Zealots are anathema to me. Even when I think I know what their motivations are, I simply don’t understand them. To me, they are really all the same, no matter the cause.
A good example is the Muslim extremist who shot four U.S. military personnel on a bus at Germany’s Frankfurt International Airport.
The word “zealot” originated in the first century A.D. as the name of a Jewish political movement that opposed the Romans “on the grounds that Israel belonged only to a Jewish king descended from David. In the Talmud, the zealots are also called the biryonim meaning ‘boorish’ or ‘wild’, and are condemned for their aggression, unwillingness to compromise,” according to Wikipedia. In modern usage the word has evolved to mean extremist.
But, one man’s zealot is another man’s true believer. Zealotry can be measured on a scale or continuum of extremism, but it’s always the same, aside from the particular issue that triggers them. The problem is that the values and beliefs of those on either end of the spectrum are often so extreme that they sanction violence in support of their cause. Animal rights and eco-terrorists are included in this category, along with religious extremists.
“Think as I think, believe as I believe, or you will be punished, tortured, even killed” seems to be the God-given mandate of such people, according to them. And, there are many shades of belief and values, ranging from the most radical on either end of the continuum, both of which attempt to bend others to their will by force and violence, to the most benign in the middle, where there is often no opinion at all.
On the religious front, Mort Zuckerman, writing in Jewish World Review (Sept. 19, 2006 / 26), noted: “The most insidious threat, of course, is that of Muslims living in the West who decide to put religious fanaticism ahead of loyalty to their host country. None of us can assume we are not at risk from some alienated American-born Muslim male inflamed by the Internet or brainwashed in prison or by a radical mosque.”
The Muslims are only the latest in a long history of implacable, hostile, dangerous groups whose teachings include permission or commandments to injure and kill others, including innocents, in furtherance of their beliefs or to impose control of the people in their own and other societies. The list of such believers is very long and includes such groups as Nazis (in World War II), Neo-Nazis, fundamental believers of many religious denominations (including certain Christians), Communists (as in the Soviet Union, China and North Korea), Survivalists, Black Panthers, Muslims, animal rights and environmental terrorists, anti-abortion extremists and many other “true believers” too numerous to mention.
What all of this tells me is that the need to dominate and control others is basic to human nature. It is found at all levels of human activity, ranging from individual families to tribes and political entities, such as towns, cities, states and nations, business enterprises, just about any group or organization.
My own theory is that many violent zealots are nothing more than spoiled brats who use their particular cause as the rationale for temper tantrums, a bit like children who throw themselves on the floor, kicking and screaming, destroying their rooms and other property, in a bid for attention and to force their parents or other adults to give in to them. Anarchists, many animal rights activists and some eco-warriors fit this model.
We see them in the headlines all the time: tree-huggers roosting in the tops of trees for weeks on end, trying to rescue them from loggers, damaging new SUVs on the lots of car dealers, burning down new luxury homes under construction, breaking into research labs to free animals that are being using for experiments, demonstrating around the world at meetings of heads of state and financial leaders, where their conduct invariably turns ugly with violent and destructive behavior.
The mindset of zealots in general, but one in particular, was graphically illustrated in an October 2005 U.S. Newswire report:
A radical animal extremist stunned senators from both sides of the aisle when he testified that the murder of medical researchers was ‘morally justified’ to save lab animals. California surgeon and ALF (Animal Liberation Front) spokesman Dr. Jerry Vlasak made this outrageous statement to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, where he drew the derision and indignation of Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.
Vlasak, who also compared the life of lab animals to African-American slaves and the Jewish victims of Nazi concentration camps, made his comments while defending a similar statement, he made to the news media: “I don’t think you’d have to kill — assassinate — too many vivisectors before you would see a marked decrease in the amount of vivisection going on. And I think for five lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, 2 million, 10 million nonhuman lives.”
Muslim zealots remind me of gang-bangers, ready to fight and kill at the drop of an insult, or a perceived insult (“dis”). Never mind that no offense was intended or given. I believe the reason for this is that the members of such gangs have no other avenue for earning self-respect — that is, their own and that of others. And so it seems to be with some Muslims, whose faith requires them to take every perceived insult to their religion as a reason to destroy property and injure or kill others with whom they disagree. What a tragic waste of lives, theirs as well as those of their victims.
But then, zealots don’t see it that way. They are righteous, their beliefs and values are paramount and the only ones that count. If you disagree, you must be forced, even bludgeoned, into submission or be eliminated. It becomes a problem when they run up against others who refuse to give in and are willing to fight back. What then?
— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who as lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog, Opinionfest.com.