For an individual to resort to violence, (as with an individual act of terror) it is only necessary that some individual becomes so enraged and unhinged by circumstances or by some abnormality that he or she strikes out randomly – or at a chosen target. Any subjective justification or explanation for such actions usually relates to the specific circumstances surrounding the perpetrator or the abnormality afflicting that particular individual.  However, for collective forms of violence, (and acts of terror) something more is needed. There needs to be a shared ideology. In such latter cases, the explanation – and also most frequently the justification – lies within the ideology itself which is accepted by the individuals making up the collective.

At this point it will be useful to provide the reader with my own definition of the term – ideology! This is because the usual dictionary definitions are often limited to the barest abstract outlines. So mine is the following: Ideology; a system or body of ideas, opinions, beliefs and ideals adopted by an elite – religious, political, economic or military – to reflect their material and cultural interests. Where possible (and most frequently it is) this body of ideas is spread widely among the communities this elite influence and/or control. For this reason at least a core set of these, ideas, opinions and beliefs become widely considered as eternal truths among those who adhere to the ideology. In other words, ideology also breeds dogmatism.

It becomes clear from a more comprehensive definition that ideologies can become a form of collective illness which afflicts human groups. This intellectual sickness is most clearly shown in cases where ideologies are expressed in their most fundamental form and where the violence perpetrated in their name is taken to the extreme. Ideologies, like cancer can lie dormant for periods of time before destructively breaking out in orchestrated violence.

Until recently the most universally acknowledged examples of ideologically inspired collective violence in the west are those originating with the Nazi’s in Germany and the Stalinists within the Soviet Union. Both of which justified genocide and torture along with assassinations of friends and foes alike in pursuit of their ideologically inspired beliefs and goals. And both of these examples occurred in the 20th century.  They were not the only 20th century examples of ideologically inspired violence, torture and terror, but merely the ones most universally recognised as such.

The most current, almost universally recognised example of ideologically inspired violence and terror has occurred with the emergence of Islamic violence, particularly as witnessed by the actions of Al Quaida and ISIL. The link between these acts of violence and terror and the ideology that inspires them is made absolutely clear by the fundamentalists themselves in their numerous media statements. Although such justifications are denied as valid by moderate Muslims, and non-Muslim appeasers, the fundamentalists statements can be corroborated or negated by checking the sources they quote from their particular ideological source book – the Qu’ran. This is a task that will be done in a later section. Before that, however, this article will consider some historical examples of the link between ideology and violence along with those previously noted 20th century cases.


In the ancient pre-Christian Greek and Roman world, ideology and violence had a more secular connection. In pagan city-states of the Greek world the violence associated with slavery gave rise to a relatively basic form of ideology based upon the right of the strongest to dominate and control the weakest. This was further refined in many Greek city-states with development of ideological constructs applicable to the elite such as philanthropoi (ruling in a humane way) and the corresponding philadelphia (love of the despot) as considered appropriate for the slaves and semi-slaves. Such ideological constructs were intended to serve the interests of the slave-owning class and by promoting them to ease their constant fear of slave rebellions and uprisings. For example;

“…it was not we who set the example, for it has always been the law that the weaker should be subject to the stronger.” (Archidamus to the Lacedaemonians in Thucydides ‘The history of the Peloponnesian War’. Chapter 2.)

This is no isolated example but the same sentiment is expressed as a “really plain fact” by Xenophon in book 3 of his Anabasis account of the expedition by Greek mercenaries in their attempt to conquer Persia. Further refinements and additions included the creation of mythologies of ‘noble birth’ and procreative descent from the ‘gods’ that were used to justify and back up elite rule by the sword. The metalergic ideology of Plato’s Republic, with his Gold, Silver and Brass explanations for the then existing class distinctions between rulers, auxiliaries and the workers, was another.

The above pagan examples aside it is only with the development of monotheistic religions that we encounter the most inhumane instances of violence justified by a complex ideology based upon a patriarchal religion. And apart from the brief flirtation with monotheism in Ancient Egypt during the 6th year of the Pharaoh Akhanaton, the first fully developed and textual justification for genocidal violence is contained within the original Jewish bible known as the Tanakh. This is virtually the same document as the Old Testament which it was called when it was later appended to the Christian New Testament.

JUDAISM. (The Tanakh/Old Testament)

From the very first book of the Tanakh/Old Testament (Genesis) the ideology of violence in God’s name leaps out from the pages. This is whether it is driving the people of Shinar off the land in chapter 11, dashing people to pieces in chapter 15 or killing those who sacrifice to an alternative God in chapter 22. But indicative of the ideologically inspired and justified violence of the Tanakh and also of contemporary relevance is the following:

“I will send My terror before thee, and will discomfit all the people to whom you shall come….By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and thou shall inherit the land. And I will set thy border from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philestines, and from the wilderness unto the river; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land unto your hands; and thou shalt drive them out before thee.” (Exodus chapter 23 v 27, 30, 31.)

Those familiar with the situation in Palestine since the Nakba in 1948 will immediately recognise that the ideology of Zionism incorporates within it at least a core of the violent ideology of Judaism, from which it stems. Those who are aware of the two 21st century blitzkrieg’s upon Gaza by the Jewish state of Israel, will have this perception confirmed. Little by little, the slow genocide by Zionism directed against the Palestinians since 1948 has by various violent means driven them out of the land they once lived upon and the modern Jews of Israel have indeed inherited this conquered land.

It may seem extraordinary that a three thousand-year old ideology created during a nomadic and pastoral period of tribal organisation can have any contemporary relevance, but of course it can. Since ideologies reflect material and cultural interests, if those interests remain essentially the same, the acquisition of land etc., then the ideology, no matter how ancient, can survive more or less intact. It needs only partial modification or compression to put an extra gloss upon it as occurred in the case of Zionism.

The hold of this Judaic/Zionist ideology upon the Jewish people perhaps also explains why so few of them protest against the vicious violence routinely perpetrated in their name, against the Palestinians of the west bank and Gaza. And also why they have consistently refused to agree to a two-state solution in the historic land of Palestine. Their ideology asserts a God-given right to the whole of the land and they don’t intend to stop driving Palestinians out by whatever means they have at their disposal. These means, most of which are violent, include shells, rockets and bombs with lethal mechanical, chemical and radioactive additives.

Of course the Zionists of the Jewish persuasion are not the only ones to use the Old Testament as their sacred justification for violence in God’s name. Christian Zionists as well as Christians in general subscribe to much of the ideology of the Old Testament as well as the New. Biblical ideology has been used by past Christian elites to justify Colonialism, slavery, annexation of land and all that goes with these brutal violations of indigenous peoples.

Parts of this ideology have also served the purpose of reconciling those communities governed by the Christian elites to the division of their societies into classes – the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate…..the Lord God made it so – as a section of a popular English school hymn asserted. Ideologies can be all-embracing, not only justifying physical violence but also rationalising the existence of inequalities, the former having first created the latter. In other words if it still serves at least partially the interests of the ruling elite in justifying the existing class divisions, then such ideology will be retained.

The full extent of the violence advocated within the Tanakh/Old Testament is rarely appreciated, even amongst many of the most devout believers of these two sources of patriarchal ideology. Nor is sufficiently acknowledged in public by the official representatives (Rabbis and Priests) of these closely allied patriarchal ideologies. For this reason I will present one further example and then a list of the chapters and verses for a small variety of others. First, the example:

“And they warred against the Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew all the males…And Moses said to them, why have you let all the women live?….Now therefore kill every male among the little ones and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the female children who have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” (Numbers. 31 verses 7, 15, 17 and 18.)

Again we see that not only is extreme violence justified by the ideology of the Christian and Judaic Yehewah/Jehovah, (in the current manner of Islamic extremists) but more than this follows. Permission is granted by Moses, God’s supposedly earthly representative, to capture young female virgins. Is this patriarchal inclusion in the biblical text not suggestive of immanent or future sexual violence against defenceless young females? I suggest it is. For those still in doubt about the ideological justification of violence which I am suggesting permeates the Tanakh/Old Testament, look up a few of the following – chosen from many. Exodus 22 v 20; Exodus 33 v 27; Leviticus 21 v 9; Jeremiah 48 v 10; Deuteronomy 20 v 10 – 14.

CHRISTIANITY. (Old and New Testament.)

For those convinced of a complete change of attitude with the addition of ‘good news’ New Testament ideology to the Old, read 2 Corinthians 10 v 6 ; 2 Thessalonians 1 v 8 – 9; and Revelation 2 v 22 – 28 and 19 v 20 – 21. Recall too the brutal Crusades, the crushing of the Cathars, the Albigenses, the Lollards, the burning of women as witches and violence against religious heretics such as Copernicus and Giordorno Bruno. Also remember that the Old Testament is still an integral part of Christian ideology. However, it is worth quoting a comment from a historian of Christianity to remove any immediate doubts of prejudice concerning the sectarianism and violence of Christianity even during its earliest period.

“Each party discriminated on the other, but neither denies the barbarous scenes of massacre….The Donatists boasted of their martyrs, and the cruelties of the Catholic party sit on their own admission; they deny not, they proudly vindicate their barbarities – is the vengeance of God to be defrauded of its victims? – and they appeal to the Old Testament to justify, by the examples of Moses, of Phinehas, and of Elijah, the Christian duty of slaying by the thousands, the renegade, or the unbelievers.” (The history of Christianity. by HH Milman Volume 2 page 306.)

This pattern repeated itself during the middle ages with its numerous crusades against Muslims and women healers, the infamous Inquisition, the atrocities of Catholicism during the Protestant reformation, and of course the period of Colonialism in the more recent past. Yes of course most (but not all) Christian and Judaic elites in the 20th and 21st centuries have ceased to use biblical ideology to justify killing innocent men women and children. Perhaps for the majority it is no longer necessary, for they now have a more modern alternative ideology to justify killing – nationalism! National security is now routinely invoked by Christian and Jewish elites to justify the killing and maiming of those who in any way oppose their oppression – or just get in the way. The casualties include innocent community members, (men, women and children), who are conveniently mis-classified as collateral damage.

However, before we consider the connection between the ideology of nationalism and violence we need to examine this connection within the third of the Abrahamic religions – Islam. This is because unlike Judaism and Christianity, with Islam, the direct link between religious life and social life has not been entirely broken. The Protestant reformation broke the almost complete hegemony of Catholic influence over economic and social life within the communities throughout Europe and the west who adopted it. Much later, the development of Jewish Zionism and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 broke much (but again not all) of the direct link between religious life and social life of the majority of Jews.

ISLAM. (The Qur’an.)

However, the imposition of colonial and imperial rule by the advanced capitalist, mainly Protestant countries over Muslim countries, prevented an indigenous solution to the primacy of religion over social life. In such countries the vast majority of workers remained Muslim and many perceived their oppression and exploitation by western capitalism as a direct attack upon them as Muslims rather than as workers. The failure and subsequent lack of a successful, genuine international workers movement left many Muslim workers with an anti-imperialist agenda, but at the mercy of Islamic fundamentalist ideas and also grateful for Muslim-inspired welfare practices. The logic of such Muslim fundamentalism could not but lead to the resurrection of the concept of future Islamic governance in opposition to western puppet regimes.

Such ideas have been around in one form or another for decades, and the establishment in 1979 of an Islamic Shia-influenced theocratic state in Iran gave considerable impetuous to the attempt to achieve such an outcome. However, this was no humane aspiration and since the public outrages committed by Al Qaeda and the establishment of a Sunni directed ISIL, the full implications for secular based human rights have once again become widely known. The return of Islamic fundamentalism in these forms has therefore doubly highlighted the connection between religious ideology and violence within Islam. The origins of which, we shall see,  lie within the Qur’an.

The Qur’an is considered by believers to be the holy word of Allah dictated to Muhammad and later written down. It is this document to which all convinced and practising Muslims, moderate and extreme, are referred as a guide to what is right and wrong and proper living.  It should be at least one of the basis for judging any disputed points between moderate Muslims and extremists. Moderate Muslims have frequently claimed that atrocities such as those perpetrated by Al Queada and ISIL are not a legitimate expression of Islamic ideology whilst the extremists assert they are. Let us see from an example which deals with those who aparently from very early on in the development of Islam refused to accept its dictates.

“Whenever they are called back to idol-worship they plunge into it headlong. If these do not keep their distance from you,, if they neither offer you peace nor cease their hostilities against you, lay hold of them and kill them wherever you find them. Over such men We give you absolute authority.” (Qur’an. Surah 4  91.)

It is obvious that the reader/believer of the Qur’an is left free to decide what constitutes ‘hostilities’. If sufficiently satisfied that certain actions or ideas are ‘hostile’, then wherever they find them – killing is in order for the ‘ true’ believer – because it is written in the Qur’an, which is deemed to be God’s word. There are almost 200 references to punishments in the Qur’an – some of them by burning in fire – there are also 33 instances of instructions to believers to fight and at least 9 advocating killing non-Muslims and apostates. They are too numerous to list but there follows a few more sections for the sceptical to check for themselves. Qur’an: Surah 4 v 55 – 56; Surah 4 v 150; Surah 9 v 73; Surah 98 v 7.

Only those in a state of denial can refuse to see that religious ideology, at least in the three Abrahamic versions considered here, allows its followers – if they feel so inclined – to perpetrate violence against those who are opposed to the ideology of their founding documents. Indeed, examples also abound of this ideology of violence being carried out in practice. However, as noted earlier, religious ideology is not the only form of ideology which bears within it the authorisation of violence against those who disagree or challenge the ideology or its practical application. Part 2 of this article will be published in April and will consider the ideologies of, Nationalism, Fascism and Bolshevism.

Roy Ratcliffe (March 2015.)

This entry was posted in Critique, Fundamentalism, Religion, Sectarianism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to IDEOLOGY AND VIOLENCE – 1.

  1. Randy Gould says:

    Thanks for this. I have shared it around…I generally like your stuff, even the things I don’t agree with I find worthwhile and informative. PS: I’m the guy who used to do Scission which is currently shut down until further notice.

    • Hi Randy! Thanks for the kind comment and the sharing. I see it as a good thing that we don’t always agree on things but recognise we are on the same side in the struggle for a better system. Regards, Roy

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