Having just finished Robert Pape’s DYING TO WIN, his book on comparative suicide terrorism and the men and women who blow themselves up. (THESIS: Suicide bombers are generally well-educated and reasonably well-connected to the communities they fight to defend, and that religious differences are significant in constructing the “us” and the “them,” and that nearly all suicide attacks are part of nationalist campaigns for national independence or against a perceived occupation.) I think his thesis is generally correct, though he stretches it at some points and doesn’t really understand what Al-Qaeda is. Nationalist wars of resistance works for Hezbullah in Lebanon, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, and Hamas in Palestine. Al-Qaeda shows signs of being an international insurgency against the United States, an international ideological movement, and a liberation organization fighting for the Muslim ummah, a transnational “nation-in-being.” Pape doesn’t really seem to understand this.
The recommendation, however, that the US invasions of conquests of Muslim countries to change their governments is foolish and won’t accomplish much but encourage more suicide terror, is spot on. Pape does understand that.
Onward. I’d like to nitpick Karen Armstrong’s latest, THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION: THE BEGINNING OF THE RELIGIOUS TRADITION, her exploration of the “Axial Age” of 900 B.C.E to about 200 B.C.E. I’m a big fan of Armstrong’s, and own and have read several of her books. This one is just as interesting and compelling. But it could have used some more attentive editing.
On page 6, for example, Armstrong writes:
At first the Aryans had entertained no hope of an afterlife, but by the end of the second millenium, some were beginning to believe that wealthy people who had commissioned a lot of sacrifices would be able to join the gods in paradise after their death.
And later, on page 19, she writes:
Ever since they had lived on the steppes, the Aryans had believed that the best and wealthiest among them would join the gods in heaven.
I’m confused. Since Armstrong says the Aryans began as “pastoralists living on the steppes of southern Russia,” I have a question. Okay Miz Armstrong, which is it? Did the Aryans always believe in an afterlife, or acquire it slowly over time?