Sounds like a pretty good dissertation title, dunnit? Yeah. Well, this article is going to be short by comparison.
I'm a biology major, but because I need to round out my degree with 45 "upper-level" (that is, in the 300 and 400 range) courses in order to graduate, I've chosen to take Dynamics of the Arab-Israeli Conflict because I'd rather have something interesting than something guaranteed to be easy. As it is, it is one of my more enjoyable classes, when it comes to the workload.
In class today, I briefly spoke with another student on the topic of the final paper. The professor wants each of us to choose a situation in recent history where there has been an ongoing rivalry between a sovereign state and a terrorist state or pseudo-state entity -- examples include Al Qaeda, the IRA, Pakistan-India, North Korea-USA, Hezbollah, Hamas, the PLO, etc, but not terrorist groups that are too amorphous to easily finger, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or the Weather Underground.
We have to write a paper on our selected rivalry and address, among other questions, whether the defensive state has successfully employed a deterrence method against terrorism by the other group, by making the latter "learn from their mistakes" and decide not to challenge the sovereign state again in the same way.
The other student I spoke to made a comment, in passing, that Hamas "isn't learning," that is, learning to stop challenging Israel lest it get 'punished' again and again. I challenged his assertion by saying that the assumption that every terrorist organization actually cares about self-preservation or other selfish things like power, money, influence, etc, is fundamentally flawed. In my view, Hamas is ideologically motivated by the political-religious system of Islam, and that this ideology supersedes what Western, humanist mindsets would consider "rational self interest."
The other student disagreed, responding that we can't assume that the other group is irrational. But he misunderstood me. I didn't mean that Hamas was irrational. Hamas is very rational, if its goals are indeed the destruction of the State of Israel at all costs, as its charter declares. If Hamas is just using religion as a means to an end, and doesn't actually care about ideology, then none of what it's doing makes any sense. If it wanted to exact concessions out of Israel, it wouldn't sabotage the latter's attempts to bargain with it by initiating new hostilities whenever possible. But if it is truly driven by not much more than an insane bloodlust for Jews, then its relentless animosity is perfectly well explained.
My peer wasn't having it. He was insistent that political organizations like these are not truly ideological, but only pretend to be religious. They, like atheist totalitarians of years past, merely use religious rhetoric as a means to an end, to justify its acts or drum up support among the masses. But I believe this is a severe mistake on his part. He, as an atheist, is unaware of his own biases. Not recognizing the insidious arrogance of his own view, he is projecting his own philosophy on others. Because all religion is man-made for the purpose of controlling people, surely then that must be the only use that Islamic terrorists have for religion as well. His inability to recognize that other people are not like him is unfortunate. It must also be recognized that the prevailing philosophies taught in American public education is one of the root causes of this lack of critical thinking ability.
Contrary to the misconception of my fellow student, religion plays a much larger role than just a means to an end, in many cases. For many people, it is not a means, but the end in itself. So failing to see that as even a possibility is a tremendous weakness in the atheist's analysis, and it hinders him from correctly interpreting world events. Even if the atheist is right and all religion is false, his hubris numbs him to being able to understand that others who take religion very seriously simply can't compromise on their ideological positions, even if it might seem more rational in that it would offer them more power, money, influence, or even personal safety.
The atheist fallacy is the subtle assumption that all other people in the world are really atheists at heart. It isn't explicitly spoken, but it shows itself when the atheist can't fathom how religious convictions can trump selfishness--because he foolishly sees the former as an outgrowth of the latter.
That is why foreign policies built on an atheist framework -- the West's, in general -- will never adequately understand the Middle East, and will never correctly predict the consequences of present and future meddling. In more than one way, then, for a proper foreign policy to develop, religion is the answer.
~ Rak Chazak