Saturday, July 16, 2005

Is Jihadism a Suicide Cult?

I know they're grieving parents, and Denial is a river in Egypt, but what if they've got a point?
"We are devastated that our son may have been brainwashed into carrying out such an atrocity, since we know him as a kind and caring member of our family," said the parents of Mohammad Sidique Khan, 30.

It puts the jihadist mentality into a new perspective to look at it as some vast, worldwide Jonestown cult. After all, the largest chemical and biological terrorism attacks in recent history were not Islamic terrorists, but the Aum Shinrikyo group that in 1995 put poison gas on the Tokyo subway and followers of the Indian (Asian) guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who in 1984 put salmonella bacteria in 10 restaurant salad bars in The Dalles, Oregon, poisoning 751 people in the largest germ warfare attack in U.S. history.

Factnet describes the mind-control techniques used on the 9/11 bombers, along with a brief history of the Hashishin, the Arabic terrorist cult that began in the seventh century. The unnamed author, I believe, underestimates the level of mind control that goes on under the Palestinian Authority, and he has a naive trust in the ability of the United Nations and the World Court to handle the problem, but like him, I wonder how our approach to terrorism would be different if we understood that we were fighting people who had been subject to mind control techniques.

In the Irish Times, a Scottish university professor describes how the British bomber's mother may have been literally correct in her assertion that her boy was brainwashed, and he lays out some of the common threads in all mind control cults:
  • "Cults promote a message which claims certainty about issues which are objectively uncertain."

  • "Cults, whether secular or religious, generally go to great pains to project their leaders in a semi-divine light, blessed with uncommon insight, charisma and dedication to the cause."

  • "Members spend more and more time talking only to each other. They engage in rituals designed to reinforce the dominant belief system. Language degenerates into a series of thought stifling clich├ęs which encourages other actions that are consistent with the ideology of the cult. . . . The world becomes divided into the absolutely good and the absolute evil, a black and white universe in which there is only ever the one right way to think, feel and behave. Members are immunised against doubt -- a mental state in which any behaviour is possible, providing it is ordained by a leader to whom they have entrusted their now blunted moral sensibilities."

  • "Ideological fervour is further strengthened by the absence of dissent. . . . [A]ny deviation from the official script is met by a combination of silence, ridicule, and yet louder assertions of the group’s dominant ideology. Ridicule . . . . strengthens people’s faith in their belief system. . . . What seems mad to an outsider becomes the conventional wisdom of the group.
The practice of deprogramming is controversial, and American courts have become too perverse to make any distinction between destructive mind control and religion, but what difference would it make to international policy if we thought of the jihadists as Moonies with guns? (To be fair, although Moonification Church mind-control practices harm its own members, I don't believe it's been accused of terrorism in its 60-year history.)

Apparently, there are more people out there talking about this question than I was aware of before I started researching this post, but I wish the topic had wider currency.

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