Religion has seen resurgence during the first decade of the 21st century, an institution that appeared to have no place in the modern world has become an important ingredient in identification. As national boarders are becoming more porous, ethnicity and nationality and/or nation or origin is becoming less important as a method of identification or for feelings of being part of a community or civilization. Religion has quickly replaced nationality as a method of identification, instead of being American or Arab, individuals are increasingly identifying as Christian or Muslim.
This change in how individuals in a civilization identify (in this case identification with a religion instead of as member of an ethnic group) has had some positive impacts, there have also been several negative impacts. One of those negative impacts and the reason for this research report is the increase in extremist/fundamentalist group membership and/or identification and with this identification the increase in cosmic war or cosmic worldview. The cosmic worldview is connected to the increase in membership or interest in extremist/fundamentalist organizations. These groups believe that they (the follower) have a divine right from God (whatever name God is given) to rule civilizations and that all non-members (members of other religious etc.) are demonic and/or Satanic. This type of thinking is the ultimate us versus them world view. Instead of “them” being a member of an out group them are evil and demonic or put another way, something that needs to be destroyed at all costs.
While there is an increase in religiously related terrorism this trend has been on the rise since the 1990s.
However, while the reemergence of modern religious terrorism was initially closely associated with the Islamic revolution in Tran within a decade of that event none of the world’s major religions could claim to be immune to the same volatile mixture of faith, fanaticism and violence. In 1992 the number of religious terrorist groups had increased exponentially (from 2-11 groups) and moreover had expanded to embrace major world religions other than Islam as well as various religious sects and cults
Interestingly as the number of religious terrorist groups was increasing the number of ethno-nationalist/separatist terrorist groups declined appreciably (Hoffman, 2006, p. 85)
While the Iranian Revolution of 1979 may have been a pivotal even in the rise of religiously motivated terrorism, it was not until the early 1990s that this trend began to pick up speed. Previous to this the majority of terrorism was secular or political in nature as in terrorist activity were ethno-nationalist/separatist in nature. Acts of terror were committed by groups being discriminated against in a larger society, for example Palestinian violence directed toward Israel, Arab terrorist groups were seeking an independent homeland outside the control of Israel. In 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed, civilizations that had previously been under the strict control of the Soviets were able to create their own forms of civilization. This event leads to what has been called a Clash of Civilizations, and a rise in globalization. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the increase in globalization national boarders have become more porous leaving a void in national identification. Instead of being known as Soviets, Germans, Americans, individuals within society are increasingly identifying with religion. This is why there is an increase and will continue to be an increase in the amount of religiously motivated terrorism.
To be considered an act of religious terrorism, the actions should have a religious goal or motivation. For example it can(and has) been argued that the current modern rash of Middle Eastern Religious terrorism is not in reality religious, but instead terrorist actions have a political aim, however, terrorist leaders use religious philosophy to give their political agenda an air of legitimacy. “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." However, political scientists Robert Pape and Terry Nardin, social psychologists M. Brooke Rogers and colleagues, and Mark Juergensmeyer have all argued that religion should be considered only one incidental factor, and that so-called "religious" Terrorism is primarily geopolitical.”(Religious terrorism- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, n.d.)
Religion and Terrorism
Before entering into a long drawn out explanation of the nature of religion and terrorism it is important to note that while Islam has been stereotyped as being a religion of terrorism and violence, all major world religious have extremist/fundamentalist factions and while some of these factions have not actively engaged in acts of violence or terrorism, any extremist/fundamentalist has the potential to become violent. Also, Arabs have been stereotyped as being terrorists. This is a short sighted opinion as there are homegrown American domestic terrorist groups. The majority of these groups are also connected to the white supremacist/Neo-Nazi movement. Again, it was believed that these types of groups had their heyday in the 1990s the Southern Poverty Law Center has noted that these types of groups (and their hate filled rhetoric) has been increasing since “The SPLC documented 1,002 hate groups operating in 2010 – a 7.5 percent increase from the 932 groups active a year earlier and a 66 percent rise since 2000. It is the first time the number of hate groups has topped 1,000 since the SPLC began counting them in the 1980s.”(U.S. Hate Groups Top 1,000 | Southern Poverty Law Center, 2011, February 23) The cause for this increase is beyond the scope of this research report. At this point it is important to understand that while American National Security can be threatened by international religious terror groups, National Security can also be threatened by domestic/homegrown terror groups.
According to “Bruce Hoffman of Saint Andrew’s University in Scotland is one of the world’s foremost experts on terrorism. Hoffman (1995) believes we are witnessing a resurgence and proliferation of terrorist groups motivated by religion. Laquer(1999) points out that religious terrorism is nothing new but the appearance of apocalyptic groups is dangerous in a technical age”(White, 2002, p. 51) Terrorist activity is increasing simply because it has become easier for terrorist groups to spread their message. Just as the rest of society has embraced the use of the internet, terrorist groups have also embraced use of the internet. Information, training materials, and propaganda can easily be spread via the internet to those interested in such information.
As noted previously there are basically two types of terrorists, those motivated by political gains and those motivated by religious gains.
Again citing Hoffman:
Hoffman (1995) says that terrorists motivated by religious imperatives differ from political terrorists in several ways:
• Holy terror contains a value system that stands in opposition to secular terror
• Hoffman says secular terrorists operate with the realm of a dominant political and cultural framework they want to win to beat the political system that is oppressing them. Their goal may be to destroy social structure but they want to put something in its place
• Secular terrorists would rather make allies than indiscriminately kill their enemies
• Holy terrorists are under no such constraints they see the world as a battlefield between the forces of light and darkness, winning is not described in political terms. The enemy must be totally destroyed (White, 2002, p. 51)
There are two other dangerous trends in holy terror according to Hoffman:
1. Religious terrorists are not utilitarian (someone who seeks the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people) religious terrorists seek the greatest good for themselves
2. They demonstrate demonize their enemies. They equate their enemies with the ultimate source of evil (White, 2002, p. 52)
There are differences in the way the political terrorist and the religious terrorist will view the world because the political terrorist wants to replace an existing political system with one they feel will be more suited to achieve a goal. The religious terrorist on the other hand will engage in terrorism because they feel that violence action is a divine duty. Again, this is the cosmic war or cosmic world view. The religion of the terrorist is right, the religion of everyone else is wrong; those in the out group are dangerous, evil or satanic and must be destroyed at all costs. This is also what leads religious terrorist actions to be more violent. The political terrorist has to balance levels of violence with beliefs of moderate followers, actions that are overly violent or those that kill the “wrong” type of person may turn the tide of support away from the group. Religious terrorist do not have to be as mindful of this, as all followers (even the moderate followers) will believe that the out group deserves to be destroyed.
This research report was meant to be a brief introduction to the overall concept of religious terrorism, both international and domestic. Additional case studies will be added to highlight each type of terrorist group.
Hoffman, B. (2006). Inside terrorism (Rev. and expanded ed.). New York: Columbia University Press.
Religious terrorism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved May 2, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_terrorism
U.S. Hate Groups Top 1,000 | Southern Poverty Law Center. (2011, February 23). Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved May 2, 2012, from http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/news/us-hate-groups-top-1000
White, J. R., & Clear, T. (2002). Terrorism: an introduction (3rd ed.). Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Thomson Learning.