September 11, 2011
In his book Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization, Reza Aslan describes multiple examples of religious extremism as well as ideas of how to solve this growing phenomenon. The most important section of Aslan’s book, to me, is the introduction. Many readers of all different types of books either skim the preface or introduction or they skip it altogether; however, Aslan’s introduction introduces the reader to many new terms and concepts he or she may not be familiar with while still discussing something that will always remain fresh in everyone’s memories: the attacks on September 11, 2001.
In his introduction, Aslan opens the reader’s mind by introducing the concept
that, “the hijackers who murdered more than three thousand souls on that
September morning were carrying out a liturgical act (Aslan 4).” The pure emotion that the reader feels when he or she reads the introduction is the emotional basis that he or she has for the rest of the book. With 2011 being the ten year anniversary of September 11, 2001, many may take the introduction as being a justification of the tragedy, but it is to be taken as more of an explanation.
The document, “discovered in the baggage of one of the 9/11 hijackers,” allows the
reader to get a glimpse of what exactly the hijackers’ mindsets were at the time of the attacks (Aslan 3). After discussing the document further, Aslan explains that the attacks on September 11th did not spark the debate between religion and violence, but it
in fact forced the issue to be confronted and made it impossible to set it aside any longer. Throughout history, it has always been easy for rulers and leaders to blame violence on religion, but Aslan makes the point that, “no religion is inherently violent or peaceful; people are violent or peaceful (Aslan 4).” This statement forces the reader to consider the fact that it is not specifically Islam or Muslims that are “evil,” but it is the specific people who participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The United
States of America, in the days, weeks, and months following the attacks, collectively thought of the Muslim and Islam worlds as evil entities. As a collective whole, we did not take the time to consider the point that Aslan made because the country, and the world,
was in shock. Now that a decade has passed, America has come to realize that, as Aslan states, “these men read the Qur’an and assured themselves that it was not innocents they were sacrificing but the allies of Satan, the brothers of the Devil (Aslan 4).” One of the most important terms of Aslan’s book is introduced in the introduction. He defines the term cosmic war as being, “a conflict in which God is believed to be directly engaged on one side over the other (Aslan 4).” Cosmic wars, according to Aslan, can simply have no compromise, negotiation, settlement, or surrender, and therefore, a cosmic war is divided into the general factors of good and evil, “soldier and civilian, combatant and noncombatant, aggressor and bystander,” and us versus them, which Aslan titled the introduction (Aslan 5).
The men who attacked the United States of America on September 11, 2001 were cosmic warriors. Cosmic wars cannot be won in real terms, and the attackers knew this going in, but they did have one main goal: global transformation. This transformation is the “victory” that would, “establish the truth and get rid of evil (Aslan 7).” Aslan’s shift from talking directly about the September 11th hijackers to introducing al-Qa’ida is incredibly smooth, and his blatant use of negative phrases about the terrorist group make the reader feel comfortable.
Aslan clearly states that al-Qa’ida, as it can hope, “is incapable of erasing all borders and reestablishing a worldwide Caliphate (Aslan 7).” As defined at the end of the introduction, Caliphate is, “the political office of the titular head of Islam, established with the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 C.E. and abolished by Mustafa Kemal Ataürk in 1924 (Aslan 14).” In the years since September 11, 2001, the American government has almost made us, the American public, fear terrorists even more by making us believe that their goals are easily achievable. By doing this, we, as a country, have come together as one side of this cosmic war that has been occurring for centuries in the Middle East.
“This is not a normal war,” Aslan states. “Our very identity as a nation was at stake.
The world had been cleft in two, with good on one side and evil on the other, and victory would come, George W. Bush promised, only when we ‘rid the world of evil (Aslan 8).’” With the world essentially divided into two sides, good and evil, people begin thinking
collectively. Collectively, we have to stand together as to win, not lose, and not surrender.
“Religion is identity. Indeed, in many parts of the world religion is fast becoming the supreme identity, encompassing and even superseding ethnicity, culture, and nationality (Aslan 10).” Aslan’s introduction in Beyond Fundamentalism is one of the most important sections in the entire book because it introduces the reader to many new concepts, terms, and it also opens the reader’s mind to many new perspectives of world issues that have arisen over the last decade. The opening paragraphs dealing with the attacks on September 11, 2001 hit home with the reader making the rest of the book personable. “In the end there is only one way to win a cosmic war: refuse to fight in it (Aslan 11).” Aslan’s positions on world conflicts open up the reader’s eyes to new concepts that he or she may have not considered likely in the past, and this strategy is helpful in that a wider range of conflicts, perspectives, and reasons are surfaced. Reza Aslan makes the reader think, evaluate, and consider things he or she may not have previously considered and he also opens up many questions that are necessary for the reader to confront and answer before continuing to another section of the book.
Reza, Aslan. Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of
Gobalization. New York: Random House Trade