( new foreword for HOLY HORRORS )
By James A. Haught
MURDER AS A ROUTE TO HEAVEN
Faith-based killing -- an age-old phenomenon that recurs constantly -- reached a horrible, sickening, monstrous peak on Sept. 11, 2001.
The carnage caused by a handful of suicidal fanatics was almost beyond comprehension. It was astounding that so few, armed only with knives, were able to seize four U.S. airliners in the sky and use them as kamikaze bombs to topple the World Trade Center in New York City, shatter part of the Pentagon in Washington, and kill 3,000 Americans, along with themselves. Billions of people around the planet watched in horror as the tragedy unfolded on television. America came to a standstill. Compassionate people everywhere were haunted by the plight of passengers aboard the doomed airliners and office workers trapped in the burning Twin Towers, some of whom leaped voluntarily to death.
Why? Why would anyone commit such a hideous and self-destructive crime? That became the universal question. In the chaotic weeks that followed, many analysts probed causes of the "day of infamy." Most attributed the terrorism to cultural dissonance, ethnic politics, poverty, U.S. foreign policy, or a "clash of civilizations."
But they largely ignored two crucial facts: The mass murder was a religious act, and it was the latest among thousands of such holy horrors through the centuries.
Nothing except religious zeal could make 19 young Muslim men swear solemn suicide oaths, slip into America, live as impostors, take pilot training, pose as airline passengers, then gladly kill themselves to destroy infidels. Nothing except blind faith could make them stifle normal empathy for the people and families they lived among, focusing instead on slaughter.
* * *
It is profoundly ironic that seeds of the 2001 American horror were planted almost a quarter-century earlier by America's own Central Intelligence Agency when it armed Afghanistan's fanatical Muslim "holy warriors" to fight Russia.
Historically, the jagged mountain land north of Pakistan always was a brutal place where backward tribesmen practiced superstitious faith and relegated women to servitude, hidden behind veils. In the 1970s, the Soviet Union poured $1.5 billion aid into Afghanistan to relieve a deadly drought, and also attempted to foster Marxism. In 1978, Afghan leftists seized the country and instituted "scientific socialism." Afghan women were freed from their shrouds. Girls were allowed to attend school. Soon, thousands of them were in college, looking like liberated Western teens. Muslim zealots were horrified. Some threw acid in the faces of unveiled college girls. Mujahideen (holy warriors) of hill tribes rebelled against the modern government. Socialist leaders begged Moscow for help, and the Red Army marched into Afghanistan to protect the puppet regime - only to betray the leaders by backing a coup that replaced them.
During the Soviet occupation, women became 60 percent of Afghanistan's college instructors, 50 percent of government employees, and 40 percent of doctors. They also became lawyers, writers, nurses, artists and other professionals.
American "hawks" in Washington saw an opportunity to inflict Cold War damage on the Soviet Union. Secretly, the CIA armed and trained the holy warriors. President Ronald Reagan called them "freedom fighters." Covertly, Washington joined the side of the acid-throwers. A decade of war ensued.
Throughout the Islamic world, ardent young Muslims traveled to Afghanistan to fight for their religion. From Egypt came a fiery blind cleric, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who brought his sons as volunteers and exhorted all the warriors to kill for Allah. From Palestine came a hard-eyed zealot, Ramzi Yousef. From Saudi Arabia came a wealthy heir, Osama bin Laden, the 17th son of a construction tycoon who reportedly fathered 57 children by a dozen wives. (He divorced some wives to add new ones, staying within Islam's four-wife limit, and also had concubines.) The devout son, driven by the puritanical Wahhabi strain of Islam, used his inherited millions to recruit and pay fighters.
The fanatics drove out the Red Army in 1989, then spent three years exterminating what was left of the reform government. Next, the victorious militias turned on each other, waging bloody conflict that further damaged the shattered nation.
Finally, in 1996, the Taliban, an army of religious students, seized most of the country and imposed a theocracy of stunning cruelty. Women were forced back into all-covering shrouds, forbidden to work, and virtually kept under house arrest -- losing all the freedoms they had gained a decade earlier. Some were stoned to death for sexual transgressions, or flogged for allowing a lock of hair to show. Even laughter by women became taboo. Men were forbidden to shave, and were ordered to pray. Hands and feet were chopped off under Islam's savage shari'a law. Windows of homes were painted black, lest a man look in and see a woman's face. Television, music, the Internet, dancing, chess, kite-flying and other entertainments were banned. Male doctors were forbidden to treat women, thus ailing females had no access to medicine, even during childbirth. Foreign relief workers suspected of advocating Christianity were jailed on blasphemy charges. Hindus, Buddhists and other non-Muslims living in Afghanistan were ordered to wear identifying badges, like Jews in Nazi Germany. Ancient Buddhist statues, historic treasures, were destroyed on grounds that they might lead Muslims astray. Public executions were held each Friday in the sports stadium of Kabul, the capital. The world's most religious government was its most hateful.
Meanwhile, after the Red Army left, many of the visiting fighters who had flocked to the holy war returned to their homelands, where they caused religious mayhem. These "Afghans," as they were called, stirred fundamentalist ferment in Egypt, Algeria and elsewhere. Some went to the Balkans as volunteers for the Muslim cause in the tragic civil war that splintered the former Yugoslavia. Sheik Rahman moved to the United States, where he rallied Muslim militants. Osama bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia a hero, but fell from favor after he rebuked royal rulers for allowing "infidel" American troops to be based in the sacred land of Muhammad during the Persian Gulf war. His citizenship was revoked. He moved with his three wives and 15 children to Sudan, where he entered a new phase: organizing far-flung militants into a shadowy international terror web called al-Qaida ("the base" in Arabic).
The first major horror inflicted by the secret network was detonation of a fertilizer bomb in a basement garage of the World Trade Center in 1993. Six people were killed, more than 1,000 were injured, and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage was caused. Ramzi Yousef and Sheik Rahman were convicted in the conspiracy, along with a bumbling crew of devout recruits. Bin Laden was named a co-conspirator, but wasn't arrested.
That same year, bin Laden reportedly aided fanatics who killed 18 American peacekeeping soldiers in Somalia, dragging some of their bodies behind cars. Later, he took credit for 1995 and 1996 car bombings that killed two dozen American servicemen at U.S. military facilities in Saudi Arabia. Also, intelligence agencies say he plotted assassinations of several world leaders, but the killings weren't carried out. In 1996, Washington pressured Sudan to expel bin Laden, and he returned to Afghanistan, lavishing his money on the Taliban. A year later, according to the U.S. State Department, he funded assassins who killed 62 tourists and guides at an Egyptian temple near Luxor.
In 1998, bin Laden announced formation of a new group called the International Islamic Front for Jihad (holy war) against Jews and Crusaders (Christians). He issued a long "fatwa" (religious edict) that declared:
"To kill Americans and their allies, both civil and military, is an
individual duty of every Muslim who is able, in any country where this is
possible.... By God's leave, we call on every Muslim who believes in God and
hopes for reward to obey God's command to kill the Americans and plunder their
possessions wherever he finds them and whenever he can. Likewise we call on the
Muslim ulema [religious decision-making body] and leaders and youth and
soldiers to launch attacks against the armies of the American devils and
against those who are allied with them among the helpers of Satan."
It wasn't just crackpot ranting. Six months later, car bombs devastated U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people and wounding thousands. Bin Laden was indicted for it, but remained at large in Afghanistan. Four of his colleagues later drew life sentences in New York. In late 2000, bin Laden was linked to a suicide bombing that killed 17 U.S. sailors aboard a destroyer in a Yemeni port.
Then, on Sept. 11, 2001, all the previous massacres were dwarfed by the kamikaze assault on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The enormity of it was so horrendous that Washington unleashed military action to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan and capture bin Laden's terrorist clique. Immediately, screaming Muslim crowds in several nations voiced support for the holy war against America, chanting "God is great!" Moderate rulers in Islamic countries hesitated to back the U.S. retaliation, lest they suffer fundamentalist insurrections. The spirit of jihad burned like a fever.
This quarter-century of faith-based killing - from the 1970s mujahideen uprising against educating women, to the new cataclysm - will enter history as a long-running religious tragedy. Some observers recognized the overwhelming religious nature of the 2001 attack. Anthony Lewis of The New York Times said "There is no way to reason with people who think they will go directly to heaven if they kill Americans." His colleague, William Safire, said the suicide strike succeeded because "the normal survival instinct is replaced with a pseudo-religious fantasy of a killer's self-martyrdom leading to an eternity in paradise surrounded by adoring virgins."
* * *
Actually, the bloody saga of Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida is just one facet of a broader historic upheaval: the rise of Islamic militancy in the late 20th century. After the Ayatollah Khomeini led a fundamentalist takeover of Iran in 1979, creating a brutal theocracy (see chapter 26), religious ferment soared in several other Muslim countries. In some regions, Muslims fought with people of different faiths. In others, they fought against Muslim governments they considered too worldly -- committing cruel acts in the name of moral purity. Examples:
-- ALGERIA had been a modern nation with easygoing social life, but puritanical fervor grew in the late 1980s. Mosques called for a holy uprising. Militants took to the streets, attacking nightclubs, beauty parlors and mixed swimming beaches. The rigid Islamic Salvation Front swept local elections in 1990 and was poised to win national elections in late 1991, but military rulers delayed the voting, then voided the results. Fanatics loosed guerrilla warfare. They shot high school girls in the face for not wearing veils. They cut the throats of professors who taught boys and girls in the same classes. They ambushed buses, massacred villagers, assassinated leaders and wreaked other horrors. They killed news reporters who questioned their attempt to create a theocracy. They announced a "policy of liquidation" for Christians and Jews, and began killing Catholic priests and nuns. After a decade of holy war, and government counterstrikes, the death toll in Algeria passed 100,000.
-- EGYPT has been plagued by fundamentalist ferment ever since zealots plotted to kill President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the postwar years, and succeeded in assassinating President Anwar Sadat in 1981. Today, covert Muslim death squads seeking to establish a theocracy periodically kill Coptic Christians, burn nightclubs, ambush Western tourists, attack police stations, and the like. The 1997 temple massacre near Luxor was the worst of many such assaults. Ruthless government police action and prosecution have kept the religious militancy suppressed.
-- ISRAEL suffered decades of conflict with dislocated Palestinians, then the strife turned more religious in the 1990s. Bitter young male Muslims joined Hezbollah (the Party of God), Islamic Jihad (holy war) and Hamas (an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement meaning "zeal" in Arabic). In addition to battles between rock-throwing Arab youths and bullet-firing Jewish soldiers, clashes with a religious tone grew common - on both sides. The sacred Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a holy site to each faith, became a trigger mechanism. In 1990, rumors spread among Muslims that Jews were preparing to rebuild the historic Hebrew Temple there, which would threaten Islam's adjoining Dome of the Rock mosque, supposedly marking the spot where Muhammad leaped to heaven on horseback. Muslims swarmed to defend their spiritual turf, and a battle with Jewish troops left 19 Muslims dead and 140 wounded, causing widespread riots. Meanwhile, West Bank Muslim territory was encroached by Jewish militants who felt that God gave Jews the Holy Land. Their settlements provoked endless killings and counter-killings. In 1994, one settler, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, took an automatic weapon to a Hebron mosque and killed 30 Muslims as they prayed. In 2000, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the Muslim sector of the Temple Mount, backed by many Jewish troops, touching off a new Muslim convulsion. Soon, numerous suicide bombers sacrificed themselves to kill hated Jews.
-- RUSSIA'S southern provinces, mostly Islamic, were calm during the era when military force held together the colonial aggregation of the Soviet Union. But the demise of Soviet communism loosed several Muslim insurrections. The worst was in Chechnya, where rebels inflicted severe losses on the Russian army, and the army destroyed much of the province.
-- PAKISTAN, originally created by Islamic ferment, still seethes with it. In 1991, legislators adopted the ugly shari'a religious code decreeing that unmarried lovers shall be stoned to death, thieves shall have hands or feet chopped off, and "blasphemers" shall be put to death. Various people have been condemned under the blasphemy law -- such as medical professor Younis Shaikh, who was sentenced to die because he said Muhammad wasn't a Muslim in his youth before he created Islam. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strike against America, thousands of Pakistani Muslims flooded streets, shouting "God is great" in support of holy war. Masked Muslims on motorcycles raided a Christian church in Bahawalpur, killing 15 worshipers and their police guard. Other armed Pakistani militants marched to support the Taliban across the border, and seized a northern town as they went.
-- BANGLADESH suffers recurring clashes between fundamentalists and less-religious citizens, mostly on college campuses. In 1993, rioting between these groups forced closure of 30 colleges and universities. Newspaper offices were firebombed. Fervent mullahs offered a cash reward to any believer who would kill feminist author Taslima Nasrin, who criticized the cruel punishments of the shari'a code. She was charged with the crime of sacrilege. The 16 nations of the European Union offered her asylum as a victim of religious persecution.
-- SUDAN has suffered millions of deaths in a half-century of religious war between Muslim rulers in the north and southern tribes that are Christian and animist.
-- NIGERIA, half Muslim and half Christian, suffers recurring massacres between the two groups.
-- INDONESIA'S Moluccan Islands likewise suffer eruptions of murderous violence between Muslim and Christian villages. And Indonesia's Muslim government conquered the Catholic neighbor state of East Timor, causing a quarter-century of strife.
-- THE PHILIPPINES endures perpetual rebellion by Islamic guerrillas seeking to start an independent theocracy on the southern island of Basilan. One Muslim militia, the Abu Sayyaf group, has reaped millions of dollars in ransom by kidnapping tourists, missionaries and resort employees.
-- YUGOSLAVIA, during its gory disintegration, presented a different
scenario. Bosnian Muslims voted in 1992 to form a separate country, which made
Orthodox Christian Serb residents fear they would be swallowed in an Islamic
theocracy. The Serbs rebelled, causing a ghastly war. After the Bosnian horror
subsided, nearby Kosovo likewise exploded in 1999 with combat between Muslims
and Orthodox Serbs -- then Macedonia, another Yugoslav province, followed the
same pattern in 2001.
Although each conflict is different, it's an inescapable fact that Muslims in many regions are in deadly feuds. The end of the Cold War seemed to precipitate the Islamic upheaval. In 1990, the London Sunday Times warned: "Almost every month, the threat from the Warsaw Pact diminishes; but every year, for the rest of this decade and beyond, the threat from fundamentalist Islam will grow." In 1992, the Italian magazine Europa warned that poverty and corruption in Muslim lands were "smoothing the way for 'God's fanatics' from the Mahgreb to Western Asia." In 1993, Life magazine observed: "Today, after the disintegration of communism, Islam represents the last great monolith of militant belief and, to many Westerners, the most coherent threat to the new world order." Author Leon Uris called the Muslim menace "an enraged bull of a billion people." All the warnings came true.
* * *
Islam isn't the only faith suffering an upsurge in fundamentalism (rigid, narrow, intolerant belief that takes supernatural claims and scriptures literally). Christian fundamentalism has grown in America, where some "pro-life" extremists kill abortion clinic employees, and a few born-again zealots firebomb gay nightclubs. Jewish fundamentalism has grown in Israel, where the ultra-Orthodox demand sexual repression, and militant cliques sometimes plot to destroy the Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount. Hindu fundamentalism has grown in India, where zealous mobs destroyed a controversial Muslim mosque, triggering bloody nationwide riots.
All these horrors are part of a broader phenomenon: the tendency of religion to spawn bloodshed and suffering, in all lands and all centuries. Time after time, in widely varied ways, faith spurs some believers to commit barbarism. The problem is a monster with a thousand faces. Millions of people think religion makes believers kind and brotherly, but there's an opposite side, a deeply disturbing one. Why do religion and its cultural ramifications impel some people to kill? No satisfactory answer ever has been found to this enigma.
The suicide attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon was so spectacular and deadly that it seemed unprecedented in history. But it was just the latest outbreak of a perpetual curse. Lesser outbreaks happen almost daily around the world.
Week in and week out, news reports tell of Sunni and Shi'ite gunmen on motorcycles machine-gunning worshipers at rival mosques in Pakistan - or voodoo-fearing mobs in Africa killing suspected witches - or Hindu Tamils and Buddhist Sinhalese fighting more battles in the Sri Lankan civil war that has killed tens of thousands - or horrors like the nerve gas planted in Tokyo's subway - or Catholic and Protestant death squads in Ulster exchanging more gore - or another cult mass suicide - or Catholic and Pentecostal villagers attacking each other with farm implements in rural Mexico.
A militant Jew who said he was acting on "orders from God" assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, just as religious zealots previously killed Egypt's Sadat and three of India's Ghandis: Mohandas, Indira and Rajiv. And, of course, the whole world remembers the startling deaths at the David Koresh compound in Texas, and at Jonestown, where believers drank cyanide and gave it to their children.
Faith-based killing is a baffling field rarely studied by sociologists, and rarely discussed in devout countries like the United States. The deadly pattern can be traced from the era of human sacrifice, through the Crusades, the Holy Inquisition, witch-hunts, Islamic jihads, wars of the Reformation, pogroms against Jews, massacres of Anabaptists, ethnic conflicts rooted in "religious tribalism," and other tragedies. The spectrum of religious atrocities has amazing variety and persistence.
This evil side of religion, the side few people talk about, is the subject of this book.