Framing Sageman’s account of how terrorists are made

While doing mid term grades, I came across this passage in one of the Aslan reflective essays that I think warrants sharing:

[Aslan writes:]

A cosmic war transforms those who should be considered butchers and thugs into soldiers sanctioned by God. It turns victims into sacrifices and justifies the most depraved acts of destruction because it does not abide by human conceptions of morality. What use does the cosmic warrior have for such ethical concerns when he is simply a puppet in the hands of God?  (103)

Aslan seems to suggest that if each individual chooses to place their faith wholly in the hands of a higher power they need not struggle with such tedious issues as developing an individualized sense of morality. Although some may argue that with the acceptance of a religion comes the conscious choice to follow whatever moral codes are associated with it, Aslan challenges that in some faiths, notably specific branches of Islam and Christianity, to follow a religion is to blindly accept whatever codes of conduct come with it or risk endangering one’s immortal soul and acceptance here on earth by members of the religious society.

 My comment back was: “…so you are saying that when someone makes a “conscious choice” to join a particular faith that this also means “blindly accepting” other things, and it is this intractability, or idea that faith is a binding contract with eternal consequences, that makes religion such a powerful, possibly deadly, force?”

I think the writer of this essay is really on to something here.  Is there a way to reconcile the “leap” that faith requires and the “acceptance” of a moral code?   I would further ask, does acceptance of this moral code naturally lead to violence?

I thought that these were compelling questions to consider in light of Sageman’s study.




About dgriffith

Dave Griffith is Assistant Professor of English at Sweet Briar College. He is the author of A Good War is Hard to Find: The Art of Violence in America.
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