Religion, Terror and Peace
Cardinal Martino Reflects on Role of Belief
SINGAPORE, JULY 1, 2006 (Zenit.org).- 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
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
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
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
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
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."
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
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.
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
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
"...it 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
•• 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
In the centre of Niamey–the capital of Niger, one of
poorest countries on earth–stands a lavish monument to the global reach
of Islam. The Great Mosque of Niamey casts long shadows over the
squalor. Its pencil-thin, aspirational minaret, cavernous prayer hall
enormous green dome tower above the rubbish and depressing low-slung
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
stood empty, as if it belongs to another place, an edifice somehow
here from a world where money doesn’t matter. This substitute for
infrastructure, and reassertion of Islamic credentials, was an act of
by a bankrupt government as desperate to survive as its people. This
gesture carried with it echoes of Madame Diori, wife of former
Hamani Diori. She was known among the whisperers on Niamey’s streets as
‘l’Autrichienne’ (the Austrian) after Marie Antoinette’s famous
‘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
in the homes of government ministers. The Diori government stole its
dreams of an independent Africa.
The closer you get to the border with Nigeria, the
obvious the growing separation between governments (and local
of Islam) and the needs of the people they claim to serve.
Maradi is Niger’s third-largest city. Hard up
the Nigerian border and surrounded by enormous sand quarries, which
clouds of lung-choking sand, Maradi has a reputation for being a
active and restive city. Its predominantly Hausa merchant classes are
most vocal in Niger, and protests against government policies or unpaid
wages invariably start here. It is a transit town. Nigeria is a few
kilometres away and everyone appears to be involved in some form of
Maradi’s sprawling markets straddle the main highway
passes south to Nigeria. The markets, which spread out from the
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
cheap designer clothes, from smuggled petrol to guns.
The only time when the markets and adjacent bus
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
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,
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
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
as her last effort at connection with people.
In the intervening years, protesters had gone on a
heeding the call of conservative Muslim clerics who denounced as
an international fashion festival being held in Niamey. Mobs of
thugs roamed the streets targeting businesses rumoured to be engaged in
un-Islamic practices. The imams called on men to stone women who were
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
much had changed. Mona was gone. Her hotel, her modest dream, lay
stripped of every last tastefully furnished detail. Outside what had
been her gate, the footpath was black, the still visible scar of
night of fire when the mobs came, set fire to the street and demanded
she leave. I asked neighbours and passers-by if anyone knew what had
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
All around me, pious men walked the streets,
their dishonourable, grim asceticism, their anger and their
their simplistic scholarship masquerading as one of the world’s great
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
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
law which considers sex between consenting adults to be more heinous
the unequal poverty in which these people live, punishing women and
men to escape for want of evidence.
In Africa, or more particularly in Niger and
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
in a forgotten corner of Africa came later when Muslim clerics in the
Nigerian states of Kano, Zamfara and Kaduna declared that they would
a World Health Organisation (WHO) polio vaccination program. The
was, they alleged, contaminated with oestrogen that could, they
cause infertility. The imams asserted that the vaccine was part of a
conspiracy to render Muslims infertile and thereby depopulate the
Although tiny traces of oestrogen were found in the
they were, according to the WHO, the very same vaccines used in every
in the world. Polio, as readers will recall, is a virus that destroys
human nerve cells resulting in local or widespread paralysis. It is
through poor sanitation and contaminated water. While the vaccine is
effective in preventing the transmission of polio, there remains no
The availability of the vaccine has ensured that polio has been
eradicated from Western countries since the 1950s. Global use of this
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
of Nigeria’s Supreme Council for Sharia Law, told the BBC in October
that ‘there were strong reasons to believe that the polio immunisation
vaccine was contaminated with anti-fertility drugs, contaminated with
virus that cause HIV/AIDS, contaminated with Simian virus that are
to cause cancers.’ He went on to say that reports of an American plot
appear fanciful but must be investigated.
Playing on local people’s mistrust of their own
authorities and multinational pharmaceutical companies, the imams
on Muslims everywhere to resist the vaccine. (In 1996, the US drug
Pfizer was accused of using an untested vaccine for bacterial
in Kano, resulting in 11 deaths. Pfizer denies the charge.)
As a result of the imams’ boycott, polio again began
thrive. By 2004, the number of polio cases in Nigeria had doubled. The
disease then spread, as at least ten previously polio-free countries,
Niger, were re-infected. The imams of Maradi announced their support
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
a person lived or died.
In July 2004, new vaccines, manufactured in Muslim
were prepared and the imams relented. But by then the damage was done
up to two thirds of the world’s polio cases are now to be found in
Across the region, 15 million children–more than half of all polio
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
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
claiming that the vaccines would make their children infertile.
In the meantime, in the strongholds of polio and
that are Maradi and northern Nigeria, the children continue to die,
away under a harsh, repressive vision for the world which has nothing
do with the hospitality, concern for the poor and visions of paradise
to Islam. It is as if the clerics have become as divorced from the
of their own people as the great mosques which so often lie empty.
Anthony Ham is a freelance writer living in Madrid
is Eureka Street’s roving correspondent.
On Religious Fundamentalism and Terrorism
Interview With Professor Joan-Andreu Rocha
ROME, JULY 17, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Not all terrorism
religious fundamentalism, and not all religious fundamentalism is
says a professor.
In an interview with ZENIT in the wake of the July 7
bombings, Joan-Andreu Rocha Scarpetta, professor and director of the
program on the Church, Ecumenism and Religions of the Regina
Pontifical University of Rome, outlines the framework of this
between faith and terrorism.
Q: Very minor currents of Islam promote violence.
Rocha: There are many Muslim fundamentalist groups
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
as several groups are allied with this "multinational" of Islamic
which seeks alliances with groups worldwide, and promotes cells in
Muslim centers, creating a kind of terrorist federalism that is
to track down.
This is the case of the Al Qaeda of Jihad
in Europe group, which was behind the London attacks. In addition to
cost in human lives, this group has demonstrated that the British ideal
of cultural integration, retaining a strong native identity, does not
In fact, some Indian-Pakistani groups of England are
ones best integrated in the system, yet they have shown themselves to
a potential source of Islamic terrorist cells. This strong,
identity is a culture of potential fundamentalists, which seek to
by force the ideals of a distorted Islam.
Q: Are religious fundamentalists about religion
with politics or politics mixed with religion?
Rocha: Every religion entails, one way or another, a
change, precisely because it aspires to justice or compassion. Because
of this, all religions have a political consequence which is not
but just the opposite.
The fallacy of contemporary secularism is precisely
want to reduce religions to a purely personal issue, denying their
transcendence. But it is not easy to bring about social change. Some
this change of society by forcing it -- with terrorist acts -- because
they don't see any other solution.
Religious fundamentalisms overcome the tension
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
nature, which is very much a minority but very radical.
Therefore, the question is not whether politics is
is not mixed with religion, but in what way the tension is resolved
the religious ideal and political action.
Q: Are these lethal attacks the result of religious
or pure terrorism?
Rocha: In the case of the recent terrorist attacks
London, as last year's in Madrid, it is a terrorist action justified by
a belligerent religious fundamentalism, which seeks to condition
by imposing its own ideas with fear.
In religions, not just in Islam, fundamentalism
itself as a tendency that, wishing to be representative of religious
takes part of the doctrine as if it were the whole. That is, it
it at the service of its own ideology.
Islamic fundamentalism has several currents, and
them some are terrorist. It must be remembered, however, that not all
is religious fundamentalism, and not all religious fundamentalism is
Q: Who or what can put an end to religious
Rocha: We often forget that every religion has a
internal pluralism, whether in the different traditions that arose in
course of history -- for example, Christianity, with the Catholic,
Orthodox, etc., traditions -- or in the different tendencies within the
same tradition -- conservative, liberal, etc.
Fundamentalist groups are in this second type of
at the break point with the rest of the group.
In Islamic fundamentalism, it is the case both among
as well as Shiites, but it takes on particular characteristics in each
The long road to extinguish religious fundamentalism
concretely, the Islamic, begins with dialogue within the religion
which is undoubtedly the most difficult. But the fact that it is
does not mean it isn't necessary.
The other religions can help by overcoming their
about the religion in question, or by fostering the more tolerant
But the internal dialogue corresponds to Islam itself. And in this
I think there is still a long way to go.
Q: The Catholic Church, beginning with the Pope and
the faithful of hundreds of countries, are asking the terrorists to
in the name of God. Do these people who kill mercilessly listen to
Rocha: A fundamentalist, whether or not religious,
hardly listen to the reasons of others, but this does not mean that we
must be silent.
The psychology of a fundamentalist, extensively
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
fundamentalist groups see the world, dividing it between "our own" --
good -- and "the rest" -- the evil.
The Church must make her voice heard, in the name of
for the sake of peace and against violence. Only God knows whom he
and his judgment and mercy are beyond us.
But humanity, and specifically Christians, are asked
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 (Zenit.org).- Last week's
bombs in London sparked off a new round of commentaries as to the
of the upsurge in terror attacks in recent years, above all those
out by Islamic believers. A book published in England shortly before
July 7 attacks provides useful insight into the subject.
The book, "Making Sense of Suicide Missions," is
by Diego Gambetta and published by Oxford University Press. It has
ranging from the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka to the situation in the
East and a look at al-Qaida.
A chapter by Jon Elster, professor at Columbia
looks at the role of motivations and beliefs in suicide missions. He
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
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
by the organizers of the group in the days prior to an attack. This
a mental state that makes it easier for them to give up their lives.
One motivation that is the subject of debate is the
to reach a religious hereafter. The Koran, Elster observes, contains no
clear ban on suicide. But the prophetic tradition does prohibit it.
contends that, in practice, the religious legitimacy of suicide now
to be widely accepted, even if it remains controversial.
The Columbia professor further contends that a few
ago it was assumed that suicide attackers were young, single,
males for whom a religious movement filled a gap in their lives. But
recent data reveal that poverty and illiteracy are limited as causal
More relevant, he argues, are feelings of inferiority and resentment.
of the terrorists come from countries where poverty is a problem, but
by itself is not enough to lead to terrorism, Elster says.
In another chapter Diego Gambetta, professor at
College, Oxford, notes that suicide missions show such a diversity of
that the search for a global explanation or pattern can seem futile.
are, however, some common elements.
Among these is the importance of the organizational
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
such attacks in analyzing these groups. In addition, the suicide
are carried out by the weaker side in a conflict.
Gambetta further observes that, while no religion
from Islam is directly involved in suicide missions, Islam-inspired
account for only 34.6% of attacks carried out between 1981 and
The Oxford professor also notes that suicide
are used above all against democracies. This reflects the fact that
are more sensitive to the costs involved in these attacks. As well,
tend to be more restrained in their response to the community from
the attackers come. Then too the existence of a free media means the
will receive wide publicity.
Gambetta insists that the attackers themselves can
considered "altruists," in the sense that they believe that sacrificing
their lives will further the interests of a group or the cause they
The simple life
Islamic-based terrorism was examined earlier, in
Stern's 2003 book, "Terror in the Name of God." Stern, a lecturer at
University's Kennedy School of Government, spent four years
members of extremist groups -- Christians and Jews as well as Muslims.
In her interviews Stern found that the terrorists
motivated by the conviction that they are creating a more perfect
purifying it of injustice. She also observed that people tend to join
terrorist groups partly to transform themselves and to simplify life.
because they are convinced that their cause is just, they persuade
that any action is allowed.
Stern likened terrorism as a kind of virus, which
as a result of risk factors at various levels. Yet it is more complex
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
greatly eased the coordination needed for a worldwide network. The
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
are hothouses of rage and extremism, as well as crime.
-- A government's inability to provide basic
or to protect human rights damages the state's ability to fight
groups. This can give rise to a situation where violence breeds more
-- Terrorists are clever in exploiting the needs of
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
the groups more appealing to the poor.
-- Humiliation is another factor. At the national
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
as a way to heal the wounds of personal humiliation.
Why a hotbed
Stern also looks at why Muslim countries produce so
terrorists who attack Western targets. One factor she identifies is
at U.S. support for Israel. As well, she notes that, being
regimes in large part, Mideast countries have taken strict measures to
suppress terrorism, leading extremists to look for more vulnerable
In addition, a number of Mideast states suffer from
lack of good government, where a combination of stagnant economies,
cronyism and extremist religious groups provide a fertile breeding
for recruiting potential terrorists.
Combined with this is the organization skill of
That terror group has managed to combine the exploitation of these
with a sophisticated structure, careful planning and adroit use of
means in communication and financing.
In his Angelus message last Sunday Benedict XVI
sorrow for the victims of the London bombings. He also had words for
terrorists involved: "Let us also pray for the attackers, that the Lord
will touch their hearts." The Pope called upon those who foment
of hatred to cease. "God loves life, which he has created, not death,"
he said. A message all can hope will reach its target.