32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2000
This compelling and deeply insightful book, obviously misread by the previous reviewer, does not attempt to advance a hypothesis about the causal origins of religious activism. It does, however, place the rise of religious activism within the context of globalization. Since nearly all of the spokespersons of the movements themselves rail against the global forces of secularism, this seems a reasonable context indeed. This is an excellent piece of work.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2001
When the tragic events of September 11th occured, the onslaught of media coverage made me want to search for a objective discussion of these terrorist acts. This book certainly met my expectations. The author studies not just Islamic groups but Christian, Buddhist and Sikh as well. It is eerie when you read descriptions of the 1993 bombing of the WTC and the authors analysis as to why this structure was picked. In fact, the author clearly describes the terrorist goal of complete destruction of the towers and its impact on the Amercian population. All this two years before the actual event.
Its a rational discussion without the hysteria and flag waving of the media. It allows the reader to read and let the meaning of the last few weeks sink in. I highly recommend this book.
40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
"I will send my terror before you, and will throw into confusion all the people..." (Exodus 23:27).
This book sets out to explore why, in a few extreme instances, religion is used to justify terrorism. "Terror in the Mind of God" was published in 2000, before the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, but it is extremely relevant to today's headlines. The psyche of suicide bombers is explored, and the men who send them to their deaths are interviewed. The author also interviews actual terrorists (and/or their close associates) who perpetrated many acts of murder and destruction within the last two decades
The cultures of violence that the author treats in depth are: "Soldiers for Christ;" "Zion Betrayed (Judaism);" "Islam's `Neglected Duty';" "The Sword of Sikhism;" and "Armageddon in a Tokyo Subway (Buddhism)."
In the last five chapters of this book, the author attempts to explain the logic of religious violence. He maintains a very non-judgmental, even tone even when explaining the reasons behind the grisliest acts of terror. It was spooky to find myself nodding my head at Juergensmeyer's explanations of the terrorists' logic; `okay, so that's why they did it.' Taking a teen-ager who feels he has nothing to live for and everything to die for, and turning him into a human bomb seems like a relatively simple task for a religious zealot, now that I've read this book.
Fascinating and extremely frightening.
In one of the most interesting and hopeful parts of the book, Juergensmeyer turns his thesis on its head, and suggests that, "the entrance of religion into public life would help to leaven these negative influences [the use of terror to promote a religion]. Several thoughtful observers of Western society have suggested that indeed it might---if religion could enter the public arena in an undogmatic and unobtrusive way....what religion provides society is not just high-mindedness, but also a concern with the quality of life---a goal more ennobling than the simple accretion of power and possessions."
This book could change all of our lives, if we let it.
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2001
Terror in the mind of God is a remarkable work made all the more remarkable by the author's dispassionate portrayal of people who, in every other facet (except that facet, religious belief, which has consumed and overwhelmed all the other elements of their humanity) of their lives seem to be no different from the reasonable and decent "normal" people who espouse Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist,or Jewish beliefs. Perhaps a major difference which sets apart those who kill, and in some cases die, for their religious beliefs is that there is never the slightest element of doubt in the minds of the true believer, and this total belief by religious fundamentalists of any faith in a cosmology which unbelievers find incredible, is always dangerous. (Didn't someone smart once say, "I don't care what you believe about God so long as you don't believe it totally.") Juergensmeyer has managed to elicit and portray their fanaticism in such a way that the reader is never tempted to laugh uproarously at even the most fantastic, unbelievable and outrageous claims of these "true believers". I've no experience with Jewish, Islamic, Sikh, Hindu or Buddhist true believers, but having lived all of my adult life in Northwest Arkansas and provided abortions in my medical practice in area surrounded by "true believers" from the furtherest fringes of the Christian Right and having been the target of Christian antiabortion fundamentalists on numerous occasions in the past, I can testify that Jeurgensmeyer knows his terrorists. The folks who have targeted me and my practice seem on first glance to be concerned and reasonable people, at least until the subject turns to abortion or gays, evolution or prayer in the schools. Then their eyes literally glaze and they begin to spout utter nonsense as though reading from a text. I have been on talk shows, debates and public forums with them, sitting in a chair next to them, and were I a fearful man, easily intimidated, it would have been a most frightening experience. Of course, terror is what they want and intend to inspire in both their victims and in those observing, just as Jeurgensmeyer said. But if their actions cannot terrify those of us at whom they are aimed, what is the point? Unfortunately, the terrorists who confront us today have certainly managed to terrify a significant portion of the American citizanry. We can only hope that fear doesn't rob us of our collective wits, although the performance of the current military and political leadership in this country (with the glaring exception of Colin Powell and the California congresswoman - I wish I could remember her name - who cast the lone vote against our current Asian adventure)does not inspire confidence. This book, coupled with Ahmed Rashid's book, Taliban, should be required reading for anyone who aspires to a position of leadership in this country over the next fifty years or so, and should certainly be on the curriculum of any religious institution which purports to instruct as opposed to indoctrinate religious leaders. Religious belief in the service of peace and justice, of solice and relief, has been one of the great blessings of mankind. I am just not sure that this benign aspect of religion has ever been enough to compensate for its more malignant faces.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2001
...This book is most fantastic in the access Juergensmeyer had to these people. His work is based on original interviews with the thinkers and actors who produce terrorism; this includes Jewish militants, Irish Protestants, Christian Identity types, Pro-Lifers, Sikh militants, and Hamas. He identifies common sociological themes behind all of these various movements that come to see violence as an acceptable means to achieving their religious ends. His second section, which is just a number of hypotheses on these linkages, may be the most open to criticism, but the whole process is valuable none the less. One comes away with a sense of the intelligence and fortitude of these actors. Understanding the internal logic of their cosmic systems is one of the most important aspects one can derive from this book.
Getting away from common conceptions of these types of people as "irrational" and "crazy" is the first step in stemming their impact on innocent people.
I also recommend taking a skim through Marc Gopin's, "Between Eden and Armageddon," though it is long and redundant.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Attempts a cohesive sociological analysis of the putative causal relationship of religious piety and extreme violence, on the premise that it is crucially important that we know if the two are related.
If they are not related, we have a largely incomprehensible phenomenon with the rise of terrorism among religous groups and the use of religious justification for violence. If they are related, it becomes more difficult to explain the use of non-religious rationales for violence and terror.
I think Juergensmeyer does a first class job of research here and a really excellent job of pulling together his findings and making sense of the way violence arises at the extremes of a wide variety of religions. Most importantly, he identifies the conditions under which piety "becomes" violence in some sense, based on the broad idea that we use religion to make sense of the world, and under extreme conditions, symbols of war and expressions of violence do indeed make sense of our experience.
I would like to see work building further on this general framework, I think it would be extremely productive in understanding patterns of violence and developing workable solutions.
The one weakness of this analysis for me was its implicit equation of religion with the search for meaning. We tend to think of religion in that role, but I believe it is important not to confuse the way we often use religion with its many varied expressions and uses. Juergensmeyer's analysis DOES apply to any cultural process that operates to make sense of our experience, including atheist quasi-religions and potentially even meaningful non-theist institutions and practices.
That is, I agree up to a point with the critics here who complained that this book's analysis of piety and violence seems to ignore the systematic use of violence by institutions we don't generally consider religious. However, I don't think it takes much to extend the author's analysis to these other institutions. Some of the conditions under which MJ theorizes that we view a war as having cosmic significance and thus relating piety and violence:
1. The struggle is perceived as a defense of basic identity and dignity.
2. Defeat is unthinkable.
3. The struggle is blocked in practical terms and no real world solution appears to be viable.
With these conditions in place, in theory, seeing a struggle as a cosmic war becomes a very real solution psychologically for making sense of the desperate conditions and finding hope in them. The process of making an enemy into some version of Satan begins often with:
1. very *real* problems that become interpreted in terms of the whole world going awry.
2. Ordinary options for resolving the real problems simply aren't available to us.
3. We then begin the process of symbollizing the enemy as forces of evil, so that being part of a divine solution becomes part of our hope.
4. Coming back from the brink of desperation becomes possible by symbolic acts of power showing that the unwinnable war can be winnable in its cosmic form.
I'm extracting the conclusions from a very detailed and thoughtful analysis.
I think this analysis makes a very important contribution to our understanding of violence and terrorism but this book is also of great value for its framework for understanding the relationship of culture and individual action, and what it implies about how our institutions, practices, and discourse shape our thinking and behavior. This is sociology doing what sociology is best used for, understanding how human social behavior relates to individual thoughts and actions.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2002
Consistent with the principle that one must know his enemy if he is to defeat him, Juergensmeyer does a valuable service by presenting the ideas of several infamous terrorists from their own viewpoint through interviews and some of their little known writings. Chief among them are abortion provider murderer Rev. Mike Bray, 1993 World Trade Center bomber Mahmud Abouhalima, Hamas co-founder Abdul Aziz Rantisi, Sikh terrorist Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, Rabbi Meir Kahane, Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, Timothy McVeigh, and, Osma bin Laden. Juergensmeyer presents numerous case studies of religious terrorism. This section of the book is its strong point. Learning the world views of such individuals is essential to formulating an effective response to their attacks. The second half of the book identifies patterns within the cultures of violence that he describes in the first half. When Juergensmeyer, a professor of sociology at UC Santa Barbara, examines sociological and cultural issues, he provides valuable insight. However, in my opinion, when he tries to explain terrorists' motivation in terms of Freudian psychology, his train runs off the tracks. Juergensmeyer sees acts such as September 11 as "forms of public performance rather than acts of political strategy." They are, he says, symbolic statements aimed at providing a sense of empowerment to "marginal" individuals, ritually acting out displaced feelings of aggression in an attempt to secure recognition of the legitimacy of their extreme views of the good society. They see themselves engaged in a cosmic war of good versus evil in which they, and only they, know the mind of God and know - - with absolute certainty - - - that their extreme religious views justify whatever it takes to win that war. Typically a young, unemployed, frustrated, sexually unfullfilled, angry male, beset with feelings of humiliation and desperation, the terrorist sees sacrifice and martyrdom as his salvation. As a description of the typical terrorist, this may be accurate but the book falls short in its effort to explain where such absolutist views come from. Juergensmeyer timidly suggests that violent religious symbols and sacrificial rituals are "central to religion", generally playing a positive role in society by fostering social cohesion by sublimating violent impulses, but at the same time somehow facilitating terrorism. However, other than a superficial and muddled discussion of sacrifice and martyrdom, he does not follow up on this suggestion in enough depth to support the suggestion. He never answers the question that is uppermost in the minds of many people in this post-September 11 world: is "religious" terrorism a natural outgrowth of religion or is it a "highjacking" of an essentially peaceful religion? I think the book would have been better if Dr. Juergensmeyer had stuck to sociology and politics and avoided the pop psychology.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2003
I highly recommend this book to everyone because of its relevance to current global religious violence. This book offers chilling insight into the intimate relationship between religion and violence. The author analyzes terrorist groups from a psychological and cultural perspective. His countless case studies and personal interviews with violence perpetrators clearly depict the religious extremists' cosmic struggle against secular government. In defense of their faith, true believers perform horrific acts of violence against symbols of political and financial power, acts that are supported and justified by their religious ideologies. Ironically, they view their acts of violence not as attacks, but as responses to the enemy's oppression.
Case studies are worldwide and run the gamut from the atrocities performed during the Nine Crusades in 1095 up until the bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The chapter 'Reaching the Audience' illustrates that without an audience, terrorism would not exist. In the last decade of the twentieth century, religious terrorism has become global in two senses. The choices of terrorist targets have been transnational. For example, the Egyptians and Palestinians bombed the World Trade Center in New York City to protest against secular governments in the Middle East. Furthermore, the incidents have had global impact in large part due to the worldwide, instantaneous coverage by transnational news media. The global dimensions of terrorism's organization make it so powerful that even the United Nations is not equipped to deal with worldwide terrorism. A consortia of nations has come together to deal with forces of violence on an international scale.
This is a book of substance, and the author should be commended for his excellence in providing such a complete in depth look into the world of religious violence. The author's conclusion, however, fails to persuade that the cure for religious violence may ultimately lie in religion itself.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2005
As a comparative cultural study of religious terrorism, Mark Juergensmeyer attempts to explain how and why religion and violence are linked. Juergensmeyer analyzes recent incidents of global religious terrorism in order to illumine overarching patterns that heighten the risk of religious violence. Splitting his book into two parts, Juergensmeyer, first, highlights examples of religious terrorism within the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Buddhist traditions. The author interviews religious leaders and activists within cultures of violence present in each of these traditions. In the second part of the book, Juergensmeyer identifies those characteristics that enhance the likelihood of religion becoming violent.
Juergensmeyer believes the first common denominator in religious extremism is the act of violence itself: terrorism is a theatrical display of violence. According to the author, these acts are performance events, inasmuch that they make symbolic, not strategic, statements. They are performative acts, insofar as they attempt to create change. The location and the time of the violent act, also, have symbolic purpose. Terrorism needs an audience, somebody to terrify, in order to be effective, and with the technological advancements of the twentieth century, the audience of this theatre is virtually global.
If religious terrorism is violent theatre, the image of a cosmic war provides the script. Violent activists view their terrorist acts as part of a larger spiritual confrontation, a battle between good and evil, between God and God's enemies. With the notion of warfare, compromise is not possible and violence, naturally, is morally justified. Religious symbols also undergird religious terrorism: all religions have symbols to overcome the images of death, disorder, and disarray. Religion asserts the primacy of meaning and order in the face of chaos, in this case, a world gone awry. Juergensmeyer identifies when these symbols can become deadly and when confrontation is likely to be characterized as a cosmic war.
The processes of satanization and empowerment are a result of viewing the world as engulfed in a cosmic war. Juergensmeyer believes that terrorists believe that they are victims, and this justifies their violent actions. If they die in their cause they are martyrs - again, religious symbolism overcoming disorder - sacrificed for their community and religion. With every war, enemies must be created, and as such the process of demonizing the enemy is important. Terrorists must deny the personhood of the enemy and create stereotypes so that the enemy can be seen as individuals. Juergensmeyer explains the process of satanization, the creation of a cosmic foe, and the process of empowerment, to create the hope that history can be changed, are integral parts of the mentalities caused by the image of cosmic warfare.
Religious violence provides a sense of empowerment to religious activists and their communities. According to the author, all terrorists fear social marginalization. In general terrorism is a male occupation, and women have minor ancillary roles, if at all. This gender specificity implies that sexuality is a factor in militant movements: sexual control needs to be established in a world gone awry, seen in active subjugation of women and homosexuality. Juergensmeyer finds commonality in terrorist groups: they are "anti-institutional, religio-nationalist, racist, sexist, male-bonding, bomb-throwing young guys," (210). Their marginality is experienced through sexual despair, which leads to violent acts of empowerment. Religious terrorists recognize they are in a struggle that cannot be won, but by dismantling the state's monopoly on power, the group demonstrates their power on behalf of the powerless.
In his concluding chapter, Juergensmeyer believes that terrorists would do anything if they believed it sanctioned by God. Because of the increasing secularism and liberalism prevalent in the world, religious terrorists seek to vault their religious views, perceived as both marginalized and traditional, into the mainstream. Secular governments are by nature enemies of these terrorist organizations, and violence is an attempt to reclaim this public sphere. Juergensmeyer, extrapolating from current trends, concludes with five ways in which religious terrorism can be resolved: terrorist organizations can be literally destroyed; terrorists can be frightened into submission by the threat of violent reprisals or imprisonment; the goals of the terrorists can be accommodated; the religious aspects are separated from politics; or religion and politics can be reconciled. Juergensmeyer believes the last solution to be the most successful.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2003
I have been in high level protective services for over forty years. I have written books about "Executive Protection" and have taught courses in Terrorism. This is one of the very best books I have read about the real face of terrorism. Why? Because Professor Juergensmeyer goes beyond the trite sterotypes that earlier books have rehashed over and over. There are new lessons to be learned. One lesson is that terrorism is man made and it is men dealing with their own unresolved issues "in the name of God" who attempt to foist their own beliefs on the masses.
This book takes a critical thinking approach to megalomanic "czars" whose ultimate goal is self promotion and power. In our "McDonaldized" and "MTV", world it is people like those discussed by Professor Juergensmeyer who have no real purpose than to destroy anything for which they have no use. It is not religion, nor is it "God's Purpose" but their own distorted sense of faulted values that motivate them. Understanding the motives of these people will give us new tools to combat them.
If we learned any lessons as a result of the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings it is that the anti-terroism methods of the past need to be refreshed with logical thinking, new training methods, and new approaches. One new approach is suggested by reading this book. That approach is to "know who you are fighting and to what extent he will go." We cannot afford to again underestimate what the mind of a radical fanatic can concieve and to what extent he will go. We are not fighting a religious war, we are fighting against those who would sacrifice "others" and offer them martyrhood though methods that a reasonable thinking man finds impossible.
No crime is too heinous or wretchedly wrong for the people profiled by Professor Juergensmeyer. That is the main lesson of history overlooked by "terrorism experts" previous to the bombings in New York and Washington, D.C. in 2001. It took an academician to teach us what we must see. It takes critical and logical thinking based on what he has to tell us to catalyze new approaches to old enemies.
"Terror in the Mind of God, The Global Rise of Religious Violence" will be required reading at the newly founded California University of Protection and Intelligence Management where I teach.