Evil as Love and as Liberation: The Mind of a Suicidal Religious Terrorist

by Ruth Stein

June 27, 2004


The letter to the September 11 terrorists is analyzed in an effort to understand the state of mind of a religious suicide-killer. The letter has a solemn, serene, even joyful tone that is infused with love of God and a strong desire to please Him. The author suggests that incessant incantation of prayers and religious sayings while focusing attention on God led to a depersonalized, trancelike state of mind that enabled the terrorists to function competently, while dwelling in a euphoric state. On a psychodynamic level, the theme of father son love is used to explain the ecstatic willingness of the terrorists to do what they saw as God’s will and to follow transformations from (self) hate to love (of God), and from anxiety and discontent to the narrowly –focused fear of God. Homoerotic bonding and longing, coupled with repudiation of “femininity”, explain an inability to “kill” the primal murderous father, as the mythological Primal Horde did. Freud’s description of the sons’ (the group members’) hypnotic love for their father-leader, which, when not reciprocated into masochistic submission, seems pertinent for the understanding of the sons’ “return” to an archaic, cruel father imago. “Regression” to the father is compared with classical maternal regression.

The letter to the hijackers that was found in Mohammed Atta's luggage in the car that had been left in Logan Airport before the World Trade Center attack1 is a striking document. A highly revelatory testimony, it may provide us with some understanding of how the mind of a suicidal killer works. As we face the emergence of new kinds of mass-destructive attacks, as the world becomes a place swarming with nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, lethal instruments with a fantastic, science-fictional scope, wielded by people with apocalyptically-destructive, non-negotiable intentions, we must seek whatever additional knowledge we can about the states of mind that are conducive to such attacks.2 What makes a person shed off his usual inhibitions against killing, and immerse himself in joyfully pursued destructive activities of megalomaniacal proportions? And how are we to understand the combination of the experience of utter control and power, and the enthusiastic, hypnotized embracing of physical self-destruction? Reflecting on this extreme situation, a psychoanalyst will think about possible motives for such acts: megalomaniac gratification, the fulfillment of the most primitive fantasies, revenge for unbearable humiliation, narcissistic contempt, envy of life and its simple sensual pleasures that are seen as sinful and rotten, and so on. I believe however, that to get a meaningful grasp on what is involved in this lethal religious zeal, we should try to explore what it means to authentically accomplish sacrifice and self-sacrifice, the core acts of religion. We would want to pursue the transformations that occur within a sacred act of glorifying God and renouncing coveted goods and materiality in a sacrifice of life itself; this process culminates in the sanctification of destruction. We would wish, in addition, to take another look at what makes perpetrators of the most horrendous, evil actions experience them as righteous acts of love and Truth.3  

The term 'evil' has been very little used in the psychoanalytic literature. There is a (justified) wariness of using theological, moral terms in psychoanalysis. Such terms, it is argued, lend themselves to the demonization of human beings whose psyches are the same as ours by. Hence, by talking about "evil" we do to them exactly what 'they' are trying to do to us, calling us, for example, "Children of Satan." Nor is it acceptable to reifiy evil by regarding it as a power in nature, or as the manifestation of an actual Satan, the devil. Most of us, I believe, would see evil as not existing in itself, but rather as a sequel to a multitude of factors, a process that is most often gradual, and that, in addition, requires complex judgments about the meaning of human acts. "Evil" may sound too allegorical or too concrete, too essentialist or too objective, too impassioned or too frightened, for psychoanalytic ways of thinking oriented, as they are, toward the study of individual subjectivity.  

A case in point appears in the writings of Melanie Klein,4 a profound thinker on destructiveness, who did not use the term evil in her writings. She did famously use the term "bad object" to denote a subjective cluster of experience and beliefs created out of certain affects.5 Such a cluster serves as a carrier and evoker of experiences of frustration, abandonment, persecution, and other violent hurtful affects that have been discarded and thrown into an 'object', a representation of a human being in the mind. The 'bad object' is an internalization of a person or a conglomerate of persons carrying the bad affects they inspired. Importantly, it is something that is subjectively and internally experienced as "bad." Objectively gauged, it may be not bad at all. More precisely, it may not have intentionally or wittingly done anything bad to the person who experiences it as bad; it cannot be judged from the outside as having intended to harm.  

Unlike the Kleinian subjectivist notion of the' bad object', evil is, by definition, something bad and blameworthy that has been perpetrated on another person (or on one's own self). In contrast to the subjectivist notion of a bad object, only an objectified judgment can dub an act as evil. Complementing this view, there is wide-ranging consensus among thinkers on the psychology of evil that for the most part, evildoers do not themselves consider their acts to be evil. Even when they deliberately do harm and cause pain, they deem it appropriate, just, necessary, sometimes even done for the good of the victim.6  

It is not surprising, then, that very few psychoanalysts have addressed the subject of evil. Both the theological connotations and the difficulty in negotiating the objective (this is evil) and subjective (I am doing something out of wishes and fears) created a situation of reticence regarding the field of force around the concept of evil. However, in addition to Masud Khan, who understood evil through the phenomena of perversion, two authors have given us their important reflections on the subject: Christopher Bollas, and Sue Grand. Bollas7 writes penetratingly about the serial killer as a "killed self", a child who has been robbed of the continuity of his being by sadistically or masochistically abusive or murderously abandoning parents. Such a person goes on "living" 'by transforming other selves into similarly killed ones, establishing a companionship of the dead.' Bollas also distinguishes between the passionate murderer who is driven by rage, and the murderer who "lacks a logical emotional link to and is [emotionally, not necessarily physically, R.S.] removed from his victim. In the second category belong Nazi killers worked in a moral vacuum, in which "the genocidal person identifies not with the passionate act of murder, but with the moral vacuum in which killing occurs, a meaningless, horrifying wasteful act."8  

Grand talks about traumatic experiences, which, for the perpetrator, are acts of "rape, incest, childhood beatings"9 often committed by close family members. The evildoer here is a survivor of unspeakable trauma that resulted in unformulated, uncommunicable "catastrophic loneliness." Deadness and vacuity have become the defining characteristics of the perpetrator's identity, and evil is "an attempt to answer the riddle of catastrophic loneliness" (p. 5). Grand, speaking about a vacuous no-self, remarks that "in perpetrator and bystander there is neither the desire, nor the illusion of 'understanding' the no-self"; on the contrary, "the no-self is in the presence of others who confirm the truth of catastrophic loneliness, even as these others do not know this loneliness." Grand sees evil as providing for some people the only context that makes it "possible to achieve radical contact with another at the pinnacle of loneliness and at the precipice of death."10  

Both authors offer moving and penetrating studies of evil, but do not provide a context for organized acts of terror executed by groups of men in the name of God. Are such acts impassioned or cold? Are they totalitarian, the political system which Hanna Arendt sees as the hallmark of twentieth century evil? But totalitarianism is not religious in the conventional sense of the word. Is evil to be seen as collective or individual? Psychoanalysis lacks reflections on the phenomenon of evil that is committed specifically in the name of religion. Evil can be committed privately or collectively, for obviously self-serving purposes, or out of a true faith in some ideal. Evil performed for idealistic purposes may its own characterizing dynamics, some of which I hope to elucidate in this book.  

Thinking about evil requires a tremendous effort of the imagination and a willingness encompass mentally a totally threatening phenomenon. It is no easy task to enter deeply into a superhumanly entitled yet utterly despairing, radically contemptuous yet self-hating, ecstatically numbed state of mind. We instinctively repudiate and alienate ourselves from it; we fear being swept away by it. Such a state of mind may feel alien and disturbing to one's usual self-states; pursued deeply, it becomes frightening. The shocking absence of compassion in evildoing is jarringly discordant with our Western ideals and humanistic values. (It is by its lack of compassion that religious evil, or what may be called coercive fundamentalism, distinguishes itself from generally religious thinking, for all religions preach compassion.11 ) Against the psychoanalytic imperative that nothing human shall remain alien to us, stands the effort to understand something that is meant precisely to alienate itself from any way of thinking other than its own. Fundamentalist terrorism aims itself against the very ideas that oppose, deny, or even comprehend it. Terrorism attempts to terrorize thought itself. Exactly for this reason psychoanalysis needs to examine the phenomena incorporate by the term "evil," and, thus reconceived, reintroduce this laden term into the psychoanalytic vocabulary.12  

The Letter a First Look 

The letter found in Atta's luggage was intended for internal circulation (although we cannot rule out the possibility that it was, consciously or unconsciously, left to be found by witnesses after the attack). It evidently functioned as a means of contacting and fortifying the minds of terrorists about to commit an act of mass destruction. We would expect such a document to have been an inciting exhortation, a raging rhetoric of hate, a cry to destroy and annihilate. Instead, we hear a voice that reassures, calms, calls for restraint and thoughtful control, appeals for heightened consciousness. One might say that this is the voice of a wise father, instructing his sons in the steps they are to take on a mission of great importance, and reminding them of the attitude suitable to the accomplishing of that mission. The letter calls for the terrorists to wash and perfume their bodies, to clean and polish their knives, to be serene, confident, patient and smiling, and to remember and renew their intentions. It reminds them that the task before them demands the mind's concentration on and, still more, the soul's devotion to, God.  

The letter frequently mentions love of God and God's satisfaction with the act to be accomplished. Essentially, it is a letter detailing the requirements for entrance into God's eternal paradise. The required acts entail the annihilation of human beings considered to be the enemies of God; the actions will also consume the terrorists themselves as sacrificial tools of annihilation. But the letter does not spell this out. All the while when doing the work of killing and destruction, the doer, God's faithful servant, must remember to supplicate God wherever he finds himself and whatever he does. The letter describes a ritual at the end of which the supplicant is to receive God's approval for having done what pleases Him purifying the world of contaminating infidels. Again, this is not mentioned in the letter. But what is indeed stressed is that, if one is to merge with God, the most elevated Being conceivable, one has to perform the act accurately and mindfully.  

How can we explain the tone of the letter? Can it teach us something about the state of mind the terrorists were immersed in, or rather, were made to be immersed in, either by themselves or by others (by special training, perhaps including the formulating and reading of the letter we are studying)? In what kind of mental atmosphere does one anticipate and preparing for such destruction and self-destruction? What is the place and role of a smiling, calm, confident state of mind, with which one passes from life into death, a state of mind so diametrically inverse to the turmoil, terror and rage that would be expectable accompaniments to the commission of such destruction?  

I have always been deeply impressed by the intimate, loving discourse a believer holds with God while praying and supplicating. Particularly poignant to me was the theme of a son praying to his God-father. One can palpably hear the sweet plaintive murmur of the Psalmist, 'My God, so numerous became those who hunt me, so many are those who stand over me, who say to my soul, you have no redemption in God, and You, my God, giveth back to me my breath and saveth me with Thy love" (Psalm 23). And one is riveted not only by the music but also by the lyrics of Jesus Christ's love songs to God in Bach's Matthaeuspassion, 'Dein Mund hat mich gelabet mit Milch und h?hster Kost, . ' ("Your mouth has delighted me with milk and the highest nourishment").13 Both the Psalms and St. Matthew are profound works of great beauty and inspiration, where joy and pain intertwine.  

The letter to the terrorists does not speak of hatred. It is past hatred. Absurdly and perversely, it is about love. It is about love of God. We can palpably sense the confident intimacy of a son close to his father and the seeking of a love that is given as promised and no longer withheld. If this feeling is sustained inside oneself, it does not have to be demonstrated externally. The letter is a reminder: "everywhere you go say that prayer and smile and be calm, for God is with the believers. And the angels protect you without you feeling anything', and "You should feel complete tranquility, because the time between you and your marriage ... is very short." Inasmuch as nothing further is said about that marriage, and particularly whom one will marry (the famous paradisiacal virgins are not mentioned at this point), the idea that the marriage is that of the son(s) to God does not sound absurd at all.14  

The thought that there might be a root affinity between the theme of a son's love for his divine father and the underlying theme of the letter feels quite unpleasant. Do these motifs of religious devotion and intimate communion and of using "God" to inflict mass killing and destruction, spring from the same psychic source? And do they bear on the image of the father as the one who opens windows to the outer world, and who offers to his daughter as well as to his son liberation from domesticity and the mother's absolute power?15 Is there any similarity between the father of freedom and creativity, and the father who loves those who kill his enemies and chooses those killers as his accepted sons? In both cases, the "father" not only dispenses empowerment and inspiration, he also imparts a sense of joy and fulfillment, the joy of deliverance from a too enclosing life and the opportunity to identify with ideals. Benjamin's words thus acquire an added resonance:  

Identificatory love is the relational context in which, for males, separation and gender identification occur. The strong mutual attraction between father and son allows for recognition through identification, a special erotic relationship ... the boy is in love with his ideal. This homoerotic, identificatory love serves as the boy's vehicle of establishing masculine identity and confirming his sense of himself as subject of desire.  

The state of ecstasy that comes of doing God's will and the rapture of merging with Him is known to be a joyous experience. "Those who dismiss 'evil cults' have no idea how rapturous this state can be and how no other pleasure can compare with it", said a disciple in Rajneesh's group, when describing "true bliss and abundant joy".16 William James17 called the ecstasy found in doing God's will the "joy which may result . from absolute self-surrender." Such a religious experience of transcendence bathes one in a sense of truth that is absolutely convincing and sublime. And it usually involves both a disciple and a guide (social scientist Charles Lindholm terms it "the ecstatic merger of leader and follower").18 Obviously, the shadow of an anonymous guide and leader who issues loving paternal injunctions, falls upon the letter and is obviously part of the liminal state of transcendence we are dealing with here. Being immersed in such an altered state of attention and receptivity engenders a sense of profound psychic unity and ineffable illumination. Such a state can be so intense and all encompassing that it makes time and death disappear.19 We know that in such states the self feels uniquely alive, integrated, and in touch with larger, cosmic forces. We also know that one who creates rituals for manufacturing experiences of transcendence can thereby create a bond that allows group-sanctioned action, including violence and even murder, to be committed with ease and even joy.  

Such a smooth passage from life to death obscurely connects in our minds with a mutation, a sweetening of dying, either by loss of self or by "well-intentioned" killing, in a sickening marriage of love and murder (a combination we read about in the reports of some serial killers and murderers). When such a state of mind prevails, love can smoothly glide into murder. We are faced with a most hateful action that is performed in a spirit of devotion and love, a kind of beatitude that culminates in literally killing, not only others but also the self. Obviously, this is not the case of being killed during a battle or an attack of murderous rage. Neither is it the choice a martyr makes to sacrifice his life when being assaulted by heathen torturers.20 What we have here is martyrdom that is murderous; militancy that is sacralized, a symbiotic, simultaneous killing and dying, where approaching intimacy with God the Father requires becoming one with one's victims, "marrying" them in death and destruction. The language of the letter belies explanations for this kind of terrorism in terms of secular political actions; it clearly points to a transcendent mystical experience of a special nature. This mystical experience, I suggest, contains the transformation of self-hatred and envy into love of God, a Love-of-God that promotes the obliteration of those parts of the self which are antagonistic to the sense of compulsory purity.  

Lifton,21 in his illuminating study of "death imagery", talks about universal symbols of pollution and defilement as standing for being contaminated and soiled with "death-taint and total severance." Purity, on the other hand, signifies "life-continuity and unbroken connection." The process of purification would then represent the transformation from death to life. In the cases where purification means killing, paradoxically, by purifying the defiling elements so as to wrest life out of death, one arrives at death once again. The detachment from and contempt for human life displayed by the terrorists, coupled with a fervent, extreme love for God, is different from the "love" some serial killers profess feeling for their victims: those killers experience a diffuse, inchoate longing to enter their victims after their death.22 Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas leader who inspires the momentum of the suicide bombers against Israel, put it thus: "Love of martyrdom is something deep inside the heart. But these rewards are not in themselves the goal of the martyr. The only aim is to win Allah's satisfaction. That can be done in the simplest and speediest manner by dying in the cause of Allah."23  

The Father, Hypermasculinity, and the Disappearing Woman. 

Let us consider again the transformation of (self-) hatred into love of God. We know (from the press) that Mohammed Atta had an overbearing, self-confident, successful, quite religious father, who, on being told what his son had been involved with, expressed utter disbelief at the thought that his son, whom he used to scorn for not being manly enough, could execute such an act. People who knew him, the press tells us, say that Atta was painfully shy with women. We read in his will, written in 1996, that he requests that no pregnant woman or other unclean person should approach his body, and that his genitalia be washed with gloved hands.24 Clearly, women do not exist in this "masculine" letter (even the famous virgins are mentioned here in one auxiliary phrase that speaks of their waiting for the heroes in their beautiful clothes, hardly a very sexual or intimate description). The culture of hypermasculinity and the ideal of warriors who purify the world of contaminants (whom Bin Laden contemptuously equates with women), absolve these men of the need to articulate the desirability and potential power of women.25  

If there is no acknowledged emotional need for woman, there is no dependency and no envy. There is only liberation from the primordial fear of being tempted to lean on a woman and thereby become softened, engulfed, and emasculated. Modern strong women typify a world out of order and threaten the sexual security of these men.26 The banishment of women reinforces the pervasive homoerotic grouping, where the desired loss of individuation that is feared with women is given free reign and finds its place in a devout submission to God. The shift from women to homoerotic paternal bonding marks a specific regressive-transcendent trajectory that is altogether different than falling into an engulfing maternal womb. The frightful sliding downward toward the feminine and maternal can be replaced, or even, shall we say, superseded, by an ecstatic soaring upward, toward the Heavenly Father, who is imagined to be waiting there to redeem his sons' troubled souls and sweep away the doubts of their former selves. It seems as if the Primitive Father of Freud's27 Primal Horde has been resuscitated or, better, is still alive and has come to embrace his sons provided they unite against "woman", that is, against the feminine principle of pleasure and softness (found both in Islamic women and in Western society which is seen as "feminized"). Instead of rebelling against the oppressive Father and against the frenzied death the Father demands, there is a giving up of oneself to Him, a total submission.28  

The Letter A Second Look 

In our first attempt to apprehend the atmosphere of the letter we came upon a generalized mood of loving reverence of God and an overarching desire to unite with Him (in prayer, in the right action while living one's last hours of life, and in concrete union with Him in Paradise). In our second look at the letter, we search for the particulars. We observe that the letter is a blend of precise technical details and meticulous preparations (although clearly, the detailed planning was made and learned earlier and at this stage is assumed to have been mastered and internalized). The technical preparations were meant to be coupled with spiritual rituals, to which the letter adds repeated reassurances and promises. The text seems to be a last-minute message, a reminder to fortify the spirit and to rehearse once again the sequence of the religious acts that have to be performed at each stage, from the night before the attack until the moments of taking over the plane and its passengers. Thus we find interwoven a sacred ritual of self-consecration and preparing the body, formulated with an air of festivity and grave devotion, and itemized details alternating with a language of metaphysical significance, to be in turn followed again by particulars. The small details (e.g., how to wear one's shoes, how to tighten one's clothes) are far from being mere behavioral indications: they are all taken from ancient laws29 and are heavily laden with religious significance. Most importantly, the addressees of the letter (always referred to in the plural, as a group of brotherly peers) are constantly reminded of a very special kind of knowledge they possess, exclusively and omnipotently, and they are called on to renew their "intention"30 and to elevate their spirit and mind to a higher plane.  

Loving Ecstasy or Psychic Numbing? 

We have noted the conspicuous absence in the letter of hateful expressions or of any overt rage and violence; on the contrary, it contains expectant, even loving, imagery. Gradually, however, we become aware of a different state of mind, one that is not merely a joyous mood suffused with the desire to affiliate with God. We realize that, by their being told to pray incessantly, to occupy their minds with repetitive mantras of the One and Only God, and inwardly to articulate thousands of supplications to Him, the terrorists must have been transported into a state of self- hypnosis and merger, in which a continuous trance facilitates and foregrounds an intense, depersonalized relating to the godly object. They are immersed in a state of total alienation from the outer world, which has become a "thing," as the letter commands, "Completely forget something called "this world" [or "this life"]." This state metamorphoses the passage from life to death normally experienced as fatefully final and irrevocable into a smooth, weightless step, as if one were passing from one train car to another, from one room to the next. The felt shift in the sense of death is both frightening and exhilarating. Death, the irreversible cessation of one's life, the ultimate dark Unknown that inspires in us horror (or a peaceful or not so peaceful withdrawal into ourselves), ceases to be death. It becomes a smooth, weightless passing over a threshold toward the light.

The words that describe this transition into the "real (immortal) life" in God's paradisiacal lap convey the heady, intoxicating taste of omnipotence. Assuring the terrorists that it is only a matter of moments and some actions that remain to be done, the letter entreats them: "The time for play is over and the serious time is upon us", indicating that real existence is yet to come; it is almost there, visiting the group. A powerful sense of fraternal communion adds to the joyous radiance of the impending event. The writer reasons that "it is therefore appropriate that we take advantage of these last hours to offer sacrifices and obedience."31 As the approaching future is visualized, there is a crescendo of hope, an opening toward rebirth: "because the time between you and your marriage [in heaven] is very short. Afterward begins the happy life, where God is satisfied with you, and eternal bliss." The passage between inferior, wasteful life and the desired "real life" is described as nearly painless: "And be sure that it is a matter of moments, which will then pass, God willing, so blessed are those who win the great reward of God." The passage between the two lives is fearless as well, for "the believers do not fear such things [as "their {the enemy's} equipment and gates and technology"]. It is only "the others" ["the allies of Satan"] who experience fear. The passage between inferior, wasteful life and the desired "real life" is described as nearly painless, as fearless, as a serene Liebestod and Liebesmord.

Fear is conspicuously absent yet ubiquitously present in this letter. Fear is almost nonexistent in the state of mind described here, or, should we say, there is no visible anxiety (the high performance level demonstrated in the use of planes and people in New York City and Washington DC is obvious proof of that). The dynamics here32 form a process whereby all anxieties past and present, and even those anticipating a realistically difficult future all transmute into a fear, that is then directed toward God.33 Such a process would have affinity with the paranoid process, in that anxiety, a more vague, complex, subjective affect is exteriorized and simplified into (concrete) fear. Fear is an affect that has a clear object which is often magnified. This important point is picked up in the text: Fear "is a great form of worship, and the only one worthy of it is God. He is the only one who deserves it." The possibility that one can achieve liberation from anxiety by transforming it into a unitary, homogenizing fear of God, is translated in the religious-terrorist discourse into the notion that fear should not be wasted on trivial mundane matters. Elevated to a momentous position, fear creates a categorical difference in a person between himself as the one who fears and the one whom he fears, between those who fear and those who are feared. Fear and idolization are not too far from each other, and fear becomes a form of worship.34  

By instilling fear and terror in their enemies, the terrorists diminish them and strive to turn them into their own (the terrorists') potential worshippers, in a way analogous to how the terrorists themselves worship God. Feelings of helplessness and confusion about the grisly act they are about to commit, about the identity they have chosen, all superimposed on fears from the earlier phase of their lives when they had presumably attempted to assimilate the "fearless", godless modern world have all been submerged. Under the auspices of this beloved-feared God, any fear of conscience disappears.35 A corrupt, hating, persecutory superego36 has been instantiated in the image of "the only God." Projecting upon the figure of God their own corrupted (defeated and resurrected) will, the terrorists acquire absolution from all moral constraints as well as permission to destroy human lives and launch terror in the lives of those they do not destroy. As Lifton37 says, "The sense of transcendence and infinity can be pursued all too easily by means of murder and terror, no less than by love and creative work."  

The act of legitimizing and condoning butchery by building a particular God, a feared and loved Father who does not command 'Thou shalt not kill', and who does not say "No"38 to dissoluteness and crime (in Lacan's language, who has become the imaginary father)39 , has to be complemented by the mental act of robbing a wide category of human beings of their humanity and considering them as nonhuman. Before going into this subject, however, let us first elaborate on the altered state of mind in which mesmerized fear is offered to God. We have mentioned the conspicuous element of body management and care in the letter. We have empirical knowledge that harsh ascetic practices heighten religious (or political, or sexual) fervor.40 The letter speaks of the making the body into a clean, shaven, perfumed, asetheticized instrument that moves in a world whose immediate and human significance has become remote and veiled by incessant incantations and repetitive bisyllables.  

Being immersed in a state of intense focus on God in word and thought, not detaching from attending to His presence for one minute, sustaining a kind of numbed, awed adhesion, yet at the same time functioning with extraordinary vigilance and competence, may be likened to cold, psychotic paranoia at its height. The subject adheres to the idealized persecutory inner object, while the world, having become insignificant and contemptible, vanishes into derealization. We tend to stress the persecuted, self-referential, hostility-imputing quality of experience in paranoia, but we often forget another dimension that marks this state of mind: solemn reverence and grandiose adoration. Kohut41 seemed to speak about such a state of mind. Regarding it as a way station in the regression toward psychosis, he wrote about "disjointed mystical religious feelings; vague awe."  

The severance of the outer world from human meaning, made possible by a long-held and cultivated contempt for that world, possibly enabled the terrorists both to focus on monitoring the instrumental tasks at hand, and to remain immersed in an intensely religious state of mind, which by its acuteness screens out all undesirable affects and thoughts. According to Lifton42 this is "a numbing process . . . similar to that cultivated among Japanese soldiers during WWII in serving the Emperor", as well as among the Nazis. "the soldier was to steel his mind against all compunctions or feelings of compassion, to achieve . . . a version of the "diamond mind" that contributes both to fanatical fighting and to grotesque acts of atrocity." In addition to its capacity to enhance functioning, a mesmerized, mechanized mind feeds on hatred turned into dismissive contempt. It uses the power of contempt to chill any heated feeling, any affiliative, compassionate emotion. But for religious terrorists, the mental process does not stop here. Another phase is ushered in when loathing and despising, the building blocks of contempt, are transformed into a state of enthrallment and deep, total love for the superior divine power. The intriguing process whereby contempt becomes love and adoration challenges us to try to imagine the nature of such love.  

The totalistic, all-or-none nature of this love, sometimes called in psychoanalysis pre-ambivalent love43 places it in an early, pre-oedipal stage of development. We get the sense that such love, rather than expressing itself on an 'horizontal' axis of compassion, nurturance, attachment, and the like, runs along a "vertical" axis of total self-worth and unworth, superiority and inferiority, which spans such affects as shame, humiliation, degradation, pity, awe, and veneration. A first step in understanding this affective syntax is to consider the blend of contempt and "love" found in the most blood-curdling sentence in the letter: "You must not discomfort your animal during the slaughter." This phrase is well beyond anger or hatred. It is the utmost in disparagement. What is it that is transformed into the magnanimous pity for animals, creatures that live and breathe, but are devoid of a human soul and mind? Is it an avatar of a basic human sense of solidarity, or is it contempt? One has some duty toward one's animals (the _expression "your animals" resonates with an image of wild, lustful predators, which have been tamed and brought under one's control over life and death, but also with that of the sacrificial animal). By having mercy on one's animals, one is imitating God, who rules over life and death and who takes pity on His creatures. One's moral righteousness is set in place. Although one's animals are one's possession, one's "nobleness" and "morality" will not let him hurt his animals unnecessarily, even at the moment they need to be slaughtered.  

Talking about 'love' in these horrid contexts makes my thinking different from accounts such as a Rand Corporation paper44 that maintains that  

The volatile combination of religion and violence has been cited as one of the main reasons for terrorism's increased lethality. The fact that for the religious terrorist violence inevitably assumes a transcendent purpose and therefore becomes a sacramental or divine duty arguably results in a significant loosening of the constraints on the commission of mass murder. Religion, moreover, functions as a legitimizing force, sanctioning if not encouraging wide scale violence against an almost open-ended category of opponents. Thus religious terrorist violence becomes almost an end in itself a morally justified, divinely instigated expedient toward the attainment of the terrorists' ultimate ends. This is a direct reflection of the fact that terrorists motivated by a religious imperative do not seek to appeal to any constituency but themselves, and the changes they seek are not for any utilitarian purpose, but only to benefit themselves. 

I quoted this passage at length because of its importance in explaining the harmfulness of religious terrorism in the world, and in order to contextualize my notions of the complex affective register in which terrorist acts are contemplated and what emotions are anticipated along the way. The means to attain the well-being and sense of resolution and manic triumph necessitates detachment from the human and attachment and identification with the divine. 

Sitting at a window in a restaurant, looking at the human faces passing by, I find my mind straining to reconcile two absolutely opposing and impossibly jarring attitudes. We all seem to hold a basic assumption that these are faces of human beings, who, in the most taken-for-granted and unquestioning manner, command our respect, and who, we feel, though we are not aware of it all the time, are intrinsically dignified, even sacred. How can we put in this same place the sustained striving of the terrorists to erase and wreck these faces, to annihilate the bodies that carry them? I was making a huge mental effort to move from our deeply inculcated view of humans as absolute entities to the view of humans as tissues to be squashed. It is the latter view, I realized, that is absolutely necessary to reach the state where all sense of crime, sin, and evil is eliminated.  

How does one legitimate hypercriminal behavior? How does one make the passage from the abhorrence in killing human life to experiencing killing as good and noble and therefore sanctified? Apparently a tremendously subversive process is at work, a process that culminates in a radically altered perception and description of human beings, who must be made to seem other than how they are normally perceived. The eyes of the evildoers and their followers must be  

taught to see the ordinary as freakish and [subsequently] to consider the freakish as horrible 45 and as worthy of extermination as insects and diseases. Any sort of violence ... becomes intelligible and necessary when dealing with creatures, formerly considered human, who are suddenly shown to be poisonous.46  

But this is not all: in addition to denuding all humanity from the people to be killed, the act of killing is itself spirtualized. It is not only good to destroy poisonous creatures: God wills the killer to do so, and the killer becomes a better person when he does His will on earth. My description here is different from an approach that sees evil as caused by contingent factors such as accumulating pressures, or rewards, or a desperate need for acceptance, any of which can serve to make one give up his moral judgment and resposibility and, indeed, identity. While certain configurations of social, political, historical, and group circumstances do promote this cumulative process, numerous witnesses of deliberately destructive human acts describe something powerfully intentional at work, a force beyond an eruption of national tensions or political pressures. This force is on a particular register that can be described as the striving toward the superhuman. To reach a state where humans are experienced as small dots that really need to be cleaned from one's windshield, can easily be visualized as the view from God's eye, to paraphrase Thomas Nagel. In contrast to hate that seeks the other in order to engage with him hurtfully, evil is the need to eradicate all that stands between the perpetrator and his goal, which is the merger with a superior being 47 toward new life. The coming together of the need to scorn the human as inferior and the replacement of self-owning with entrhallment to a supra-human agency creates evil by making death both less fearful and more significant.  

Some Sources for the Killing 

What we have read in the press about the life trajectory of Mohammed Atta tallies with what we learnt48 about the adherents of the Aum Shirinkyo Group, dominated by their leader, Shoko Asahara, who developed a plan to kill all the inhabitants of the planet except for a small group of saviors who would redeem the world of all evil. Most of these people were quite intelligent, though not brilliant; they were moderately successful in their education and career.49 For various reasons, they remained stuck in mediocre positions, which were neither meaningful nor gratifying. Not having created families of their own, they found themselves outside tranditional life as envisioned by their culture. With time, their conflicts of identification and self-definition became too acute to be bearable, and their confusion, frustration, sense of helplessness, rage and self-loathing, became insupportable. In many cases and here we may generalize from knowledge about those who join cults the distress accompanying such an emotional stalemate goes on for years, until a magical solution is found that offers the cessation of conflict and ends the need to go on toiling in the slow, gradual way necessary for success and recognition.  

A solution that bypasses physical and psychic realities is by definition "otherworldly" and manic. It abolishes the need to obey human rules, to be dependent on the good will of others and on hard work, and accepting the non-existence of warranties of success and elimination of distress. During the process of liberation from hardship and self-doubt and the turning to achieving permanent states of 'truth' and self-affirmation, the two warring parts of the psyche become increasingly divided and externalized. In this sharp division, the desires and attractions that were ignited by the material and, in particular, the Western world, and that have become sources of threat to the sense of self and manhood, become the "infidels"; whereas the part that originated from one's religious tradition, the God-fearing part, is reinforced and becomes intrinsically identified with the one and only "God." Through the processes of projection and projective identification, and in accordance with images and narratives of war that abound in religious thinking,50 the two parts of the internal world now confront each other in the external world at war

When these wars are no longer kept at a personal and metaphorical level, when they are no longer expressed as inner struggles against despair, guilt, or in a more ominous manifestation against self-loathing, the sense of inner conflict and psychic pain is lost. The inner struggle that strives toward faith in the value of the good and in attaining trust and peace of mind over despair and reactive violence51 becomes a delusion of veneration of one's idealized self.52 "God" has taken over, assumes the power of command, and now monopolizes the psyche. The terrorist now believes that God is pleased when he, God's son-follower, annihilates God's enemies. And this is precisely why the terrorist loves God: because God allows, wants, and sanctifies the killing of the "bad part" and, indeed, allows, desires, and sanctifies the orgiastic pleasure of disinhibited murdering and destruction. God is now loved both for offering a solution to the conflict-torn psyche at war with itself, and for licensing the ecstasy of killing.  

Freud recounts the myth of a group, or horde of pre-historic brothers, who were enthralled with a hypnotic love for their father, the all-powerful leader of their group.53 Jessica Benjamin54 draws on this myth and on Freud's analysis of it and calls this love of the sons for their father 'identificatory love.' Identificatory love is a developmental need which, when fulfilled, helps the son to experiene a sense of strength which he has made his own, and a sense of good self-love. When however the father responds with contempt to his son's open show of affection and neediness, the son ? as we know from findings in abused children ? will internalize his father's attitude toward him as part of his self, and will experience his needy, loving and love-seeking parts as contemptible and needing to be eradicated so as to get rid of unbearable shame and weakness. The needy, miserable part of the self, the boy's love for his father, is compounded and amplified by the boy's censured love for his mother in a culture in which women are marginalized and devalued. Instead of accepting the feelings of tenderness and need engendered by these parts, these parts become a source of shame and humiliation, and are ragefully externalized into others, whereas submission to the aggressor deepens.55 What Lifton calls spiritualizing killing can overcome human restraint and even justify the killing as an act committed out of love of God and as an act God loves. The unresponded to 'son' strives to purify himself and the world of the debased and needy part of himself. He shaves, puts on perfume, and with a determined perseverance sets out to slaughter that "soft" part in himself and in the world that refuses to believe in the Father. In an unconscious irony, the terrorist assumes a soft (allegorically 'feminine' role in regard to the Father at the same time as he undertakes to eradicate the 'feminine'56 in the outside world.  

Killing the subversive, disturbing part of oneself that has been projected outward will, it is hoped, silence once and for all the confused tumult and bad feelings about the self. The calm, confident tone of the letter is the peace of mind that has been achieved after the killing has been contemplated and carried out in fantasy. Paralleling this splitting and externalization of the psyche, is, I suggest, another splitting. The design of the September 11 attacks is, in a sense, the cleaving and transformation of the meaning of death in a single act. We can visualize the scene of the attack as an attempt to redefine the boundaries around and the meaning of death. One part in this deadly "performance" a term used by Juergensmeyer (2000) to emphasize the theatrical, effect-seeking of terrorist violence ? is an enactment of the many Western works of art, painted over the centuries,57 depicting the damnation of sinners, bodies upside down, limbs spastically intertwined, burning in hell. This is, horribly, what the human beings in the Twin Towers might have looked like, burning in a blaze of molten steel. Seen from the perspective of the perpetrators, an opposite and totally different part of the scene is their ascent to Heaven in a soaring chariot of fire. Although in reality the terrorists were obliterated together with and at the same moments as their victims, they did not entertain the possibility that they were not going upward, smiling,58 toward their Good Father, but rather were heading toward the same end as their victims, the same all too human final fall into the darkness of death.  

God the Father 

I have suggested that the process whereby hatred is transformed into a certain kind of perverse love is at the same time a contrite and all too happy return to the father.59 Elimination of the impure, which captures the varieties of guilt, humiliation, and anxiety, is assisted by God; it is His wish. Psychoanalytically speaking, this is a "regression" to or, rather, a clinging to an archaic father. This regression obviates the rebellious, liberating symbolic "killing" and separation from the father (whether the prehistoric father of the primal horde or the primal father within); it also precludes the identification of the son with his father's strength, but rather a retrograde conciliation with him.60  

The regression to the father, foregoing the step of "killing" tyranny and instead "regressing" to it, does not look like a "regression to the mother." What does this paternal regression look like? It certainly cannot be conveyed through the metaphor of getting back to the womb, which has become our generalized metaphor for regression tout court, in which the father is usually represented as the one who prevents the child from returning to the mother's womb. Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel61 depicts the inhabitants of the enchanted Islands of Utopia as a horde of brothers who have banished the father and taken possession of the mother. She equates Utopia with a return to a symbiosis with Mother Nature, and she describes Utopian wishes as cravings for immediate need satisfaction by the child whose father is absent and who therefore experiences a return to the uterus and a new fusion with the mother. I suggest that the form and fantasy behind the terrorist attack has aspects of a regressive return to the father and the banishment of the mother. Our habitual images of a mother-regression are of a boundless plenitude and fulfillment of all needs, dangerous self-indulgence and ebullience, and a weakening of character (with the dark underside of the terrifying phallic mother). By contrast, the images of a father-regression would be those of extreme, joyful asceticism, such as martyrdom, sacrifice, and renunciation of sexuality, which would lead, at later stages, to serene martyrdom and/or to an explosive self-destruction. Instead of sinking down to the depths of the earth or the sea, the movement here is an ascension, a lofty soaring toward heaven. At the moment when fear and hate are transmuted into this kind of submissive love, alienation from self and mental subjugations sets in. Oppenheimer has this to say about evil and love:62  

Evil frequently masquerades as love, that must indeed be acknowledged as one of the most profound, if horrific, forms of love ... evil may fascinate, mesmerize . it may enchant with ecstasy and . offer a release from the mundane. At its most vivid, evil . opens doors on frightful possibilities, those that reach behind the sickening final insults of death and oblivion, into suggestions that a good deal of life, even as it is lived by those with the best of intentions, may contain in its opaqueness something ugly, chaotic, foul, which has, perhaps only for a brief while, achieved a beautiful appearance.  

In Totem and Taboo, Freud (1913) built a narrative of how the killing of a greedy, envious father who takes everything (and every woman) for himself allows his sons to build human civilizations, establish moral values, and internalize the prohibitions against the concrete repetition of this primordial act. Experiences of compassion and human care were born of the creative guilt that the sons experienced forcibly in the aftermath of their "killing." Freud tells the story of a progression that is made possible by guilt and remorse. But the terrorists enact a return to the father, a regression that refuses the rebellious and liberating "killing" of tyrannical authority, about which Hans Loewald (1980) says that  

. it is no exaggeration to say that the assumption of responsibility for one's own life and its conduct is in psychic reality tantamount to the murder of the parents, to the crime of parricide, and involves dealing with the guilt incurred thereby (p. 389).  

By this capitulation, the terrorist becomes the instrument of the father's authority, only to then submit oneself to the same process. This process of constructing a father into an all-devouring entity, however, by transforming self-hate and fear into masochistic love, is done within the framework of a whole group. The brotherhood that is stressed in the letter thus suggests a symmetry and a dramatic contrast with Freud's63 mythical "primal horde." The fable of the horde of brothers narrates their gathering around their despotic, depriving father, whom the sons overthrow, kill and devour. Following this murderous act, they develop toward their dead father an ambivalent, complex relationship of guilt and love, hostility and remorse. It is this very process of overcoming an oppressive authority and yet transcending and safeguarding it64 that was bypassed by the terrorists. Instead, they returned to "their father" in simple-minded ecstasy and self-obliteration, in an act of a double-faced love that was simultaneously submissive and murderous. Not only did they not "kill their father", not only did they spare themselves the awareness of having committed a crime against the other: regressively returning to him, they asked him to kill parts of themselves with His superior "knowledge" of the True and the Right.  

The mental state of errant sons, masochistically returning to and fusing with a cnruel, depraved Father, who, they "know", will be art_content when they serve his homicidal needs in a cold, sadistic way in identification with Him as their ego ideal, is a homo-eros of merger and abjection. The sons love their corrupt father because He allows them to get rid of the impure, 'infidel', soft, 'feminine', 'godless' part of themselves and reach the certainty, entitlement, and self-righteousness that deliver them of painful confusion and guilt. Juergensmeyer65 (2000) has attempted to explain this phenomenon from a sociological, rather than an intrapsychic angle, but the similarity is unmistakable:  

These acts are often devices for symbolic empowerment in wars that cannot be won and goals that cannot be achieved ... for some activist groups the awareness of their potency is all that they desire . What they have in common, these movements of cowboy monks, is that they consist of anti-institutional, religio-nationalist, racist, sexist, male-bonding, bomb-throwing young guys. Their marginality in the modern world is experienced as a kind of sexual despair that leads to violent acts of symbolic empowerment .  

In a way that is in accord with my use of the primal horde fable, Juergensmeyer claims that  

the close community of men creates a primal form of social order. Unlike heterosexual bonding, which leads to private communities families the bonding of groups made up of the same sex . represents a primitive attempt to create a personalized form of public society. Individuals have a direct relationship with authority and a shared sense of responsibility in clearly delineated social roles. All-male radical religious groups, therefore, attempt to create and defend a righteous order in the face of massive social disorder. 66  

Violence is necessary to build civilization; parricide is, according to Juergensmeyers' narrative, the primal sin. This conception greatly resembles Freud's famous idea of paternal order and the subject.67 According to this narrative, violence was (and has to be) followed by remorse, guilt Freud speaks of both 'creative' guilt and 'tragic' guilt 68 and affection. These affects breed the social and civilizing regulations the sons established to atone for their sin. While violence can destroy civilizations, violence can also be sublimated. Complexly coupled with a deepening of intersubjective consciousness, guilt, remorse, concern and caring love, violence is a part of civilized life, and even helps to build it, for civilized life is a mixture of violence, envy, solidarity, and reparatory needs. In the aftermath of their 'killing' of arbitrary authoritarian cruelty and deprivation, the mythical brothers of the primal horde learned and affectively understood the meaning of crime, and, with it, the existence of moral precepts. Only by opposing archaic tyranny could they develop a sense of guilt and further civilized thinking. They could then achieve the necessary understanding of the double-edgedness of affect, or, as Freud69 calls it and sees it as paradigmatic to father-son relationships: ambivalence. This affective complexity is what may save mankind from a blind idolizing enthrallment to Freud's 70 mythical father, whom he calls the F?rer, the figure who, hypnotizing the group of adherents into a de-individuating cult, exploits their abject fears and their pathetic craving for love.  


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1 It has been translated and published in the American press through Reuters. (Back to Main Text)

2 Political philosopher Steven Lukes says that we in the secular West, essentially do not understand the messages of Islamic extremists, what they want and how to deal with what they want (personal communication). We agreed that these messages are encoded in a language different from ours. To my mind, the way to try to understand this discourse, is to look more closely into how the fundamentalist mind works, what it fears, and how it ensconces its desires in a religious discourse. (Back to Main Text)

3The analysis in this paper in no way implies that evil is found only within Islamic (or religious) fundamentalism. Hanna Arendt, among others, has written illuminatingly about the non personalized, non centralized and banal aspects of evil. Innumerable politico-economical decisions of the West, should be considered evil. Giving priority to economical and anti-ecological considerations over human lives and wellbeing, as well as ecological considerations, or using a military situation or religious narratives to oppress another people, are forms of evil. Examples abound. (Back to Main Text)

4 Melanie Klein (1946). Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms. (Back to Main Text)

5 See Stein (1991). (Back to Main Text)

6 Khan, 1983; Bollas, 1995; Oppenheimer, 1996; Baumeister, 1997; Grand, 2000. The Inquisition tortured its victims in order to save their souls; Aum Shinrikyo killed people in order to transform their life and redeem them from their bad karma (Lifton, 2000, pp. 66-67). (Back to Main Text)

7 Bollas, C. (1995), p. 189. (Back to Main Text)

8 See Hampshire (1995) quoted by Bollas. (Back to Main Text)

9 Sue Grand (2000). The Reproduction of Evil, p. x. (Back to Main Text)

10 Ibid, p.6. (Back to Main Text)

11 Karen Armstrong (2001). (Back to Main Text)

12 Paul Oppenheimer (1996) remarks that the word 'evil' is reappearing in the journals, because of the "growing awareness that it is the only word capable of bringing certain awesome events into our sphere of intellectual proxy, of diagnosis." he feels that "other familiar terms, such as 'criminal' and 'sociopathic' fail adequately to describe the monstrous acts to which they are addressing themselves." He also quotes William Pfaff, who, describing a cruel gang rape, spoke of acts that reach beyond the criminal: "Evil invokes a dimension of experience that most people find decidedly uncomfortable, implying, as it does, that we are implicated in something that cannot be left to the experts or professors or politicians to solve ." Oppenheimer rejects the idea that "evil" is a primitive notion that is not useful as an explanation, and believes that such an attitude intends to make the reality of evil disappear (p. 204).  
(Back to Main Text)

13 Choir No. 15; my translation. (Back to Main Text)

14 In his interviews with suicide bombers in Gaza, Nasra Hassan (2001) confirms this impression when he quotes interviewees who assured him that "the bliss is not sensual" (p. 39). I thank Donald Moss for referring me to this article. (Back to Main Text)

15 Benjamin, J. (1995), p. 124. (Back to Main Text)

16 Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was an Indian guru, who was preaching sexual liberation in the early 1980s; quoted by Lifton, 2000). (Back to Main Text)

17 James, W. (1905), p. 32. (Back to Main Text)

18 Quoted in Lifton ( 2000) p. 113. (Back to Main Text)

19 Human beings have always sought such states, whether through religious or secular mysticism often with the help of cultural rites, drugs, oxygen deficit (through rapid breathing), sleep deprivation, or some other form of imposed ordeal. These states may also be experienced in such familiar activities as song, dance, battle, sexual love, childbirth, aesthetic effort, mechanical flight, and artistic and intellectual creation. (Back to Main Text)

20 Boyarin, D. ( ). Dying for God. (Back to Main Text)

21 Lifton, R.J. (1979) p. 97. (Back to Main Text)

22 Bollas, 1995. (Back to Main Text)

23 Hassan, 2001. (Back to Main Text)

24 One afternoon in Trafalgar Square in London in November 2000, I heard a young British convert to Islam talking in a massive Mujahideen demonstration. The argument this man employed to explain why he had converted to Islam and joined the Mujahideen had to do, as I had anticipated, with sexuality. He stridently lashed out at the rottenness of Western society, which is 'poisoned by homosexuality, adultery, fornication, sexual license." He was screaming, with rage and fear, that sexual sinning must come to an end for it destroys the world. The new light he was seeing, the Truth he found in Islam, he said, helped him find a remedy to the sexual ills of British society. His discourse, centered on sexuality, was anti sexual, anti heterosexual, and manifestly anti homosexual. As Catherine Liu put it: "Mohammed Atta's phobic reaction to sexually integrated society is a symptom of his being both inside and outside of secular modernity. It is his negation and wish to annihilate this complex configuration that becomes the measure of absolute violence ... Atta's murderous mindset has everything to do with contempt for women. The cult of purity is maintained psychically at the expense of real women" (PsyBC discussion, October 2001). (Back to Main Text)

25 Mark Juergensmeyer (2000) points out the social marginality of the young men who become religious terrorists. Traditional societies are built around family units. The anxieties of young men who become terrorists concerns over careers, social location, and sexual relationships are reflected by the facts that without jobs they cannot marry, and without marriage they cannot have sex. Experiences of humiliation in these matters have made them vulnerable to the voices of powerful leaders and to images of glory in a cosmic war. "Terrorist movements provide a community that supplies a family and an ideology that explains the source of their problems and gives them hope" (p. 191). (Back to Main Text)

26 Juergensmeyer, (2000). (Back to Main Text)

27 Freud, S. (1913). (Back to Main Text)

28 Ghent, (1990). (Back to Main Text)

29 Some are reminiscent of the laws mentioned in the Old Testament that apply to going out to war, such as keeping one's clothes tight and being modest in bodily hygiene. (Back to Main Text)

30 If "intention" here is similar to what is called intention in Jewish theology, then it has the significance of close adherence to and concentration on whatever religious act (including prayer) one is performing (occasionally, as in Kabala, "intention" means religious meditation). The idea is mystical and valorizes intention as elevating the significance of any act into a ritual intended to put the divine into earthly actions. (Back to Main Text)

31 Cf. "The time has come; the kingdom of God is upon you; repent." (Mark 2:15). (Back to Main Text)

32 Here, as in other forms of fundamentalism, particularly violent fundamentalism. (Back to Main Text)

33 "I asked", Hassan writes, "about the problem of fear. "The boy has left that stage far behind", [his interlocutor] said. "The fear is not for his own safety or for his impending death . It is awe, produced by the situation. He has never done this before and, inshallah, will never do it again! It comes from his fervent desire for success, which will propel him into the presence of Allah. It is anxiety over the possibility of something going wrong and denying him his heart's wish" (Hassan, 2000, p. 40). (Back to Main Text)

34 A text of a Quaker leader addressed to his congregation, says: "In fear, we magnify what we fear and attribute to it great importance" (Griswold, 2001). (Back to Main Text)

35 Freud, S. (1921). (Back to Main Text)

36 Klein, M. (1958). (Back to Main Text)

37 Lifton, R.J.(1979), p. 35. (Back to Main Text)

38 Lacan, J. (1953-54). p. 259. (Back to Main Text)

39 The reduction of the Symbolic father to the Imaginary father is conceived in Lacanian theory (e.g., 1956-57, p. 275-6), as being involved, in different ways, in psychosis and in perversion. (Back to Main Text)

40 Bataille (1957), Sargent (1957), Lifton (2000). (Back to Main Text)

41 Kohut, H.(1971), p. 9. (Back to Main Text)

42 Lifton, R. J.(1979), p. 206. (Back to Main Text)

43 Abraham, K. (1924). (Back to Main Text)

44 Bruce Hoffman, 1993 (Back to Main Text)

45 Baumeister (1997). (Back to Main Text)

46 Oppenheimer (1996), p. 95. (Back to Main Text)

47 See my Introduction, Stein (2004). (Back to Main Text)

48 Lifton (2001) (Back to Main Text)

49Mohammed Atta, for instance, did not fully succeed in his career as an engineer and could not obtain a higher degree as he had wanted. (Back to Main Text)

50 Lifton (2001), Juergensmeyer ( 2000). (Back to Main Text)

51 Erikson (1963); Eigen (2001). (Back to Main Text)

52 Kernberg (1975); Davis (2001). (Back to Main Text)

53 Freud, S. (1921). (Back to Main Text)

54 Benjamin (1988). See also Eigen (2001), p. 38. (Back to Main Text)

55 Cathy Boudin (an American would-be terrorist of the 60s) expressed this illuminatingly in a recent New Yorker interview, comparing her mindset while serving as an accomplice to armed robbery and murder to that of a Catholic nun, seeking only to serve without question, without thinking. Boudin, like the suicide bombers, was purifying herself and giving selflessly of herself for the purification of the world. Paranoid messianic leaders, compulsively obsessed with perfection and purification have been trying to destroy the world for centuries. (Back to Main Text)

56 Bin Laden called the American soldiers 'women.' (Back to Main Text)

57 Among the numerous examples are Bosch, Michelangelo, Rubens, and a memorable 13th century print from the British Library, depicting "Mouth of hell swallowing the damned, who are tormented by demons as Christ locks them in." (Back to Main Text)

58 Remarkably, the letter repeatedly tells the addressees to smile. (Back to Main Text)

59 Ana-Maria Rizzuto (personal communication) objects to my hypothesis, suggesting that behind the father hides the primal mother, who is more terrifying and therefore has to be disguised behind the appearance of the father. I believe to the contrary, that we tend to ascribe to the primal mother attributes that should be shared with the primal father as well. Thus, we speak about the 'phallic mother', but never about the 'phallic father.' Recent psychoanalytic feminist writings (e.g., Dinnerstein, 1976; Benjamin, 1988) write about the pre-oedipal father illuminatingly. Hence to equate the 'preoedipal" with "maternal" would be a mistake. (Back to Main Text)

60 Freud (1900) mentions Kronos, who devoured his children as an example of the murderous father (p. 256). Goya's fresco Saturn Devouring a Son (1819-23) shows the Greek Titan Saturn in the act of consuming one of his own divine children, in a futile attempt to defy the prophecy that they would kill and supplant him. Another instance of the depiction of God as an evil cannibal, is "The Creator" in Lautr?mont's Les Chants de Maldoror. The image of the cannibalistic God eating the human beings he had created, who swim in a pond of boiling blood, is horrifying. "Sometimes, he would shout: "I created you, so I have the right to do whatever I like to you. You have done nothing to me, I do not deny it, I am making you suffer for my own pleasure. (Back to Main Text)

61 Chasseguet-Smirgel (1986) suggests that the "Jewish" Freud put the barrier of reason in the face of chthonian maternal forces in psychoanalysis. At the same time, however, as she emphasizes the father's role of separator of the child (or God's separation of human beings), she also writes that "in the Jewish religion this percept [to separate, divide and isolate] also concerns the separation between God and man" (p. 137). Absolute separation (as is the case in Islam) may however, also call for more heroic efforts to abolish this divide at all costs. (Back to Main Text)

62 Oppenheimer (1996), pp. 2-3. (Back to Main Text)

63 Freud, S. (1913). (Back to Main Text)

64 What Hegel [1970] called Aufhebung). (Back to Main Text)

65 Juergensmeyer (2000), pp. 204-5; p. 206. (Back to Main Text)

66 Ibid, p. 199. (Back to Main Text)

67 See Borch-Jakobson, M. (1992). (Back to Main Text)

68 Freud, S. (1913), p. 156. (Back to Main Text)

69 Freud, S. (1913). Totem and Taboo (Back to Main Text)

70 Freud, S. (1921). Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. (Back to Main Text)

To cite this article, use this bibliographical entry: Ruth Stein "Evil as Love and as Liberation: The Mind of a Suicidal Religious Terrorist". PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. Available http://psyartjournal.com/article/show/stein-evil_as_love_and_as_liberation_the_mind_. July 19, 2024 [or whatever date you accessed the article].
Received: June 24, 2004, Published: June 27, 2004. Copyright © 2004 Ruth Stein