(As published with The National Interest.)
Many Western analysts of terrorism, and of Middle Eastern politics, are bad at religion. They prefer empirical explanations for individual and group actions, and so they’d rather avoid wrestling with God. They’re also likely to see religion as infinitely adaptable, an “epiphenomenal” cover for political or economic grievance—or fertile ground for the mentally unhinged.
Many in the secular West cannot imagine that a religion can meaningfully differ from privatized, post-Enlightenment Protestantism, which usually serves as their template for all public religion. Since Islam and Islamism today behave differently from Christianity in the West, these Westerners assume God’s obstinate presence in Middle Eastern politics is the result of some other process. Whether this stems from a lack of imagination, or from a belief that examining Islam’s theological particulars constitutes bigotry, the consequence is a refusal to consider religion on its own terms whenever it bleeds into the news.
In other words, they fail to think like jihadis.
Image: Flickr/Shaeekh Shuvro