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Jessica Stern
Book Review With Commentary
By Harry Rosenberg

Terror in the Name of God by Jessica Stern is a must read by anyone who cares about the future of humanity. Any scholar of terrorism will find new information from the terrorists themselves. Ms. Stern provides deep Insights into why Judaism, Christianity and Islam spawn so much violence. Ms. Stern is not an armchair pundit; she traveled extensively to interview terrorists themselves. By her own admission, she became a new person from the experience. Her findings are at once sobering (persuasive of the problem) and encouraging (with understanding of a problem can come control.)

For Stern's qualifications, visit: Jessica Stern, "Terror in the Name of God." Listen to Sound Bite for her own words. (Use Real Player or equivalent; click on "Meet Jessica Stern.")

Jessica Stern, the foremost expert on terrorism, wrote a different kind of book. She not only put her feet on the ground on site, she visited the terrorists themselves, including some of our own. Yes, America, too, breeds terrorists.

The common thread is the title of her book. She found that "religion is a kind of technology" and has two aspects. One is spiritual and universalist. Buddhism exemplifies this particular aspect as do many monotheist sects. The other aspect of religion is particular and sectarian; this one is dangerous as it includes the extremists. In Stern's words: "We should not turn away from this dangerous aspect of religion in an attempt to remain uncontaminated. We must recognize the seductiveness of sectarianism to understand the extent of the danger." In other words, if we do not address and fix the Psychological Roots of terrorism, we will miss badly and for a long, long time.

Stern illustrates vividly that terrorists, whom we see as evil, see themselves as perfectly good, defenders of their homes and faith, even martyrs. The seductiveness of sectarianism comes with "knowing" an individual's group is superior to all others, and making purity their motto with a goal of purifying the world. That seductivenenss applies to all sides in our era of terror. Whose god is God, most simply.

The first part of her book explores the psychology of the terrorist (in their own words) and finds alienation and humiliation in various ways are most often present in the radicalization process most terrorists go through. When these emotional features are corralled and fostered by the religious fundamentalists or extremists of whatever ilk, a terrorist is born.

Emotions terrorists feel are not limited to other people, but can also be to the land itself. Once land has a spiritual dimension, as it does in Mecca and Jerusalem for example, compromise over land becomes impossible. This feature lends insight to the Palestine conflict. Both sides are attached to the land.

In her second part of the book, Stern dramatizes the adventures of terrorist organizations and lone wolves, their networks and patterns. Her personal contacts make for believable and dramatic reading. We recast here some of her findings.

Among her conclusions is the simple fact that oppression, injustice and corruption lead to rage and ever more violence. She writes: "The terrorist begins to mimic his perception of the oppressor: he turns to violence. ...The greatest rage--and the greatest danger--stems from those who feel they can't keep up, even as they claim to be superior to those who can. ...Refugee camps are notorious hothouses not only for disease, but also of rage and extremism. ...a cultural of violence breeds more violence and terrorism. Globalization -- and the spread of Western power and values--is humiliating to Muslims..." Jewish terrorists are something of a mirror; they see the peace process as humiliating to Jews.

Humiliation also plays a role for terrorists of the loner type. Pakistani Imams play on this feature as they radicalize youth by the thousands.

Most Muslim states are fragile politically, but democratization is not necessarily the best means to fight Islamic terrorism. Without the necessary infrastructure to sustain a middle class with democratic traditions, countries trying to make the leap end up somewhere in between and mired down by cronyism, corruption, and medieval tradition. Afghanistan and Iraq are prime examples of that difficulty irrespective of other serious problems such as internecine warfare and effective separation of church and state.

Stern concludes with an analysis of what all this means to American policy.

Review posted on Barnes and Noble -- edited

Root Cause of Religious Extremism

    Rarely will you see the authoritarian personality in such stark relief as you will in this book, though she does not use that term. Jessica Stern is both scholar and human in her approach to her subject. Her humanity (empathy without sympathy) opened doors to terrorists themselves, leading them to level with her about their fears of, and ambitions for, humankind. She illustrates how the young authoritarian personality is particularly vulnerable to radicalization. The authoritarian personality is expressed by rigidity of views, a strong desire to be told what to do, an equally strong desire to tell 'lessor mortals' what to do, and to see all things in a good-or-evil context. You will see these features and more in Stern's thoughtful and insightful book. If we care about the future of human kind, this book is a good place to start. Stern highlights in detail the greatest threat in our time--we are our own worst enemies in our battles over who's god is God. Our very personalities inherited from our jungle/savanna heritage make many of us vulnerable to radicalization. Religious militants of all monotheisms are at once the root and twig of terror in our problematic times.

Also recommended: The battle for God - Armstrong; The March of Folly - Tuchman; The Trouble With Islam - Manji; Fear Less and Gift of Fear - Gavin De Becker; Confessions of a Thug - Taylor; The Process - Savir; Ethnic Conflict & Civic Life - Varshney

Religion is a kind of technology and has two aspects. One is spiritual and universalist. Buddhism exemplifies this particular aspect as do many monotheist sects. The other aspect of religion is particular and sectarian; this one is dangerous; it includes the extremists and their terroristic cohorts.

Stern presents a compelling case that terrorism will dog humanity until humiliation and alienation are no longer part of human societies. As long as we humiliate and alienate others, terror will be with us. Of course this clashes with Manifest Destiny and "American interests."


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