The Compass

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The Roots of Radicalism

Robert Wright picks up on a theme raised yesterday about the religious underpinnings of terrorism:


The Israeli and American right join Dawkins in stressing religious motivation in the Middle East, and there's a reason for that. The people there whose political grievances are most conspicuously caught up with religion are Muslims. If the problem is that Muslims are possessed by this irrational, quasi-autonomous force known as religion, then there's no point in trying to reason with them, or to look at any facts on the ground that might drive their discontent. And there are facts on the ground in the West Bank that the Israeli and American right don't want to talk about. They're called settlements.

And so too with discontent throughout the Muslim world: If religion is the wellspring of radicalism, why bother paying attention to any issues in the actual material world? Why, for example, would you do what President Obama has done, and address a longstanding Iranian grievance by admitting that the US played a role in a 1953 coups that replaced Iran's democratically elected leader with a dictator?

As a practical policy matter, it makes more sense for the U.S. and the West in general to focus on the material/political grievances rather than the religious zealotry simply because we can only impact the former, not the latter. There isn't much we can do to convince a wild-eyed jihadist that his religion does not compel him (or her) to murder Jews and infidels. But we can address the political context in which this violence operates.

[Hat tip: Matthew Yglesias]