d) The ideological foundations of terrorist activity.
In Terrorism part 1, I reasoned that something more than anger against economic and social oppression, was necessary to motivate the assassination of non-combatant men, women and children as deliberate acts of terror. That something else I identified as adherence to ideological prescriptions and justifications. In this second part I also contend that this type of ‘higher purpose’ sectarian and anti-humanist rationalisation gives rise to a self-serving open or covert concept of virtuous violence. Violence against innocents, in pursuit of an alleged higher purpose, is twisted by ideological propagandists into a virtue. In fact such violence is far from virtuous when examined seriously and without bias.
As argued in part 1, terrorist violence by state or non-state perpetrators against non-combatants, by any credible definition, amount to crimes against humanity. Of course, with regard to ideological motivations we need to recognise, from the outset, that those who promote ideological-based terrorism and who perpetrate terrorist acts, do not have a separate ideology to the rest of the communities within which they reside. To a greater or lesser extent, the superiority of their group ideology is held by non-terrorists and terrorists and alike. It exists as a shared group assumption. The terrorists among these ideological-based communities are merely prepared to go to greater lengths to defend or promote the entire system of ideas than the average believer among their communities.
All that is needed by the non-terrorist believers in the same ideology as the terrorists, is to openly support it and consistently defend its validity and continue to adhere to it. This ‘belonging’ to the group and its shared ideology supports the assertion of authenticity made by its advocates and explains its continuing historical existence as a sectarian form of group identity. The mere existence of the shared ideology then becomes the intellectual foundation and motivational platform from which the terrorists acts are planned and executed by the extremists among them.
For example; The enthusiastic flag waving and anthem singing supporters of nationalism, are the human agency from which and upon which the armed forces and specialist hit squads of each nation-state receive their ideological certainty and funding support. Similarly, the enthusiastic adherents of religions, particularly those who conform, study and follow their own particular scriptures and clerics are the human foundations upon which religious fundamentalists receive their ideological certainty and funding support.
Two further points of interest are worth considering at this juncture. First, that in some cases, the two ideologies (religion and nationalism) can compliment and reinforce each other. A nation state with a state preferred or state reinforced religious (or even political creed) will undoubtedly have two powerful ideologies to justify their actions and two complimentary higher powers to serve. Second, that the ideologies of nationalism, politics and religion also contain within them the shared dualist (and elitist) notion of superior and inferior nations, religions, cultures or political ideologies. Thus a further two more rationalisations are frequently spun from such political and religious sectarian perspectives. First; the innocent others who are killed by terrorist acts are often presented as not being innocent after all. They are in one way or another considered to be implicated in the actions of their own elite by not overthrowing them or by not voting them out. They can even be judged complicit by being at the same wedding or market place as any particular targets.
Such guilt by association, crude rationalisations, conveniently ignore the problem of citizens being unable to seriously influence or control their own entrenched elites. Most, if not all systems of governance, historically and at present, are set up so that revolutions are necessary to seriously alter the actions of an entrenched elite. Anything less, (demonstrations, petitions, votes, for example – even popular uprisings) will be ignored, sidelined, resisted or even, (using the elites police and armed forces) punished by those in power. Anyone who momentarily thinks otherwise should remember the various state elites who ignored the huge global anti-Iraq war demonstrations in 2003, and also ponder the fate of the Arab Spring Uprisings beginning in 2010, in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen.
Second, the other are frequently designated as less than human. Often, considerable effort is made by elite and pro-elite intellectuals, to identify negative or inhuman characteristics of some members (past or present) of the target community and apply these to all members. So the characteristics of some abhorrent individuals become the asserted characteristics of all. The actions of the elite are attributed to the entire population. In extreme cases much effort is expended in the consistent dehumanisation of those targeted as the enemies of one side side or the other. [Note, in this regard, the contemporary demonisation of all Russians and all Iranians by the elites in the USA and the UK, when in fact it is the Russian and Iranian elite who decide what the governments in these countries do.]
The sectarian demonising attitude ‘the only good Indian is a dead Indian’ of the early US aggressive expansion west can be replicated ad nauseum (watered down or not) and applied by sectarian dualists to Jews, Gentiles, Muslims, Gays, Trump supporters, Bernie voters, Brexit supporters and even Euro Remainers. The fact that predominantly good and predominantly bad people exist within every community and even within many families is ignored. Instead, ones own favoured group, nation or religion is asserted to embody more of the good and non-favoured groups to embody more of the bad.
However, outside of the public posturing within the arenas of politics, religion and the media, everybody knows the inaccuracy of this type of bias. We all know our own group has its share of anti-social, disrespectful and aggressive people who will lie and distort reality when its suits their individual interests. We all know there are extremists who will steal, hurt and even kill within our own religious, communal, political or national grouping. Nevertheless, this immediate (and practical) daily understanding too often gets swamped by, or ignored at, the level of ‘officially’ promoted beliefs and ideologies. And acts of terror are never far behind demonisation once ‘official’ ideological propaganda gets ramped up to fever pitch.
e) Accuracy and error in ideologies.
There is an almost irresistible but naive dualist urge among most firm believers to assert that their own beliefs are wholly or predominantly correct whilst others beliefs are wholly or predominantly wrong. However, the contradictions within ideologies are far more complex than that. Successful ideologies, as with all successful propaganda, rely upon containing elements of valid experience, around which are woven a tapestry of opinion, bias and myth. These separate elements become stitched into what amounts to a system of belief. It is important to recognise at this point that ideologies and belief systems are not generally created by ordinary people, they are a socially created product of past and present elites.
Ordinary people who fall victim to elite produced and promoted ideology and propaganda, (and even some who add to it) do so by recognising and latching on to those elements confirmed by their own actual experience. They then accept the additional opinion and bias part of the overall ideological package when it is skilfully interfaced with these elements of shared validity. Once an ideology or item of propaganda has been accepted – in its entirety – further critical thinking is not required. From then on its intellectual permeation/absorption is achieved by reiteration, elaboration and confirmation.
Confirmation bias among believers can then emerge (and invariably does) and evidence which contradicts the propaganda or ideology can be ignored and information which confirms the ideological bias sought out or even invented. People so inclined can choose the media outlet that plays to their particular world view or bias. Competing ideologies and propaganda all have their elements of accuracy along with a mass of elite spun mythology and bias. Perhaps the most vivid and striking example of this process in current politics is provided by the Republican elites versus Democratic elites in their mutual struggle for control of the wealth and power of the United States government. Republican supporters can recognise the accuracy of some of the Republican criticisms of Democratic corruption and economic and political mismanagement and simply accept the entire political package (or sufficient of it) currently articulated by president Trump.
Similarly, the Democratic supporters can recognise the accuracy of Democratic criticism of Republicans, (particularly the easy target of the current loose canon President) and accept all (or sufficient) of the democratic political package. Each side can confirm the existence of their own experiences as ‘truths’ (sic) and marginalise or even deny the so-called experienced ‘truths’ (sic) of the other. The constant manipulation of this manufactured propaganda divide and bias is the special role of the political spin doctors and media outlets that line up behind one elite side or the other. Fake and manipulated news is therefore a product of both (or all) sides of the political divide. Those ordinary citizens who have lined up behind one one side or other of this elite struggle for power and accepted that sides ‘message’ have thus become the victims of the ideological struggle as well as being the victims of the current mode of the production which these elite sides support and competitively seek to control.
A similar ideological production and uncritical acceptance of it is visible with regard to religions, where one religion is considered to be wholly correct and all the other religions wholly (or fatally) false. In the case of religion, the ideas were originally produced by an ancient elite, who were also mainly patriarchal men and verbally wove myth and mystery around of kernels of actual common sense and practical experience. These packages of elite male prejudices were skilfully and convincingly passed on to their communities, most of whom had no ability to read or write let alone skills of critical analysis. The result being that a majority, for any number of reasons, (including threats of punishment), accepted the elite produced ‘message’ and passed it on. The more of them who accepted the ideological patriarchal narrative, the stronger the communal pressure to conform became. Interestingly, all the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, once they became numerous enough and strong enough used material force (including terror) as well as intellectual ‘spin’ to recruit ever more adherents.
The scriptures of each of these religions openly record and celebrate this military stage of their development. This is a fact which is conveniently overlooked or downplayed by many subscribers to these patriarchal ideologies. The interesting fact about these rival religions, however, is that conquest and killing in the name of their imaginary god is not something abandoned in scripture or in ancient tribal antiquity when they were invented. It was still evident in the religious wars of the middle ages (Islamic conquests and Christian crusades included) as well as in the later colonial and imperialist ‘adventures’. During that period soldiers and sailors of Christian Europe were sent to invade the South American, Asian and African countries of Pagans and Muslims alike, steal their resources and crush resistence mercilessly. And of course many 21st century Zionist Jews of Israel still invoke the myths of the Torah/Old Testament to justify the unremitting removal of Palestinians from their ancestral villages and lands.
The recognition of this religious element to terrorism brings us full circle to the formation of Al Quaeda, ISIS etc., and at the time or writing, the latest acts of terror in Sri Lanka. Islamic sponsored terrorist actions accompanied by the cry ‘god is great’ as they strike to kill in country after country among community after community have become a regular occurrence. In one sense all terrorists are victims of the insufficiently challenged dominance of the patriarchal ideologies they have been subjected to and have uncritically accepted. But it needs to be born in mind and repeated in this regard, that the unchallenged dominance of these ideologies exists because even non-terrorists keep these belief systems (whether religious, nationalist or politically sectarian) alive and defended as acceptable guides to modern living. But of course, this particular religious dimension is not the only experience driving the mental analysis and motivations behind the decisions of some religious individuals and groups to plan and execute terrorist crimes against humanity. They are also reacting against certain aspects of modernity.
f) Religious inspired antipathy to modernity.
For some believers, religious fundamentalism and its companion offshoot terrorism are the results of a rejection of some aspects of modernity. That is to say they are a reaction against, and rejection of, secular values, egalitarian concepts, pro-feminist policies and the extension of scientific rationality. Building upon religious tradition, fundamentalism has produced an ideological conduit for a new expression of anger, aggression and terrorist activism against some – but not all – symptoms of global capitalism. Religious fundamentalists select from aspects of modernity, as well as selecting some fundamental principles embedded in their religions original holy texts. They extract those elements which they prefer and that can be utilised in the resistance and fightback against capitalist inspired corruption and exploitation. Fundamentalism is thus directly dependent upon the originating principles and practices of religions as well as upon direct experiences of the negative characteristics of capitalism. These studied selections from tradition and modernity become the foundations upon which fundamentalist tendencies are erected.
So religious fundamentalism is not, and never has been a reaction against capitalism as a whole. It is not based upon opposition to the economic foundations of capitalism, as some naive commentators have suggested. It is merely a reaction to the current political and social forms associated with the capitalist mode of production. Thus religious fundamentalists as varied as Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist are not in any way anti-capitalist, for they are not against the economic exploitation and social oppression at the heart of capitalism. Nor are they opposed to modern technology and the unregulated productive and polluting capacity of modern industry. The economic and technological basis of the capitalist mode of production are acceptable to most – if not all – fundamentalists as the American, Israeli, Iran and Saudi versions of fundamentalism demonstrate. Neither were those Islamic fundamentalists on steroids – Al Quaeda or ISIS – prepared to do without their smart phones, internet connections, polluting vehicles, travel by aircraft, buying and selling commodities (even females bought and sold as commodities) or market trading for the latest weapons technology.
What all fundamentalists have failed to grasp (religious and nationalist) is that on the historic scale, it is the full spectrum of production and productivity that capitalists and capitalism churn out which is the real material threat to humanity – theirs and ours. Indeed, it is the needs of the capitalist mode of production, which has motivated the pro-capitalist western elites to interfere, manipulate and disinherit indigenous communities and create problems everywhere. Yet it is an undeniable fact that the numbers routinely killed and injured in the west by ill health, road and industrial accidents, air and water pollution and numerous localised wars, far exceed what non-state terrorists are able to inflict upon humanity.
Yet the horrific and terrifying fact of sustained, large – scale damage and death of citizens receives no serious or ongoing condemnation from mainstream politicians and media. It is clear that the capitalist elite have managed not only to stifle critical thinking about their favoured and pernicious form of production, but have also managed to institutionalise terror and justify it. And as production is increased in the 21st century, the global number of ‘human casualties’, the disintegration of countries and ecological communities is set to increase rather than decrease. In a very real sense it is the capitalist economic system and its political and state institutions which is also an indirect instigator of the current spiral of revengeful terrorism and a direct instigator of pre-emptive acts of terror.
The use of terror against innocent people is not hard wired into the biological and social evolution of humanity, so it is not an inevitable product of human relationships. Neither, are widespread ideologies for that matter. They are both relatively recent inventions, dependent upon literacy and a class with enough free time to develop them. Yet even so the desire to commit terrorist acts has never been widespread among communities and nations throughout history. Acts of terror are the peculiar product of a small minority within communities, who are instruments used by other educated elite minorities, to further their own elite ends. Hierarchies in general need ideology to justify social and economic inequality and they need terror (and armaments) to enforce this situation where it is seriously challenged. Ideology and terror serve no other purpose. Humanity, clearly needs to oppose and struggle against terrorism in all its forms, state orchestrated and non-state orchestrated.
Moreover, if we are genuinely opposed to terrorism, we must also expose and oppose all forms of terrorism. That is to say the form of terrorism, perpetrated by those who say they are on our side (sic), as well as those who say they are opposed to us, must be equally condemned. However, humanity also needs to struggle against the capitalist mode of production which has spawned all the terrible economic, financial, social, environmental, ecological, political and military problems we currently face – Including the above noted pre-emptive and revengeful acts of terror. It is this broader picture of capitals threats to present and future standards of living, safety and welfare, which also needs to be broadcast and fully understood.
The increasing numbers of human beings fleeing from routine violence on a daily basis in their own countries and seeking asylum in the relative peaceful countries of Europe and North America, do represent a problem under the present mode of production. This is because the wealth capital produces is intentionally not created to be shared out on the basis of general human need. Instead, it is designed to be accumulated by an elite whose greed knows no physical or moral bounds. Therefore, it should be stressed that immigration, as a threat to good jobs, education, and social welfare, only occurs because most of the wealth produced is appropriated by a relative few. This current unequal state of affairs, leaves the majority to squabble and struggle over the remainder. Yet even so, the amount of austerity and relative poverty caused by immigration pales into insignificance when compared with the threats to basic human needs and resources from capitalisms present and future profitable operations. Advanced technology in the hands of capitalist production will soon render far more well paid jobs obsolete (as it did in the mid to late 20th century) than any number of boat loads of refugees.
The compound crises which capitalism now has matured within our production, transportation, waste disposal and consumption areas of life, threaten far more austerity, disruption, destruction, misery and truncated human life than numerous boatloads of desperate working people fleeing from dysfunctional ex-colonised countries and failed states. In this regard, it also needs to be repeatedly stressed that refugees and economic migrants fleeing to Europe from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Africa etc., are the direct and indirect victims of capitals global reach and interference in their countries economic, political and social affairs. Their situation has been rendered so bad by centuries of external meddling that even paltry benefit payments, precarious, low paid employment and slum housing in Europe appears more attractive than being unemployed and homeless in bombed out towns and villages with the constant threat of further harm. Here in Europe, the UK and North America, the working classes of various skin colours are – through unemployment, low pay and austerity measures – also victims of the same economic, financial and political system now in its neo-liberal crisis period. Working people the world over, in varying degrees, are facing the negative consequences of the capitalist mode of production in its 21st century stage of over – production and social and ecological decay.
Never has there been more relevance than today to the 19th century call; ‘workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains’. The workers in the 21st century are now white-collar as well as blue-collar, they also are of different ethnic backgrounds, skin pigment and educational attainment than when the call was first made. However, despite these superficial surface differences, as human beings they still have far more in common, than they have in difference. We all need economic security, adequate housing, safe communities and unpolluted environments. The capitalist mode of production has consistently failed to deliver these basic elements of human existence to all but a privileged layer. It’s representatives are in complete denial about the connections and responsibility of their system for this failure and also for the planetary mess their system has created. That only leaves us – the general working population – to take up the challenge.
For it is no use hoping the politicians will do what is needed. Politics is daily proving to be part of the problem not part of the solution. Working people, uniting nationally and internationally in the desire to change the present capital based system, is something that we are still waiting to happen. Incidentally, it is not some new political strong man (or woman) such as Hitler, Lenin, Stalin or Mao, Thatcher, Merkel, Macron or Trump that we need. Tough Dictators or Kind Shepherds are not all they are trumped (!) up to be and they need sheep to follow them, not creative thinking citizens. And it is the latter which are really needed to reshape the future.
United, we stand a chance of saving ourselves, our present and future families and the ecology of the planet from further destruction and devastation; but divided we will fail on all counts. If this seems a utopian outlook then compare it with the past one hundred years of failed efforts to save people and the planet via the attempts to reform capitalist production methods and judge which effort ultimately has more potential. Also reflect upon the following. Previous mighty empires have collapsed from their own internal contradictions their people (and particularly their elites) never thinking this would happen. Persian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Aztec, Inca empires etc., arose, dominated thousands or millions and then declined leaving mostly ruins, buried bones and pottery.
But of course there is a substantial technological as well as historical difference between those past empires and the present global capitalist one. Previous empires had relatively low levels of technology in methods of production and warfare and this meant that people still had a fairly healthy planet to sustain them after these empires finally collapsed. People within the territories of these previous collapsed empires could still find places to farm, fish and survive reasonably well. Ground water was not generally contaminated, soil was not extensively exhausted or chemical contaminated by organo-phosphates, seas were not full of plastic and other toxic substances. Nuclear waste was not stored in limited life containers.
Forests had not been universally decimated to mass produce cheap furniture and paper. The air the survivors breathed did not contain billions of microscopic fibres of plastic shed from polyester clothing and microfibre packaging. In contrast, to past empires, this present global empire of Capitalist domination, if left to its elites devices, could by its mass produced fossil fuels, nuclear waste, chemical contamination, ecological biocide destruction and multiple pollutions make satisfactory human survival after its inevitable collapse, highly unlikely. Is that the heritage we really wish to pass on to our children and grandchildren as well as to any future generations?
R. Ratcliffe (June 2019)