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Why the Bush "War on Terror" is Fated to Fail

Why the Bush "War on Terror" is Fated to Fail

by John D. Goldhammer

Terrorism is an ideological problem, not a military problem. It is a mental illness caused by a lethal set of virulent group dynamics masquerading as religion. The time is long overdue for us to take our "politically correct," white gloves off so-called religious groups that are in reality bands of dangerous, brainwashed criminals.

What happens when you mix power politics with the Christian strain of religious fundamentalism? You get a toxic stew of arrogance and absolutism; a medieval us-versus-them, God-is-on-our-side mind set that marches right into the jaws of the ideologically-inspired, mass paranoia of Islamic terrorist groups. Thus each group acts and reacts based on the same deadly dynamics, each the other's evil enemy.

The political rhetoric surrounding the rationale for the war in Iraq continues to sound more like a religious crusade, the political consequences of cult-like group dynamics that, to survive, depend upon creating outside enemies. With an unsettling irony, we become the aggressor, the global bully, terrorizing tens of thousands of innocent civilians (between 6,806 and 7,797 killed in Iraq alone, according to a British-American research group in London) in a desperate attempt to destroy a member of George W's designated "axis of evil." Are we now going to be political police, imposing our concept of democracy around the globe?

War certainly qualifies as a "weapon of mass destruction," and our pre-emptive/preventative policy of violent aggression against a sovereign nation only serves to dump more fuel on the spreading ideological plague of vicious, Islamic fundamentalism now directed against non-Muslims and most of the civilized world. War only solidifies and further ignites the passions of those individuals caught in this lethal swamp of group-inspired hatred directed towards the U.S. Bush's divisive, gun-slinger, "You're either with us or against us," absolutism, is eerily similar to Islamic fanatics, who are intent upon terrorizing and destroying the "infidels"-that's you and me-and anyone else who is non-Muslim. They believe, in the words of one prominent Iranian ayatollah, that "Moslems have no alternative . . . to an armed holy war against profane governments. . . . . It will . . . be the duty of every able-bodied adult male to volunteer for this war of conquest, the final aim of which is to put Koranic law in power from one end of the earth to the other." To fundamentalist Islam the US is the "great Satan," while George W. Bush, indoctrinated by his own destructive, self righteous, group-think, world view, said, "We are in a conflict between good and evil, and America will call evil by its name." And, according to the "Bush Doctrine," the United States is "called to bring God's gift of liberty to every human being in the world" - good news for Christians, bad news for Moslems and other beliefs.

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How have we as a nation been led down this slippery slope into the terrible maw of our own brand of barbaric, black and white dogmatism that is perverting a nation once dedicated to peace and freedom into a war-mongering, "many-headed beast" intent on ever-increasing world dominance. Hence the transparent spectacle of archaic empire-building disguised as "freedom and democracy."

The Bush regime's behavior epitomizes many dangerous characteristics of a full-blown cult: a dysfunctional group ideology obliterates the individual human conscience, whether Christian or Muslim; ideology-fanaticism and mass hysteria-then become mechanisms for rationalizing the greatest evil of all-war. Once infected, this dehumanizing, mental virus turns normally "good" people into conscienceless killing machines. This is NOT religion! This is insanity!

A political party, a group, sect or religion gone bad requires dedicated, willing members who surrender independent critical thinking and suppress their innate sense of right and wrong for an idealistic sounding mission. Conscience, integrity and a sense of self-responsibility are the first casualties in any destructive ideology. Because a group-directed life is much less of a strain than individual critical thinking and self-responsibility, there is an ever-present, overwhelming temptation to allow the group mind to displace the individual conscience. The process goes something like this:

Education: People, often beginning with children, are taught to hate those who are different and they are taught to interpret scriptures, like the Bible or the Koran, literally instead of symbolically: holy war, Jihad, is then externalized, waged on perceived outside enemies in contrast to an inner holy war with one's lesser nature.

Creating enemies: The group, whether political or religious, must create enemies to survive: other nation states, other religions, other races. Unspeakable evil is rationalized for the "greater good," for the sake of the group's mission and agenda. It's "unfortunate" if thousands of innocent civilians are murdered in the process.

Labeling: Destructive ideologies categorize others by group characteristics such as color, religion, ethnicity, nationality or economic status instead of seeing the individual human being.

Elitism: Leaders' ideas and agenda are sacred, inspired or beyond reproach: This produces a presumed superiority over others with different views, encouraging elitism, separation, hatred, and prejudice.

Black and white thinking: Destructive organizations promote a fundamental separation of pure and impure, good and evil: purity equates to being in the group; impurity and evil equate to those outside the group, who must be saved, defeated or destroyed. God is always on their side.

Exclusiveness: Belief that their belief system-whether political, economic, or religious-is the solution for the world's problems. They have the truth and nonbelievers do not.

Censorship: Leadership attempts to control information and communication into and out of the group as well as individuals' inner thought processes. Doubts, criticisms and different ideas are taken as attacks, disloyalty, or lack of faith.

What then do we do about terrorism and terrorists? First we must refuse to lower ourselves to their level-to become the "evil" that we most despise in others. And we must find creative alternatives to war, working with our allies and the world community to solve legitimate international crises. Of course we, along with all non-violent, freedom-loving peoples, must work together to find and arrest each and every individual who commits a terrorist act or any other crime against humanity. There can be no sanctuary on the planet for such criminals. Terrorism has no geographical boundaries. Its territory is the human mind.

Teaching children to hate those who have different beliefs is a crime against our common humanity. Those who teach hatred, racism, and prejudice in schools ought to be treated as criminals and sociopaths. Any institution, any ideology, organization or school, like the Islamic Madrassa that promotes such teachings must no longer be tolerated by the world community and must be outlawed.

It may well be that we are condemned to repeat past horrors-until we come to grips with the crucial necessity to educate ourselves and most urgently, children everywhere, about the often fatal effects of destructive groups and destructive ideologies. We ought to be defenders of freedom and democracy, a benevolent force in the world through our example, not demagogues wearing the dark shrouds of arrogance, power, religious absolutism and empire-building.

Perhaps the real weapon of mass destruction we need to be concerned about is the virulent, fundamentalist group mind that has infected both the Christian and Moslem religions.


- John D. Goldhammer, Ph.D., is a Seattle Washington (USA) writer, psychologist, and author of "U nder the Influence: The Destructive Effects of Group Dynamics " (Prometheus Books). His newest book has just been released: Radical Dreaming (Kensington/Citadel Press). He has created and taught these university classes: Psychology of Groups and The Psychology of Hate. .

This article was also Published on Saturday, November 22, 2003 by

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