Killing For Glory: A Brief Overview of The Link between Death and Idealogies
Since 2016, there have been a large number of terrorist attacks in Europe with trucks and vans being the weapon of choice. There are fears that the tactic is starting to make its way across the ocean to North America with the April 23rd attack in Toronto, though the evidence is starting to point towards misogynistic reasons rather than extremist reasons.
This scenario continues to perplex many of us in the western world and most moderate populations in the rest of it. Ever since 9/11, we have been living under the shadow of killers willing to take their own lives just so they can take ours. The reason for most of these attacks has largely been to gain divine acceptance in the afterlife, though many have said these men were driven to these extremes by Western prejudice directed at them or being in hard, economic conditions.
The act of suicide carries a very negative context in western society and many places globally in the 21st century, as does the obvious act of murder. Islam is mostly blamed for this trend for the last eighteen years, as if this were some new phenomenon. However the idea of killing others for a higher purpose goes very far back in human history and covers many belief systems and philosophies. It almost seems like a go-to for some reason. Here are some notable examples.
The Quest for Glory and to be Remembered
Besides tragedy, Greek mythology is also riddled with heroes achieving eternal glory and legendary status through their actions. Characters like Hercules, Perseus, and Odysseus exemplify this ideal and many of these heroes attained this status through acts of violence upon others. These legends inspired real people to also seek out their own glory through combat and conquest. The venerated Spartans were considered the best land army in the Greek city-states for centuries and this was in large part due to their belief that they were descendants of Hercules.
Later, Alexander the Great, a Macedonian Greek became the first, known-world conquer in antiquity. Besides his natural talent and ruthlessness, Alexander was driven to seek more battles because he wanted to be like the heroes of old that he was raised in and some say say even sought to become a god himself. Yet his gained his historical notoriety came by killing others and taking their lands.
Bred for Short-Lives and Greater Glory
Norse mythology is also known for its violence. The familial conflicts of the house of Odin against each other, frost giants, and the great Migard Serpent are all resolved in the bloody, final conflict of Ragnarok. This belief was framed within the already harsh climate of Northern Europe which did not have as many fertile lands as the regions west, east, and south of them. So for the local populace whom who came to be known as vikings, acts of violence, slavery, and killing was the norm.
They didn't expect to live long and it can be argued didn’t want to as well so they can be accepted by Odin into the halls of Valhalla. Their glory was through their feats, raids, and victories. How much they stole, how many slaves they held, how many battles they’ve won. This type of cultural breeding leads to a grafted-bias towards extreme violence and does not pay attention to lesser social mores.
"... the few that do are loud and often times in very, powerful positions to cause major damage to kill many people."
Both current, major world religions, Christianity and Islam, also have a long association with blood and divine glory. Early on, Christians believed that the path to perfection and righteousness lay in the act of martyrdom. This belief was rooted in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and cemented soon afterwards by the numerous persecutions the religion underwent in its first four hundred years. However at this time, the blood paid was their own and not others, though violence between them and other local religions did occur in some places like Egypt.
Later on, when it became legalized and afterward, divided and diversified throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, did the idea of killing others begin to seep in. Overtime this began to expand from the blood of infidels and heretics, to the blood of other faiths, Islam in particular during the Crusades.
Islam’s relationship with killing was rooted in its early persecution from the reigning, local religions of the Arabian peninsula, the subsequent revolution to defend themselves, and its expanse outward across the ancient world. These struggles developed into an interpretation of the term, jihad, which basically meant ‘struggle’. Though this word also included personal development, how different believers interpreted it depended largely on circumstances at the time, typically as defined by the religions formative years. Some kept it personal, many took to war but with limitations on who as killed and enslaved such as leniency to Jews and Christians because of their roots with Abraham. Others decided to take it to the ultimate extreme, purging all competing beliefs.
Muslims who followed and continue to follow this version of jihad believed that it was the will of God to spread the truth as well as the only guarantee of a place in heaven. Most modern believers of both faiths no longer subscribe to this violent view of divine acceptance, however the few that do are loud and often times in very, powerful positions to cause major damage to kill many people.
Yet perhaps the most famous and arguably glorified application of glory through death was Japan’s Bushido. Bushido was the code of honor that Samurai warriors followed, though how much they followed varied from person to person, like most beliefs. This code evolved across many centuries of warfare in Japan and because of how extreme its applications could become. Some have argued that it is a death-culture.
If anything, I would almost say that even though the nation’s religions were a mix of Shintoism and Buddhism, that its real ;religion’ was honor. While other cultures like the fore-mentioned Greeks and Vikings had their own concepts of honor, it didn't carry the same weight that the Japanese version did. Honor was Bushido’s life blood and tightly tied acts, achievement, guilt, and shame together. Achievement was gained through good service to their lord and victory on battle. Guilt is regret over one’s deeds. And shame is the devaluing of self based solely on who you are as a person. It also extended beyond yourself to your family in both past and future context, especially the Samurai’s.
A warrior lived honorably through obeying their lord in all things and actions on the battlefield. Disobeying that lord or falling disgracefully in combat like say, to a woman (which did happen), was a stain that marked them, their legacy, and anyone else tied to them. In many cases, the only way to remove such a stain was through the act of taking one’s life. To further heighten how extreme this concept of honor was, it could also apply to civilians as well.
In 1945 during the Okinawan campaign of World War Two, American soldiers and sailors were aghast watching waves of their enemies throw themselves at their guns to deliberately die and take the Americans with them. And more horrified watching civilians leap to their deaths from cliffs rather than surrender because of propaganda told to them that the invaders were going to enslave and rape them, which to anybody was disgraceful.
In many ways we look at these terrorists who drive trucks and shoot random people with the same horrified bafflement that the Americans did the Japanese soldiers in 1945. We don't grasp the concept of wanting to end one’s own life and take others with us. Perhaps this comes from our focus on the temporal and physical fulfillment of our lives and that such out-dated and barbaric notions died out long ago. For most of us, any extensions into the afterlife or legacy, are after thoughts.
It makes no sense to the modern mind that anther's blood should be required to attain personal fulfillment and destiny. Rather its revolting and rightfully so. However all these notions across time and location share one common factor: that there is something beyond themselves that goes beyond the physical and temporal that was extremely important and worth killing and dying for.
They didn't need to be monks, warriors, or hedonists. They all felt that there was an outside element that gave their physical lives meaning, regardless of whose expense it came at.
This isn't an argument to prove the existence of a divine force or justify killing other people. It’s an attempt to understand the motivations of these murders’ and would-be murders’ actions , because that's the only way to stop these acts from repeating themselves. To over simplify, the reason these actions seem tor reoccur is because they value their own lives and legacies over those of others whom they hurt or have animosity towards. There needs to be a change in how these people prioritize those lives if there is any hope of stopping these acts from continuing.
© 2018 Jamal Smith