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Facts and Logic About
the Middle East
P.O. Box 590359
San Francisco, CA 94159
March 29, 2005
Friend of FLAME:
In their religious zeal, Islamic fundamentalists are driven by a savagery
and bloodlust that is totally alien to most Westerners, but it is a
motivation we must be aware of and understand in order to be clear as
to what confronts us. As you know, suicide bombers willingly, even happily,
lay down their lives in order to kill their "enemies"---and
as we saw with the 9/11 attacks, more often than not they also injure
innocent bystanders. Thus there can be no doubt that these fanatics
are willing to sacrifice thousands or even millions of lives in order to accomplish
their ends. It is of existential importance, of course, that Israel
be on guard against such likely attacks. Once Iran obtains a nuclear
weapon---and it seems to be only a matter of short time before they
do---they will have no compunction, indeed will feel God-driven, to
use such a weapon to destroy Israel and the hated Jews. To know and
to understand one's enemy is of vital importance---not to know him could
be fatal. Louis Rene Beres is a professor at Purdue University and an
author of many books and articles dealing with terrorism, war and international
law and relations, and we have published his work in previous editions
of the FLAME Hotline. Beres is a keen observer of the Middle
East, and in the article that follows, he chillingly describes the mindset
that animates the enemies of Israel, who are also the enemies of the
United States and, indeed, of all Western culture.
By Louis Rene Beres
Beginning this week, FLAME will publish a new public relations message
on the question of "A Homeland for the Palestinians: Why they?
How about all those others?" I think you'll appreciate this
clarification and find it useful in deconstructing the mythology
surrounding the "need" or "right" of the Palestinian
"people" (not really a historic people, but a group of
Arabs) to a new homeland (in addition to all the other homelands
already created in the last century for Arabs). We urge you to preview
this message, print it out, and pass it along to others. Simply
go to http://factsandlogic.org/ad_91.html.
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in media nationally and internationally, we of course welcome your
tax-deductible donation. Please use our online donation page at
Jewish Press, March 24, 2005
How shall we truly understand what happened on the last
day of March one year ago, when an Iraqi mob burned, desecrated and
hanged four American contractors from a bridge in Fallujah? Utterly
jubilant in their orgy of mutilation and murder, the members of this
frenzied mob seemed to be acting in ways that were only marginally human.
In fact, however, their behaviors were not only decidedly human, they
were also tied intimately to certain distinct and long-enduring forms
of religious worship. I refer specifically to the undiscarded practice
of ritual sacrifice.
To find plausible comparisons with what happened at Fallujah, we needn`t
go back to medieval times. Rather, only a few years earlier, a similar
mob in Palestinian Ramallah tortured, gouged out the eyes, disemboweled
and burned two entirely defenseless human beings. The sacrificial victims
of that particular day, two Russian-speaking Israelis who had gotten
lost on the roads, were not in any way identifiable to the mob as individual
persons. For the sacrificers, it was more than enough that they were
"Jews." For that reason alone, Vadim Norjitz and Yossi Avrahami
were ripped apart with a measure of bliss and cruelty that seemed to
defy all rational conduct.
"Truly I live in dark times," says the poet Bertolt Brecht.
"The man who laughs has simply not yet heard the terrible news."
The "news" here is that those who mete out brutality in places
like Fallujah and Ramallah act with premeditation, conviction and purity
of heart. Presuming their barbarism to be both enviable and sanctified,
an incontestably worthy fulfillment of divine expectation, they revel
in the literal dismemberment of "G-dless" enemies. (Editor's
note: Beres observes the Jewish orthodox custom of not spelling out
the name of the divine.) Though mired in blood, their joyous discovery
of victims is always self-assured and firmly reinforced by religious
faith. Such discovery is born of the deeply felt knowledge that the
death they are dealing is not in any fashion evil, but is instead genuinely
The American military authority in Iraq had pledged one year ago to
"find and punish" the perpetrators of Fallujah. This is well
and good, to be sure, but it misses a much more important point. There
are certainly tens of thousands of others in the area who are potential
perpetrators, entire legions of others whose only regret is that they
were not there this time, but who would surely participate robustly
if another opportunity arose.
We can`t fight this sacrificing enemy with guns and rockets alone. We
can`t even fight it effectively with improved intelligence and targeted
killings of lead terrorists. We must fight it also by first understanding
how to "delink" mob violence from religious sacrifice throughout
the Arab/Islamic world.
To understand what happened at Fallujah we can go back to the
prior events at Ramallah. There the torture-killing of the two Israelis
exhibited clear signs of ritual sacrifice. When one of the overjoyed
murderers appeared before the crowd of thousands smeared in the victims`
blood, the mob roared a collective orgasm of satisfaction. The victims,
after all, were "unbelievers," Jews, not true humans deserving
of care and compassion. Even more importantly, their violent elimination
was a signal to allah of the sacrificers` own worthiness and a clear
promise of divine reward.
America and Israel must soon understand that terrorism in the Arab/Islamic
world is only a tactic and that murder by mutilation in this world is
related directly to religious sacrifice. Until now, this understanding
has lent itself only to very insubstantial theorizing. Now, immediately,
Arab/Islamic terrorism must be recognized, at least in part, as a bloody
and sacred act of mediation between sacrificers and their deity. To
be sure, the killers who take visible delight in mutilation-centered
forms of terror are also enjoying themselves immensely, but this does
not in any way deny the religiously sacrificial quality of their unforgivable
Religious sacrifice always serves to quell growing violence and hatreds
within a primitive community. Left unappeased, violence will accumulate
until it overflows its confines, flooding the surrounding areas. A firm
principle of sacrificial behavior, then, is that it stems a rising tide
of random and intracommunal harms, redirecting it into "proper"
and socially productive channels.
The two "Jews" in Ramallah, as expressions of an already-despised
other in Palestinian society, were more than a proper channel. They
were altogether perfect victims for ritual killing. So, too, for the
same reasons, were the "Americans" in Fallujah.
An intended function of religious sacrifice is to restore harmony to
the primitive community, to strengthen a fragile social fabric. The
murders in both Ramallah and Fallujah offered exactly such restoration.
Having stumbled upon vulnerable surrogates for their own overflowing
violence, the perpetrators in both cases revealed that their surface
affinity for mutilation was part of a much deeper passion for "sacred"
sacrifice of despised "others." In both cases, the sacrifices
were approved widely by Islamic clerics round the world.
We can also learn more about all this from the world of ancient Greece,
from the myth of Dionysus described by Euripides in [his play]
"The Bacchae." Idyllic at first, the Bacchantes` celebration
quickly evolves into a bloodthirsty nightmare. The delirious women of
Thebes hurl themselves indiscriminately on men and beasts. They are
reportedly in the midst of a "strange illness," one that we
can now recognize unquestionably as a sacrificial crisis.
It is futile, it seems, to try to restrain the still-growing tide
of violence and mayhem in parts of the Arab/Islamic world. The Dionysian
outbreak prevails over all. So it was that terrible morning in Ramallah,
and again several years later in Fallujah.
The murderous mutilations of Ramallah and Fallujah are strikingly similar
to the sacrificial violence of Dionysian ritual practice. We can better
understand the contemporary events by looking backward to ancient Greece.
In Dionysian ritual, "Sparagmos, or dismemberment, is always included.
Moreover, as many of the Bacchantes as possible take part in the collective
frenzy. This is meant to satisfy the requirement of unanimity, which
figures importantly in sacrifice.
Significantly, few or no actual weapons are used in Dionysian practice.
The victim is always torn apart by the killers` bare hands. This dismemberment
of a living victim, by multiple assailants each participating
wholly in the act assumes a clear religious meaning. A mob rapidly
comes to a high pitch of mass hysteria, then throws itself on a fragile
individual or individuals victims who serve thereby to polarize
all the fears, anxieties and hostilities of the profane assembly. Finally,
the victims` death provides the desired outlet for mass frustration
while it simultaneously restores intracommunal peace.
Fallujah, like Ramallah before it, must be understood in America
and Israel as much more than an explosion of passionate hatreds. It
was, more than anything else, a selected venue for primal sacrifice.
We shall now need to better recognize this religious dynamic before
we can prevent its intermittent recurrence in Iraq, Israel, the United
States or elsewhere.
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