Motivation of the Islamic Terrorists

Ever since 9/11/01, Americans have been mystified by the motivation of the terrorists of that day. Actually, for many years, Israel has faced regular incidents with terrorists with the same motivation. It is hoped that this essay will help clarify some issues.

Those 19 Muslims of 9/11 are nearly always referred to as "suicide bombers" as are all of them in Israeli incidents. That certainly is the reality of the situation, but it is quite different from what they perceive it to be.

Yes, to some extent, there were political motivations, and the desire to please their leader, and the responsibility to follow orders. But a much higher motivation exists within extremist Islamic terrorists, a religious motivation. Since around 1970, a small but growing group of aberrant Muslims have been teaching a VERY improper understanding of their religious Koran. Since Muslims all believe that the Koran is the very words of God (Allah, PBUH) Himself, when they are taught bizarre interpretations of the meaning of some sections of it, they come to truly believe that they are REQUIRED to do terrorist acts, against Israel (their "enemy") and the United States (Israel's friend, so their perceived "enemy"). On top of this believed requirement for such acts is the bonus of believing that, having done it (in a specific way), and gotten killed in the process, they will immediately go to Paradise (Heaven).

The Muslim Koran is much more similar to the Christian Bible than most people realize. Specifically, the Koran VERY clearly states that suicide, under ANY conditions, is banned and a terrible sin. An example is in Sura 3, Imram's Family (3.139), "It is not for any soul to die, save by God's permission written down for an appointed time."

Therefore, from those terrorists' viewpoints, they are DEFINITELY not committing suicide!

It is necessary to now look at a small portion of their otherwise rather peace-driven Holy Book, the Koran (Qur'an). In Sura (Chapter) 47, paragraph 4 and 5 are:

And when ye meet those who misbelieve - then striking off heads until ye have massacred them, and bind fast the bonds!

Then either a free grant (of liberty) or a ransom until the war shall have laid down its burdens. That! - but if God please He would conquer them - but (it is) that He may try some of you by the others. And those who are slain in God's cause, their works shall not go wrong; He will guide them and set right their mind; and will make them enter into Paradise which He has told them of.

These two paragraphs seem to be the source of the problem. (Actually, there are some similar passages in the Koran, such as Suras 2.159 and 3.169 which indicate that those holy warriors who died fighting in God's cause are alive and in His Presence now.)

The many thousands of words in the rest of the Koran are generally very peace-filled, probably far more so than the extensive violence in the Old Testament of the Bible. Muhammad virtually always taught his followers to be peaceful (except when either threatened or attacked, or when the "Taurah" [the first five Books of the Bible] were un-believed or mis-believed) (particularly in Suras that were composed when he was still in Mecca). Nearly all Muslims properly understand that and are extremely peaceful people, with impressive behavior and sound morals and ethics.

The context of the Koran makes clear that Muhammad expressed these specific comments in reference to defending "the Book" (actually meaning the first five Books of the Jewish Bible, what we call the Torah or Pentateuch, beginning with Genesis) from un-believers. He was explaining the importance of the Faith and that it deserved the maximum defense that could be provided for it.

Specifically, in hundreds of places, the Koran clearly states that ALL "believers of the Book" (referring to the first five Books of the Bible) ARE believers and that they should be treated respectfully and honorably. That is clear instruction to all Muslims to respect and be peaceful to both Christians and Jews, as long as those individuals are Devout believers in those five Books of the Bible. Again, virtually all Muslims properly understand this and behave as Muhammad instructed them.

NOTE: Muhammad also regularly referred to the many Jews and Christians who did a very POOR job of Faith, and he referred to such people as misbelievers. His standard was regarding how well an individual followed the Teachings of the first five Books of the Bible, the Pentateuch or the Torah, and when Jews or Christians (or Muslims) did not carefully follow their Faiths, Muhammad soundly criticized them. His severe anger toward them were really because they had not done a proper job of being a Jew or Christian (in his opinion).

Around forty years ago, some aberrant Muslims read the above Holy texts (which all Muslims believe came directly from God through Muhammad) and began a very wrong understanding of what those two paragraphs meant. They took those paragraphs out of context (as I have necessarily done here) and chose to misunderstand what "believer" meant and decided that the word ONLY applied to Muslims. That error would then make both Christians and Jews to appear to be non-believers. Paragraph 4 above then tells them what they should do with such people, massacre them.

The amazingly aberrant beliefs then developed by those (small) groups of Muslims then even extended this thinking to also include Muslims who followed a different specific belief set than they believe. This seems astounding! There are actually dozens of different groups of Muslims, most of whom feel they are either Sunnites or Shiites. More than a billion of the Muslims in the world are Sunnites, and less than two hundred million are Shiites, most of whom live in Iran. They now murder each other with bombs and guns and suicide vests, having stretched the claim of 'un-believers' even to the mass of Muslims who carefully study and follow everything that Muhammad (PBUH) taught.

How could the leadership of the Muslim faith allow this all to be happening? Why don't they IMMEDIATELY do a massive EDUCATION EFFORT to reinforce in all Muslims the PEACEFUL aspects of Islam? And to get Muslims to remember that Muhammad (PBUH) expected ALL Muslims to spread the Peace which he tried to teach? While they are at that education effort, they might also mention the many references in the Koran to the BROTHERHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS, which clearly refers to Muslims, Jews and Christians, as well as all the flavors of Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

Once massive CORRECT Muslim Teaching is applied, the 99.9% of PEACEFUL Muslims might apply some social and religious pressure on that tiny fraction of 1% of Muslims which are giving Islam such a very bad image! Few young Muslims would then follow, or even trust, aberrant ideas presented to them which are so far away from PROPER Muslim beliefs and actions, and few 'recruits' would follow the aberrant terrorists.

Now, since the aberrant terrorists were constantly taught such bizarre interpretations of the Koran and the Hadiths, they currently now understood such violence to be "God's cause". They then think that the (highlighted) guarantee of paragraph 5 would seem to apply. In the event that they "are slain" in the process of such killing efforts, they think they are guaranteed of going immediately to Paradise (Heaven).

Again, it seems an urgent RESPONSIBILITY for Muslim leadership to EDUCATE all Muslims about the TRUE meanings of the Koran and the Hadiths.

The daily life of many Muslims is barely above mere existence. Prosperity, wealth, success and happiness are not common in many communities. Life is very difficult for many people, including large numbers of Muslims.

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Normal Muslim life involves massive religious activities, including their five Prayers every day (often totaling over an hour of commitment every day) plus their weekly fasts plus many more requirements. Muslims do all these things specifically to avoid going immediately to Hell, although relatively few seem to expect to directly go to Heaven. They believe in a "waiting room", al Aaraf, (something like the Catholic Purgatory) where their final disposition is eventually determined. The point is, for a normal Muslim, extensive and continuous religious effort is involved, just for the CHANCE of getting into Heaven. Imagine the motivation for a suffering Muslim to find some way to be killed in the process of doing God's cause! An automatic and immediate entry into Paradise (Heaven)!

Normal Muslims do not have much opportunity there, as the Koran does not allow them to be the aggressor in most situations. They would have to await some enemy aggressor who they could then retaliate against, either to win (and protect Islam) or die (and go directly to Heaven). In both possibilities, they saw the result as desirable.

The aberrant Muslims that studied those two paragraphs developed a concept. They (incorrectly) determined that Israelis and Americans and their other enemies HAD PREVIOUSLY initiated a threat to Islam, which permitted them to "counter-attack" even though their actions were clearly just unprovoked initial attacks. Very quickly, a preferred method developed in what are commonly called suicide-bombings, particularly in Israel, and in America on 9/11/01.

On top of believing they are justified (by the Koran) in their attack (counter-attack) actions, and that their targets are non-believers or misbelievers, they believe that by dying in such an act, there is a bonus of being absolutely guaranteed immediate entrance into Paradise (Heaven). Collectively, these are tremendous incentives in their minds.

Islamic beliefs add even more incentives, particularly for young men. There is a Hadith that informs them that 70 virgin maidens await each of them in Paradise (Heaven) It is NOT in the Koran itself. The Koran has some non-specific references to rewards awaiting Muslim (men) in Heaven, which were expanded in the later Hadiths.

As a personal observation, just how many 'virgin maidens' ARE there in Paradise? For 1400 years, many thousands and millions of men have died (more properly) 'defending' Islam. At 70 each, doesn't that seem to already have accounted for ALL the females that have EVER gotten into Paradise? But those modern Muslim terrorists who expect to meet their Harem of virgins probably never get to that step in the process! In order to QUALIFY for getting to Paradise, they first would certainly have to 'explain why it was not a suicide', which is absolutely a sin in Islam, and they would also have to 'explain how they were DEFENDING Islam by intentionally using and detonating bombs and weapons on people who did NOT make any prior attack!

These observations should also make it clear why so many people want to volunteer to die in such acts. THEY don't see it as suicide at all, but as their ONLY absolutely guaranteed way of entry into Paradise. As a suicide, they would know it to be sinful, and banned by the Koran, so there is no chance whatever that they have that perception. So each person who is to be talked into being a terrorist, is always instead convinced that as long as "an enemy of Islam" is the target, then the terrorist can think of himself as a loyal martyr for Islam. The people who present this reasoning have become very convincing, for the listeners who are usually illiterate.

Consider the many people crowded into the slums of cities in the Palestinian (and southern Lebanese) regions. Many people struggle to survive. There is little happiness. Life is very tough. For such a person to jump up to volunteer to strap a bomb to themselves, given these specific ideas, seems nearly obvious. With this insight, it becomes rather clear why militant terrorism has grown so rapidly within Islam.

There is one other important aspect of this activity. The person's INTENT absolutely MUST BE to kill or injure "non-believers". (It can NEVER be directed toward Muslims or "believers".) That ensures (in their minds) that they are doing God's cause, so the Paradise reward would apply. In their minds, it is not actually that necessary to actually kill any Israelis or other enemies, but only to intend to accomplish that. So, in their minds, even an incompetent bomber who blows himself up at home while trying to make a bomb, would still immediately go to Paradise.

As to the 9/11 pilots, many Americans seem to have the impression that they probably had grim looks of contemplating their imminent suicides. That was almost certainly not the case. It seems extremely likely that they were smiling as they died, believing that they would be in Paradise a moment later. Rather than dreading the impact, they almost certainly were looking forward to it as the crowning achievement of their lives.

Given these motivations, it seems clear that, essentially, there are no rules! No leadership, either now or in the future, even including Arafat, will ever be able to eliminate all such attacks. Even if a Saudi peace initiative "recognizes" Israel as a nation, no one could possibly stop future individual terrorist bombings killing Israelis, as long as those individuals have the perception that Israelis are "enemies of Islam" and that their distorted understanding of those paragraphs of the Koran are correct.

The ONLY possibility is for Muslim leaders to begin to consistent teach the correct (Koran) meaning of "believer" to such people (and to all their children) and to teach them that suicide is still suicide, no matter how one tries to rationalize it, and suicide will NOT get them into Paradise. Only if they understand those two important concepts will they see cause to stop the suicide-bombing terrorism.

Diplomacy might seem like an attractive possibility, especially for bureaucratic government officials, but it will have no more success there than it does in the 600-year religious wars in the Balkans, or in Northern Ireland, or in countless other long-term religious confrontations. And even any educational initiative is likely to take several decades to have significant results. So, Israel and the world can figure to be the targets of aberrant Muslim terrorists for many years to come.

This is SO sad! The vast majority of Muslims are VERY peace-loving. It is terrible that their collective reputation is tarnished by a small number of motivated but mis-informed extremists.

On a related issue, American forces in Afghanistan cannot understand why the majority of the enemy are willing to fight to the death, even against the overwhelming American military forces. The above concepts apply. In their minds, as long as they die "defending Islam from non-believers", they will immediately go to Paradise. The alternative, of spending a life in an American prison, cannot compare with the attractiveness of Paradise.

Early in the war, the American military leaders seriously expected to capture the leaders alive. They clearly are unfamiliar with any of the above observations. Separate from building reputations as martyrs, the leaders would certainly insist on making sure they died during the conflict. If they already have died, they have accomplished that personal goal. If any of them are still alive, they certainly would have made provisions that they could not be taken alive. I would think that an obvious option is that all those leaders continuously have bombs attached to their bodies, so if they are ever surprised and captured, they could kill themselves and the nearby Americans in the explosions. If you notice, that would fulfill all the conditions that they think are necessary to ensure their immediately going to Paradise.

Given that, until such education has been developed, many Muslim individuals are going to WANT to do terrorist acts, I see only one action now that figures to be reasonably effective at improving the safety of the American people. If Secretary Rumsfeld would give a press conference, he could make the following observation:

"For any world leaders out there who are contemplating training, supporting, or supplying future terrorists, I suggest giving reflection on what has occurred in Afghanistan. The previous government there had directly participated regarding the terrorist acts on the United States on 9/11/01. As an immediate and direct response to those attacks on American citizens, we have acted to eliminate them as a political force.

"So, should your government consider participating in some future terrorist act on the United States or against American citizens, give some thought about what our reaction would be. You should clearly realize that it would be an absolute certainty that your government would be removed and destroyed, and that, at best, you might wind up living in a cave somewhere until we found you.

"Therefore, before you decide to train, equip, or support ANY terrorist activity, it seems prudent for you to consider these matters."

Such a statement might not be able to dissuade individual aberrant individuals or groups, but it certainly should minimize any large-scale organized support for future terrorism. If Secretary Rumsfeld would make such a statement, I think all Americans would become FAR safer.

There is really only a single way that such terrorism might actually stop. Some highly respected Islamic leaders would need to publicly explain to all Islamic people that anything resembling suicide is absolutely unacceptable by the Islamic faith. Such a leader would have to be so persuasive as to actually convince all Muslims that they would have no chance whatever of getting into Paradise (Heaven) if they committed suicide, even if they also thought they were doing something on Allah's behalf.

Until and unless this happens some day, countless suicide attacks will continue by the many millions of very poor Islamic young men. Their personal perspectives are that they have no possible chance of succeeding in this life in any traditional ways (of working hard, of operating a business, etc). And, with food and money being in short supply for them, what future do they have to look forward to? They see countless older men in abject poverty, and they see that that is their future, too.

In this situation, with no hope whatever in this world, they have quickly bought into the premise that has been promoted by a few Islamic extremist leaders, of using a very distorted interpretation of their Holy Koran to justify killing Christians and Jews, and in doing so by suicide attacks. They have absolutely no reason to doubt such aberrant leaders, until and unless some even more respected leader explains to them the errors in those distorted interpretation.

It is interesting that some Muslims today seem to be trying to use a victim argument, saying that they are always treated as being bad people. But what is the reality? In the past decade, there have been many thousands of terrorist attacks, suicide bombers. How many have been Jews? It appears ZERO. How many have been Christians? It appears just a handful. All the other tens of thousands have been Muslims, and they have even BRAGGED about being Muslims! How could ANY observers conclude anything else than that Muslims should be looked at with a certain caution? This would be VERY different if the terrorists did not feel need to brag about being Muslims, or if 1/3 of all terrorists happened to be Jews and 1/3 Christians and 1/3 Muslims. THEN there would be no pre-assumptions as there are today.

This essay was first placed on the Internet in January 2002.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago