“The Bliss of Completion”
(Part III of The Metapolitics of Terrorist Radicalization)
by Roger Griffin
“The Bliss of Completion” appears below.
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The mission of Library of Social Science is to reveal the sources and meanings of collective forms of violence—by publishing writings by the world's greatest thinkers on this topic. And to provide a space of freedom for the presentation and discussion of new insights and theories.

Roger Griffin is professor in Modern History at Oxford Brookes University. He is the author of over 100 publications — and is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on Fascism. Read more about him on Wikipedia.

Video on "The dangerous dream of reshaping a clean, original civilization"

Book by Roger Griffin
Terrorist's Creed: Fanatical Violence and the Human Need for Meaning

For information on ordering through Amazon, PLEASE CLICK HERE.
Terrorist's Creed casts a penetrating beam of understanding into the disturbing and murky psychological world of fanatical violence, explaining how the fanaticism it demands stems from the profoundly human need to imbue existence with meaning and transcendence.

The third stage in this ideal type of the radicalization process is the mindset in which the sanctity of the mission has been so internalized that acts of violence against society can be carried out not just guiltlessly, but with a sense of pride, and even cosmic self-fulfillment. Rohrmoser’s reference to ‘salvation or perdition’—in the context of Germany’s highly secular terrorism in the 1970s—is telling, once it is understood that the psyche experiences the nomos as holy—even if it is an entirely secular, anti-clerical utopia.

If the inner conversion process is complete, fanaticism is a state of grace, underlining the significance of the etymology from fanum, meaning a sacred temple. In this final state of extremist consciousness, geared not to mystic contemplation but to violent action—and even martyrdom—on behalf of the cause, ordinary norms and parameters of existence fall away.

Subjectively, these modern ‘warrior priests’ are living in an apocalyptic time outside linear, chronic history. However, time is short. It is now that the sacred tradition must be defended, the primordial holy nation created or recreated, the murder of innocents halted, the True Faith restored, the race purged of decadence, the Millennium imposed, the end of History ‘forced’ to its conclusion, the desecration of the planet prevented, the ideal society established.

History has reached its crisis point: the iron gates of Time are molten enough to be forged into a new shape through violent intervention. For the protagonist of the assault on the ‘enemy’ or the status quo, conviction has taken the place of confusion, partial knowledge replaced by redeeming Gnosis, the feeling of being mired in society’s ‘filth’ given way to being the chosen agent of its purification. The liminoid has been resolved into a definitive narrative, society’s outcast has become the avenging angel of its nemesis, and impotence has metamorphosed into complete self-possession. In short, despair has been transformed into bliss.

To use bliss in the context of terrorists may sound a discordant note, but here is the testimony of Jessica Stern based on extensive interviews with terrorists:

Although we see them as evil, religious terrorists know themselves to be perfectly good. To be crystal clear about one’s identity, to know that one’s group is superior to all others, to make purity one’s motto and purification of the world one’s life’s work – this is a kind of bliss.

Stern concedes that she is able to see how ‘apocalyptic violence intended to cleanse the world of “impurities” can create a transcendent state’; and can understand why the killers [she] met seemed ‘spiritually intoxicated’. She goes on to state that ‘all of them describe themselves as responding to a spiritual calling, and many report a kind of spiritual high or addiction related to its fulfilment’. People join religious terrorist groups partly to ‘transform themselves and to simplify life’, in other words, to change anomy into nomos—thereby simplifying and sacralizing their lives.

Ruth Stein dissects this blissful state further:

The promise of fulfilment is not that of happy beatitude, of sated envelopment and plenitude, but of ascetic overcoming of oneself, transcendence of time and the body, and an assenting sacrifice of one’s will in the service of a higher will. The regressive process of becoming mentally subjugated is both intensely relational and has affinity with the process whereby hate and fear are transformed into a perverted, enthralled ‘love’.

Nor are Stern and Stein alone in recognizing that the path to terrorism is the path to some form of fulfilment, or transfiguration. In a remarkable aside, Mazarr alludes to the phenomenon we have called ‘heroic doubling’—that allows terrorists in the run-up to an act of murderous destruction to endure the utter banality of ordinary, anomic reality—until their moment of special time finally comes.

They thus resemble spies or secret agents working for a higher power, using their ‘anomic’ self as a cover story for the actual drama unfolding, like a real-life Clark Kent/Superman:

One is hard pressed not to think of the stolid, brutal authors of September 11, going about their placid lives and smoothly traversing their petty cares—going to the bank, filling their cars, greeting their piloting instructor with a smile and a handshake, brushing their teeth, watching a television sitcom—sustained by the conviction that they had taken their death inside, bought and owned it, and therefore achieved wholeness, achieved greatness, achieved authenticity.

The Supermen and Superwomen of modern Zealotry carry out their heroic martyr missions to wreak death and destruction so as to save their threatened nomos or prevent the whole world sinking forever into an ocean of degeneration.

Naturally, the precondition for the mission’s completion is that the nebulous Manichaean world-view has undergone a process of focusing that enables the most abstruse, utopian vision to externalize itself as a lethally practical form of terrorism. The totalizing vision has been channeled into producing a practical plan in which a specific material or human target is selected as a synecdoche of the forces of ‘evil’, ‘the enemy’, or ‘the system’ for attack: a target whose destruction will have a particular symbolic or emotional resonance for the intended audience.