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Tag:terrorism

Tag:terrorism

Omar Hammami was born and raised in Alabama, dated a prom queen, played soccer, and looked like a normal American kid.  Yet now he is a key figure in a Jihadist unit that conducts murders and suicide bombings in the name of God.

Americans are fascinated by stories like this, because they undermine our ability to otherize.  Recognizing that it is possible for a fresh-faced, popular American boy to grow up to be a terrorist forces us to realize that these religious extremists are people just like us.  Radical Muslims are not animals or aliens, they are human beings who care deeply about the consequences of their actions.

This shouldn’t come to us as a shock.  Good people are capable of bad things.  Those of us who are familiar with the Stanford Prison Experiment know that circumstances can lead to behaviors that might seem totally out of character, or even utterly evil.  Having total control over another person’s fate is one way that our situation in life can overwhelm our sense of decency.  Being subject to the perverse yet sometimes subtle manipulation of religious fervor can also influence us to behave in startlingly destructive ways.

Omar’s motivation is dedication to Allah, who he believes commands him to act violently.  He did not arrive at his current worldview casually.  His story was full of twists and turns: he underwent a great deal of soul-searching, and examined a number of philosophical positions before settling on Jihad as his purpose.

He debated religion with his peers, and he won.  No one was able to convince him that he was wrong, and how could they?  What could a Christian society tell him to dissuade him from his path?  Christians agree that service to God is the ultimate good.  Christians agree that nonbelievers will be violently punished, whether in this life or the next.  Christians agree that God’s commands are written in a book that cannot be questioned.

When you are part of a society that believes these things, there is nothing to stop a thoughtful individual from taking these principles to their logical conclusion, which is what Omar has done.  His only crime is a desire for consistency in his religious beliefs.  An honest Christian who believes that the Bible is the word of God, and who is not willing to compromise in his or her faith would also have to be an extremist.  The (Christian) Bible is full of exhortations and promises to kill nonbelievers and adulterers.

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