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Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted: Premodern Religious Terrorism

Terrorism and Political ViolenceJournal abstract

In the beginning faith was the alpha and omega of revolutionary dreams and terrorist actions. This article will examine case studies among the Peoples of the Book—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—for religious terrorism is not the product of one faith. It argues that the cultural resonance of each movement examined offers a blank slate on which contemporary seekers, dreamers, and fighters may write. The title, borrowed from a popular novel, is the leitmotif of this form of violence. By all objective forms of analysis, the movements chronicled in these pages are a parade of seemingly stupid ideas held by idealists, fools, and fanatics who dreamed that, with God at their side, they could bring perfection to a fallen world. In such a cause, antinomian violence is inevitable and genocide its logical outcome. Yet these early movements are not to be despised, for together it was they, not the huddled masses cowering before the powers that be, that created the modern world.