Religion, Terror and Peace
Cardinal Martino Reflects on Role of Belief

SINGAPORE, JULY 1, 2006 ( The role of religion in promoting peace and helping to defeat terrorism was the subject of a recent speech by Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace and for Migrants and Travelers.

The discourse came during his visit to Singapore last week, as Benedict XVI's special envoy to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Singapore.

The public lecture, delivered June 22, was titled: "The Role of Religions in Promoting Peace and Solidarity and Denouncing Terrorism."

Cardinal Martino noted the variety of cultural and religious elements present in Singapore.

Religion, he said, "must never become a pretext for fueling conflict, hatred and violence." He added that sincere religious sentiment can actually be a strong antidote against conflicts.

"In this perspective, individuals and religious communities must clearly manifest a complete and radical rejection of violence, all violence, starting with the violence that would wrap itself in the mantle of religion, even appealing to the holy name of God as it commits offences against humanity."

No religious end, the cardinal emphasized, can justify the practice of man committing violence against man.

The Pope's representative called to mind the example of Pope John Paul II.

The previous Pontiff invited believers to cultivate dialogue, believing it to be a useful means to dispel distrust and misunderstanding. He also invited us to recognize the gifts of different cultures and traditions.

Promoting dialogue

This teaching is most useful in facing current problems, Cardinal Martino noted. He invited believers of different religions to undertake their dialogue within the context of promoting justice and solidarity. Believers also need to be conscious of the deep wounds of ethnic and social conflicts, of violence and war, and a lack of respect for rights.

The message of Jesus, the cardinal continued, invites us to place value on what we share in common and on what unites us.

Dialogue between believers is also necessary in order to overcome the dangers of religious fundamentalism, the cardinal said. "Just as in the recently ended twentieth century, certain ideological concepts corrupted the truth of politics, so the power of men over other men threatens today to exploit religions, deeply disfiguring their intrinsic truth."

Another serious danger is that of terrorism, today more than ever, now that it has been transformed from isolated acts of individual extremists into a sophisticated network with access to significant financial resources. Terrorism is "unacceptable in the most absolute of manner," the cardinal stated unequivocally. It is based on contempt for human life and uses persons as means to achieve an end.

In addition to killing innocent victims, terrorism also leads to isolation, distrust and closed-mindedness, which in turn fosters hatred. This leads to a vicious cycle whereby violence engenders further violence.

Terrorism is also an attack on human dignity, Cardinal Martino added, and an attack against all humanity. For this reason there is a right to defense against terrorism. He also recommended international cooperation with particular attention put to resolving problems that can fuel terrorism. "The recruitment of terrorists, in fact, is more easily accomplished in social contexts where hatred is sown, where rights are trampled, and in situations where injustices have been tolerated for too long."

Rejecting fundamentalism

The cardinal then returned to the matter of religious fundamentalism.

He noted that in this year's message for the World Day of Peace, Benedict XVI warned that at the roots of terrorism we often find fundamentalism or nihilism.

Fundamentalism is the belief that one is in complete possession of the truth, such that one can impose it by force. "Truth, however, must be continually sought; it can only be contemplated and never possessed, because God is truth."

Moreover, every authentic believer knows that the truth is larger than the believer himself. "For this reason, it is a profanation and blasphemy to proclaim oneself a terrorist in God's name, to kill or inflict violence upon people in God's name."

No religion, Cardinal Martino stressed, can tolerate terrorism, much less preach it. This is particularly true for the great monotheistic religions in which there is faith in God the creator of mankind.

Terror is also contrary to the concept of a God who cares and loves people, and to the idea of God as father of all men and women.

For Christians terror is contrary to faith in Christ, sent by the Father, who said: "Love one another; even as I have loved you, so also must you love one another" (John 13:34).

The cardinal then urged Christians and believers in the other monotheistic religions, along with other religions, to work together to spread a greater awareness of the unity of the human race. This should be done by teaching that the dignity of the human person is great in God's eyes, and violence can never be done in the name of the one who is love.

He also called for effort in teaching people that there is no connection between terrorism and religion.

This can be helped by means of a renewed commitment to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and cooperation, carried out in spirit of mutual understanding, respect and trust. "There is a right to defend oneself against terrorism, but we must not forget that the true defense against terrorism is found in the spiritual and cultural order."

Peace, the cardinal said, is the result of a just order in the relationships between human beings, regardless of their color, culture or social class. It also comes when fundamental human rights are respected and when people fulfill their duty towards others. Peace also requires sincere cooperation, responsibility, and a society built on truth, justice, freedom and love.

Anglican perspective

The role of religion in peace and conflict was also examined recently by an Anglican bishop, Michael Nazir-Ali. Originally from Pakistan, with a family background that is both Christian and Muslim, Nazir-Ali is currently bishop of Rochester, England.

In his book, "Conviction and Conflict: Islam, Christianity and World Order," (Continuum, 2006), the Anglican prelate admitted that religious beliefs have been, and still are, a powerful ingredient in many conflicts.

Religion can go wrong, in the sense of stimulating conflicts, but he clarified, so can other fundamental human realities such as love or patriotism, due to the effects of sin on our human nature. On the positive side, Christians are often at the forefront of dialogue and the promotion of peace.

Nazir-Ali also argued that it is wrong to conceive of religion as a purely negative influence in its relation with the state. The great moral codes, such as the Ten Commandments, have greatly contributed to the formation of legal codes in various civilizations.

And democracy has flourished in countries with a Christian background.

There are, nevertheless, troubling issues regarding Islam, such as the financing by some states of extremist groups, and the use of concepts such as Jihad to justify conflicts. Within England the presence of radical Islamist leaders has also been a cause of problems.

In the face of such problems the bishop of Rochester called upon Islam and Christianity to engage in dialogue. He also recommended promoting cultural exchanges, and the provision of economic aid that will reduce the numbers of the poor and unemployed who are exploited by extremists.

Religion, it seems, will be an important part of finding a solution to the current problems of violence and terrorism.


The Echo of Melos: How Ancient Honor Unmasks Islamic Terror
 Dr. Jose Yulo | December 21, 2005

" follows that he who uses force unsparingly, without reference to the bloodshed involved, must obtain a superiority if his adversary uses less vigor in its application. The former then dictates the law to the latter..." –– Carl von Clausewitz

"Then we must stand like hunters round a covert and make sure that justice does not escape us and disappear from view." –– Socrates

In Thucydides’s The Peloponnesian War, the Athenian general turned historian introduced future generations to the oftentimes disillusioning realities of men at war. One of the work’’s many strengths is its ability to depict sharp turns in cultural behavior. The war itself has been, and today is seen as a singularly tragic event which portended the end of an epoch which briefly gave wing to Greek ideals; ideals so vital to a fledgling West. The lessons taught by this account would serve the modern reader well in light of the current struggle against Islamic terror.

A particular manifestation of the ways in which war alters even such a unique and influential culture such as Greece, is how older staples of measure and honor are so readily discarded in favor of the heady liquor of political power. There are few better examples of this phenomenon than when an aggressive, expansionistic Athens lands on the island of Melos, an erstwhile Spartan ally, and attempts to broker a quick Melian surrender.

With thirty-eight ships and over three thousand hoplites and archers landing on Melos, Athenian leaders soon sent emissaries to exchange with the Melian leadership. Not wishing to involve a general address on this matter, the Melians insisted that only their high officials should listen and deal with Athenian offers. This choice may be interpreted in different lights.

First, the Melian magistrates desired to avoid the very possible outbreaks of panic an invasion and ensuing siege induces. Melos and her citizens knew full well that as a colony of Sparta, this visit––one with demonstrated Athenian military strength––was no innocuous trading mission.

Second, by only allowing their best and most respected citizens to receive an expectedly one-sided offer of peace, the Melians would have shown Athens their resolve and at least the impression that this city state was in control of its choices. In putting themselves between Athens and their populace, the leaders of Melos conveyed their land as worthy of defense. This stance was presented with the complete realization that however honeyed the Athenian offer for peace was, it would inevitably rot the Melian standing amongst other Greeks, bringing about possible hostility from its Spartan patrons.

Ultimately, the Melian rationale for this option was based on strength. As the decidedly weaker party in these negotiations, it could ill afford to further enhance this perception. Giving ravenous Athens pause before the eventual pounce was a better alternative than to go meekly into its maw.

Dallying little, the Athenian contingent advanced its intentions. Its take on the inequities of the situation was paramount. Athens reminded Melos that it could invoke its new, post-Salamis hegemony, or creatively conjure up some offense dealt out by the Melians, to provide some rationale for what was about to take place. In refusing to do this, the Athenian representatives instead demoted the question of rectitude as being only applicable in situations where both parties involved possessed equally balanced levels of authority. This not being the case, Athens maintained, "the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."

Taking a Stand

Such a sentiment may be readily attributed historically to marauding peoples such as Huns or Scythians, or perhaps more established military powers as Assyria and Rome. In truth, among the Greeks, it was Athens’’s rival Sparta that had the reputation both for austerity in both rhetoric and realpolitik. Yet, it was not members of these nations who presented the Melians with their barren alternatives. Athens, the birthplace of democracy, philosophy, and the more refined Hellenic arts, was also known as the singular champion of a political system seldom repeated in the ancient world. It was democratic Athens, albeit a more ethically ambivalent city state than it had ever previously been, which voiced these words of acquiescence to power.

The Melian leadership, true to their convictions, did not receive the inevitability offered without a challenge; though at this point a purely rhetorical one. These elders cited (among other things) the catastrophic future end of the empire Athens is trying to build, the chance of turning peripheral city states into enemies, and the wishfully expected arrival of a Spartan vanguard as deterrents.

When these more material coercions fail to curb Athens’’s own arguments, Melos conjured in turn more metaphysical variables. Admitting their decidedly inferior military and economic positions, the blessings instead of Olympus were sought. This call was one which recognized the gods’’ sympathy for those who were "just men fighting against unjust."

It is ironic that after Athens is defeated and subjugated by Sparta after the war, and liberated to install a new age of democracy, she will produce some of the greatest exponents of justice philosophy has ever known. Socrates and Plato will later on remind future generations of the need for reason as a moderating force within men’’s souls and states, begetting the virtue justice in each of these. This reason, a product of an earlier epoch in Athens, a period preceding the city’’s current imperial desires, was conveniently laid aside in this time of war. Reason and its ensuing justice would have, in a previous age, told Athens not to put Melos in this position.

However, this was the age of Athenian dominance, the city state paradoxically performing the same feats it had so bravely fought off mighty Xerxes for less than half a century before. Answering the Melian divine invocation, Athens reminded its prey of the fickle, all too human quality of Hellenic deities. Both gods and humans, it seemed, followed an encompassing dictate for the pursuit of dominance as often as possible. Hence, of the gods and humankind "by a necessary law of their nature they rule whenever they can."

Here, it is possible to see the morally bereft position of the Athenian argument. In seeking power through the expansion of territory, it must first do away with established ethical guidelines. What better way exists to discard these than to claim they never existed to begin with, that even mighty Zeus himself shared man’’s own predilections? The shirking of responsibility, another trait attendant to slackened honor, likewise permeated this ethos.

With power being the only staple consumable to an Athenian palate, the aggressors made a comparison of themselves to the Melians. Since as stated, the natural drive for dominance and rule predated man and was itself adhered to by the gods, anyone in Athens’’s position would have done same. The Melians were reminded, "you and everybody else, having the same power as we have, would do the same as we do."

This yet was another mark of the renunciation of Hellenic ethics. By elevating power, not justice, by the elimination of the former, Athens could not believe Melos would act for other more noble motivations. Worse still, by knowing of the past virtues as being inherently better than their newfound drives, the Athenian representatives must rationalize their actions by dragging the Melians through the selfsame mud of their advances.

Inevitably, and perhaps in spite of the spirited rhetorical defenses proffered by both sides, the dialogue at Melos turned into the siege and sack of that island. All Melian males were slain, and the land’’s women and children sold into slavery. It would seem that mercy would not be possible if at first its corresponding virtue, justice, were never present.

The Present Day Situation

Although chronological variations remove direct parallelism of this time and event from the current epoch, there nevertheless are some points where the Melian Dialogue is pertinent to the larger war against Islamic terror at large, and the recent Muslim rioting in France in particular. In these comparisons, elements of the West and Islam will shift and assume perspectives contained in Thucydides’’s masterful account.

First and in general, the West and other peaceful nations must realize the concrete and deliberate danger posed by Islamic terrorism. There are today many well-meaning voices urging for the consideration of past ills heaped upon the ancestors of the current crop of militants. These oftentimes take the appearance of perpetually wanting to support the politically, economically, and militarily weaker party. There are fewer eras when this same affinity for militant minority groups––at times excusing the acts perpetrated by agents of these––is more vocal than the current day. However, there is no romanticized cause or personality sacred enough as to wash away innocent blood already staining the streets of capitals the world over. The more nations pander to their factions within calling for not treating Islamic terrorism for what it is, the longer they stand apart from the Melian leadership who courageously put themselves between naked aggression and their citizens.

This argument can be extended to modern nations, which do little or nothing, for whatever reason, to stem the violence caused by Islamic terror. Though not yet themselves declared acts of terrorism, the recent acts of Muslim rioting in the suburbs of Paris share important commonalities with more infamous attacks by Islamic militants. The riots were ostensibly caused because of anger at the inequalities denying Muslim French youth the promised largesse of France’’s welfare state. Following a logical progression, and the views of some supportive of perpetrators of the violence, these acts were done to ensure a political end. The nature of the rioting involved destruction of personal and private property, along with random attacks at unarmed civilians. When the French leadership, in particular Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin, did little to stem the initial days of violence in lieu of calls for tolerance, they chose not to put themselves between their citizens and the actions of native terrorists.

This choice to not strongly confronting such aggression is in the very least strange because the government of France, possessing far more political power than local gangs, should be able to direct terms to the latter. As seen from Thucydides, Athens makes no compunctions about the stark realities of power politics. In France, and across broader frontiers where Islamic militance challenges established civilizations, it seems it is the politically weak that dictate to the strong. When members of Western societies wonder out aloud, "Just what do they (terrorists) want?", the crucial balance in this scenario of power shifts. Implicit in this sentiment is the belief that if only demands were met, murderous violence would stop. What then is one to make of the statements of groups such as Hamas, who frankly expound on their wish to push Israel into the sea? These desires are now echoed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the new leader of Iran, who only recently spoke of wiping the Jewish state off the map. Not surprisingly, Iran’’s Islamic theocracy is one of the world’’s major sponsors of terrorist groups such as the Lebanon-based Hizbollah.

How then do sovereign states and international institutions respond to these threats? An institution such as the United Nations maintains a position wherein Israel itself is guilty of oppressing Palestine and, subsequently, its militant organization Hamas. UN chief Kofi Annan recently celebrated a day of solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Members of the European Union flexed their financial muscle and "reprimanded" Iran, which brought about a garbled rationalization from Ahmadinejad.

Perhaps it is this penchant for viewing terrorists as belonging to victimized societies that slurs the willingness of some to hold them liable for their actions. In the United States post-September 11, many voices in academia were quick to point out the potential folly in rushing to judge after thousands of innocents were incinerated. Instead of judgment, faculty such as Edward Said and Noam Chomsky strove to make American citizenry aware of the various plagues visited by the West on Middle Eastern cultures. In fact, it was the American people who were in some byzantine way culpable for their own suffering. It seems that in exchange of the search for justice, a civilization assaulted need turn its view to another virtue: tolerance.

The aforementioned French leadership, in its hesitance to assume early control of the situation during its fall riots, could be heard on a daily basis pleading for understanding and tolerance, chiefly for perpetrators of the violence. Seemingly, if only agitators could see self-penance and openness, hearts would be lightened and, more importantly, the French leadership would pass the "tolerance test" in front of the rest of the world.

Return to Justice and Honor

When Melos cited justice and honor, it called upon virtues and mores they knew most Greeks held in the highest regard. The approval of other city states was unimportant to this end; the eternal standards themselves were the only judges of any consequence. The French leadership, on the other hand, is not only conjuring a grace seen as a weakness by its dissidents, but employing a tactic requiring its primary legitimacy from an audience’’s whim.

It is in the last, doom-filled statement from Athens that there may perhaps be some measure of hope in the conflict against Islamic terrorism––a conflict where the politically weak dictates to the great powers of the world. Drunk with power and solely dealing in the coin of force and aggression, Athens cannot imagine any city state behaving in a different manner than itself. If Melos, Corinth, and, of course, Sparta were similarly positioned as Athens was, these lands would naturally push their military advantage.

It ironic that although the young Muslim rioters in France clamor for their acceptance and relief from racial oppression, they in turn directed their violence toward some of the most vulnerable in French society. From a disabled woman set on fire on a bus to the scores of nursery schools lit by flames of spite, the rioters manifested their abject lack of compassion while all the while demanding the selfsame bounty.

In this they are echoed by the nihilism of Islamic terror. Both phenomena eschew the reasoned debate and discussion proffered to them by appeasement-minded Westerners. Rather, they elect and choose to answer perceived maltreatment with wanton violence. In places as diverse as Paris, Baghdad, and Bali, blood and fire––not words and reason––are the preferred means of expression.

While these macabre exhibits litter world capitals, the refrain often heard from the perpetrators is one of reciprocity. These acts were seemingly done in response to millennia of oppression. Yet it is this and only this that Islamic terror offers the world. Though groups such as Hamas will support charities to sanitize their image in the Islamic world, these acts truly only extend to their own native borders. How then do Islamist critics of the Iraq war answer to coalition soldiers risking their lives building schools and hospitals for the young and the sick of a civilization so different from its own?

Here is the weakness of the Athenian argument at Melos, one that is parallel to the fallacy of Islamic terror rhetoric. Those worshipping on the altar of power and the potentially evil actions it promotes and sustains itself by cannot see the enemy doing otherwise. However, this congregation is not (and has never been) alone in the many long and tragic annals of human history. There have always been those who would profess the sanctity of life, as well as justice, one of the former’’s greatest defenders.

It would behoove the recently embattled nations of the civilized world to realize that the darker chapters of their past should not be cause for their retreat or paralysis in the face of Islamic terror. Rather, the leaders of these nations ought look at the Melian stand, and realize that in contrast to this lesson from antiquity, theirs is the political strength necessary to combat and defeat this scourge. The citizens of these nations should likewise realize that justice and honor––concepts long made passéé in the lexicon of today––are merely dormant, and deserve just as much of their efforts as tolerance.

Related Articles:

•• Martyrs and Suicide Bombers | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
•• The One War, The Real War | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
•• Wars Without Violence? | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.

Jose Yulo, Ed.D. teaches courses on philosophy, western civilization, United States history, and public speaking at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He has a Doctorate in Education from the University of San Francisco, with an emphasis on the philosophy of education. He also holds a Master's degree in political communication from Emerson College in Boston, as well as a Bachelor's degree in the classical liberal arts from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD. Originally from Manila in the Philippines, his research interests lie in Greek philosophy, the histories of Greek and Roman politics and warfare, and the literature of J. R. R. Tolkien.

The children of Niger are the innocent victims of religious fanaticism

In the centre of Niamey–the capital of Niger, one of the poorest countries on earth–stands a lavish monument to the global reach of Islam. The Great Mosque of Niamey casts long shadows over the surrounding squalor. Its pencil-thin, aspirational minaret, cavernous prayer hall and enormous green dome tower above the rubbish and depressing low-slung houses, where single rooms are home to entire families. The mosque cost around A$1.25 million to build in a country where more than 60 per cent of the population lives on less than US$1 per day.

Each time I have visited Niamey, the mosque has always stood empty, as if it belongs to another place, an edifice somehow transported here from a world where money doesn’t matter. This substitute for much-needed infrastructure, and reassertion of Islamic credentials, was an act of appeasement by a bankrupt government as desperate to survive as its people. This myopic gesture carried with it echoes of Madame Diori, wife of former President Hamani Diori. She was known among the whisperers on Niamey’s streets as ‘l’Autrichienne’ (the Austrian) after Marie Antoinette’s famous pronouncement: ‘Let them eat cake’. Her husband’s sorry government–which had led Niger since independence in 1960–fell in April 1974, after it was discovered that food aid sent to relieve the great famines of the 1970s had been hoarded in the homes of government ministers. The Diori government stole its people’s dreams of an independent Africa.

The closer you get to the border with Nigeria, the more obvious the growing separation between governments (and local manifestations of Islam) and the needs of the people they claim to serve.

Maradi is Niger’s third-largest city. Hard up against the Nigerian border and surrounded by enormous sand quarries, which produce clouds of lung-choking sand, Maradi has a reputation for being a politically active and restive city. Its predominantly Hausa merchant classes are the most vocal in Niger, and protests against government policies or unpaid wages invariably start here. It is a transit town. Nigeria is a few short kilometres away and everyone appears to be involved in some form of cross-border trade.

Maradi’s sprawling markets straddle the main highway which passes south to Nigeria. The markets, which spread out from the clamorous bus station and are almost invariably awash with people, are surrounded by trucks unloading cargo in a great din of horns and shouts and diesel fumes. Everything is for sale here, from fresh produce to cigarettes and cheap designer clothes, from smuggled petrol to guns.

The only time when the markets and adjacent bus station are not in uproar is during prayer times, when the mosques fill and the streets fall eerily quiet.

The first time I visited Maradi, I met Mona, a sad Lebanese woman. She had just opened a hotel. She avoided my questions as to why she was so far from home, saying simply that this was now home, as West Africa is for so many Lebanese. Beirut was a 30-year-old memory, reincarnated in her hotel with touches of flair and style from a city of grace that no longer exists. Her husband had died the year previously. As she said this, a shadow passed across her face. She clearly did not belong here and knew it, but was weary of it all and planned to stay anyway. A motherly woman, with only Maradi for company, she smiled benignly at me and her staff with the air of someone resigned to keeping alive a sense of hospitality as her last effort at connection with people.

In the intervening years, protesters had gone on a rampage, heeding the call of conservative Muslim clerics who denounced as un-Islamic an international fashion festival being held in Niamey. Mobs of fundamentalist thugs roamed the streets targeting businesses rumoured to be engaged in un-Islamic practices. The imams called on men to stone women who were dressed inappropriately. Bars, restaurants and hotels were torched or, if they were lucky, forced to close under threat of arson.

When I returned to Maradi, two years after meeting Mona, much had changed. Mona was gone. Her hotel, her modest dream, lay abandoned, stripped of every last tastefully furnished detail. Outside what had once been her gate, the footpath was black, the still visible scar of Maradi’s night of fire when the mobs came, set fire to the street and demanded that she leave. I asked neighbours and passers-by if anyone knew what had happened to her, this foreigner who had made Maradi her home. Nobody could tell me and nobody seemed to care. Each one cut short the conversation and hurried away.

All around me, pious men walked the streets, parading their dishonourable, grim asceticism, their anger and their disapproval; their simplistic scholarship masquerading as one of the world’s great religions. With deeply conservative clerics finding a ready audience in these men of Maradi, there had been a flurry of calls for the Niger Government to introduce sharia law.

A cancer of intolerance had taken root. Days after I visited, a woman was to be stoned for adultery in nearby Sokoto, just across the border in northern Nigeria. She fell foul of an interpretation of sharia law which considers sex between consenting adults to be more heinous than the unequal poverty in which these people live, punishing women and allowing men to escape for want of evidence.

In Africa, or more particularly in Niger and northern Nigeria, such manifestations of local Islam’s bleak and hostile public face seemed a violation of Africa’s vibrancy, a reminder not so much of life as of death.

The most dangerous sequel to these pogroms and stonings in a forgotten corner of Africa came later when Muslim clerics in the northern Nigerian states of Kano, Zamfara and Kaduna declared that they would boycott a World Health Organisation (WHO) polio vaccination program. The vaccine was, they alleged, contaminated with oestrogen that could, they claimed, cause infertility. The imams asserted that the vaccine was part of a US-led conspiracy to render Muslims infertile and thereby depopulate the region.

Although tiny traces of oestrogen were found in the vaccine, they were, according to the WHO, the very same vaccines used in every country in the world. Polio, as readers will recall, is a virus that destroys functioning human nerve cells resulting in local or widespread paralysis. It is transmitted through poor sanitation and contaminated water. While the vaccine is highly effective in preventing the transmission of polio, there remains no cure. The availability of the vaccine has ensured that polio has been virtually eradicated from Western countries since the 1950s. Global use of this same vaccine has resulted in the number of polio sufferers worldwide falling from 350,000 in 125 countries in 1988, to just over 1000 people in six countries in 2003.

Undeterred, Datti Ahmed, a medical doctor and president of Nigeria’s Supreme Council for Sharia Law, told the BBC in October 2003 that ‘there were strong reasons to believe that the polio immunisation vaccine was contaminated with anti-fertility drugs, contaminated with certain virus that cause HIV/AIDS, contaminated with Simian virus that are likely to cause cancers.’ He went on to say that reports of an American plot may appear fanciful but must be investigated.

Playing on local people’s mistrust of their own public authorities and multinational pharmaceutical companies, the imams called on Muslims everywhere to resist the vaccine. (In 1996, the US drug company Pfizer was accused of using an untested vaccine for bacterial meningitis in Kano, resulting in 11 deaths. Pfizer denies the charge.)

As a result of the imams’ boycott, polio again began to thrive. By 2004, the number of polio cases in Nigeria had doubled. The disease then spread, as at least ten previously polio-free countries, including Niger, were re-infected. The imams of Maradi announced their support for their brethren across the border–the same border through which illicit goods and dangerous orthodoxies, not to mention, killer diseases, pass with impunity. Some Maradi clerics argued that even if the vaccine was safe, it was un-Islamic because God’s will alone ought determine whether a person lived or died.

In July 2004, new vaccines, manufactured in Muslim Indonesia, were prepared and the imams relented. But by then the damage was done and up to two thirds of the world’s polio cases are now to be found in Nigeria. Across the region, 15 million children–more than half of all polio victims are children under three–were at risk. The WHO’s aim to eradicate polio worldwide by the end of 2005 was in tatters.

That the damage done by the imams of Nigeria and Maradi remains was evident in May this year. Eleven men in Mali were sentenced to three years’ jail for refusing to allow their children to be vaccinated, claiming that the vaccines would make their children infertile.

In the meantime, in the strongholds of polio and intolerance that are Maradi and northern Nigeria, the children continue to die, withering away under a harsh, repressive vision for the world which has nothing to do with the hospitality, concern for the poor and visions of paradise central to Islam. It is as if the clerics have become as divorced from the needs of their own people as the great mosques which so often lie empty.

Anthony Ham is a freelance writer living in Madrid and is Eureka Street’s roving correspondent.


On Religious Fundamentalism and Terrorism
Interview With Professor Joan-Andreu Rocha

ROME, JULY 17, 2005 ( Not all terrorism is religious fundamentalism, and not all religious fundamentalism is terrorist, says a professor.

In an interview with ZENIT in the wake of the July 7 London bombings, Joan-Andreu Rocha Scarpetta, professor and director of the master's program on the Church, Ecumenism and Religions of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University of Rome, outlines the framework of this relationship between faith and terrorism.

Q: Very minor currents of Islam promote violence. Are they representative?

Rocha: There are many Muslim fundamentalist groups of a terrorist nature, and their origin is in the specific reality of the various Muslim countries.

Since the 1990s, with al-Qaida, the situation has worsened, as several groups are allied with this "multinational" of Islamic fundamentalism which seeks alliances with groups worldwide, and promotes cells in European Muslim centers, creating a kind of terrorist federalism that is difficult to track down.

This is the case of the Al Qaeda of Jihad Organization in Europe group, which was behind the London attacks. In addition to the cost in human lives, this group has demonstrated that the British ideal of cultural integration, retaining a strong native identity, does not work perfectly.

In fact, some Indian-Pakistani groups of England are the ones best integrated in the system, yet they have shown themselves to be a potential source of Islamic terrorist cells. This strong, unassimilated identity is a culture of potential fundamentalists, which seek to impose by force the ideals of a distorted Islam.

Q: Are religious fundamentalists about religion mixed with politics or politics mixed with religion?

Rocha: Every religion entails, one way or another, a social change, precisely because it aspires to justice or compassion. Because of this, all religions have a political consequence which is not negative, but just the opposite.

The fallacy of contemporary secularism is precisely to want to reduce religions to a purely personal issue, denying their social transcendence. But it is not easy to bring about social change. Some propound this change of society by forcing it -- with terrorist acts -- because they don't see any other solution.

Religious fundamentalisms overcome the tension between social change and religious ideal with extreme answers which have clear political consequences: either shutting themselves in on themselves, as in the case of the Haredim Jews, trying to monopolize society, as Hindu fundamentalism, or seeking to impose their own way of seeing things in a violent manner.

The latter is the way of Islamic fundamentalism of a terrorist nature, which is very much a minority but very radical.

Therefore, the question is not whether politics is or is not mixed with religion, but in what way the tension is resolved between the religious ideal and political action.

Q: Are these lethal attacks the result of religious fundamentalism or pure terrorism?

Rocha: In the case of the recent terrorist attacks in London, as last year's in Madrid, it is a terrorist action justified by a belligerent religious fundamentalism, which seeks to condition society by imposing its own ideas with fear.

In religions, not just in Islam, fundamentalism manifests itself as a tendency that, wishing to be representative of religious truth, takes part of the doctrine as if it were the whole. That is, it disfigures it at the service of its own ideology.

Islamic fundamentalism has several currents, and among them some are terrorist. It must be remembered, however, that not all terrorism is religious fundamentalism, and not all religious fundamentalism is terrorist.

Q: Who or what can put an end to religious fundamentalism?

Rocha: We often forget that every religion has a notable internal pluralism, whether in the different traditions that arose in the course of history -- for example, Christianity, with the Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, etc., traditions -- or in the different tendencies within the same tradition -- conservative, liberal, etc.

Fundamentalist groups are in this second type of plurality, at the break point with the rest of the group.

In Islamic fundamentalism, it is the case both among Sunnis as well as Shiites, but it takes on particular characteristics in each group.

The long road to extinguish religious fundamentalism and, concretely, the Islamic, begins with dialogue within the religion itself, which is undoubtedly the most difficult. But the fact that it is difficult does not mean it isn't necessary.

The other religions can help by overcoming their prejudices about the religion in question, or by fostering the more tolerant tendencies. But the internal dialogue corresponds to Islam itself. And in this connection, I think there is still a long way to go.

Q: The Catholic Church, beginning with the Pope and including the faithful of hundreds of countries, are asking the terrorists to stop, in the name of God. Do these people who kill mercilessly listen to reason?

Rocha: A fundamentalist, whether or not religious, will hardly listen to the reasons of others, but this does not mean that we must be silent.

The psychology of a fundamentalist, extensively studied, shows precisely a fixation with his own ideas as the only valid truth. In general they are simple but radical ideas that justify the way in which fundamentalist groups see the world, dividing it between "our own" -- the good -- and "the rest" -- the evil.

The Church must make her voice heard, in the name of God, for the sake of peace and against violence. Only God knows whom he forgives, and his judgment and mercy are beyond us.

But humanity, and specifically Christians, are asked not to be silent in the face of the scandal of violence in the name of God.


What Makes Terrorists Tick
Theories About Motivations and Causes

LONDON, JULY 16, 2005 ( Last week's transit bombs in London sparked off a new round of commentaries as to the causes of the upsurge in terror attacks in recent years, above all those carried out by Islamic believers. A book published in England shortly before the July 7 attacks provides useful insight into the subject.

The book, "Making Sense of Suicide Missions," is edited by Diego Gambetta and published by Oxford University Press. It has chapters ranging from the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka to the situation in the Middle East and a look at al-Qaida.

A chapter by Jon Elster, professor at Columbia University, looks at the role of motivations and beliefs in suicide missions. He contends that the willingness to sacrifice one's life in such a mission is not, in itself, irrational. In fact, suicide attackers are rarely subject to pathological or suicidal motivation, Elster states.

He notes a number of psychological factors contributing to the motivation of suicide attackers. Peer pressure and the desire to be well thought of by others can play a part in motivation. As well, in the case of Palestinian attackers, psychological pressure is put on them by the organizers of the group in the days prior to an attack. This induces a mental state that makes it easier for them to give up their lives.

One motivation that is the subject of debate is the desire to reach a religious hereafter. The Koran, Elster observes, contains no clear ban on suicide. But the prophetic tradition does prohibit it. Elster contends that, in practice, the religious legitimacy of suicide now seems to be widely accepted, even if it remains controversial.

The Columbia professor further contends that a few years ago it was assumed that suicide attackers were young, single, unemployed males for whom a religious movement filled a gap in their lives. But more recent data reveal that poverty and illiteracy are limited as causal factors. More relevant, he argues, are feelings of inferiority and resentment. Many of the terrorists come from countries where poverty is a problem, but this by itself is not enough to lead to terrorism, Elster says.

Common elements

In another chapter Diego Gambetta, professor at Nuffield College, Oxford, notes that suicide missions show such a diversity of traits that the search for a global explanation or pattern can seem futile. There are, however, some common elements.

Among these is the importance of the organizational backing. He noted that all suicide missions have been decided and executed with the support of an organization. Yet none of the organizations involved rely exclusively on suicide missions so it is a mistake to focus only on such attacks in analyzing these groups. In addition, the suicide missions are carried out by the weaker side in a conflict.

Gambetta further observes that, while no religion apart from Islam is directly involved in suicide missions, Islam-inspired missions account for only 34.6% of attacks carried out between 1981 and September 2003.

The Oxford professor also notes that suicide missions are used above all against democracies. This reflects the fact that democracies are more sensitive to the costs involved in these attacks. As well, democracies tend to be more restrained in their response to the community from which the attackers come. Then too the existence of a free media means the attacks will receive wide publicity.

Gambetta insists that the attackers themselves can be considered "altruists," in the sense that they believe that sacrificing their lives will further the interests of a group or the cause they identify with.

The simple life

Islamic-based terrorism was examined earlier, in Jessica Stern's 2003 book, "Terror in the Name of God." Stern, a lecturer at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, spent four years interviewing members of extremist groups -- Christians and Jews as well as Muslims.

In her interviews Stern found that the terrorists were motivated by the conviction that they are creating a more perfect world, purifying it of injustice. She also observed that people tend to join religious terrorist groups partly to transform themselves and to simplify life. And because they are convinced that their cause is just, they persuade themselves that any action is allowed.

Stern likened terrorism as a kind of virus, which spreads as a result of risk factors at various levels. Yet it is more complex than the analogy would imply, she said. The same variables that lead some to terrorism can motivate others to positive, good acts. Here are some of the risk factors:

-- At the global level the advances in communication have greatly eased the coordination needed for a worldwide network. The terrorist groups can recruit and manage their finances through the Internet. And they stage their attacks in order to maximize media coverage.

-- Refugee camps, bad neighborhoods and failed states are hothouses of rage and extremism, as well as crime.

-- A government's inability to provide basic services or to protect human rights damages the state's ability to fight extremist groups. This can give rise to a situation where violence breeds more violence.

-- Terrorists are clever in exploiting the needs of the poor and the ignorant, who later serve as foot soldiers for the groups. For example, the practice of providing compensation for the families of those who die in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Palestinian territory makes the groups more appealing to the poor.

-- Humiliation is another factor. At the national level violence is seen to be the answer to perceived humiliation at the hands of the West. At a personal level, a number of terrorists see their actions as a way to heal the wounds of personal humiliation.

Why a hotbed

Stern also looks at why Muslim countries produce so many terrorists who attack Western targets. One factor she identifies is resentment at U.S. support for Israel. As well, she notes that, being authoritarian regimes in large part, Mideast countries have taken strict measures to suppress terrorism, leading extremists to look for more vulnerable targets.

In addition, a number of Mideast states suffer from a lack of good government, where a combination of stagnant economies, corruption, cronyism and extremist religious groups provide a fertile breeding ground for recruiting potential terrorists.

Combined with this is the organization skill of al-Qaida. That terror group has managed to combine the exploitation of these grievances with a sophisticated structure, careful planning and adroit use of modern means in communication and financing.

In his Angelus message last Sunday Benedict XVI expressed sorrow for the victims of the London bombings. He also had words for the terrorists involved: "Let us also pray for the attackers, that the Lord will touch their hearts." The Pope called upon those who foment sentiments of hatred to cease. "God loves life, which he has created, not death," he said. A message all can hope will reach its target.