To the Extreme; When Faith Becomes Fanaticism

Article excerpt


Al Qaeda and its myriad affiliates - whether as organized groups or self-radicalized "wannabes" - pose a grave threat to international security because they believe themselves to be divinely inspired to carry out mass destruction against their "apostate" adversaries all over the world.

The threat radical Islamists pose is not merely terrorist warfare but cultural warfare, as well. What makes their cultural aggression dangerous is that it is directed against Western values as well as mainstream Muslim tendencies. Salafi Islam, their primary religious identity, is anti-modern and nihilistic (which is why they turn to terrorist tactics to strike at their adversaries), so it is important to understand why their adherents opt for a violent form of religious extremism rather than more constructive and progressive religious ideologies.

These are the central issues facing the counterterrorism community as it searches for solutions to the kind of terrorist activities that threaten the survival of our civilization.

In "Bad Faith: The Danger of Religious Extremism," Neil J. Kressel, a professor of psychology at William Paterson University, incisively addresses these issues.

What is religious extremism? To Mr. Kressel, whose previous books include "Mass Hate: The Global Rise of Genocide and Terror," religious extremists are "those persons who - for reasons they themselves deem religious - commit, promote or support purposely hurtful, violent, or destructive acts toward those who don't practice their faith."

It is not only Islam that fosters religious extremism, Mr. Kressel points out. Christianity and Judaism have their share of anti-secularists who elevate sacred religious texts, such as the Bible or Koran, to a position of supreme authority in a state. However, fundamentalist believers in these three religions adhere to "widely divergent perspectives."

What sets Islamic extremism apart from extremism in Christianity and Judaism, in the modern world, is that their fundamentalist believers form a larger percentage in the Muslim world, their ideology is filled with hatred and "the consequences [and destruction] they have produced are worlds apart." In other words, today's Islamic extremists are far more dangerous than other religious fundamentalists.

What are the characteristics of religious beliefs that lead to extremist militancy and terrorism? …