Themes of Modern Terrorism Bakunin's God and the State

Mohit Mulani Prof. James Gilligan 22/12/12 “God and the State” The idea of malevolent terrorism is fundamentally rooted in an extremist interpretation of religion enabled and to a great extent encouraged by priests and political figures. To examine this closely with reference to historical situations and ideas, we can apply the notions bought forward by the Russian 19th century philosopher and nihilist Bakunin in his seminal book, “God and State. ”

In the book, doctinaires are critiqued quite heavily for their relentless imposition of impractical ideals upon the world. With regards to the, Bakunin states, “They are so jealous of the glory of their God and of the triumph of their idea that they have no heart left for the liberty or the dignity or even the sufferings of living men, of real men. Divine zeal, preoccupation with the idea, finally dry up the tenderest souls, the most compassionate hearts, the sources of human love. God & the State, 65)” Comparing these 19th century doctinaires with modern day terrorists we see a group of people so completely enthralled by the superiority of their belief systems that they are more than willing to compromise the lives of non-believers to ‘persuade’ others. This follows in the line of a traditional process that requires the destruction and absolute overhaul of a current system and its institutions in order for a new one to establish itself and thrive.

Referred to in the line, “Every development necessarily implies a negation,” the idea is the basis of aggressive and violent terrorism globally (God & the State, 9). The September 11th attacks for instance were planned to include bombings of the Pentagon and White House, both symbolic locations representing the centers of Western imperialism and sources of resentment for the jihadis. This is particularly important given how modern day authors, journalists and thinkers have emphasized the peaceful nature of Islam when interpreted by its scriptures. Looking at the sheer organization and potency of terrorist rganizations, it seems as though the hyper-violent aspect of this otherwise ‘peaceful’ religion must have arisen from an understanding of this dogma. There must prevail the idea that without the destruction of certain reviled Western ideals, their preferred value systems cannot be secured across the world. Another aspect bought up in Bakunin’s statement about doctrinaires was the erasure of love and sympathy towards the victims of terrorist acts. The perpetrators here have been blinded by the aggressive, nationalistic rivalry between ideologies towards the pain and suffering of others.

In some cases, the real or imagined suffering of their own people, often at the hands of the West is used as a tool to harden their emotional facilities towards demonized groups of people. Several recruitment communications and propaganda display in explicit detail the torture practices, prison camp conditions and drone attacks the Western nations have inflicted upon suspected terrorists. This intensifies the unbridled hatred that ultimately fuels the metaphorical terror machine-churning out thousands of graduates armed with suicide vests and destructive ideals that they wish to impose upon the world.

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An important point here is that the origin of such behaviour isn’t singularly caused by hate or resentment; it is rather the amalgamation of several factors including socio-political ones that in their totality create this belligerent section of the world. Bakunin speaks of, “the whole history of humanity, intellectual and moral, political and social, [being] but a reflection of its economic history (God & the State, 9). ” The fiscal nature of countries and their people often have direct consequences on the views and positions adopted by them.

The effect of poverty on the terrorist world-view most directly can be two fold. In the first case, people join jihadist factions for direct monetary recompense to themselves or their family; a significant factor in desperately poor nations and villages. An instance of this was seen after the Mumbai train bombings of 2008 in which the prime suspect Ajmal Kassab confessed to expecting approximately US$3,352 after succeeding in his mission. According to police sources, he was unaware of any Islamic tenets or verses from the Quran but had a virulent message to send nonetheless.

The other effect of a poor economic state is an increased susceptibility to false priests and their version of religion. Lower socio-economic groups when faced with inconsequential lives resort to belief systems that give them comfort, solace and often a sense of superiority with respect to ideology held. This often translates to more suicide bombers by means of greater anticipation for the afterlife. A fair amount of terrorists that go onto perform suicide missions do so after comparing their current lives with the ones they expect to lead in heaven or jannah.

They see poverty, distress, debt and suffering as something they can leave behind to reach a land of fountains, gardens, angels and virgins if they do the right thing. Here is where opportunistic priests and politicians swoop in employing, “base and criminal means … to keep the nations in perpetual slavery. (God & the State, 11)” These self-proclaimed, “guardians and the fathers of the people,” clearly do not have their best interests at heart and see them rather as tools by which they can achieve their respective political and religious agendas.

A preacher who sermonizes on the value of taking lives, leveling cities and particularly in Iran- the use of nuclear weapons, cannot possibly be representing to the people any interpretation of religious texts. Instead of performing his duties as the spiritual head of a community, he uses incendiary rhetoric to stir people who are repeatedly manipulated by their governments into believing serious propaganda against Western nations. Bakunin expresses particular outrage at such figures referring to their acts as, “ this crime of treason against humanity committed daily, in broad day, over the whole surface of the civilized world. This is interesting mostly because it alters our perspective on ideas of terrorism and makes us look intensely at what goes into the formation of one. As a global community, we express daily outrage when acts of terror be they car bombings, hijackings, kidnappings and murders occur. Caught up in these, it gets difficult to see the simultaneous crime being carried out throughout large tracts of the Middle East where the populace is systematically denied a real education in lieu of religious madrasas and indoctrination.

Though vastly different, we can examine Bakunin’s analysis of 19th century education and modern day madrasas. “Such are the absurd tales that are told and the monstrous doctrines that are taught, in the full light of the nineteenth century, in all the public schools of Europe, at the express command of the government. They call this civilizing the people! Is it not plain that all these governments are systematic poisoners, interested stupefies of the masses? ” ( God ; the State, 11) There is quite certainly a reason for the establishment of such schools.

We can posit that due to a certain moral vacuum, created by the influx of Western/European morality which itself was a consequence of the Scientific Revolution, there exists a motive to enforce conservative and restrictive moral systems. These motives when taken to their extreme engender resentment towards other forms of thinking and see them as counterproductive or directly hostile to their own. In the case of Islamic theology, the teachings have been co-opted by a small, but active militant and extremist sector.

This group opposes in principle all people who do not share their belief systems calling them indicatively; non-believers, infidels and heretics. Much like how in post war Europe this very moral vacuum was filled with branches of Totalitarianism and Fascism, the radical Middle East has adopted a similarly authoritarian system. This system is firstly authoritarian in the literal sense as most nations like Saudi Arabia have no free press, democratic governments or political parties. Secondly on a more abstract level, its religious tenets when exercised by extremists or the Mutaween are highly prohibitory and insular.

An example of this sprung to international attention when in March of 2002, a girl’s school in Mecca caught on fire. Members of the Mutaween or the religious police were on hand to prevent improperly dressed girls from leaving the burning building. As school was in session with an entirely female population, for the sake of comfort most girls had seen fit to take of their confining abayas and headdresses. When attempting to escape, According to a civil defense officer, the girls were forced to return by use of force.

This is one of many examples of religious confinement and how it is inherently parochial and inhibitory. The masses must indeed be stupefied, as Bakunin says if they consider it God’s will that girls burn to death for not being dressed appropriately. Though applicable to a wide range of scenarios, this example gives us insight into the aggressions of terrorist groups. It is clearly not enough that they follow the rigid principles set in the scriptures and interpreted by their mullahs, virtually everyone must do so as well.

Some priests go so far as to imply that forcing or “converting” non-believers to the jihad proffers to them a place in heaven. With this tendency to make the world follow the teachings of Allah, it seems natural that they would resort to the means made popular by tradition and used quite frequently in history for such purposes; violence. Bakunin reprimands this agenda harshly in a letter to S. Nechayev: “You said that all men should be such, that a complete renunciation of self, of all personal wishes, pleasures, feelings affections and ties, should be a normal, natural, everyday condition to everybody without exception.

You wished and still with to make your own selfless cruelty, your own truly extreme fanaticism, into a rule of common life. You wish for an absurdity, an impossibility, a total negation of nature, man and society… no society however perfect its discipline and however powerful its organization can conquer nature(On Violence, 9). ” This is precisely what the terrorists seem intent on doing, enforcing by means of violence their way of life upon the world. The term ‘nature’ is used here to reference the progress and advancement of society, morals and behaviour.

The Scientific revolution occurred some 300 years ago and since then we have evolved, developing new systems of morality and using the social sciences to fill in the gaps left by religious dogma. These “science[s] of the future” like psychology and sociology are tools we use to fashion a new way of thinking and living(God ; the State, 61). Though they exist popular and normative definitions of good and evil, we have to a great extent outgrown them as new, more ethically complex situations arise and we approach them differently.

Observing moral gray areas that we face everyday like bioethics in legislation for instance gives us an idea as to how we have been forced to evolve our moral ideas to keep up with out lifestyles. Though significant, bioethics is representative of a much larger and more pervasive phenomenon due to which we approach virtually all situations differently. For one, we refrain from moralizing a lot of issues that we would have historically used an ethical framework to describe. Our collective moral psychology as a whole has become more imaginative and we have a much larger scope to use morality in out lives.

This broad, nonconservative approach has been interpreted as an empty, decadent and immoral (rather ironically) philosophy that is engendered by liberal Western culture and extends through its rather large sphere of influence. This perceived emptiness or moral vacuum is then filled by priests, zealots and a restrictive culture that is almost reactionary in its principles, formed so diametrically opposed to the ones it aims to eliminate. Bakunin explains to Nechayev that regardless of a particular society’s moral system, it is impossible to “conquer nature” or stop progress.

This evolving of moral systems is the progress we’ve made in a past few centuries and various terrorist movements are largely the backlash experienced as a result of it. The abandonment of traditional value systems is understandably frightening and this very fear has been molded into a consequential, aggressive and parochial movement that uses undiscerning violence to erase centuries of moral advancement and replace it with a very specific, scripture-based morality that is reassuring in its decisiveness.

Of note is the attempt made thereafter to brutally enforce this morality upon to world, to ensure that every woman, man and child follows the distinctive set of rules that govern radical Islamic morality. To see how truly regressive such a system is, we can examine the treatment of women in particular. The advance of feminism, especially at the turn of the century, led a revolution of ideas and social norms. The roles previously dictated by a predominantly patriarchal tradition changed and the restrictions placed on women were more or less eliminated.

All terrorist groups share a contempt for women’s rights and this can be explained by their aversion to change and the reversal of traditional roles. Though this discomfort with feminism also involves an element of insecurity as male roles in these societies are so dependent and inverse to female roles, it cannot possibly by itself cause men to go around in trucks shooting schoolgirls; that requires priestly or political influence. What the terrorists fail to account is the nature of advancement and how it cannot be prevented from happening by beating people into submission. Everyday there is resistance in the ranks.

Malala Yousafzai, an activist from Pakistan was shot on the 9th of October, 2012 while on a school-bus. This sort of advancement is likely to perpetuate itself amidst a large portion of the world and even killing everyone who noticeably advocates it will not prevent its growth. In Somalia, at the age of five, Ayaan Hirsi Ali underwent the torturous procedure of female circumcision (of genital mutilation as it is commonly and aptly called). This was one amongst several regressive traditions of her tribe and yet she emerged from the harshest of circumstances as an adamant feminist and atheist thinker. Man has emancipated himself; he has separated himself from animality and constituted himself a man; he has begun his distinctively human history and development by an act of disobedience and science-that is, by rebellion and by thought. (God & the State, 12)” Herein lies the key to our humanity, the very feature that is being suppressed by terrorists in favour of a more convenient, straightforward and primitive form of thinking. It is inherent in out nature to seek change, to ask questions and to doubt the dogmas we have been handed down.

The fact that this leads to a complete social overhaul and the creation of multiple cognitive vacuums does not deter us from repeatedly being skeptical and thinking. The quote mentioned above refers to the Creation story of Genesis which showcases the act of disobedience, questioning of rules and the disastrous results that follow. At the end of it however, as humans we wouldn’t have it any other way. Doubting the doctrines we were brought up with reduces the strangle-hold religion has upon out society and the amount of influence clergymen can exert.

This is an important motivation for the priests of the Middle East to carry on with their rabble-rousing diatribes. Doing so can maintain the last vestiges of power they have over people who no longer believe in their divine capacity anymore. By diverting attention from the actual tenets of Islam and bringing to the forefront firebrand phrases from other scriptures to spur people on, they engage in self-preservation rather than the progress of the human race. The key to our development has always been in thought and rebellion, by preventing it combatively, the terrorists hold back the world nd regress us to an age before we challenged conventions. In another section of the letter to S. Nechayev, Bakunin refers to what he observes as, “an enormous lack of critical sense without which it is impossible to evaluate people and situations, and to reconcile means with ends. (On Violence, 9)” These shortcomings of Russian nihilistic revolutionaries are now echoed by Islamic terrorists. Despite their explicable beliefs, what is truly terrifying about them is the raw violence and destruction jihadis seek to force upon the world.

Their defensiveness towards tradition and resentment over past wars has been channeled into a form of nondiscriminatory havoc ceases to differentiate between military personnel and innocent citizens. This method is what is somewhat irreconcilable with the, “ends” it seeks to achieve. Though a destruction of the current system is required for any meaningful change to occur, it does not have to be gruesome and violent. It is however much harder for priests and politicians to spur their populace on towards peaceful goals than it is to make them favour blind violence.

Speaking then about how to deal with an opposing civilization, Bakunin stats, “Societies which are inimical or positively harmful must be dissolved, and finally the government must be destroyed. All this cannot be achieved only by propagating the truth; cunning, diplomacy and deceit are necessary. (On Violence, 34)” Nowhere in the aforementioned advise does he mention violence as a useful way to achieve success. This is particularly important as there hasn’t as of yet been a noticeable conversion to the Islamic cause.

Efficacy is a factor that the terrorists seem not to have consider seeking only to assuage their manufactured rage. “Hate, the negative side alone, does not create anything, does not even create the power necessary for destruction and thus destroys nothing. (On Violence, 29)” When four homegrown terrorists from London attacked the underground system, their primary motive was to avenge their fellow Muslims who had previously suffered as a result of actions undertaken by the Western governments.

A large amount of bombings are becoming more about revenge and hatred than actually changing the status quo. This achieves nothing while a great deal is simultaneously sacrificed. Distinct from revenge, another cause for hatred is how the terrorists perceive the world. Bakunin refers to the source of our progress as, “Satan, the eternal rebel, the first freethinker and the emancipator of worlds. He makes man ashamed of his bestial ignorance and obedience; he emancipates him, stamps upon his brow the seal of liberty and humanity, in urging him to disobey and eat of the fruit of knowledge. God & the State, 10)” It is fair to assume that they see the West and people such as Malala as Satanic and a corruptive influence. Both of these try to upend traditional thought and how we think about morality. By objecting to blind deference to a book or set of purportedly divine rules, democracies seek to alter people’s moral psychology. This procedure has seen a backlash even in Western countries themselves in the form of radical Christianity. Ironically though this branch of religion despises Islam and the jihadis, it seeks to achieve incredibly similar goals.

Every time a pastor in some midwestern state pushes for the inscription of the Hebrew commandments in front of court-houses, as a species, we take a collective step backwards into the Middle Ages where people believed in a fixed set of dogmas that seemed more interested in who they worshipped than in how they behaved. Similarly with the feminist movements, with the objectives of terrorism being so inherently misogynistic, we risk living in a world where women don’t have the civil liberties we spent a good couple of centuries achieving.

Though things in the past were straightforward and idealistic, they were also horrendously underdeveloped in modern concepts of liberty, freedom, thought, science and society. Reverting back to those circumstances involves necessarily having to deal with all its downfalls as well as the clarity of ethics it provides. We do not get to cherry-pick which part of the Middle Ages we’d like to being with us into this century as the terrorists have made amply clear.

We will need to accept the oppression of women, religious minorities, homosexuals, transgenders and scientific thought as though we were actually living in the 16th century. This regression must be avoided at all costs. “Thus we come back to the essence of all religion–in other words, to the disparagement of humanity for the greater glory of divinity. (God & the State, 37)” With this statement Bakunin sums up the thrust of the religious terrorist movements around the world. They seek to avenge a perceived disrespect of a divine being and are willing to kill for it.

Though they wouldn’t do so spontaneously, this hatred ad murderous instinct has to be carefully cultivated from childhood by mullahs and other authoritative sources. These children then become people who are capable of leveling entire buildings for the glory of God whose existence they cannot be sure of and an afterlife they might never get to experience. Such is the power of, “collective insanity,” that drives a movement like this. (God & the State, 68) Since the 200,000 years we’ve existed, we’ve spent quite a lot of it questioning, developing and doubting.

Attempts to prevent this are shameful in that they send us hurtling back hundreds of years to less enlightened times of dogma and religious persecution. We’ve outgrown the juvenile need for extremely strict religious guidance and have as a society agreed upon a set of common sense laws that don’t vary significantly across national borders. We’ve developed social sciences to deal with the moral vacuum left after the removal of dogmas and are can deal with them without resorting to driving airplanes into skyscrapers.

The existence of terrorism proves that for every collective step forward we take, there are elements that will be rendered irrelevant and have thus felt the need to make the loudest clamor possible. Though we cannot obviously devise a straightforward solution to a complex and varying problem, we can however seek to understand it. Bibliography Bakunin, Mikhail, “God and the State. ” Dover Publications, Inc. , New York. 1970 Bakunin, Mikhail, “On Violence-letter to S Nechayev. ” New York: Unity Press, [19–]

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