Sunday, May 07, 2006

American's Fail to Understand Religious Motivation

By Brian Bresnahan

Suicide bombings by Islamic extremists and fiery riots in Arab streets over newspaper cartoons make many in America scratch their heads, or even yell at the television and ask with frustration “what’s wrong with those people?”

From a purely cultural, sociological perspective the answer is “nothing.” There are many studies 50 years and older that perfectly describe the emotion and actions we still see in the Middle East today. Although these actions are detrimental to their cause, in the context of books like “The Arab Mind” written by Raphael Patai in the ‘70’s, one can understand how this fiery emotion and tempestuous behavior are comprehensible and natural.

I’ve observed debates here that try to define and describe why such behavior exists and attempt to comprehend acts Americans consider extreme. But what I fail to see debated is the American perspective which creates our own mental obstacles for grasping such behaviors. Instead, we are always looking for a flaw within their culture or religion. An argument can be made that our own societal religious shortcomings prohibit us from comprehending events like suicide bombings and the cartoon riots.

In general, how strong is the religious faith of Americans compared to the Islamic world?

Life in an Arab Islamic culture is very well defined by strong faith; deep devotion to not only practicing Islam, but adherence to Islam being woven into the fabric of everyday life. There is a deep passion for the Koran being the guide for the moral laws of their nations and a desire for it to help guide public policies. For them, all things happen because Allah wills them to happen and this fact is acknowledged daily in action and speech. Open, public passion for Islam is clearly evident. Passion and faith are so intense they stir a fire within a few hot enough to drive them to suicide bombing and violent acts considered religious defense or propagation.

Contrast that with our country. Here we attack religion. The ACLU, progressive secular and leftist organizations are determined to drive religion out of the public life. We are a country which derives its moral laws from Judeo-Christian tenants, but half the country does not want to acknowledge that fact or tries to hide it. We try to push faith out of the public arena of ideas and denigrate those who reference faith. In some circles, the words “Christian, Jew, and Organized Religion” are used to invoke all the negative connotations of “Totalitarianism, Fascism, and Theocracy.” Our laws have been interpreted so that religious symbols or practices of any kind from any faith are barred from the public square. Public humiliation often awaits those who profess their faith. We have become a nation which chooses not to defend the freedom of religion, but instead have become a nation and society which defends and insists upon freedom from religion.

How then can our society understand a culture that has a deep, burning faith woven into every aspect of its life? How then can America comprehend passion for god so fervent it drives people to take their own lives in his name? How then can we comprehend taking to the streets and boisterously, even violently defending that which is believed to bring eternal life?

Without a public tolerance and reverence for religion, as a society we will fail to comprehend how religion drives people to act. Acts of love are then met with suspicion. Acts of violence are met with questions and answers about economics and fair treatment. But, we never look toward faith for the answers.

Am I saying the only way to understand the Arab Islamic framework is to be personally and deeply religious? Not at all. From personal experience in Iraq, I know that successfully understanding at least the basic beliefs of other cultures is attainable by both the religious and secular. But, if our nation were to turn back toward a passion for faith, it would not only help us fathom the near-mystery of faith driving others to action, but would also be of eternal value to our own country.

Until then, we as a nation and society need to be aware of this weakness and the opportunity it provides Islamic Jihadists to exploit and attack us, from outside and within. There are those amongst us who are ignorant of our shortcomings. The arrogant, self-proclaimed enlightened who feel we should change to accommodate the rest of the world, see themselves as being above the constraints of religion and thus, overlook and underestimate religion’s impact on extremist motives. Their approach leaves an exploitable gap for our enemy, as it fails to comprehend the passion that drives the terrorists. Instead they try to find fault with America’s foreign policies and become members of the “Blame America First” crowd. They argue for paths toward peace and tolerance which lack basis in reality; paths that will lead to dead ends or destruction. They look toward our own legal system and politically correct proclivities for answers which will never come. A quote by Ralph Peters describes well the difference and the danger: “Our enemies act on ecstatic revelations from their god. We act on the advice of lawyers.”

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