Nothing Islamic About Human Sacrifice

Suicide bombings. Assassinations. The wholesale murder of prisoners. The mass slaughter of 9/11. Videotaped beheadings and the execution studios recently discovered in Fallujah. We describe it as ”Islamic terrorism.”

Islam / Islamism

Islamism is a totalitarian ideology adhered to by Muslim extremists (e.g. the Taliban, Wahhabis, Hamas and Osama bin Laden). It is considered to be a distortion of Islam. Many Islamists engage in terrorism in pursuit of their goals.

Adherents of Islam are called “Muslims.” The term “Arab” describes an ethnic or cultural identity. Not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are Arabs. The terms are not interchangeable.

And we’re wrong.

The hard-core terrorists spawned by the breakdown of the Middle East quote the Koran. They wear Muslim garments. They perform the daily rituals prescribed by the faith into which they were born. But all of us, in the West and the Middle East, have mistaken the identity of these butchers.

For all of their Muslim trappings, the terrorists of al-Qaeda and its affiliates have returned to pre-Islamic practices, to behaviors that Moses, Christ and Mohammed uniformly rejected: They practice human sacrifice.

The grisly decapitations caught on film and the explosives-laden cars driven into crowds, the bombings of schools and the execution of kidnapped women are not sanctioned by a single passage in the Koran. Nor are they political acts committed by freedom fighters. These are the actions of a resurrected blood cult that has nothing to do with the message of the Prophet Mohammed and everything to do with the bloodthirsty winged devils and gory altars that haunted the ancient Middle East.

The terrorists may believe that they’re good Muslims — self-awareness is not a widespread human trait — but their deeds are those of the pagans Mohammed condemned.

We live in an age of change so profound that entire cultures cannot cope with the stress. In the Middle East, we see more than the routine ”clash of civilizations.” Instead, we are eyewitnesses to an event without precedent: the crash of the once-great, still-proud civilization of Middle Eastern Islam.

Impulses from the past

In the Middle East, the heavens are falling, and the Earth is wracked by failure. The result was predictable, had we been willing to open our eyes. From the confusion of Reformation-era Europe to China suffering the advent of Western gunboats, history saw human beings react to cultural crises by fleeing into cults that sought revenge.

Instead of returning to a ”pure” Islam, the terrorists are building a blood cult, a deformed offshoot of their faith that revives the most primitive and grotesque of religious practices. Human sacrifice pervaded early societies, from pre-Columbian America through Europe and across Asia. Yet we have grown so accustomed to gentler forms of religion that the discovery of a ritually murdered corpse in alpine ice shocks us. When bones unearthed in the American Southwest bear the markings of ceremonial murder and cannibalism, the politically correct shout their denials. But the truth is that our ancestors bribed their gods with blood.

A paradox of this era of technological wonders is that its dislocations have conjured primitive impulses from the past. This is the great age of both satellites and revived superstition, of all-seeing sensors and blind faith.

Every one of the great religions is under siege. But the crisis is nowhere as intense as in the Middle East, where treasured values and inherited behaviors simply do not work in the 21st century.

Nor is the cult of human sacrifice unique to ”Islamic” terrorists even now. What was Jonestown but the murder of hundreds of humans in service to a warped religious vision? From spaceship cults in California to the killing of ”witches” in the developing world, the impulse to please one god or another by spilling blood remains more deeply ingrained than we like to admit.

”Experts” schooled in the failed dogmas of the past century say Osama bin Laden and his ilk are political actors driven to violence, that the religious trappings of terror are only superficial. They’re utterly wrong. The terrorists’ relationship to their god is fundamental.

It’s time to put aside the international-relations texts that have failed the world so miserably. We must confront the elementary problem of our times: Frightened human beings and the longing for easy answers that lead to the most repugnant forms of faith.

The Aztecs are back.

Islam’s worst enemies

You don’t need to understand Arabic to get the message of those videotaped beheadings, with their rituals and liturgy. The sermon precedes the sacrifice. Then the human calf, shivering with terror, has his throat slit by the ”priest.” We might be watching a ceremony from 4,000 years ago.

The attack on 9/11 was not a political act. It was a religious act. But it wasn’t Islamic. The Koran forbids the murder of innocents (as well as the taking of hostages and the abuse of prisoners). The 9/11 attacks were cult behavior from the dawn of civilization, employing modern tools.

We must cut through the layers of intellectual nonsense piled up by academics and pundits to get at the essence of this new — and very old — reality. When the terrorists we face invoke the names of ”Allah” or ”Mohammed,” they are blaspheming and corrupting a great faith. The prophet was appalled by the religious practices of the early desert peoples. Those who murder in his name today have rejected his message even as they claim to revere it.

The terrorists we face aren’t super-Muslims. They’re Islam’s worst enemies. They don’t seek to turn back the calendar to the 10th century. They’re reaching back to the sordid epochs when gods drank human blood.

Ralph Peters is a retired military officer and the author of Beyond Terror: Strategy in a Changing World. He is a member of USA TODAY’s board of contributors.
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