, The Pitfall of Truth into a couple of sentences)  Muslims fall into what secularists call an "error" and what the religious call "idolatry" - and, as a result, commit horrific acts which we call "terrorism."

So why does terrorism happen? Not because terrorists are "evil," but because of deficiency in their knowledge about what they can, and what they cannot, know. Among things they definitely cannot know is whether Koran is the word of God or not, and whether Mohammed was a prophet or not. If we clear out that mistake from their mind, what would remain of their selfless zeal? Would they kill on behest of what merely may, or may not be, God's word? Would they die for a promise that merely may, or may not, come about?

Donald Rumsfeld was right when, in his farewell address, he told the country that we do not understand our terrorist enemy. Crucially, we are convinced that our adversaries are illogical and fanatical, and therefore past normal understanding. Fanatical they may be - but only as fanatical as are most of us, when protecting what we truly care about. But illogical they are not. Wrong, yes. Illogical, no.

And we've got to tell them that they are wrong, if we are to win the war on terror. They need to learn that "True Faith" is an oxymoron and that its followers are not the creatures engulfed in pure holiness, but are the exact opposite of that - are idol-worshippers.

And we ourselves need to understand this. And then, even the "moral relativism" in discussing terrorism will disappear - simply because it will be realized that terrorism has to do with hard facts, not with morals. "One's terrorist" will merely become "one's benighted idol-worshipper."

Vel Nirtist writes on the role of religion in fostering terrorism. He is author of The Pitfall of Truth: Holy War, its Rationale and Folly. His blog is at www.rootoutterrorism.com
Though there is plenty of "moral relativism" around, one hears precious little about "factual relativism." Everyone heard that "one's terrorist is another's freedom fighter," but I wonder how many among the advocates of that position would state with similarly genuine conviction that "one man's round Earth is another's flat one."

This is because the physical reality has a cruel way of imposing itself on us, of brutally reminding us who is the boss, of firmly pressing on us the fact that we are her slaves, bound to Earth by gravity, bound to each other by the needs of sheer survival, bound by inescapable passage of time to the fate of gradual decay and eventual passing from this world. There is simply nothing that we can do to change the inexorable facts of nature. We are forced to respect them, and we do.

We respect them, that is, when we know them.

Which is not always the case. Progress of the sciences notwithstanding, many facts remain unknown. And, since we do not know everything, it is only natural that we do things detrimental to our own well-being and to that of others, things which we would not have done, had we known their full impact.

It is gaps in knowledge, not deliberate sabotage, that causes us to make and take drugs that are later discovered to cause serious side effects, to make machines with deadly malfunctions; it is imperfect knowledge that, at the present, makes us unable to decide on what to do about global warming, and causes many to doubt that it is happening at all.

This is not to argue that all human misery results from the lack of knowledge, and that deliberately malicious human will - something we call "evil" - plays no role at all. But let me suggest that, contrary to everything we hear from the press and the politicians, the plague of Islamic terrorism is not the case of "evil," but is caused precisely by the deficiency of knowledge.

For one - though this is a minor point - Islamic terrorists are very good people indeed. Dedicated to the highest cause there can possibly be - the cause of God, they are so selfless as to be willing to be killed for Him, and they depart this world happily, with satisfaction of knowing that they gave all they had to what is highest and noblest. Though spending eternity in a bordello is certainly an added bonus, many die not just for that reward, but out of sheer love of God. They love God with self-abnegating, self-denying abandon, unhesitant in following His will.

But is it God that they love? In following the Koran, is it God's will that they fulfill?

Obviously, the answer to that question hinges on their ability to know that Koran is indeed God's word, that it is indeed the expression of His will. And it so happens that, for reasons which have nothing whatsoever to do with religion, nothing at all to do with God, nothing to do with the tenets of Islam, whether moral or amoral, whether peaceful or violent, whether good or bad, they do not have that ability.  The reasons have everything to do with the structure of universal cognitive frameworks. (I cannot elaborate here as that would entail compressing a whole chapter of my book, The Pitfall of Truth into a couple of sentences)  Muslims fall into what secularists call an "error" and what the religious call "idolatry" - and, as a result, commit horrific acts which we call "terrorism."

So why does terrorism happen? Not because terrorists are "evil," but because of deficiency in their knowledge about what they can, and what they cannot, know. Among things they definitely cannot know is whether Koran is the word of God or not, and whether Mohammed was a prophet or not. If we clear out that mistake from their mind, what would remain of their selfless zeal? Would they kill on behest of what merely may, or may not be, God's word? Would they die for a promise that merely may, or may not, come about?

Donald Rumsfeld was right when, in his farewell address, he told the country that we do not understand our terrorist enemy. Crucially, we are convinced that our adversaries are illogical and fanatical, and therefore past normal understanding. Fanatical they may be - but only as fanatical as are most of us, when protecting what we truly care about. But illogical they are not. Wrong, yes. Illogical, no.

And we've got to tell them that they are wrong, if we are to win the war on terror. They need to learn that "True Faith" is an oxymoron and that its followers are not the creatures engulfed in pure holiness, but are the exact opposite of that - are idol-worshippers.

And we ourselves need to understand this. And then, even the "moral relativism" in discussing terrorism will disappear - simply because it will be realized that terrorism has to do with hard facts, not with morals. "One's terrorist" will merely become "one's benighted idol-worshipper."

Vel Nirtist writes on the role of religion in fostering terrorism. He is author of The Pitfall of Truth: Holy War, its Rationale and Folly. His blog is at www.rootoutterrorism.com