- - Sunday, April 7, 2019



By T.P. Schwartz-Barcott

Teneo Press, $29, 352 pages

With defeating the proliferation of religiously extremist-driven terrorism a major national security priority for governments around the world, what is the actual role and influence of the passages from the religious texts that such terrorists select to legitimize their evil violence?

Are these terrorists, in fact, twisting and distorting the meanings of these great religious texts, such as the Koran and the Old and New Testaments, for their own malicious propaganda benefit?

These questions are insightfully answered by T.P. Schwartz-Barcott’s “Violence, Terror, Genocide, and War in the Holy Books and in the Decades Ahead,” which is an empirically-based psychological and sociological examination, as explained by the author, of all the verses in the holy books of Judaism, Christianity and Islam that portray or refer to the use of physical violence and war against these religions’ adversaries.

The author, a veteran academic who has taught at several universities in the field of sociology, is well-positioned to examine these issues in such an empirically valid way.

The book’s objective, the author explains, is to “deepen our understanding of how and why some of the passages in the holy books can be used and misused to inspire and motivate some people towards violence, terrorism, and war now and in the years ahead — especially in the next few decades.”

These texts are of special concern because, the author writes, “Unfortunately, not all of the encouragements toward violence in the holy books are in the past tense. It is naive and dangerous to try to dismiss them simply on the grounds that they are obsolete anachronisms or that they are taken without regard to historical context. In the contemporary world, as in the past, persons need not take ‘historical context’ into account if and when they decide to try to kill someone because of a passage in a ‘holy book’ that says ‘kill them’ — or that they interpret that way.”

It is when such calls to violence are “depicted as being justified,” the author adds, that “disinhibition and desensitization regarding violence” is likely to occur because “the consequences are positive and rewarding to the violent persons, and when the violence is encountered in social situations in which other people respond affirmatively to the depictions.”

The author then profiles some of the notorious terrorist groups and lone actors who have been inspired by extremist passages in their religions to conduct their violent attacks. These religiously extremist-driven groups include the late Jewish Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach, Christian terrorists such as the American-based Army of God and lone actors such as Eric Rudolph, and Muslim terrorist groups such as al Qaeda, the Islamic State, the Palestinian Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah, as well as their lone actors such as Nidal Hasan and Omar Mateen.

This discussion is followed by an examination of these three religions’ primary texts in terms of the kinds of written and spoken words, phrases and statements that appear violent and are likely to provoke engagement in physical violence by people who read and follow them literally. Here, the author finds that “the Quran has considerable more verses that portray violence than the Old Testament and the New Testament, proportionate to size.”

In another finding, he adds that “Violence in the New Testament is almost absent, except for descriptions of the crucifixion of Jesus in the Epistles of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and for quite a few images, dreams, or fantasies of violence in the final book, Revelation.”

In an interesting chapter that examines the findings of leading academic experts on the exploitation of religious texts by violent militants, the author finds that “While the authors have been very sincere, they provide very few detailed practical suggestions, and they do not tell us how the suggestions can be implemented” to reduce the risks of religious violence.

For this reason, in the final chapter, the author presents 10 measures to “help us disassociate violence from religions and their holy books so as to reduce the risks of violence, terror, genocide, and war.” These measures include a mix of sensible and practical recommendations, such as emphasizing these texts’ non-violent passages, monitoring the people, groups and organizations that misrepresent verses in the holy books to justify their extremist violence and responding to them, for instance, through possible arrest; and also measures that are well-intentioned but utopian ideals.

These include recommending ignoring holy books in one’s religion that express violence, deleting the violent passages from new editions of such texts, adopting the less violent holy books of other religions, creating new non-violent holy books or “updating” those that exist, creating new religions and, in general, acknowledging and encouraging religious people and groups throughout the world that act to reduce the likelihood of violence.

It is such original and insightful observations and recommendations that make this book an indispensable guide for understanding how terrorist adversaries exploit passages in mainstream religious holy books to falsely legitimize their violence and the measures required to counteract and defeat them.

• Joshua Sinai is a Washington, D.C.-based consultant on counterterrorism and homeland security issues.

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