Jihad: Searching for a Motive

Some Catholic leaders insist that terrorist attacks are motivated by money, selfishness, and oppression, but not by religion. Jihadists, however, disagree.

After the truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin and the murder of a Russian ambassador in Ankara, Bishop Nuncio Galantino assured the press that the attacks were not motivated by religion but by money.  Such acts, said the head of the Italian bishop’s conference, are motivated by “selfishness and oppression.”

Nothing to do with religion?  That sounds familiar.  Pope Francis said as much in Evangelii Gaudium.  “Authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran,” he wrote, “are opposed to every form of violence.”  That was three years ago when many Catholics were still working on the assumption that Islam was a religion not unlike Catholicism.  But why, after three more years of violence committed in the name of Islam, are bishops still repeating this tired formula?

I read the story about Bishop Galantino on the JihadWatch website, and just below it was another story titled “Christian worship is ‘worse than murder and bloodshed’.”  Those are the sentiments of Dr. Ahmed al-Naqib, a noted Egyptian religious scholar who has received awards in recognition of his academic achievements.  Further down in the piece, we read that Al-Azhar, the Islamic world’s most prestigious university, issued a fatwa in 2009 comparing the building of a church to “a nightclub, a gambling casino, or building a barn for rearing pigs, cats and dogs.”  The gist of the articles is that the religion of Islam has a fairly low opinion of Christians and other non-Muslims—an opinion which often acts as an incentive to violence against them.

Raymond Ibrahim, the author of the piece, is a Middle East and Islam specialist and an Arabic translator whose writings about Islamic culture and history have appeared in a wide variety of publications including scholarly journals and popular websites.  It seems a safe bet that Ibrahim knows more about Islam than Bishop Galantino, and Ibrahim makes a solid case in his books and articles that jihad is motivated primarily by religion. Yet the view that jihad is motivated by poverty and oppression, not religion, remains popular with Catholic prelates. 

But if jihad has nothing to do with religion, why did the Turkish assassin shout “Allahu akbar” after shooting the Russian ambassador?  Why were his next words “we are those who have given a pledge of allegiance to Muhammad that we will carry on jihad”?  To most people, “a pledge of allegiance to Muhammad” would suggest a religious motivation.  The trouble is, most people didn’t hear that part of the assassins statement.  The mainstream media conveniently left out Mevlut Altintas’ pledge.  All that most people know is that he said “Allahu Akbar” and “Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria!”  The mainstream media would like to leave us with the impression that when a Muslim commits murder, his motives are purely political, not religious.

And Bishop Galantino apparently wants to leave the impression that jihadists are motivated by money.  “At bottom,” he said, “there is just selfishness and oppression.  Wars benefit those who have power and money, those who trade in weapons.” Well, that might be the reason why arms dealers sell weapons, but what does it have to do with one jihadist who murders an ambassador in an art gallery, and another one who plows a large truck into a crowd of Christmas shoppers?

Both jihadists were most likely expecting to die, and even a jihadist knows that you can’t take it with you. Besides, who needs money in paradise? When you think about it, the bishop’s attempt to bring in a money motive explains nothing. 

There seems no reason to bring money into the picture.  Unless, of course, there is another point you want to make.  And sure enough, towards the end of the interview, Bishop Galantino puts out a warning about “violence,” “even in the use of language.”   “Vulgarity and aggressiveness in language,” he says, “fuel a climate that brings out the worst in people and impedes efforts toward a peaceful coexistence.”

He continues, “Look at the media, on TV and in politics, and even more on social networks.  The word of an imbecile is worth as much as that of a Nobel prize winner.”  “And often,” he concludes, “The words of a violent person or a warmonger have even more impact.”   “Vulgarity and aggressiveness,” “TV,” “politics,” social media,” “warmonger”—the words are suggestive.  When you combine them with earlier negative remarks made by the bishop about “those who have power and money,” it almost seems as though he’s talking about president-elect Donald Trump.

It’s become a common claim among liberals and leftists that Donald Trump’s aggressive rhetoric provokes peaceful Muslims into becoming jihadists.  Now, it seems, some Catholic prelates are jumping on the bandwagon.  But does anyone really believe that the two terrorist attacks (the occasion for the bishops’ remarks) were motivated by Donald Trump?  An otherwise peaceful Muslim drives a truck into a crowd of innocent people because he was inflamed by Donald Trump?  A Turkish policeman assassinates a Russian Ambassador because of provocative remarks by Donald Trump?  The much more probable explanation is that the jihadists were motivated by another political leader from long ago—one who was also a warlord and a “prophet.”  Why not take the assassin at his word—“we are those who have given a pledge of allegiance to Muhammad that we will carry on jihad”?

As it happens, jihadists have motivations that pre-date Donald Trump by about 1400 years.  Even the majority of the twenty first-century jihad attacks—9/11, Madrid, Beslen, Fort Hood, Mumbai, and the London tube bombing took place well before Trump rose to political prominence.  Moreover, the jihadist are happy to explain their motivations.  Here is an excerpt from an article entitled “Why we hate you and why we fight you” in Dabiq, the official magazine of the Islamic State:

Even if you were to stop bombing us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam.

In short, they hate us because we don’t accept Islam. They hate us because we are unbelievers.

It seems well past time for bishops to stop taking their cues from the talking points of liberal elites and to start paying attention to the subject they should know best: religion.  Bishop Galantino might start by asking himself some questions:  “Am I motivated by religion?”  “Is religion a very important motivation in my life?”  “Would I be willing to lay down my life for my faith?”  Let’s hope the answer is “yes” to all questions. 

Why can’t Bishop Galantino and other bishops in Rome admit that committed jihadist are similarly motivated—only by an entirely different sort of religion?

About William Kilpatrick 49 Articles

William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including Psychological Seduction, Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong and, most recently, Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West. Professor Kilpatrick’s articles on cultural and educational topics have appeared in First Things, Policy Review, American Enterprise, American Educator, The Los Angeles Times, and various scholarly journals. His articles on Islam have appeared in Aleteia, National Catholic Register, Investor’s Business Daily, FrontPage Magazine, and other publications. Professor Kilpatrick’s work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation. For more on his work and writings, visit his website, turningpointproject.com.