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Interview With Massimo Introvigne, Sociologist of Religion

TURIN, Italy, JAN. 21, 2005 (Zenit) - The terrorist who immolates himself does not see his act as suicide but rather as a meritorious act, contends an expert on religions.

"Terrorist organizations do not carry out attacks just because they like to or because they are moved by an apocalyptic will to destroy," says Massimo Introvigne, founder and director of the Center of Studies on New Religions. "They operate as 'industries' of terrorism according to the normal cost-profit business logic."

With Lawrence Iannaccone, Introvigne is author of "Il Mercato dei Martiri. L'Industria del Terrorismo Suicida" (The Martyrs' Market: The Industry of Suicide Terrorism), published in Italy by Lindau.

In this interview with us, Introvigne focused on the book, which analyzes the phenomenon of suicide terrorism from the viewpoint of the so-called religious economy, namely, a market in which supply and demand come into play.

Q: Is a terrorist, therefore, not a martyr?

Introvigne: "Martyres non facit poena sed causa," the Fathers of the Church said. They are martyrs not because of the way they die, but because of the cause for which they die.

Given that, as the magisterium of the Church teaches, and as the solemn declarations of the United Nations confirm -- endorsed by almost all the countries of the world -- terrorism is always an illicit means -- regardless of the terrorist's objective. It is an evil cause and those who serve it are not martyrs.

Even from the Muslim point of view, it is, in fact, very doubtful if the suicide terrorist has the right to the title "shahid," martyr.

In "The Martyrs' Market" we have published as an appendix a "fatwa," religious edict, of Saudi circles close to Osama bin Laden, which tries to show that it is martyrdom. But in the book we have emphasized that, to come to this conclusion, one must force the sources of the Koran and the Sunna.

Q: Why do they commit suicide?

Introvigne: Although objectively, for the reasons I have just explained, suicide terrorism is not martyrdom, subjectively, it is so for the terrorist.

What is more, interviewing years ago exponents of Hamas in the West Bank, I noted that their main concern was to be really sure that what they proposed to do was not suicide, as it is a gesture that is prohibited by Islam and would send them to hell.

Their leaders encourage them with theological arguments that convince them, even if they are doubtful and derived from originally Shiite sources and translated, not without difficulty, to the Sunni doctrinal environment.

So the "martyr," who is not so for us, really thinks that he is carrying out a meritorious act from the religious point of view.

Q: If poverty and despair are not the causes that lead terrorists to immolate themselves, what moves them?

Introvigne: In the book we say that explanations based on poverty and socioeconomic despair make no sense: Many suicide terrorists are well-off.

Of course, one can speak of "cultural despair," but it is such a vague category that it explains everything and nothing.

Others speak of "brainwashing" and mental manipulation, categories that in general I don't share, as I explain in my book "Brainwashing, Myth or Reality?" which is difficult to apply to someone like Mohammed Atta, the head of the September 11, 2001, commando, a university student, with an honor's degree from Hamburg, who never lived in a training camp or in a Muslim fundamentalist environment. Was he brainwashed only with Friday sermons in the mosque?

Iannaccone and I are convinced that all these "explanations" are the result of an anti-religious prejudice and of political or psychological reductionism by which phenomena that appear as religious cannot have religious causes. According to this view, religion, as Marx said, is only a "superstructure" of the real structure, which is economic for Marx himself, and psychological for Freud.

Of course, no phenomenon should be reduced to a sole cause, and to pretend that the motivations of the suicide terrorist are only religious would also be a caricature. But religion plays a big role.

Q: Is there an "industry of suicide terrorism," as you indicate?

Introvigne: Yes. We distinguish between the motivations of individuals, of which I have spoken, and the motivations of organizations.

In many cultures there are people for whom the way of interpreting religion -- Islam in particular -- predisposes them to acts of violence including suicide terrorism. But there are not "businesses" [and] "industries" everywhere, which respond to a possible desire, offering recruitment and the possibility to become authentic terrorists.

There is no Muslim terrorism in Senegal or Mali, countries with many fervent Muslims, who are also poor. There is terrorism, although not extensive, in Turkey, where Muslim terrorists hit foreigners or terrorists of a Communist or Kurdish separatist vein, whose motivations are not religious.

There is terrorism in Saudi Arabia, a rich country, in Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, in the Italian, Spanish, French [and] German diaspora, because in these countries there are organizations capable of recruiting potential terrorists.

Of course, there is also terrorism in Chechnya, Palestine, Kashmir. But al-Qaida recruits almost all its members in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Muslim immigrants in Europe -- hence, not in war zones.

Q: You say that it is better to address the "supply" of terrorism rather than the "demand." Can you explain what you mean?

Introvigne: Whoever thinks that suicide terrorism is born of poverty believes that Marshall Plans to eliminate poverty in Palestine or elsewhere will solve the problem. While making it clear that these plans are useful and precise -- but for other reasons -- our hypothesis is that they have little to do with the solution of the problem of terrorism.

As we have pointed out, most but not all terrorists come from well-off families and also from rich countries.

In fact, the solutions that are often proposed are limited to removing from the terrorist's head the idea of becoming a suicide "martyr." It is possible to do something at this level, but very slowly and with results that will have to be assessed long-term.

Our hypothesis is that during many years young people will continue to be born who interpret Islam in such a way that in their minds and hearts a demand for extremism will be born, which could even lead to terrorism.

This will happen even in the best socioeconomic conditions and in areas where there is no war and in which there are no terrorist demands or Western occupations such as Saudi Arabia and Indonesia -- I am not speaking here of the islands or separatist areas of the Indonesian archipelago, where many terrorists come from Jakarta.

What is possible to achieve in a shorter time is that this demand not find a supply; that is, it is possible to uproot the organizations that give formation and training to terrorists. They can be blocked at the military level, a fact that cannot be neglected, as some "nice souls" of pacifism would like.

And it is imperative to limit them at the financial level, as they continue to receive sums of money too easily, generally from "humanitarian" organizations that serve as cover for terrorists.

The book attempts to demonstrate, in particular, that terrorist organizations don't organize attacks for the sheer pleasure of carrying them out, or because they are moved by an apocalyptic will to destroy. They work as "industries" of terrorism, according to the typical business logic of cost-profit.

Political benefits are proposed and are sometimes obtained. Hamas has made more than one peace plan fail in Palestine. The March 11 attack had an effect on the Spanish elections, etc. The moment they realize that suicide attacks are not "appropriate" and give no results but, instead, are counterproductive, terrorist organizations change their strategy.

However, the answer to suicide terrorism at the level of supply is, in the ultimate sense, a political problem.

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Keywords

Terrorism, Religion, Suicide, Muslim, Martyr, Arab

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