What Motivates Islamic Radicals

A friend and I keep having different permutations of the same conversation, which revolves around this question: what is the essential explanation for Islamic terrorism? My friend’s answer is that it’s primarily religious; in other words, that something intrinsic to Islam spurs on suicide bombers and the like. I disagree for a number of reasons: the vast majority of Muslims do not support terrorism; suicide bombings are a modern phenomenon, etc. I’ve been arguing that the moving cause is largely political and economic.

A new Gallup poll (HT: Tempus Fugit) suggests that we’re both wrong to a degree: Islamic radicals don’t cite religious motivations, but they’re not economically downtrodden, either.


  1. Care to expand on this? How do you justify the statement “they’re not economically downtrodden”? I would also caution you on the idea that this is a modern phenomenon. Soldiers have gone on suicide missions in ever war I have ever heard of.

    The idea that a cause is worth dying for is, I dare say, the foundation of Christianity. The extension that it is worth killing as many as you can on your way out is not new. The movie 300 is a good example of a different culture doing the same thing.

    No, I think the issue here is more about perspective. When we are in power, those who fight against us are never noble nor justified. Remember, both Gandhi and King were labeled terrorist – and they killed no one.

    Have suicide bombers killed more Israelis or has Israel killed more Palestinian children?
    Have Iraqi Muslims killed more Christians or have Christians (the USA) killed more Muslim children?

    As a Christian, if you saw 100 of your neighborhood children die in the corse of a month because Muslims invaded your land and if the only thing you could do is die while killing 10 Muslims… would you take it? If you did, do you think Muslims would sit around and wonder if the God of the Christians was inherently bloodthirsty?

    I am not trying to absolve those who kill in the name of God. I just find it rich that Christians, who have killed untold millions in the name of God and “civilization” can actually claim their religion is one based in peace.

    And fwiw, I converted to Catholicism at 17 and very much consider myself a believer in Christ.

  2. Good comment, Ulan McKnight.

    Yet it seems to lack an important distinction between war and terror. It is certainly true that in wars common, ordinary people are more than not terrorized by all sorts of terrible means from bullets to bombs to poisons. But what is going on in the Middle East today is not a war. It’s simple terror. Terror organized and paid for by small groups (a better word might be unlawful “gangs”) of people whose unique purpose is to gain power and control of others by fear, ie. terror. It’s not state sponsored or controlled. It’s lawless and reckless attacks on anything or anybody that feeds upon the press and media for fame.

    That doesn’t make it any better or worse than “state sponsored terrorism”, but I would be very careful to use such a phrase in the 21st century or even apply it to the past without an adequate understanding of the situation and mentality of those involved at the time.

    James Sexton

  3. I think it is a very complex issue.

    Currently –
    Arabic culture has been loosing power and prestige to the West. This is partially due to rules governing inheritance and loans which have posed difficulties for some Islamic based businesses and made it harder for them to compete in a world market. For some the diminishment of their prestige make the world seem like an us or them, zero sum game. Further, several middle eastern governments control their own people by limiting people’s public expression and resistance to religious fundamentalism. Then it is logical that the governments channel this dissatisfaction against the West. While, most Muslims see jihad as an internal battle against sin, some have been lead to see it as a battle to reform others.

    Then think of some American actions — replacing an elected government with the Shah, torturing prisoners. I want these actions to be seen as exceptions rather than the rule, but I can understand why for some we would seem to be the enemy.

    Ancient History:
    When Crusaders took Jerusalem, blood literally ran in the streets, the streets were muddy because of all the blood spilled, and the Crusaders made little distinction between Jews, Muslims or Orthodox Christians so we can hardly argue that Christians are just less violent.

    Plus it is worth remembering that Timothy McVeigh was not a Muslim and yet he too, wanted to bomb America.

  4. I would argue that Islam plays a key role in Islamic terrorism, despite the certain influence of other factors.

    One of the key themes any religion speaks to is how to react to suffering.

    Islam does not advocate ‘turning the other cheek’. Instead, it advocates violence to address injustice.

    Considering that Mohammed (pbuh) was a warrior who fought in over 40 battles, and the Koran is full of exhortations to violence, some (clearly not all) muslims will always find inspiration to violence in their religion.

    I believe it is important to note that the considerable number of Palestinian Christians have not struck out in violence to the suffering they have (equally) received at the hands of Israelis or Americans.

    I also think it is important to note that the crusades, horrible and wrong as they were, were a reaction to Islamic invasions into Europe. Also, as pointed out above, the crusaders killed a tonne of Christians also – hardly the actions of people fighting for their faith – more the actions of people just out for a fight.

  5. I think there is truth in both claims:

    - Economic conditions will certainly alter the perspective of a people group to some degree

    - Religious belief will certainly alter behavior to some degree, and especially help to form the worldview of its practitioners

    Of course all Muslims are not violent, but the seeds of violence appear to be within their system, and there is little condemnation of it by their priests, who could loudly condemn if it they desired. Islam spread via the sword, and is very intolerant of ‘infidels’ — just look at the way they murder converts to Christianity on a regular basis all over the world.

    Christians are called to “be in the world, but not of the world”, thus we assimilate into other societies. Yet look at Islam in the UK for example. There are now large Islamic-only communities where non-Muslims fear to live and are gradually being purged entirely from these areas. What is this leading to?

  6. I think we need to understand the nature of the enemy attacking us and what his motivations, objectives, strategy and tactics are. Islamism and a network of Islamist revolutionary guerrilla movements which have their motivation and origins in such totalitarian, puritanical and philistine ideologies and theologies as wahhabism and Deobandism.

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *