Hotavio's Reviews > Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence

Terror in the Mind of God by Mark Juergensmeyer
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Nov 09, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: books-on-america, books-on-asia, books-on-religion, books-on-the-mid-east, social-issues
Read from November 09 to 13, 2010

Terrorism has been at the forefront of national conscience in the past 10 years with the September 11th tragedy. The 80s and 90s saw the rise of this awareness. In what seems to be an anticipation of a more catastrophic event, Juergensmeyer’s Terror in the Mind of God dissects some of the religiously motivated terrorist acts of the 90s, searching for the rationale behind such acts. In doing this he comparatively examines what the majority of people would deem as “terrorist groups, zealots, or fundamentalists” in an effort to get behind the label that we give them and obtain an understanding of an otherwise senseless acts of violence (4).
Juergensmeyer breaks his book down into two sections. The first is chaptered according to terrorist groups and their respective world religions. The second ties these religions together with correlating themes. The author looks at Christian groups and their activities in America, Jewish groups and their work in Israel and Palestine, Muslims with activities across the world, Sikh violence against the state, and the Aum Shinrikyo gassing of the Tokyo subway. In doing so, Juergensmeyer hopes to point out similiarities in the way of violent radical thinking across religious lines. The second part of the book examines several concepts, separated by chapter. The “theater of terror” states that every violent act plays out in a theater of sorts, in that there are key actors and with ample media exposure, the world is an audience. The violence is bound to get some sort of reaction, after which the actors, no matter the limit of their resources, and their causes get ample exposure with maximum effect. “Cosmic War” tells of a belief common to all terrorist groups that the work they are doing is larger than life. Their belief is that they are a gambit in a struggle of good versus evil. When viewing something through these lenses, it is easier to accept that someone would be willing to commit the act of suicide bombing (146). In this vein, they are martyrs. Heightening this image, they demonize the enemy, which makes it easier to do their sometimes grisly work. Often killing of innocents is involved, yet many justify the murder of innocents as a small price to pay in view of the magnitude of their missions (175). The chapter “Warrior Power” builds up the participants, who are often on the fringe of society to partake in these cosmic acts. It concentrates on who partakes in these acts and why. Juergensmeyer also looks upon sexual frustrations that these often disenfranchised people have. He brings up the gender aspects of committing these acts and that many of them are motivated by a feeling of social disorder, partially attributed to the rise of the woman from her traditional role (198) and the blurring of acceptable sexual norms. The “Mind of God” reiterates that terrorists feel that they are doing the work of a higher power, particularly when it comes to fighting the secular government. It is here that Juergensmeyer questions the effectiveness of terrorism in its ability to accomplish its main goal. While it would appear that the “New World Order” is still healthy, there have been some successes for terrorists, who have pointed out, that as a society we cannot afford to be complacent.
It would be very easy to be subjective dealing with the issue of terrorism. Juergensmeyer, while not advocating the work of these groups, projects their voices by extensively utilizing the method of interview in his book. Every major religious group that he questions has at least one figure which he interviews (most use several, but the chapter on Aum Shinrikyo is noticeably lighter in its us of interviews). This authenticates their voice and motive.
I would have like to have read a timelier book from Juergensmeyer as this one was written right before September 11. He employs heavy use of the World Trade Center as a symbol of globalism and as a target (he references the World Trade Center bombing of 1993 throughout his book), along with the importance of transportation (i.e. planes) to our modern world and that this importance is not lost on these groups which want to maximize their sacrifices. While a few acts, like the World Trade Center bombing are continually referenced, it is appreciated that he often brings up other instances of lesser known terrorism, such as the Columbine shootings, and uses them as examples. Terror in the Mind of God is a good book for anyone who wants to understand the correlating motives behind a wide range of terrorist organizations.
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