Religious terrorism is terrorism carried out based on motivations and goals that have a predominantly religious character or influence.
In the modern age, after the decline of ideas such as the divine right of kings and with the rise of nationalism, terrorism has more often been based on anarchism, and revolutionary politics. Since 1980, however, there has been an increase in terrorist activity motivated by religion. Not all terrorism is because of religion although a lot of attackers claim to be doing it for their god. An example of this is the Islamic State. They claim to be doing what they do in the name of Allah but in the religion of Islam, Allah views all religions as equal and he believes in peace, which these groups defiantly do not believe. Their attacks defy their god and religion.:2:185–99
Former United States Secretary of StateWarren Christopher has said that terrorist acts in the name of religion and ethnic identity have become "one of the most important security challenges we face in the wake of the Cold War.":6 However, the political scientists Robert Pape and Terry Nardin, the social psychologists M. Brooke Rogers and colleagues, and the sociologist and religious studies scholar Mark Juergensmeyer have all argued that religion should only be considered one incidental factor and that such terrorism is primarily geopolitical.
According to Juergensmeyer, religion and violence have had a symbiotic relationship since before the Crusades and even since before the Bible. He defines religious terrorism as consisting of acts that terrify, the definition of which is provided by the witnesses – the ones terrified – and not by the party committing the act; accompanied by either a religious motivation, justification, organization, or world view.:4–10 Religion is sometimes used in combination with other factors, and sometimes as the primary motivation. Religious terrorism is intimately connected to current forces of geopolitics.
Bruce Hoffman has characterized modern religious terrorism as having three traits:
- The perpetrators must use religious scriptures to justify or explain their violent acts or to gain recruits.
- Clerical figures must be involved in leadership roles.:90
- Perpetrators use apocalyptic images of destruction to justify the acts.:19–20
Martyrdom and suicide terrorism
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Important symbolic acts such as the blood sacrifice link acts of violence to religion and terrorism.Suicide terrorism, self-sacrifice, or martyrdom has throughout history been organized and perpetrated by groups with both political and religious motivations. The Christian tradition has a long history of heterodoxical and heretical groups which stressed self-immolative acts and scholarship has to some degree linked this to modern political groups such as the Irish Republican Army. Suicide terrorism or martyrdom is efficient, inexpensive, easily organized, and extremely difficult to counter, delivering maximum damage for little cost. The shocking nature of a suicide attack also attracts public attention. Glorifying the culture of martyrdom benefits the terrorist organization and inspires more people to join the group. According to one commentator, retaliation against suicide attacks increases the group's sense of victimization and commitment to adhere to doctrine and policy. This process serves to encourage martyrdom, and so suicide terrorism, self-sacrifice, or martyrdom represent "value for money". Robert Pape, a political scientist who specializes in suicide terrorism, has made a case for secular motivations and reasons as being the foundations of most suicide attacks, which are often labelled as "religious".
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Terrorism activities worldwide are supported through not only the organized systems that teach holy war as the highest calling, but also through the legal, illegal, and often indirect methods financing these systems; these sometimes use organizations, including charities, as fronts to mobilize or channel sources and funds. Charities can involve the provision of aid to those in need, and oblations or charitable offerings are fundamental to nearly all religious systems, with sacrifice as a furtherance of the custom.
Criticism of the concept
Robert Pape compiled the first complete database of every documented suicide bombing from 1980–2003. He argues that the news reports about suicide attacks are profoundly misleading – "There is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world's religions". After studying 315 suicide attacks carried out over the last two decades, he concludes that suicide bombers' actions stem from political conflict, not religion.
Michael A. Sheehan stated in 2000, "A number of terrorist groups have portrayed their causes in religious and cultural terms. This is often a transparent tactic designed to conceal political goals, generate popular support and silence opposition."
Terry Nardin wrote,
"A basic problem is whether religious terrorism really differs, in its character and causes, from political terrorism... defenders of religious terrorism typically reason by applying commonly acknowledged moral principles... But the use (or misuse) of moral arguments does not in fact distinguish religious from nonreligious terrorists, for the latter also rely upon such arguments to justify their acts... political terrorism can also be symbolic... alienation and dispossession... are important in other kinds of violence as well. In short, one wonders whether the expression 'religious terrorism' is more than a journalistic convenience".<
Professor Mark Juergensmeyer wrote,
"...religion is not innocent. But it does not ordinarily lead to violence. That happens only with the coalescence of a peculiar set of circumstances – political, social, and ideological – when religion becomes fused with violent expressions of social aspirations, personal pride, and movements for political change.":10
"Whether or not one uses 'terrorist' to describe violent acts depends on whether one thinks that the acts are warranted. To a large extent the use of the term depends on one's world view: if the world is perceived as peaceful, violent acts appear to be terrorism. If the world is thought to be at war, violent acts may be regarded as legitimate. They may be seen as preemptive strikes, as defensive tactics in an ongoing battles, or as symbols indicating to the world that it is indeed in a state of grave and ultimate conflict.":9
David Kupelian wrote, "Genocidal madness can't be blamed on a particular philosophy or religion.":185
Riaz Hassan wrote, "It is politics more than religious fanaticism that has led terrorists to blow themselves up."
- ^Hoffman, Bruce (Summer 1997). "The Confluence of International and Domestic Trends in Terrorism". Terrorism and Political Violence. 9 (2): 1–15. doi:10.1080/09546559708427399.
- ^ abHoffman, Bruce (1999). Inside Terrorism. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-11469-9.
- ^ abcdeJuergensmeyer, Mark (2004). Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-24011-1.
- ^ abNardin, Terry (May 2001). "Review: Terror in the Mind of God". The Journal of Politics. 63 (2): 683–84. JSTOR 2691794.
- ^Rogers, M. Brooke; et al. (Jun 2007). "The Role of Religious Fundamentalism in Terrorist Violence: A Social Psychological Analysis". Int Rev Psychiatry. 19 (3): 253–62. doi:10.1080/09540260701349399. PMID 17566903.
- ^Interview with Bruce Hoffman; "A Conversation with Bruce Hoffman and Jeffrey Goldberg" pp. 29–35 in Religion, Culture, And International Conflict: A Conversation, edited by Michael Cromartie. Rowman & Littlefield, 2005 ISBN 0-7425-4473-7
- ^Arquilla, John; Hoffman, Bruce; Jenkins, Brian Michae; Lesser, Ian O.; Ronfeldt, David; Zanini, Michele, eds. (1999). Countering the New Terrorism. Santa Monica, CA: RAND. ISBN 0-8330-2667-4.
- ^Dingley, James; Kirk-Smith, Michael (Spring 2002). "Symbolism and Sacrifice in Terrorism". Small Wars & Insurgencies. 13 (1): 102–28. doi:10.1080/714005406.
- ^Matovic, Violeta, Suicide Bombers: Who's Next, Belgrade, The National Counter Terrorism Committee, ISBN 978-8690830923
- ^Sean Farrell Moran, "Patrick Pearse and Patriotic Soteriology: The Irish Republican Tradition and the Sanctification of Political Self-Immolation," in The Irish Terrorism Experience, edited by Yonah Alexander and Alan O'Day, Aldershot, Dartmouth Press, 1991. ISBN 978-1855212107
- ^Madsen, Julian (August 2004). "Suicide Terrorism: Rationalizing the Irrational"(PDF). Strategic Insights. 3 (8).
- ^ abPape, Robert A. (2005). Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. New York City, NY: Random House. ISBN 1-4000-6317-5.
- ^Raphaeli, Nimrod (October 2003). "Financing of Terrorism: Sources, Methods and Channels". Terrorism and Political Violence. 15 (4): 59–82. doi:10.1080/09546550390449881.
- ^Firth, Raymond (January–June 1963). "Offering and Sacrifice: Problems of Organization". Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 93 (1): 12–24. doi:10.2307/2844331.
- ^Michael Sheehan Lecture: "A Foreign Policy Event Terrorism: The Current Threat", The Brookings Institution, 10 February 2000
- ^Kupelian, David (2010). How Evil Works: Understanding and Overcoming the Destructive Forces That Are Transforming America. New York City, NY: Simon & Schuster. p. 185. ISBN 1-4391-6819-9.
- ^Hassan, Riaz (2010). Life As a Weapon: The Global Rise of Suicide Bombings. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-415-58885-5.
Islam has a history of violence. Muslims can be violent. Denying this is not at all different to denying that Islam is peaceful and that all Muslims are pacifists. The dichotomy is simply false.
The Qur’an contains injunctions that call both for peace and for violence. The problem is not that they are there; the difficulty is that non-violent and militant Muslims appear equally justified. For some, the peace of God is through his sword; for others, it is found in his unbounded mercy. For example:
The servants of the All-merciful are those who walk in the earth modestly and who, when the ignorant address them, say, ‘Peace’. (Q 25:63)
Fight them, and God will chastise them at your hands and degrade them, and He will help you against them, and bring healing to the breasts of a people who believe. (Q 9:14)
Part of the problem is that there are concerns about religious content that are not dealt with openly. And there are just too many hard conclusions made about religious texts, often made by those who know less than they claim.
Looking at the three major religious traditions that believe in one God (Christianity, Islam and Judaism), all three make reference in their religious texts to both violence and peace.
So the fact that a religious text contains violent verses doesn’t make it a violent religion. But it’s also a fact that a religious text containing peaceful verses doesn’t make that religion peaceful either.
‘By their fruit you will recognise them’
Violence is not new to the history of religions, nor is it a phenomenon solely attached to the history of Islam.
Christians and Buddhists also have a track record of fanaticism, such as the bombing of abortion clinics and hardliner Buddhists in Myanmar.
Religious content may be a catalyst for violent action, but it should be remembered that its reading relies heavily on human interpretation. To put it mildly, “The world is bleeding to death through misunderstanding.”
Of course “it can never be right to kill in the name of God”, but it should also be dawning on all peoples that it is time to let go of pretensions that anyone knows the will of God.
This point directly underlines Darren Aronofky’s recent film portrayal of the biblical story of Noah. Whether you like the movie or not, it communicates an important message: the absolute silence of God.
In the film, Noah is forced to wrestle with his deepest, darkest self to understand and make decisions that will affect the lives of others. When Noah, played by Russell Crowe (and shown in the clip below), is about to kill the twin daughters born to his daughter-in-law – because he thinks it is the will of God – at length he cannot. He cannot find it in himself to perform such an act.
The film is a timely reminder that sometimes we make mistakes, and sometimes we make the right choices. And that is what is at the heart of any debate on religion, religious content and its interpretation: the choices we make.
Rather than listening to the claims and counter-claims about what “authentic” Islam really stands for, we might be better to pay more attention to how advocates of their faith choose to live their lives.
That way, it might be easier to avoid making assumptions about what the religion might mean, and instead focus more on how the faithful live.
The enemy of peace is not religion, but those who pursue acts of terror and violence against the innocent in the name of religion.