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Religious terrorism is terrorism by those whose motivations and aims have a predominant 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 more often involved anarchism, nihilism and revolutionary politics, but since 1980 there has been an increase in activity motivated by religion.
Former United States Secretary of State Warren Christopher 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." Steven Weinberg has argued that religion is the most important factor, famously saying "for good people to do evil things, that takes religion". However, Robert Pape, Rogers et al., Nardin, and Juergensmeyer have all argued that religion should be considered only one incidental factor, and that so-called "religious" terrorism is primarily geopolitical.
According to Mark Juergensmeyer, religious terrorism consists 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. 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.
- Apocalyptic images of destruction are seen by the perpetrators as a necessity.
Criticism of the concept of "religious terrorism"
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." and "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".
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 which sometimes utilize organizations as fronts to mobilize or channel sources and funds, including charities. Charities can involve the provision of aid to those in need and oblations or charitable offerings occur in nearly all religious systems with sacrifice as a furtherance of the custom.
Martyrdom and suicide terrorism
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. 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 further 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 therefore represent "value for money".
- Interview with Bruce Hoffman; "A Conversation with Bruce Hoffman and Jeffrey Goldberg" in Template:Harvnb. For his original argument see:
- Falk Auditorium The Brookings Institution 1775 Massachusetts Ave., NW Washington, DC 20036. "A Foreign Policy Event Terrorism: The Current Threat" Thursday, February 10, 2000. http://www.brookings.edu/events/2000/0210terrorism.aspx
- Matovic, Violeta, Suicide Bombers Who's Next, Belgrade, The National Counter Terrorism Committee, ISBN 978-86-908309-2-3
- Arquilla, John; Hoffman, Bruce; Jenkins, Brian Michael et al., eds. (1999). Countering the New Terrorism. Santa Monica, CA: RAND. ISBN 0833026674.
- Cromartie, Michael (2005). Religion, Culture, And International Conflict: A Conversation. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0742544737.
- Dingley, James; Kirk-Smith, Michael (Spring 2002). "Symbolism and Sacrifice in Terrorism". Small Wars & Insurgencies 13 (1): 102–128. doi:10.1080/714005406.
- Firth, Raymond (January/June 1963). "Offering and Sacrifice: Problems of Organization". Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 93 (1): 12–24.
- 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 (inactive 2010-03-18).
- Hoffman, Bruce (1999). Inside Terrorism. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231114699.
- Juergensmeyer, Mark (2004). Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. University of California Press. ISBN 0520240111.
- Madsen, Julian (August 2004). "Suicide Terrorism: Rationalizing the Irrational". Strategic Insights 3 (8). http://www.ccc.nps.navy.mil/si/2004/aug/madsenAUG04.pdf.
- Nardin, Terry (May 2001). "Review: Terror in the Mind of God". The Journal of Politics 64 (2): 683–684.
- Pape, Robert A. (2005). Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. New York City, NY: Random House. ISBN 1400063175.
- Raphaeli, Nimrod (October 2003). "Financing of Terrorism: Sources, Methods and Channels". Terrorism and Political Violence 15 (4): 59–82. doi:10.1080/09546550390449881.
- From Bhindranwale to Bin Laden: The Rise of Religious Violence, University of California
- Sikh Terrorism in Punjab, Human Rights Watch
- It's the Occupation Stupid by Robert A. Pape, Foreign Policy magazine, October 18, 2010