Even more prominent is the characterization of the attackers as
"madmen" (or similar terms such as fanatics, zealots, lunatics),
a discourse that locates the attackers' motivations in "excessive"
religious belief, a faith so fervent that it makes individuals "irrational."
Essentially, this analysis shifts the attackers into the realm of
the insane and therefore outside of society itself: they are "barbarians"
(Bush) with whom you can't reason, and thus "civilized" peoples
(Powell) must oppose them.
Although closely associated with Islamic fundamentalists in American
thinking, the theme of religious fanaticism is in fact used to explain
a lot of social groups whose behavior appears to be motivated by
"abnormal" religious belief: anti-abortion activists, suicide cults,
Pentecostal congregations, etc. Interestingly, the narrow bounds
placed by the mainstream on "rational" religious behavior marginalizes
what has traditionally been one of the strongest themes of both
Christianity and Islam: the idea of religious ecstasy, an altered
state often likened to intoxication.
Bill Kirkpatrick is a Ph.D. candidate in Media and Cultural
Studies at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Questions to Consider
- If we call the attackers madmen, does that make it easier to
ignore or dismiss any cultural or political motivations they might
have that would help us understand the root causes of terrorism?
- If we decide that we cannot "reason" with certain groups, does
that leave violence as the only option, or are there other alternative
ways of dealing with non-mainstream social groups?
- Finally, how does the characterization of certain religiously-motivated
behaviors as "mad" affect the various roles of religion that are
possible in our society?
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