Crusader Fanaticism and Contemporary Terrorism



Presented to the Raleigh Tavern Philosophical Society


V. Lance Tarrance, Jr.

March 28, 2002




                                    PART ONE:  THE UNFORTUNATE WORD 


                             PART TWO:  THE ARAB HOLOCAUST


                                    PART THREE:  THE NEW DIVIDE


                          PART FOUR:  THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DECLINE and   DISCONTENT














            Four days after the horrid terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.- while the United States was reeling from a surprise attack more devastating than even Pearl Harbor – President Bush uttered, in an accidental fashion (in what turned out to be very thoughtless diplomatically), a word that stung the Arab world when he said, “This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.”  The word  “crusade” is an inflammatory word in a part of the world that has over one billion in population, and one which has haunted the Arabs for over a thousand years. Unfortunately, the usage of the word “crusade” also played into the hands of Osama bin Laden, who is maintaining in his program of violence against America that he was simply responding to the American crusade against the Muslim world, such as The Persian Gulf War and our economic globalization. The reasons for the word  “crusade” having such a sting in the Arab world is part history, part culture, and part linguistics – all of which makes a whole of historical brutality, bloodshed, and butchery. However, from the Arab perspective, the Crusades that occurred during the 11th and 12th Centuries were “Holy Wars” and an invasion of the Mid-Eastern people that lasted approximately 200 years . I remember visiting Cairo back in 1989 when I looked up at the tremendous fortress there and asked my guide why the wall was over 100 feet high, and he said “to keep the Christians from killing our people during the Crusades.”  I realized then there had been a lack of depth and objectivity in my high school world history classes concerning this era in this part of the world! 

            Even though George Bush, in his undiplomatic utterance, set off alarm bells in the Islamic world, the question of who is to blame in the centuries of bitterly destructive “crusader wars” is almost moot today. As for the contemporary forces of Islam and their passionate declaration to their faithful that the infidels must be repulsed and destroyed, there are also underlying factors of their own expansionism and forcing the obedience of their people to their cause. But on an emotional basis, what is remembered today is the uniform ruthlessness toward not only warriors but also civilians…moreover, neither side could claim victory when the war came to an end. In short, “if the tactics of terror employed in the Crusades taught one lesson overall, it is that institutionalized religion offered the average citizen, of either Europe or the Mid-East, no hope whatsoever of escape from the agonies of destructive war. All the terrorizing tactics that had been practiced before the crusades were intensified in these “Holy Wars,” but with a terrible twist: there was an unnerving new shamelessness among the combatants, who had come to understand that depredations against civilians were now central to all military campaigns” (Carr, The Lessons of Terror, 2002).

            The average American today thinks only dimly of the Crusades, if at all; but, this is not the same for the Arabs today. For them, as one historian commented, “Events like the Crusades, a thousand years ago, are as immediate as yesterday. And they are very, very powerful events in the Arab mind. A lot of Islamic rhetoric even today revolves around the Crusades.” President Bush attempted later to undo the harm of his use of the word “crusade” by saying he meant it within the contemporary Western usage of the word – “any vigorous action on behalf of a cause.” The word “crusade” is actually from Spanish – cruzada – which means “marked with the cross” (Durant, The Age of Faith). But to Muslims today, the word “crusade” is equivalent to a racial epithet backed by reinforced memories of brutality and blood shed on their lands. To Muslims, the word “crusade” is a profoundly loaded term, and evokes not only war against their people, who were hacked apart, man and child, a thousand years ago by Christians, but also evokes a war against religion and their way of life. To them, this “war” by the West continues today and is seen to be  causing steady corrosion of the Islamic values by a globalizing Western culture they believe undermines their families and trivializes their god (Washington Post, November, 2001 “A Thousand Years of Bad Memories”).

            The West’s insensitivity to that word can even be found recently in the Congressional discussion over the army budget for next year, in which a sum of half a billion dollars was appropriated for a howitzer that is called “The Crusader.” This weapon consists of two vehicles – a self-propelled 155 mm cannon and a supply vehicle that carries ammunition. Army officials say that when the howitzer is fielded in 2008, it will be the most sophisticated and accurate in the world, capable of firing 12 rounds of 100-pound projectiles per minute, with a range of up to 25 miles. The Pentagon plans to buy 480 “Crusaders”. Each “Crusader” vehicle will weigh 80 tons (Hearst News Service, 3/10/2002). Obviously, the Arabs have already paid heed to this new lethal weapon and have sensed its design is for land warfare, rather than mountain warfare; hence, the Arabian Peninsula appears to be the deployable area.

            A brief overview of the Crusades of a thousand years ago can be found in a new book by James Reston, Jr. (Warriors of God, 2001) in which he says, “The crusader movement unleashed a frenzy of hate and violence unprecedented before the advent of the technological age and the scourge of Hitler. The madness was initiated in the name of religion by a pope of the Christian Church, Urban II, in 1095, as a measure to redirect the energies of warring European barons from their local disputes and reclaim the Holy Land from the ‘infidel’. Once unleashed, the passion could not be controlled. The violence began with the massacre of the Jews, proceeded to the wholesale slaughter of Muslims in their native land, sapped the wealth of Europe, and ended with and almost unimaginable death toll on all sides.”  This conflict of giants in a “ grand holy tournament “ still resounds in modern history and modern politics of the present day Middle East. Indeed, its resonance is even broader with conflicts between Christians and Muslims wherever they may exist in the world, from Bosnia to now Afganistan and perhaps Iraq (again).                                                

Reston believes that the Arab world is “forever waiting for another Saladin – who remains a preeminent hero of the Islamic world. It is he who united the Arabs and defeated the Crusaders in epic battles, who recaptured Jerusalem, and threw the European invaders out of the Arab land.” President Assad of Syria used to take Western visitors over to a painting of one of Saladin’s epic battles and say that “another Saladin will come again and so there will be a second battle of Hattin.” Saddam Hussein has also reached for Saladin’s mantle by making much of the fact that they were born in the same town. Yasir Arafat has promoted himself as the “Palestinian Saladin” and many Palestinian youths call themselves “Saladin Brigades.” To demonstrate the continuity of history, in July of 1920 when the French took charge of Damascus after World War I, the French General strode to Saladin’s tomb and exclaimed to the “everlasting disgust of modern Arabs” that “Saladin…we have returned! My presence here consecrates a victory of the cross over the crescent.” (Reston)

            In Arabic literature today, the Jews are seen as the “modern crusaders,” essentially Eastern European peoples who invaded and occupied the Arab homeland. As Reston says, “just as a handful of crusaders controlled the Arab masses with a network of daunting fortresses and tight urban communities, so today, say Arab intellectuals, Israel controls the Arab majority with its American-backed military might and its fortified, barbed-wired encircled hilltop settlements…it is an article of faith on the Arab side that the Israelis, like the Crusaders, will eventually be forced out of Palestine, and the Crusader States of old and the Israeli State of new will be vanquished.”

            The Christian “Holy Wars” against the Arabs in the 11th and 12th Centuries was countered by the Muslim concept of jihad. By definition, jihad is a defensive concept, conditioned upon the provocation of an unbelieving aggressor. The word jihad strikes fear in the hearts of many Westerners and Western governments today that associate it with terrorism and Islamic fanaticism. Unfortunately, the United States has found itself today propelled to the “front flank of the jihad targets” and the hunting season against America was officially opened in 1998 when Osama bin Laden ordered the firebombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (Fregosi, Jihad in the West,1998). American should note that bin Laden has used the most disparaging term in devout Muslim vocabulary to describe his American and other foes, and he has gone back hundreds of years to find that term. That term is: “crusader.” Devout followers of Islam believe that the Crusades are responsible for the confrontation between even Christendom and Islam today. They believe it was the Crusaders who forced Islam to create the jihad in their self-defense. It was the jihad’s successes in Spain that inspired the Pope to create the Crusades and to order the Crusaders to march to the holy land. With these two movements –Crusades and jihad- roughly equivalent, it is interesting to note that the Encyclopaedia Britannica gives the Crusades “80 times more space than jihad, and in many libraries there over a hundred entries listed for the Crusades but only one or two listed for jihad. Thus, it might be said that the concept of jihad has been largely bypassed by Western historians and yet the jihad affects more people in regions of the world than the long-extinct Crusades ever did” (Fregosi). In short, when Islam is perceived to be under attack, the Koran justifies a jihad, or holy war against the unbelievers. To many in the Muslim world, Islam has been under attack by the West at least since the 11th Century (the First Crusade). Muslims today see the West as imposing an entire system of economic, political, and social values that strike at the very heart of the Islamic way of life. It is interesting to footnote that, before the Crusades, the Islamic religion was quite tolerant of both Christians and Jews. However, when the Turks took over the Mid-East, that tolerance began to wane and the sensibilities of the Christians became inflamed.  So, just how bad were these Crusades against the Muslims?  We now turn our attention to them  and specifically to the reconquista.


                                                                PART II:


            The Crusade mindset in Europe had to do with the new energy of this area of the world after having been recharged by the ideal of restored Christendom. The Eastern empire had become weak enough to value any aid from fellow Christians in the West and thus Western Europe felt they were now capable of decisive action in the East and that they might eventually be able to reimpose unity on the Mediterranean world. (Medieval Europe, Mathew, 1983). Europe has always had an envious eye on the Middle-East( and vice versa) because it is the most strategic region in the world where Europe,Africa, and Asia all converge. The choke points and all the major trade routes are here and this is why the area has always been  dominated by outside powers with bitter conflicts and territorial disputes.(Many of  these have involved water, not oil: but, today 65% of the world’s known oil reserves , the most important natural resource in the world,are here).

            Secondly, the Christian church had more or less created the new “terrorists” of the 11th century by the medieval system of knighthood. Knighthood had reached its full expression in Europe by this time, which was a system of military recruitment through landed aristocracy, and had produced a cult of gentleman warriors whose code of conduct later became a romantic ideal (but in actuality was causing severe in-fighting and was threatening the very structure of both society and the Church). This new aura of selfless and chivalrous service made knights natural recruits for the campaign to regain the Holy Land. In effect, knights were to lead the Holy War and indirectly to “get the hell out of Europe!” (Atlas of World History, “Knights of the Christian Crusades”, P.138). The Saudi government seems to have practiced much the same with Bin Laden and his followers.

            A third interesting perspective is that there was indeed a transparent ambition of the rich Italian merchants in Pisa, Genoa, Venice, and Amalfi to extend their rising commercial power to what later were called the “crusader states” in the Mid-East. These “crusader states” had built massive fortifications all along “the King’s highway” and make up now what is Israel, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, and Jordan – in effect, the rich West-coast of the Levant. Basically, there was a religious intensity but it was combined with a commercial expansionism to open the markets of the near East to the new Western-European powers. (This should sound familiar to the “open door” policies of the West forced upon China and Japan in the 19th Century.)

The next factor that needs to be remembered is the so-called political pretext for the Holy Wars. In 1070, the Turks overran Jerusalem and Christian pilgrims now, for the first time, reported persecution and oppression (It is ironic that the Turks were the West’s chief antagonist and also right up through WWI; today, they are now our best ally in the region!)  After  years of these personal attacks by the Turks against the Christians, the first steps for a Christian reconquista were taken, first the success against the Moors at Toledo, Spain, and later by Pope Urban II in 1095. The Pope felt he had enough political support to call for a “Holy War” against Islam after sounding out all the military leaders in Northern Italy and Southern France. In one of the most influential speeches in medieval history, Pope Urban II called for the reconquest of Jerusalem as a crowd of bishops, knights, and common people chanted, “God wills it, God wills it…” Christened as the “War of the Cross,” the church asked knights to pick up the sword against infidels in the Holy Land. (Durant, Age of Faith).

            Pope Urban said, among other things: “O race, o race of Franks! Race beloved and chosen by God!...Let the Holy Sepulcher of our Lord and Savior now held by unclean nations arouse you and the Holy places that are now stained with pollution…arrest the land from the wicked race and subject it to yourselves…undertake this journey equally for the remission of your sins and be assured the award of imperishable glory in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Chronicle of the First Crusade, 1941).   As Durant said, “all Christendom was moved as never before as it feverishly prepared for  Holy War.” For 200 years, Christian fanaticism operated against the Muslim world, and there were seven major terrorist attacks and numerous minor ones. Now called “The Crusades” they are somewhat of an only romantic memory to Westerners. To Arabs, there are only memories of terrorism and massacre.

            Contemporary historians will tell anyone today that these terrorist attacks or Crusades were “shocking - not only to modern sensibilities but equally to contemporaries. The Crusades ravished the countries they marched through, killed over 8,000 Jews in the Rhine river area before they ever killed a Muslim…The cost in wasted lives and effort was incalculable – murder and massacre in service of the Latin gospel were commonplace. 70,000 Muslim civilians were said to have been butchered in cold blood in the first sack of Jerusalem in the first crusade. The horrors along the crusader’s road were caused by a mixture of religious fervor and the resentment of poverty back home – and became more of a “armed pilgrimage and a mass sacrifice” (Davies, A History of Europe).











By diverse routes, the Crusaders made their way to Constantinople and of course later to the Mid-East itself. The Pope had preached the importance of the Crusades for more than one year before they departed and it took approximately three years before the Crusaders stood before the walls of Jerusalem. Reports from that battle were fairly sickening. In the streets were seen piles of heads, hands, and feet, and one rode about everywhere amid the corpses of men and horses. According to Durant, surviving Jews were herded into a synagogue and burned alive. The Crusaders flocked to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and embraced one another and wept with joy and relief and thanked God for their victory. St. Bernard back in Europe said that the Christian who slays the unbeliever in the Holy War “is sure of his reward – more sure if he himself is slain - the Christian glories and the death of the pagan because Christ is therefore glorified. Men must learn to kill with a good conscience if they are to fight successful wars.” (Davies).  Bin Laden of today could not have said it any better.

            Even though today we find disputes about the Koran and what it tells Muslims to do against infidels, it might be instructive to take a look at Christianity’s own “Holy Bible” and see that it also enjoins violence.  For example, in Matthew 10:42, Jesus says,” Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the Earth!  No, rather a sword.  I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.” In Luke 22:36, Jesus reportedly says, “When I send you out to preach the good news, take a duffle bag if you have one and your money. And if you don’t have a sword, better sell you clothes and buy one!...Master, they replied, we have two swords among us” – Jesus said, “Enough!” And in the Old Testament, in Joshua 10:34, the Bible exalts that the Israelites had “killed everyone in the city…and captured it and all its surrounding, slaughtering the entire population. No one person was left alive—so Joshua and his army conquered the whole country…they destroyed everyone in the land, just as the Lord God of Israel had commanded, slaughtering them from Goshen to Gideon”. These are but a few examples exposing the fact that the Old and New Testaments had many violent aspects to it. (See also, Washington Post, “We’re Not So Secular Ourselves,” November 2001).  It should also be recalled that early Christian fanatics burned the Library at Alexandria, defaced many Greek and Egyptian Monuments and Murals, and even sacked and pillaged in 1204 Constantinople, the Eastern center of Christianity!

Curiously, it might be also remembered recently that Pat Robertson, head of the Christian Broadcasting Network, said Muslims are basically apologists for terrorism and said that he took issue with President Bush in regard to the religion of Islam as a peaceful religion. Robertson said, “It is just not, and the Koran makes it very clear if you see the infidel you are to kill them. That’s what it says. Now that doesn’t sound very peaceful to me.” (Clarence Page, “Hey Pat, Jihads Aren’t Just for Muslims,” Houston Chronicle, February 2002).  In essence, Robertson was calling the kettle black. The only difference today is Christianity has gladly forgotten about their brutality of the Crusades while the Arabs have not. We had our “Knights” and they have their “Al Qaida.” The West butchered thousands of civilians in Jerusalem and elsewhere, Bin Laden killed thousands of civilians in New York and Washington, D.C. It is indeed a thousand years ago…today.  Let’s turn now to a deeper reality of today’s situation.





            In 1996, Bin Laden, (who laughed at his terrorists who did not know they were on a suicide mission toward the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001), said that he was issuing a “call for a new jihad against America  and stating “the Crusaders forces”  have become the main cause of the of Islam’s disastrous situation. (i.e.; the Israeli State) In a video tape released January of 2001, Bin Laden said “I envision Saladin coming out of the clouds…we will see again Saladin carrying a sword with the blood of unbelievers dripping from it”.   (Washington Post  November 2001).  This seems to indicate that there has been so much warfare over so many hundreds of years that both Arab and Christian leaders glorify in cataloging number of bodies that could be had in a new holy war! 

            Let us not forget that there was a feeling among Arabs about a thousand years ago that Westerners were inferior – unclean, fanatical and trying to invade their land. In one Arab view it was chronicled in an autobiography in (1188), that the “Franks were more inhuman than any predecessor that had been established among us and become familiarized with the Mohammedans…the proof of the harshness of the Franks (a scourge of Allah upon them!) is to be seen what happened to me when I visited Jerusalem.  I went into a Mosque and was engrossed in praying when one of the Franks rushed at me, seized me and turned my face to the east saying “that is how to pray!”  (Western Societies, A Documentary History, P. 255)  The Arab mind today does not understand how their superiority over the Christian  world declined so in subsequent centuries. Moreover, the golden age of Islam had some of the most important scholars of the world and made original contributions in mathematics, astronomy, medicine and literature – advanced agriculture and engineering and had poets “singing in the streets”. 

In effect Arabs scholars have attempted to show that the Crusades in the 11th and 12th century were a “holocaust” that has never been recognized by the West and that they have failed to recover from it (this is generally considered a perversion of history by most scholars).  Pope Paul recently apologized for the Crusades, but this has not alleviated the sting of antagonism that has lasted for over a thousand years. 

It must never be forgotten that Europe and the Islamic world have had an attack – counterattack existence that is underneath all the current diplomacy and world order. The Crusades were to Europeans “religious wars” while to Arabs they were simply “barbaric invasions.”  Later, the tables were turned, as Europe itself was under constant threat from “barbaric” Islam, right up to the siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Turks in 1683!  Moreover, to both it was a fearful double threat – not only of invasion and conquest but also of conversion and assimilation.  The “great debate” between philosophical Christendom and philosophical Islam as “sister religions” is mostly an illusion; it is really about geography, culture, respect, and superiority.  (Lewis, Islam and the West)  The Arabs did not respect the Europeans during the 11th thorough 17th Centuries; the West has not respected the Arab world since then, a 300 year period of time.

  Secondly economic globalization today as seen by the Arab mind is being engineered by the West and this will further decimate Islamic Culture and keep them, in their words, like a feudalist state (i.e., “serfs” to westernization rather than modernization).  The Arab mind today in its most radical creation believes that there has been a military invasion (via Israel), and an economic invasion (via the WTO) causing them to justify how they retaliate in a vengeful way (no different than Pope Urban II?).  This “resurgence” and its relationship to terrorism has been known to western scholars, but terrorism was never considered a top priority by the Clinton administration (1992 - 2000). There were many intellectuals warning of this change in Islamic behavior.  (“Clinton’s Effort to Stop a Rising Threat Was Wracked by Internal Struggles,” Washington Post, January 2002).  For example in 1998, Fregosi warned in his book that “Islam is growing in violence”.  With the attempted first bombing( of the basement) of the World Trade Center on February 26th 1993, that should have been a sign that a confrontation in the West with militant Islam was assured.  Yet America continued “to tiptoe” under the direction of the Clinton Presidency.

            Despite some of these warnings, the United States does have a number of cultural handicaps that may indicate that we can receive the warnings, but are unable to do anything about; for example; there is no doubting that the need to (1) protect Israel and to (2) guarantee access to the world oil supplies has caused America to “tiptoe” around the issue of Radical Muslim Religious opposition. According to the Washington Post, a declassified study for the State Department that asked the Clinton Administration to “initiate a dialogue with the Saudi religious establishment” went unheeded by the Clinton Administration.  The United States has also down-played the military success of the Gulf War once Clinton came to power. Additionally, our intelligence was not able to pick up the fact that the terrorists and extremists were now using a new strategy with the new slogan: “Christian America is Crusading against Islam”.  (There is that “word” again.)

                        The history of the intellectual battle surrounding American foreign policy since the Cold War concerning the Arab world can, to an impressive degree, be seen through Samuel Huntington’s books and scores of articles. Although Kissinger and others have also distinguished themselves in this area, it is Huntington who has been the most direct.  As early as 1993, Huntington published his now-famous article entitled “The Clash of Civilizations” in Foreign Affairs. There was an angry response by U.S. intellectuals who disagreed with Huntington and said that catastrophe did not loom ahead as much as Huntington seemed to indicate (see, by this same author, “The Current Debate Over the Future of International Order”, February 27th, 1997 presented to The Raleigh Tavern Philosophical Society).   Huntington has not gloated but said  after the attack of September 11th: “The world in which we live is a dangerous place in which large numbers of people resent our wealth, power, and culture, and vigorously oppose our efforts to persuade or coerce them to accept our values of human rights, democracy, and capitalism…In this world America must learn to distinguish among (1) our true friends who will be with us through thick and thin – (2) antagonists who are rivals but with whom negotiation is possible and most importantly the (3) unrelenting enemies who will try to destroy us unless we destroy them first” (Kaplan, Robert. “Looking the World in the Eye.” The Atlantic Monthly. December, 2001).

This last group that Hunington identifies can be symbolized by what the Taliban and Al Qaida remnants were trying to do in Afghanistan as late as March.  They called upon all Afghans (even in their retreat) to join in a new jihad, or holy war, against Americans and their allies. Anti-Taliban Afghans were quoted as saying, “Our society is illiterate and most people don’t understand;  the Al-Qaida are telling our people that first Russia attacked Islam, and once again Western countries are attacking Islam and Islam is at risk” (Washington Post, March 2, 2002).  Additionally, it was reported as late as March 17, 2002, that the Al-Qaida worldwide network had stepped up its financial activity in recent weeks suggesting that they are reasserting control and may be seeking to finance more attacks against American interests. (AP, 3/17/2002).

            Huntington warned, in 1996, in his classic treatise (Clash), that “Muslims in massive numbers were simultaneously turning toward Islam as a source of identity, meaning stability, legitimacy, development, power, and hope – hope epitomized in the slogan, “Islam is the solution.” This Islamic Resurgence is in its extent and profundity is the latest phase in the adjustment of  Islamic civilization to the West, an effort to find the solution not in Western ideologies, but in Islam. It embodies acceptance of modernity, but rejection of Western culture, and recommitment to Islam as a guide to life in the modern world…the Islamic Resurgence is an effort by Muslims to achieve this goal and it is a broad intellectual, cultural, social, and political movement prevalent throughout the Islamic world. Islamic “fundamentalism,” commonly conceived as political Islam, is only one component in the much more extensive revival of Islamic ideas, practices, and rhetoric and the rededication to Islam by Muslim populations. The Resurgence is mainstream, not extremist; pervasive, not isolated” (Huntington, The Clash, p 110).

            Huntington’s thesis that the West and Islam are seriously drifting apart again is confirmed by the latest polling done by the Gallup Organization, both in the United States and in Muslim countries. Gallup interviewed over 10,000 adults from Muslim countries between December 2001 and January 2002 and compared them to a national sample of American adults conducted in March 2002. The results were disappointing:




“In general do you think that people in Muslim countries have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the USA?”




“As I read off the names of some nations one at a time would your opinion of that nation be favorable or unfavorable?”


Saudia Arabia                         Favorable………………16%


Turkey                                     Favorable……………….40%


Morrocco                                 Favorable……………….22%


Lebanon                                   Favorable……………….32%


Kuwait                                     Favorable……………….28%


Iran                                          Favorable………………..14%


            Another interesting finding had to do with how much Americans knew about Islam in general: “How much would say you know about the opinions and beliefs of people who live in Muslim countries – a great deal (5%), moderate amount (41%), not much (42%), or not at all (12%)?”  (USA SAMPLE).

            Let’s now take a look at how the Islamic world sees the West in general (Islamic World Sample):

“Does the West care about poor nations?”……………………………………80% NO

“Does the West take fair positions on the conflict in Palestine?”…………….95% NO

“Does the West respect Arab Islamic values?”……………………………….85% NO

            When the USA Sample was asked: “Do you associate with Muslim countries the following statement:  “They are eager to have better relationships with the Western World”; about 70% of Americans do not believe Muslims want a better relationship.  Muslims, on the other hand, do not believe the U.S. is “trustworthy” (90% Not), “friendly” (90% Not), arrogant (60% Yes), “provoked easily” (60% Yes).

            The next question that received the most press attention worldwide was Gallup’s question #19 in the USA Sample which asked: “According to news reports, groups of Arabs carried out the attacks against the U.S. on September 11th.  Do you believe this to be true?”  (USA Sample: “True” 90%).  When that same question was asked of the Islamic World Sample, 60% in Lebanon did not believe this was a true statement, 90% in Kuwait, 85% in Pakistan, and 60% in Iran – all “not true”.  How can that be so misperceived, you surely ask?  One must not forget that the Egyptian government and their press dispute the cause of Egypt Air Flight 990 crash which killed 217 people who boarded in New York.  Even though the Egyptian pilot repeated eleven times “Tawakalt” (“I rely on God”) as he deliberately drove the plane downward after switching off the autopilot, people in Egypt have rejected totally the NTSB conclusions.

            In the USA Sample, the following responses by Americans also received much publicity: “Do you think the U.S. is at war with the Muslim world?”  Yes, at war (34%); No (64%); “Do you think the Muslim world considers itself at war with us (USA)?” (71% Yes, 26% No).

            The realities of the above data do not portend easy solutions over the next generation of time.  About one-third of America are now ready to march to war against radical Islam.and  more than three-fourths of America believe the U.S. is “spending about the right amount to fight terrorism” (65%) or is spending “too little” (13%).  Almost 70% of Americans also reported that they “displayed an American Flag within the past weeks” (68%; March 8-9, 2002).  Eighty percent of Americans also believe that the terrorist attacks on 9/11 “is the most tragic news event in (their) lifetime” (ibid). 

This contradistinctive set of data between the Western World and the Islamic World does not lend itself to peaceful negotiations.  A point in fact would be the recent Federal investigation in Northern Virginia of suspicious Islamic companies and foundations with possible terrorist links.  One Islamic official there said: “The message we are getting (in these searches) is, this war, even though they claim it is against terrorism, is against all Muslims”. (Washington Post, March 25, 2002)

With such a growing divide between the secular culture of the West and religious culture of the Arab world, what drives the extremist form of Islam and creates such new fanaticism?  For that we turn next to those scholars who think they have the answer.






            The faith that drives Bin Laden and his followers is a particular austere brand of Islam known as “Wahhabism” which also happens to underlay the Saudi monarchy. (New York Times, “The Theology Behind the Attacks”, October 20, 2001). Throughout history this “severe, conservative form of Islam” has fiercely opposed anything that they viewed as modern change that would make them deviate from the fundamentals of the Koran.  For example, there are no movie theaters in Saudi Arabia and women are banned from driving automobiles.  Also, the Wahhabis do not believe they should ever give ground in any place they have already spread Islam to (i.e., conquered or settled).  Bin Laden is the “poster boy” today for Wahhabism and the Saudi government is tied financially and politically into this conservative brand of Islam more than the U.S. government cares to publicly admit.

            Trying to understand all this to the U.S. citizen is at best confusing, especially when one considers how little information about Islam is known by the average citizen (54% have no knowledge of Islam whatsoever). And this lack of knowledge goes to the U.S. Government as well:  even though “Arabic” is the fifth most widely spoken language in the world, the U.S. Government placed “help wanted” ads in newspapers for Arabic translators after September 11th.        

 Eric Hoffer is a “layman’s scholar” who is among the few who has attempted to understand this type of fanatical behavior worldwide.  He wrote the definitive text back in 1951, entitled The True Believer, and although he had set his sights on totalitarianism, nationalism, revolutions, communism and the like, his observations are just as true today in regards to either religious or narco – “terrorism”.  His research attempted to establish a theory that embodied the common traits of those who would follow an extreme cause into a mass movement – and sacrifice their life for it.      

            His theory centered on the following findings:

(1)    There is a frustrated state of mind and “discontent” would be the main driving force.

(2)    There is a psychological need for sudden change on a vast scale to make things different within the True Believer’s lifetime.

(3)    There is an inherent need to blame somebody else in the world for their own failures.

(4)    True Believers achieve a new sense of power and reckless daring with new, more assertive leadership or doctrine that gives them irresistible strength of mind.  (Bin Laden claimed to have nuclear and chemical weapons, 11/10/2001).

Hoffer believes all these extreme movements are actually “interchangeable” since the all derive their energy from common psychological traits of the True Believer.  In summary, the frustrated mind set, oppressed by their own or their society’s failures or shortcomings, want to blame their failure on “existing restraints” and create a completely new ambition to substitute for the discontent they currently hold.  In doing that, True Believers feel a new sense of “belonging” and a new identity.  The fanatic can not easily be weaned away from his cause by any appeal to reason or moral sensibilities, (this may explain why the million dollar bounties on al Qaida leaders never were rewarded as Western leaders had expected).

            It must also be pointed out that the ….sine quo non for a mass movement must involve “hatred”.  This devil identification whether focused on the Jews, the Crusades, or focused on the Americans, etc. – has to exist to motivate and recruit True Believers. These True Believers also are apt to psychologically act out that they are “chosen people who are going to inherit the earth” and any other person who does not recognize this must be in fact “evil” and “perish”.  Thus, violence breeds fanaticism which begets more violence……and “negotiation” is usually not an option when dealing with the True Believers (full of this “decline discontent” and “strawman hatred”).

            This psychology of decline and discontent can easily be applied to today’s Arab world.  The Islam civilization has indeed declined by almost any modern measure – be that by industrial output, artistic achievement or political freedom.  The Western civilization and culture dominates the planet today and the lesser Islamic civilization is indeed frustrated.

            The foremost scholar in the U.S. on Islam is Bernard Lewis who recently published What Went Wrong?  (Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response), which is about why Islam went into decline.  His point is that for many centuries the world of Islam was at the world’s forefront of achievement---and Europe was at one time a dependency .  So, Lewis inquires, what did go wrong in their culture?  He cites one astounding fact that seems to get at the question: according to World Bank estimates, the total exports of the Arab world (other than oil) amounts to less than those of Finland with only 5 million in population!

            The blame for this lack of economic well-being is suggested by Lewis with the following psychological observations:

(1)    Arab intellectuals dismissed the West and failed to learn from their scientific discoveries over the last 500 years. (Which was similar to the outlook of the Ming Dynasty in China).  This left them on the short-end of the knowledge exchange for modernization.

(2)    Islam declined to disentangle religion from the state whereas Christendom separated and distinguished between “God and Caesar”.   The Western world compartmentalized “religion” to one day a week in their culture while the Arab world maintains a “24/7” culture of religion.

(3)    Islam also relegated women to an inferior position in society which deprived them of the talents and energies of half of its people.

President Bush might add a fourth reason:  there are no democracies in the Arab world and they fear “freedom of the individual”.  However, it is much more than that if that is indeed his singular view. 

Lewis leaves his readers and our Raleigh Tavern Society with this chilling conclusion:  “If Islam continues on its present path, the suicide bomber may become a metaphor for the whole region and there will be no escape from a downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression, culminating later in another alien domination – perhaps from a new Europe or perhaps from a resurgent Russia, or perhaps a new power in the East.”

            But one thing is indeed certain – True Believers do not listen to appeals of reason.  Unless the state of Israel is removed (unlikely as long as the U.S. Military is dominate) or a neighboring Palestinian state is created, there will be even more suicide bloodshed – not just in the Mid-East but worldwide (against Americans in particular).  Moreover, the Bush Administration is right about facing the fact that they must root out all the terrorists and exterminate them as Huntington prescribes.  There is no other “third way” today – a thousand years of history is too much of an unmistakable pattern in history to “tiptoe” around any longer……and both Christian and Muslim fanatics are to blame equally.  “Force” rather than “reason” will apparently be the only option in the nearterm.  “Saladin” and the West are still combatants in a “grand holy tournament” and all the World is watching………










Working References


“A Thousand Years Ago……..Today”

1.      The True Believer by Eric Hoffer, Mentor Books, 1951

2.      CNN/USA Today, Gallup Poll, March 1-3, 2002

3.      The Lessons of Terror, Caleb Carr, Random House, 2002

4.      Europe, A History, Norman Davies, Oxford Press, 1996

5.      The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington, Simon & Schuster, 1996

6.      The Age of Faith, Will Durant, Simon & Schuster, 1950

7.      Medieval Europe, Cultural Atlas of the World, Donald Mathew, Equinox, 1992

8.      Atlas of World History, Noel Grove, National Geographic, 1997

9.      Understanding Islam, F. Schuon, World Wisdom Books, 1998

10.   Jihad in the West, Paul Fregosi, Promentheus Books, 1998

11.  What Went Wrong?, Bernard Lewis, Oxford Press, 2002

12.  Major Themes of the Quran, F. Rahman, Bibliotheca Islamica, 1994

13.  Warriors of God, James Reston, Jr., Doubleday, 2001

14. Islam and the West, Oxford Press, 1993