'Evil' and terror
Michael Bird in a post on his times in the army notes:
An an ex-intelligence operator I know enough about Al-Qaeda to know that they have to be stopped in any way possible. Their goals are (1) to expel all westerners and western influences from Muslim lands, (2) set up a caliphate in the middle-east (like the old Ottoman Empire); and (3) then to export their violence to the rest of the world until the entire human race is ensalved to their pernicious ideology.Disclaimer, not all Muslims hold this, there are moderates and I reckon most Muslims just want to live a happy and peaceful life. But the radicals are not the victims of US foreign policy or merely standing up to US imperialism, they just insidiously evil.
Before I say anything I must stress from the outset that this is interaction with Michael's view and certainly note a personal attack but I feel some response does need to be made. Indeed, the follwing are not aimed at Michael but more broadly at various arguments that are being made these days.
Quite probably (1), (2) and (3) are correct. But as I have said before the resort to 'evil' is just not very helpful in explaining events. I have not problem of course in describing people who will blow up innocent people on trains, buses and buildings as evil. But to say that 'evil' alone is the reason I cannot accept. If US imperialism, the Palestinian issue, the economic sanctions against Iraq, western influence in Saudi, western influence in various Muslim counties with extremely dubious records on human rights, and racism towards Muslims/'Muslim looking' in (say) the UK, for example, did not exist (perceived or not) then the support for terrorist causes would be too minimal to be of note. This only requires perceptions of Western abuse (real or not) and it is no coincidence that bin Laden has used the plight of various Muslims in places like Palestine and Iraq over the years to recruit people. If it was just some 'evil' then why use such rhetoric? It is irrelevant whether terrorists themselves were first hand victims: it just requires the social context.
Compare the situation in C1 Palestine. It would take a brave historian these days to try to get away with explaining the violence of the Sicarii or zealots or some other violent ancient 'terrorist' as simply 'evil' but most rather try to explain the various factors which would give rise to these groups because it seems so obvious due to the evidence avaiable. Could the 'evil alone is to blame methodology' really be applied to the rise these groups or indeed the KKK or far too many mass murders in human history? No, they should be explained carefully with reference to various historical factors. As is often said, to explain is not to accept or forgive. But explaining might help explain why these things happen.
One concern I always have is why the focus is always in Islam. Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Marxists, secularists or whatever have done terrible things and some still do. But why always focus on Islam? There are plenty of other examples that could have been chosen. Why Islam? NT and Xn scholars should never forget the disgraceful attitudes towards Judaism in previous times which have now been shown to be nothing more than bigoted rubbish.
So precisely what is this 'evil'? If we use it as some kind of causal reason for terrorism means it must be defined. Is it a real existing satan working with a force of evil within such terrorists? If so what is this? Some kind of mysterious unseen force? If so can this be put forward as a proper causal argument? If a general legitimate parallel could be found from the first century, would a causal argument based on 'evil' be used? For what it is worth, I doubt it would take off in history depts.
Again, I must stress that this should absolutely not be seen as a personal attack on Michael in anyway whatsoever but just as a reponse to his views and those of others and to provide an alternative argument. I suspect Michael will happily respond to this and I for one would welcome that!