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'Terrorism is older than Islam'

July 31, 2006 19:39 IST

Ted Jelen, Professor in Political Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, USA, earned his PhD from Ohio State University in 1979. His main research interests are public opinion, religion and politics, feminism, and the politics of abortion.

A former editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Dr Jelen serves as associate editor of Social Science Quarterly, Women and Politics and the Review of Religious Research. He has written many books, including To Serve God and Mammon: Church-State Relations in the United States; The Political World of the Clergy; The Political Mobilization of Religious Beliefs.

In an exclusive chat with rediff.com readers, Dr Jelen, 'a veteran of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements', discussed whether religion has a public role in our lives.

For those of you who missed it, here is the transcript:


Dr Ted Jelen says, Hello; I'm very much enjoying my visit to India and am hoping for a stimulating exchange of ideas. Ted G Jelen
shailendra asked, In Todays world when everybody is crying against terrorism my strong opinion is it can only be eliminated if Muslim Society comes strongly against it. Unless and untill they will not do It can not be eliminated. How much u are agree with me ?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, In the United States, many Muslim groups have in fact come out strongly against terrorism; this message is being received by the American people, who, while not known for their sophistication about foreign affairs, nevertheless are learning that Islam is a religion of peace. terrorism itself is as old as the human species; it goes back at least as far as the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Terrorism is much older than Islam, or Christianity.
mahi asked, Dev Islam means Peace Acquire through submission of God Almighty. Pls. read the Quran and utter your words. Its for the man of understanding
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, I am not very knowledgeable about the doctrines of Islam; what I do know is a number of people who practice the faith (including the chair of my department at the University of Nevada). Religion makes its greatest contribution by the examples set by its members; for this very reason, Islam is becoming well accepted by an increasing number of Americans. For the most part, Americans have what I would term "faith in faith," and a strong respect for sincerely held religious beliefs (even if different from their own).
Agnostic asked, Dr Jelen, can we really separate the church from the state, or we all making a vain attempt?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, WE can separate church from state to some extent, but we cannot separate religion from politics. Nor should we. Religion can provide a set of transcendant values which can inform and inspire political discourse in democracies. Religion is politically useful if it speaks truth to power; it can become dangerous if it becomes power. In politics, religion is an excellent servant, but a poor master.
atheist asked, Sir, despite all the good that it does, religion is not the opium, but the 'cyanide of the masses,' in the sense that it blocks or deters tru mental development...do you agree?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, That's a marvelously clever quote; My own take is that religion can enrich democratic debate when there are multiple religious voices in the democratic conversation (in the final analysis, democracy is a conversation). In religiously pluralistic societies such as the US, religious principles can inspire political ideas, but those ideas ultimately must be justified in secular terms. Situation is much different in settings in which one religious tradition dominates political debate.
ramananda asked, Dr Jelen, do you subscribe to Huntington's Clash of Civilisations theory?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, No
Sujeel asked, Mr.Ted why do the term Terrorism is used for Muslims, what about the barbaric terrorism unleashed by Israel, USA,Uk and peoples of other countries?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, I don't know. My understanding of the term "terrorism" is that it refers to the killing of non-combatants for political ends; I have no problem applying the term to any nation which engages in such tactics.
ramananda asked, Sir, I wanted to know whether you endorse or oppose abortion, and your grounds for your position...
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, I am generally in agreement with Bill Clinton, who stated that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare." I think that democracy involves self-governance in two senses: governance of one another, and governance on one's self. In the latter sense, the decision to become a parent, or not to become a parent, is fundamental, and affects virtually all other decisions. Therefore, I think a decision to abort is one of self-defintion, on which democratic self-governance ultimately depends.
Ananyan asked, In a Yahoo Group Nidokidos, i am seeing many mails daily stating that America is a Villan attacking on other countries and all shud talk about it, But what happend to all those same people who did not comment on Mumbai Blasts and Godhra Train Incident. Not Only America is Villan, they are all Villans who are trying to create violance on the name of religion.
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, Amen
ramananda asked, Now that's a succint answer :) thank you. Does this mean that the massive attempt by vested religious interests to divide the world into a clear Us and Them will NOT succeed?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, Precisely; I think that globalization, the communications revolution, and modernity are irreversible facts of life. We will live together in some fashion whether some of us like it or not. My visit to India has reminded me that most of the world's religion hold out the possibility for ecumencial understanding. Not that we will always agree; there are differences among different societies, and some of these are important. I simply believe that with contact comes understanding, with understanding coms friendship, and with friendship comes peace. Perhaps that sounds naive and idealistic; however, we have no alternative but to try.
Karunas asked, Do you think that the hizb if it continues to enjoy support from Iran might someday make its way to kashmir? Esp. with tacit or perhaps open support from Pak?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, I was hoping you would tell me; if my answers have not made it apparent already, I am not an expert on South Asian politics; I bring to India nothing more than some understanding of religious politics in the US and some other settings, and a sincere desire to learn.
ramananda asked, Thank you again. Sir, I notice that your interests include feminism. Did you notice much of that during your trip to India? In fact, could your tell us what brings you here?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, I have encountered a number of strong, competent professional women, so, in that sense, feminism in some form clearly exists in India. As our New Testament states, "By their fruits shall thy know them." I know next to nothing about public policies related to gender in India; I have seen with my own eyes the major contribution that women make to the economic, cultural, academic, and political life of this great nation.
Sujeel asked, Dr.Ted do you have any answer to my question? Is it not the fact that more people are being killed by countries like Israel,USA and UK than the so called "Terrorists", then why do we not use the word terrorism for the barbaric acts of terrorism unleashed by the above countries, why is the biase in using the word terrorism?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, My understanding is that the British Press has stopped using the term; I applaud that decision. I don't think the term is particularly useful; it's amazing how quickly "terrorists" can become "freedom fighters" when one approves of the goals of those who engage in unconventional warfare.
atheist asked, Sir, is this your first visit to India? And who have you met so far in this country, and why?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, Yes it is; I have amet a number of academics, public officials, and citizens. India has a well-deserved reputation for hospitality. What I've learned is that multiculturalism works; this involves a set of controversial issues in the U.S. (immigration, English as an official language, etc); my experience in India has convinced me that my convictions in favor of multiculturalism are in fact correct.
Karunas asked, Religious hegemony is too much to imagine. Peace is difficult to expect. One religion will always dominate over another. Would you describe terrorism more as a clash of religions / ideas and the desire to dominate through violent means?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, Again, my understanding is that terrorism is a tactic, not an ideology or a belief system. Religion is like fire. Controlled and used properly, it provides heat, comfort, cooking; it can also be an incredibly destructive force. Our understandings of the divine are necessarily incomplete, and the temptation to limit one's God or gods to a temporary political struggle is a strong one. My God is not Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, or Christian, but all of these. We are of a carnal flesh, but also have a strong spiritual component, which allows us access to the divine.
hi asked, ISLAM is a great religion.what is your view?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, I agree completely.
victor asked, How will you describe in one word- The Da Vinci Code?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, fiction
Karunas asked, Do you think that a non-violent struggle based on gandhian ideals is possible for any kind of 'freedom struggle'? Esp. in the face of mighty armies such as those of US? Are non-violent methods still viable to help in achieving a group's aims? Or is Tianenman Square a possibility in almost any coutnry now?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, As Gandhi once stated, "not without defeats; but are there no defeats in this war?" (World War II). Non-violence can work; I've seen it with my own eyes in my own lifetime (I'm a veteran of the civil rights and anti VietNam war movements).
Agnostic asked, Sir, you once said that 'Religion often provides a "prophetic voice" to public discourse. ...could you please elaborate..?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, What I meant there is that many observers (such as French philosoper Alexis de Tocqueville) have noted a conformist tendency in egalitarian, democratic societies such as the US (and perhaps India). Put simply, it is difficult to hold or express unpopular ideas when the effects of public opinion are so strong. Religion can provide support for unpopular ideas, and remind us that public policy must have an essential moral component.
Karunas asked, Would non-violence work in dictatorships?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, I don't know; the capacity to suffer is an enormously powerful political resources, and, sometimes, these are the only resources someone has. I've often wondered whether the Gandhian movement would have been successful if India had been a German colony rather than a British colony. I simply don't know.
jishnu asked, Is this he last clash of civilization after which we will have a religion agnostic society?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, I don't think so; the desire for religion appears to be a constant feature of humanity, and I see no sign of this changing. Science, politics, history simply do not provide adequate answers to ultimate questions.
atheist asked, Sir, if this is your first visit to India, how would you remember it?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, Short answer; as a good reason to return; this is my first trip to India, it will not be my last. The friendliness of the Indian people is really extraordinary, and it is inspiring to see the implementation of my deepest values in another setting. Thank you for your kind hospitality. I've learned much since I've been here.
MANSOOR asked, Why can't we make a law to restrict religious people in politics?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, Short answer: because democracy means rule by the people, not simply rule by the "educated" or "sophisticated" people. Even in the US, religious activists are often a source of exasperation to me; I deplore the veto of funding for stem-cell research (in part because my 13 year old niece is a diabetic), and regard resistance to the teaching of Darwinism with impatience, since such resistence involves (in my view) a fundamental misundersanding of science. Nevertheless, I would rather endure these people than to tell an entire class of people to "shut up" because of their ideas.
S asked, Sir, Can you please say us one rational reason that is not provided by history and politics ? Our politicians and a lot of political science students would benifit from that.
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, What is our purpose in living? What obligations do we have to one another? (just to name two).
Prabhs asked, Dr. Ted, Religion and politics can never be mutually exclusive.Given this fact, what sort of religion and politics would you envisage for the present global situation and how should they complement for the global peace?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, I think religious pluralism is very important, and that this can be achieved globally; where there are many religions, it is difficult for one to dominate, and adherents of different religions must find a common language with which to interact; that quest is, in my view, the ultimate hope for peace.
Agnostic asked, Dr Jelen, who are your heroes?
Dr. Ted Jelen answers, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Gandhi, and (for an odd reason) Charles de Gaulle. de Gaulle, at the end of his life, presented the French people with a very unpopular referendum. His goal (apparantly) was to allow the French electorate the opportunity to vote him out of office, which I regard as a very selfless and heroic act.
Dr. Ted Jelen says, Thank you very much; I've enjoyed this, and am sorry we can't continue.