In the case of the ongoing ‘War on Terror’, the simple explanations given for the continuation of the war would easily appeal to common sense. In other words, phrases like ‘they hate our way of life’, ‘axis of evil’, ‘you are either with us or against us’, ‘the coalition of the willing’, etc tries to portray the situation in simple black or white terms. But as is true with matters of global geo-politics, a far more nuanced understanding of the situation is available for the scrupulous intellect. Marx and Weber possessed such intellects; and although they did not witness in their lifetimes a conflict similar to the ongoing ‘War on Terror’, their ideas do find application here. For example, it would not have surprised Karl Marx that the most devastating war of modern history, the Second World War, had a religious basis. Hitler believed that the systematic rounding up and extermination of Jews in Europe was an act carried out on behalf of God. The Roman Catholic Church’s continued patronage of Hitler during the worst period of his atrocities underlines the point. Coming back to the War on Terror, one sees again the role of religion. Both the parties in the United States fall right-of-centre in the political spectrum. Moreover, their representatives in Congress and Senate tend to be believers of Christian faith, at least outwardly so. Hence, despite lip service being paid to the separation of state and religion, one cannot dismiss the ongoing War on Terror as not being religiously inspired. The usage of the word ‘crusade’ by former President George Bush in the wake of the terror attacks is quite instructive too. Going a little further back, all the 19 suicide bombers who drove air planes onto buildings, claimed to do so for the sake of their religion. Seen in this backdrop,
“there may yet be room for a little social analysis in a Marxist spirit, of religions other than Christianity: those whose heart-lands have not experienced class formation and subsequent transformation, whether revolutionary or evolutionary, in their political economy and social structure. Even if an adage like ‘the opium of the people’ or the concept of ‘social control’ in its more sinister sense have lost their applicability in Western conditions, the world remains a much larger place than whatever may be encompassed by ‘the West’. As the ‘non-West’ impinges increasingly on Western security, and does so not least in the guise of a religious ideology, a little bit of ‘classical sociology’ may be in order”. (Kershaw, 2002)
Hence, while common sense suggests that people of faith have a higher moral character than those who don’t believe in God, the ground reality cannot be different than this. So, a sociological study of any situation, properly informed by historical facts and empirical evidence, is more likely to lead to a better understanding than what is attained through common sense.
Bakker, J. (1999). The Living Legacy of Marx, Durkheim and Weber: Applications and Analyses of Classical Sociological Theory by Modern Social Scientist. The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 36(2), 286+.
Bonner, K. (1998). Reflexivity, Sociology and the Rural-Urban Distinction in Marx Tonnies and Weber. The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 35(2), 165+.
Kershaw, R. (2002, September). Full Marx for Mullahs: A Reflection on Social Control in Islam – Part I. Contemporary Review, 281, 129+.
Sayer, D. (1991). Capitalism and Modernity: An Excursus on Marx and Weber. New York: Routledge.
Turner, B. S. (1993). Max Weber: From History to Modernity. London: Routledge.