Muslim terrorists are always motivated by religion

Much ink and airtime are expended on whether Muslim terrorists are motivated by religion, by politics or by socio-economic conditions, the latter two often taken together as a single motivation. See, e.g., this debate between Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Manal Omar. These motivations tend to be cast in either/or terms and often entire characterisations are made of a commentator on the basis of which motivation underlies their response to Muslim terrorism. The either/or construct then also comes to serve as a way of debunking the motivation not supported. Thus, for example, when it is argued that Muslim terrorists are motivated to commit mass murder by their experience of US or Western imperialist actions or by the miserable conditions under which they live, this is done not not so much to prove that the terrorists are politically or socially motivated, but principally to disprove religion as a motivation. The logical fallacy must be plain. Whether political/social motivation is actually proven becomes secondary. In the case of Hirsi Ali versus Omar, above, Omar purportedly sets out to make precisely that case by presenting us with a string of arbitrary assertions that sheds no light at all on terrorist motivations. But even if she had proved that Muslim terrorism is motivated by political/social experiences, this would still not prove that they are not motivated by religion. In order to prove the latter, Omar, or anyone else, would have to engage with the religious motivation declared by terrorists themselves, and show these declarations to be false. She does nothing of the kind, nor generally, do others who wish to disprove religious motivation. In short, more often than not, the political/social motivation thesis is not about proving political or social motivations, but about disproving religious motivations.

On the other side, proving religious motivation is rarely about disproving political or social motivations. It is either explicitly to prove religious motivation, such as Hirsi Ali above, neither proving nor disproving political and/or social motivations (although, in this case, recognising the latter), or it is proving religious motivation and showing how such motivation interacts with other motivations, including political and social motivations. The late Christopher Hitchens, a good example of the latter, also provides a far more thorough examination of US foreign policy crimes than any anti-imperialist sloganeer ever seems to see the need to. Proving religious motivation is, of course, extremely easy: Muslim terrorists make this link themselves. The only way to disprove this link is by showing that the terrorists are lying about their religious motivation. The only way to do that is by showing that the terrorists’ religion doesn’t say what the terrorists claim it to be saying. This cannot be done without directly comparing the utterances of the terrorists with the actual text of the religion, something that the religious motivation deniers must avoid at all costs, for that way lies their undoing.

To every Muslim terrorist, the most valued act of terrorism, the most keenly sought after, is one that leads to the terrorist’s death. Martyrdom is the Muslim terrorist’s highest ambition. Martyrdom is a 100% religious motivation aspired to by 100% of Muslim terrorists. The Qur’an praises martyrdom as the highest form of praising Allah and numerous times urges its followers to seek precisely that. Martyrdom has zero political content. This is not to suggest that Muslim terrorist may not have other motivations flowing from politics, social-economic conditions, culture, etc., but none of these, no matter how numerous, are motivations for martyrdom. Furthermore, such additional motivations are not necessarily progressive. The additional motivation may be racist (“Kill the Jews!”), homophobic (Chechen gay concentration camps), xenophobic (bombing churches, desecrating crucifixes), sectarian (Sunni terrorists blowing up Shia mosques), etc. The proponents of political/social motivations for Muslim terrorism never address these intensely reactionary social motivations. To do so would, of course, devalue the victim status of the terrorists, the sine qua non of the anti-imperialist thesis.

In the end, attempts to deny the religious motivation of Muslim terrorists amounts to a cynical recasting of a tragic psychic condition in which the victim, who may otherwise be free of the pathologies that lead to suicide, actively seeks death for themselves (and for as many others as possible). In fact, martyrdom is not suicide. It is murder of the self.[1] Whereas suicide seeks to end life, martyrdom seeks to enter death. Only religion can do this to an otherwise healthy brain. Regardless of imperialism, etc., denying the religious motivation of Muslim terrorists is an evil in itself.


[1] Of course I am distinguishing between seeking death for one’s faith, on the one hand, from dying for one’s faith when one did not wish to die, on the other. The Christian controversy over the “martyrdom” of Saint Thaumasius, the former monk Ammonius, illustrates the difference between Christian martyrdom and Islamic martyrdom. Fifth century monk Ammonius was tortured to death for assaulting the Prefect of Alexandria, Orestes. In other words, although he died for his faith, he did so by his own actions. Bishop Cyril of Alexandria, in a brazen act of political opportunism, declared Ammonius a martyr, but soon after was forced to revoke the martyrdom and derecognise the monk’s sainthood. In Islam, Ammonius would unquestionably have been a martyr.


  1. Steersman says

    Just a quick skim at the moment, but it sure seems to highlight the fact that mixing church and state, particularly in a theocracy, is a surefire recipe for disaster. Would be interesting to do some sleuthing through the history books to determine precisely why America in particular made that separation a foundational principle – expect the “Founding Fathers” had objective lessons impressed on them by Europe’s bloody sectarian wars.

    But apropos of the issue of theocracy, ABC’s The Drum (Australia) had a segment (apparently no longer available) of a panel interview [1] with Nawaz and Australian Muslim Sara Saleh (if I’m not mistaken) who asked why theocracy shouldn’t be a goal or issue worth discussing. Obviously she came from a culture where that is a “reasonable” question, but equally obviously had no clue why so many in the West quite reasonably anathematize it. Seems to be a point that should be impressed on any muslims we allow to immigrate in no uncertain terms. Although it is of course moot whether that would have any effect at all.

    1) “_”;

  2. polishsalami says

    If someone claims that their actions are motivated by Islam, the default position should be that those actions were motivated by Islam, if that person is a practising Muslim. This position is just a starting point, however, and can be discarded based on new evidence.

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