Exploring the Roots of Terrorism - Griselda Steiner - August 2014

Griselda Steiner


August 2014

Interview With James Wasserman
Author of The Templars and the Assassins – The Militia of Heaven


A Second Look

As it had before 9/11, the United State may again be miscalculating the terrorist threat from the Middle East as it moves toward a multi-national civil war with ISIS declaring a caliphate in the region and the Israeli Palestinian conflict escalating. Our illusion that countries liberated from dictatorships after our invasion of Iraq and the Arab Spring would embrace democracy has shattered in light of the recent violence in Iraq, the increasing strength of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the three year war in Syria, the chaos in Libya, the continued jihadist menace from Yemen and military take over in Egypt. The old terrorist Hydra has sprouted more dangerous heads with clandestine support by major nations both on the Arabian Peninsula and  Africa.


In 2001 I read James Wasserman's "The Templars and the Assassins" and was impressed by his knowledge of the history of Islam and its Sunni-Shiite split.  I believe my interview with Mr. Wasserman that was published in 2002 can still offer meaningful insights.


When I contacted Mr. Wasserman recently, he offered these additional thoughts:


JW: It is interesting to reread this interview and be reminded of some of the conclusions I expressed. Foremost among them is my statement that America's best hope to defeat the enemy and reach out to Muslims worldwide was to renew our faith in our own Founding principles.  The chaos we see in the Mideast today is, to a large extent, the consequence of our having done exactly the opposite.

Instead of proclaiming the values of self-reliance, liberty, patriotism and the joy of living as a free people, America has skulked around the international stage displaying weakness, self-doubt, an endless need to apologize, and an abandonment of the idea that Political Liberty is America's unique gift to share with humanity.  Instead, we make bold statements then retreat from action, suggest moral equivalence between self defense and aggression, fawn over societies who enslave, beat, torture, and murder their women while screaming about an imaginary domestic War on Women. 

As we continue to lose touch with ourselves, we watch an entire region explode in our faces, building the capacity for nuclear weapons while we equivocate, prevaricate, and negotiate. We abandon our friends and embrace our enemies in a pathetic attempt at Political Correctness—as if "diversity" means tolerating evil at the expense of the good, abandoning Truth so we aren't seen as being "judgmental" against Lies.

I understand that my thoughts here say more about my views of America than they  do about the Mideast. But unless America is willing to openly shine its Light and remain a Beacon of Freedom to the Human Spirit, we will see the world crumble before our eyes as we do today. When our politicians tell a grieving family—whose son has been murdered by Islamic militants with heavy artillery—that we will jail a filmmaker, we seal our fate and the fate of all those who yearn for freedom. It is time for Americans to rediscover ourselves.


Original Interview with James Wasserman


In his fascinating account of the Templars, the brotherhood of knights prominent during the two hundred years of the Crusades (1095–1292), and the Assassins, an esoteric sect of Islam vying for power in the Middle East and Persia at the same time, cover-2-crmauthor James Wasserman displays a profound grasp of both societies and their great culture clash.  Wasserman's premise in writing "The Templars and the Assassins" was, as he states, "Our thesis has been that the Western Mystery Tradition evolved into its present form largely as a result of the marriage between the mystical teaching of Islam and those of Christianity.  Since both Christianity and Islam were founded on Judaism, Western occultism could be described as the fusion of the esoteric currents of our three great monotheistic faiths."  However, the events of September 11, 2001 place a new value on the first chapters of his book that portray the history of Islam.

In the beginning, two branches of Islam emerged after the death of the Prophet; each believing in different rights of succession. The Sunnis alleged that Mohammed had chosen his successor or Caliph  (prince of the faithful) to be his father-in-law, Abu Bakr. The Shiites believed the Sunnis were abandoning true teachings in their efforts to build an Islamic empire and that leadership should be derived through bloodline.  They chose Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, as their leader. In 765 Shiism gave birth to another faction – the Ismailis.  The Ismaili Imams (priests or spiritual masters) developed a following in relative secrecy and created a body of intellectual theological teachings. They organized a teaching network, the "dawa", in which the Imam's representative or "dai" (summoner) passed along the sect's wisdom. A further schism in 1094 led to the emergence of the Nizari Ismailis, popularly known as the Assassins.  The mystic and political visionary, Hasan-i-Sabah, was the leader of the Nizaris until his death in 1124.   His rise to power was marked by an ironic mixture of spiritual leadership with trickery, murder, betrayal and assassination


After the recent terrorist attacks(9/11), Wasserman took a second look at his portrayal of the Assassins and their militant techniques and is working on a new chapter to his book. Like many lay Americans trying to fathom an ancient culture, I was grateful when he agreed to share the fruits of his new scholarship.


GS: What motivated you to write the book and now add a new chapter?


JW: For most of my adult life, I have been a member of a society that claims access to the teachings shared by the Templars and the Assassins and have long been fascinated by their history.  I am also interested in secret societies in general, both those of a spiritual nature and those whose goals are political.  Other books I have published on mystical themes are "The Mystery Traditions" (Inner Traditions) and "The Egyptian Book of the Dead" (Chronicle Books.) 

The first edition of "The Templars and Assassins" came off press on May 15, 2001. During the summer, I began work on its sequel, entitled "The Divine Warrior". The horrific events of September 11 created a great deal of psychic tension in me because the methods and organizational structure employed by the terrorists against America were reminiscent of those I discussed in my book. When people sought my opinion on the modern activities of the Islamic terror network, I was forced to confront my rather clear enthusiasm for Hasan-i-Sabah.


GS: Can you explain what techniques the Assassins used that were similar to modern terrorists?


JW: Like the Assassins, the 9/11 hijackers wormed their way into the society they would attack. They blended into American culture, speaking English, using credit cards and remaining clean-shaven. The semi-autonomous structure of the terrorist cells was also reminiscent of the Assassins. The objective of their missions and operational plans of cells were known only to the leaders who could not identify other cells. This design safeguarded their larger strategic objectives in the event of betrayal or discovery.


GS: What differences do you see between the medieval Assassins and the modern terrorists?


JW: The political activities of the medieval Assassins were directed against individual policy makers. Those who follow the spiritual path share a basic respect for human life common to initiates of all traditions. I propose that Hasan-i-Sabah and his successors were living examples of this. In fact, I praise them in my book as pursuing a humane approach to political ascendancy by targeting and assassinating opposing leaders. 

I cannot state whether Hasan would have cynically decided to use the methods of modern technology or media were he alive today.  I hope he would not have. When the Mongols invaded Islam in the mid 13th century, they demonstrated indiscriminate ferocity, slaughtering tens of thousands. Hasan-i-Sabah, on the other hand, appears to have murdered some 50 opponents in his 35-year career.  Hasan, like the early Greek scientist Archimedes ("Give me a lever and I shall move the world"), understood the physics of carefully applied force achieving maximum results.

Modern Muslim terrorists lack the discipline and dignity demonstrated by the Assassins of yore. Osama bin Laden and his network, that hopefully will be dismantled, have no respect for human life or concern for spiritual consequences of random murder. I do not accept that they have the initiatic stature, courage or wit of Hasan.  

There has been a romantic identification by many with bin Laden as a modern day Robin Hood; a rebel with a cause hunted by the power structure of the New World Order.  Bin Laden expressed his admiration for the Taliban state as approaching his ideal Muslim political structure. Although the apparent humility of a government that refers to itself as "students," (the literal meaning of "taliban,") may seem worthy, we are not speaking of intellectuals pursuing knowledge. They were taught to accept the world as flat because it was pronounced by one of their mullahs as recently as the 1960s.


GS: You state in your book that in gaining political power,  "The intention of assassination was to create maximum intimidation and a psychological pattern of chronic fear and anticipation among Nizari enemies."   The goal of today's terrorist appears the same.


JW: Look at the response to the 9/11 bombings. A terrified American public is willingly accepting the shackles of the Police State - warrantless searches, video surveillance, armed troops performing police functions and the promotion of national identity cards. These are precisely the demoralizing restrictions bin Laden and his cohorts hoped to impose on America.


GS: I was intrigued by the story you told of the Old Man of the Mountain. Around 1194 Count Henry of Champagne was approached by the Old Man of the Mountain in what is now Syria, "… as they were strolling through the grounds of the fortress, the Old Man said that he did not believe the Christians were as loyal to their leaders as his disciples were to him.  To illustrate this point, he signaled to two youths high above on one of the towers.  Both immediately leapt to their deaths to the rocks below."  Marco Polo gave a similar account in the 14th century. He wrote that the Old Man's disciples were first drugged and then awoke in a garden filled with beautiful women. A youth was promised that on completion of assassination he would be readmitted to the Garden, or if he died, his soul would be sent to Paradise.  Do you believe this ancient use of suicidal martyrdom predates terrorist's acts today? 


JW: The story of the Garden of Paradise may be an ancient romance.  The religious school network (the madrassas), chiefly funded by the Saudis and spread throughout Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, are designed to produce a group of brain-washed fanatics whose conditioning prepares them to seek release from deprivation in glorious acts of martyrdom. This is a real and verifiable fact.


GS: What do you believe motivates today's terrorist hatred against the West?


JW: Today's conflict has been going on for well over 5000 years.  The continuous stream of hatred of the West expressed by the extremists includes constant references to the Crusades. Bin Laden's umbrella organization, founded in 1998, is known as the World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders. In addition to gazing back to the time of the Prophet, the extremist Muslim has not advanced further than their worldview in the twelfth century. To maintain this kind of hostility through the centuries is pathological.

While uncounted trillions of dollars have flown into the coffers of the oil producing lands, the extremists scream colonial oppression. Yet, their greatest grievance is against fellow Muslims. Some Middle Eastern Islamic states are ruled by corrupt oligarchies. The rulers of many Muslim countries that became independent of Western colonial rulership after World War II, embraced failed political systems such as socialism in their attempt to modernize. This created central economic planning and bloated bureaucracies that maintained poverty and reliance on the Soviet empire.

More recently, the disparity between the ruling classes and masses has motivated governments like the Saudi to encourage the spread of extremism. The purpose of their support is twofold. One is as a form of hush money to mitigate against anti-government rhetoric.  The second is a practical program to export domestic troublemakers.  Muslim governments are often hard-pressed to crack down on violence, afraid to be perceived as enemies of Islam.  Finally, the use of the terrorist groups by states seeking to avoid international consequences is an effective ruse by which they pursue agendas. Thus states like Iran, Libya, Syria and Iraq gladly employ the type of plausible deniability provided by someone like bin Laden.


GS: How would you define militant Islam today?


JW: Militant Islam is equal parts a revolutionary political movement and fundamentalist religious revivalism.  It transcends the boundaries of state as language barriers and national identities recede before the unity of religious belief and sense of the destined mission of Islam.  The movement burst into world attention on September 5, 1972 when Black September murdered Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics.  However, this action, taken under Arafat's Marxist PLO banner, was secular and atheistic at its core.  It was a political protest against the Israeli state.

The Iranian revolution in 1979 heralded the emergence of the fundamentalist Muslim state and the proclamation of religious Jihad against the unbeliever and infidel. Ayatollah Khomeni, the Shiite leader of Iran (Persia) must be seen in some measure as a successor to Hasan-i-Sabah.  He was able to organize a band of powerless, stateless, religious rebels into a group capable of overtaking one of the most powerful military machines of the Middle East that had the "full support" of the West. Khomenii also accomplished something that Hasan did not — the union of fundamentalist Shiites with fundamentalist Sunnis. When the modern Islamic Terrorist Network was born, in large part directed from Tehran, a thousand year old dream was realized.


GS: In Islam, the lines between religion, politics and militancy are finely or never drawn.  What inherent concepts led to this?


JW: In the history of Islam as related in my book, particularly tracing the Sunni-Shiite split; we see that the Muslim faith is susceptible to schism and political tension.  The reason is nearly equal doses of politics and religion that are its essential teaching.

Ideally, Islamic society is a theocracy. The mullah, sheikh or imam is considered by the faithful as the most competent person to interpret Muslim religious doctrine, offer spiritual counseling and provide political leadership. While Islam's monotheistic predecessors, Judaism and Christianity, both had theocratic yearnings, Western culture's respect for individuality mitigated against the establishment of a state run by clergy. On the other hand, Islam has an Oriental collectivism at its core that encourages the idea that religious purity is an aspect of state responsibility.

The most convenient excuse for Islamic violence is generally US support for Israel. However, the roots of fundamentalist Sunni hatred extend considerably further back in time. The Salafiyya (community of True Believers) look back to the first three generations of Muslims for their inspiration. They believe they are the chosen of Islam, the one true community who will not be cast into Hell. They further believe that as Islam is the religion of Allah, it is the proper religion for every human being. Among those accepted as representatives of the Salafiiyyah is Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahab (1703–1792), who preached a return to the ways of the Prophet. His source of inspiration was theologian Ibn Taymiyah (1263–1328) of the 9th century Hanbali School of Islamic law. Wahab's message of fundamentalist reform was embraced by Muhammad ibn Saud who conquered Mecca in 1806.  His descendants established and now rule modern Saudi Arabia. Fundamentalist Wahhabism remains the state religion of Saudi Arabia and its radical Mullahs are being exported to mosques throughout the United States and Europe.


GS: Do you believe the West has a chance to eradicate dangerous Muslim extremism?


JW: The goal of Muslim extremists is world domination through the establishment of a world government in which Islamic principles are the law of every land. This presents an intriguing contrast to the proposed tyranny of the secular, internationalist movement that seeks to bind the "world community" into a global government that I believe is equally pernicious. If Americans seek to remain a free people, we will refuse both sets of chains.

The tools we need to defeat the Islamists involve a return to our roots as a nation and as human beings. We are dealing with an enemy who is primitive; not one with whom we can negotiate. We cannot be polite; that is interpreted by this enemy as weakness.  I believe the terrorist's greatest mistake was to assume that President Bush's policies would be a continuation of his predecessor's.  We need to embrace the virtues of patriotism, militarism and decisiveness as well as the common sense requirements of self-defense and national self-interest.

On the other hand, I think an outreach to Muslim people is in order. I happen to agree that the Iranian government should be considered part of an "Axis of Evil".  However, there are many Iranian people who seek freedoms offered by the West. We made a terrible mistake in Afghanistan by successfully using their men as proxy fighters against the Soviets at the end of the Cold War and then abandoning them.

I firmly believe that our uniquely Western concepts such as "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" offer a far better political model that will triumph in the world of ideas — if we are brave enough to continue to live by them.

James Wasserman's
The Templars and the Assassins – The Militia of Heaven
is available at Amazon

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gsphoto-crsGriselda Steiner is a poet, dramatist and a free-lance writer and a Senior Writer for Scene4.
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