Monday, April 25, 2011

A Cause of Wars: Nationalist and Religious Absolutism

Ideologies of War Newsletter to jbennet       "Death to the Non-Believers: Terroristic Violence and the Meaning of the Holocaust"
by Richard Koenigsberg
For Love of the Father: A Psychoanalytic Study of Religious Terrorism by Ruth Stein
Robert Pinsky—who served as United States Poet Laureate (the nation’s official poet) from 1997-2000—wrote about Stein’s book in The New Yorker as follows: “The four-page, handwritten letter Mohammad Atta left in his luggage is a religious love letter, suffused with serenity and joy. The tone is one of weird love, not rage or hatred. This unsettling perception led Ruth Stein to write For Love of the Father. Stein’s insights are so profound and urgent—her sentences so illuminating understanding of religious terrorism.”
I became attracted to Ruth Stein’s work based on the fact that I’ve been studying a form of radical fundamentalism throughout my life, namely the ideology of Adolf Hitler and Nazism. The object of worship for Hitler was his beloved nation. Hitler declared to his people: “We do not want to have any other God, only Germany” and stated that Deutschland uber Alles (“Germany above all”) was a profession of faith that “fills millions with a greater strength”—with a faith that is “mightier than any earthly might.” Hitler was a profound devotee of his religion: a preacher who sought to persuade the German people to worship as he did.
Long before I was aware of Islamic fundamentalism, the phrase “Death to the non-believers” often passed through my brain as I tried to comprehend the meaning of the Final Solution. It gradually became evident that for Hitler and many Nazis, Jews symbolized a people that did not worship the nation enough; did not embrace the Nazi religion; had doubts about the value of sacrificing one’s life for Germany.
Hitler said, “We are fanatic in our love for our people. We can go as loyally as a dog with those who share our sincerity, but will pursue with fanatical hatred the man who believes that he can play tricks with this love of ours.” Hitler’s hatred was directed toward those whom he believed mocked his love for Germany: refused to share his devotion. Jews were conceived as if infidels: a people who refused to embrace the one true faith; to worship Hitler and Germany. The Holocaust constituted a form of religious terrorism: death to the non-believers.
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It doesn’t matter what the Jews were or what they actually did. In Hitler’s mind and according to his ideology, they had to be eliminated—because of what they symbolized or represented. Jews were conceived as non-believers: a people who lacked faith in Hitler and Germany; doubted the eventual triumph of Nazism; and were skeptical about the value of sacrifice.
As a political movement, Islamic fundamentalism (whatever the former President may have said) cannot be compared with Nazism. However—as I studied Ruth Stein’s writings and the utterances of Bin Laden—it became evident that as a structure of thought, Hitler’s ideology and that of Bin Laden had much in common. My focus here is radical belief systems or fanatic ideologies—how these generate group violence.
To read and/or comment on Dr. Koenigsberg’s previous review-essay “Killing in the Name of Love” (and to read comments by subscribers), click here.
“In our religion,” Bin Laden declared, “We believe that Allah has created us for the purpose of worshipping him.” As Hitler professed absolute faith in Germany, so does Bin Laden profess absolute faith in Allah. What’s more, just as Hitler becomes enraged when he imagines that some do not worship Germany as he does, so does Bin Laden become enraged contemplating the idea of people who do not believe in Allah.
Bin Laden claims that the Quran urges Moslems to “fight for the cause of Allah” and to “kill pagans wherever they are found.” When believers meet unbelievers, they should “smite their neck and fight those who believe not in Allah.” Bin Laden’s rage—his desire to kill—grows out of his wish to punish or destroy infidels—those who do not worship the God that he worships.
Jihad, according to this ideology, is undertaken as a religious obligation. Bin Laden states that Allah has “ordered us to make holy wars” and to fight to see to it that “His word is the highest and uppermost and that of the unbelievers the lowermost.” Bin Laden claims that Allah has “ordered us to make holy wars.” No Moslem may say that he does not want to do jihad in the cause of God because, after all, “Is there any other way to repel the infidels?”
Terroristic violence, in short, grows out of a belief system claiming it is necessary to destroy or punish non-believers. God, Bin Laden says, has ordered Moslems to “carry out jihad and to kill and to fight.” If believers are willing to fight and to kill, then God will “punish non-believers with your hands, help you to victory over them, and heal the hearts of the believers.”
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Holy war, as Ruth Stein puts it, is a “deadly ritual that seeks to annihilate or dominate the other in God’s name.” Terroristic violence is undertaken as a demonstration of the omnipotence of one’s God; in order to persuade others of the power of one’s ideal; and to punish those who refuse to worship the one, true God.
Terroristic violence seeks to compel the Other to submit to the God to which one has oneself submitted. The terrorist seeks to transform Others into sacrificial victims (as the suicide bombers themselves are sacrificial victims). Violent acts are undertaken in the name Allah—in order to demonstrate the depth of one’s devotion and punish those who are insufficiently devoted.
Similarly, the Holocaust was a form of terroristic violence: manifestation of a Holy War whose purpose was to demonstrate the power of Germany and punish those whom (Hitler imagined) did not embrace Nazism and worship the nation as he did. By undertaking the Final Solution, Hitler and the Nazis sought to convey the following idea: “You too must submit—sacrifice your life—to the object to which we have submitted and sacrificed our lives. Just as we have compelled to become obedient unto death, so too must you. You are not exempt from the obligation to die for Germany.”
Genocide was a massive performance or enactment undertaken by Hitler and the Nazis, seeking to persuade others that the German nation was omnipotent (by virtue of its capacity to accomplish even such a radical form of action). It was as if Hitler was saying: “This is what happens to those who doubt the power of Germany and will of the Fuhrer: Death to the non-believers.”

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