Houses of Worship: Motive for Massacre
Wall Street Journal
June 30, 2002
by Paul Marshall
On Wednesday, gunmen entered a Christian charity in Karachi, Pakistan, separated Christian from Muslim workers and methodically shot seven Christians in the head. Although this massacre is the sixth in a series of attacks aimed at Christian targets in Pakistan, much of the media has played down religion's role in favor of a secular storyline.
The New York Times described this latest attack as ending a lull in assaults on "Western targets" and suggested that the charity was chosen because it was not as well guarded as "foreign embassies and Western companies." It quoted a police official saying that the attack was designed to drive away "Western business." Agence France-Presse quoted a human-rights worker arguing that the violence was not against Christians but against those "striving for a tolerant society." CNN International opined that there "is no indication of a motive."
This approach is typical. After the massacres at a Pakistani Christian school and hospital in August, Reuters headlined its story "Pakistan attack seen aimed at West, not Christians," while the BBC said: "The attack appears aimed at Western interests, rather than Pakistan's Christian minority." The Associated Press argued that the assaults were "directed against western interests."
The people believed to be behind the attacks, though, have made their motives plain. Members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the terrorist group claiming responsibility for an October 2001 massacre in a Christian church, said that "they planned to kill Christians" in revenge for Muslim deaths in Afghanistan. The men who claimed responsibility for attacking the school in August announced that they "killed the nonbelievers." Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped in Pakistan in January, was killed not only because he was a Westerner but also because he was Jewish, as his murderers made explicit.
Similarly, the Taliban made Hindus and Buddhists put distinguishing marks on their clothing and demolished the two largest Buddhist statues in the world. Recent intelligence reports suggest that al Qaeda members are involved in anti-Christian violence in eastern Indonesia. Extremist Islamists are attacking indigenous people in dozens of countries -- including fellow Muslims -- who do not share their extremist beliefs.
The key in each case is not a geopolitical affiliation but an unacceptable religious belief. When al Qaeda was formed in 1998, it was named the "World Islamic Front for Holy War Against Jews and Crusaders." Osama bin Laden stressed in an Al-Jazeera interview at the time that his target was "World Christianity, which is allied with Jews and Zionism."
While al-Qaeda makes its religious views explicit, religious terms in the West are avoided or hedged. Policy makers, diplomats, journalists and scholars, writes the defense expert Edward Luttwak, are ready to "dissect social differentiations" and "minutely categorize political affiliations," but they regularly disregard "the role of religion, religious institutions, and religious motivations in explaining politics."
Instead of taking religion seriously, we redefine it as "ethnic," coining the term "ethnic cleansing" to describe, say, the murder of Muslims in the Balkans. Or we use "fundamentalist" and "right-wing" as vague, catch-all terms to characterize militant groups who are actually defined by very particular beliefs. After all, pious, nonmilitant Sufi Muslims are "fundamentalist," and the designations "left" and "right" have nothing to do with abhorring "infidel" Western troops in Saudi Arabia or resisting attempts to build a Hindu temple on the site of a mosque in northern India.
Religion shapes politics from Palestine to Chechnya, from the Sudan and Nigeria to Sri Lanka and Indonesia. At the moment, we face a politicized religious fanaticism, one that each day announces its rationale. Al Qaeda and its imitators in Algeria, Uzbekistan and the Philippines -- and in Pakistan as well -- do not trade in euphemism. They state their desire to impose an extreme version of Islam on, first, Muslim countries and then the rest of the world. Their particular hatred is directed at nonbelievers, not at "the West," whatever the headline writers and analysts may say the next time a massacre happens. And it will.
Paul Marshall is a Senior Fellow with Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom.