Charles Selengut

Urges World Leaders to Recognize the Roots of Terrorism

Professor Charles Selengut of County College of Morris is a man on a mission: a mission to convince world leaders that terrorism can only be fought by recognizing it for what it really is – a religious war.

Author of “Sacred Fury: Understanding Religious Violence,” (AltaMira Press), Selengut shared that message at the 10th Annual International Conference on Terrorism’s Global Impact held in Israel this past September. The conference, sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, drew more than 1,000 decision makers, defense, intelligence and police officials, and academic scholars from around the globe. Selengut, professor of sociology at CCM, took part in the session on “Terrorism, Religion and Political Violence.” Earlier this year, he gave the keynote address on “Understanding the Role of Religion in Global Violence” at the annual meeting of the Colloquium on Religion and Violence at Notre Dame University.

“It’s dangerous to assume that terrorism is about people who are mentally ill or about economic issues,” says Selengut. “What we need to recognize is what really motivates terrorists, how they are recruited and how they see the world. Until we do, our efforts to fight terrorism will remain ineffective.”

Selengut explains that just as all religions have peaceable and tolerant elements, there also are sects in just about every religion that use their sacred text to encourage and support violence. The United States, however, he says, has remained reluctant to name modern-day terrorism as a religious war for fear of being viewed as intolerant.

“We cannot deal with the dangers that exist until we recognize the importance of religion in international terrorism,” says Selengut. “We believe the whole world wants to imitate the West, but what these terrorists are doing is they are trying to protect their way of life.”

The danger of viewing terrorism as something other than a religious war is that the tactics to fight it will never align with the root causes and the changes that need to take place, says Selengut. It would be the same as trying to treat cancer as a heart condition, he notes.

“Once we understand and accept the core issue, we can better design a strategy to combat terrorism,” he says.

Selengut joined the CCM faculty in 1970. He received his B.A. from Brooklyn College, his M.A. from New School University, and his Ph.D. from Drew University. Included among his honors and recognition, he was named a member of the McArthur Foundation “Project on Fundamentalism,” a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at Harvard University, and a 1997 finalist for the Carnegie Professor of the Year Award. Locally, he has spoken and given courses on the topics of religion and fundamentalism at CCM, Drew University, and religious and civic groups across New Jersey.