Americans "Naive" When it Comes to Understanding Religious Beliefs that Drive Terrorists

Release Date: September 19, 2001 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. - Americans' "general naivete" regarding the beliefs and assumptions of religions other than their own is hampering their ability to understand discussions about those suspected of being responsible for last week's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, according to Phillips Stevens, Jr.

Stevens, associate professor of anthropology at the University at Buffalo and nationally-recognized expert in the anthropology of religion, says the lack of knowledge is particularly acute when it comes to fundamentalist religious groups of the Middle East.

"This seriously hampers our ability to understand or discuss those suspected of being responsible for last week's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," he adds.

"So far, ALL radio and television commentary that I have heard has ignored that basic question of motivation for these suicides."

Stevens notes that assessment of previous terrorist attacks focused on "poor uneducated young men in socioeconomic dead-end situations who were understood to be fairly easily convinced that by conducting a Jihad in the name of Allah, they would be assured a place in the ranks of Islamic martyrs and a guaranteed eternal life in Paradise, which is far, far better than this life."

"Now," he adds, "some 'experts' are scratching their heads at a 'new breed' of suicide terrorists: educated, sophisticated, middle-class, with families."

The commentators, however, are ignoring the power of religious belief, according to Stevens.

'These 'new' suicide killers have at some point become disaffected and ready prey for recruitment by basically the same tactics, that they are agents of Allah carrying out His will in a glorious Jihad against the enemies of Islam.

"Many commentators now have talked about the many and various reasons for intense hatred against the US. But this element, the incredible power of religious belief -- in the case of the terrorists, it's religious "certainty" -- is what so many analysts are missing.

"According to one Afghan informant quoted on television Monday night, there are countless Muslims ready right now to give their lives for Allah's great cause. They would be honored to be chosen, and when their bereaved families learned they had died for their religious beliefs, they, too, would be honored and would be granted eternal glory for their loving support of their brave comrades."

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