The faith that makes a terrorist tick

Osama bin LadenSometimes I wonder how often journalists covering Islamic terrorism actually get to interview a terrorist. That's a scary proposition in many ways. One way or another, those responsible for giving the public a clear understanding of Islamic terrorism must understand the religious underpinnings of terrrorists' worldview and moral philosophy. For those disinclined to understand the terrorists personally -- or unable to reach them in the rocky coves of Afghanistan or Pakistan -- a well-researched book seems to be the next best option, as noted earlier in this space.

This book review by Los Angeles Times writer Tim Rutten on Knowing the Enemy Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror by Mary Habeck digs into the broad subject of Islam and where jihadis get their religious philosophy. It isn't pretty:

Because Habeck is deadly serious about the jihadis' religiosity, she is scrupulous about their relationship to contemporary Islam. It would be "evil," she argues, to contend that a billion-plus Muslims supported or desired the mass murder that occurred on 9/11. Nor is it correct to conflate jihadi ideology with Islamist politics, such as those of Turkey's Justice and Development Party. On the other hand, she writes, it "would be just as wrong to conclude that the hijackers, Al Qaeda and the other radical groups have nothing to do with Islam."

Nor can the jihadis' key beliefs be dismissed as "the marginal opinions of a few fanatics. The principal dogmas that they assert ... have roots in discussions about Islamic law and theology that began soon after the death of Muhammad and that are supported by important segments of the clergy today."

Here an American reader confronts the necessity of reaching beyond the undergraduate impulse that equates a facile acceptance with tolerance. It's a step that requires the recognition, as the philosopher Richard Rorty once put it, that some ideas, like some people, are just "no damn good."

Reporters are not inclined to dismiss ideas merely because they "are just 'no damn good.'" In covering terrorism, the argument that "one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter" is very attractive, particularly if one is attempting to write articles that are not biased in one direction or another. But those types of comparisons are fraught with moral inconsistencies.

Here's a bit of information that I had not seen elsewhere and should be considered when people call for us to withdraw our military from Iraq to appease the terrorists:

One of Habeck's more interesting insights concerns the violent jihadis' tendency to borrow strategies directly from the narratives contained in the Koran and hadith. For example, Bin Laden's recent offer of a "truce" with the United States actually recapitulates a tactic Muhammad is said to have employed to conquer the tribe that controlled Mecca.

The real import of Habeck's book is its suggestion that because the jihadis really believe what they say they do -- and act on it -- studying their texts and comments could yield the effective anti-terrorism that so far has eluded George W. Bush's administration.

I suggest reading the article and then the book if one has the time. The implications to getting the Islamic terrorism threat wrong are staggering for both journalists and our nation's leaders.

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