Both today and in the past many terrorist groups showed evidence of a strong religious component. Some of today’s terrorist groups can no longer specifically be considered as secular terrorist groups with specific nationalist and socialist goals. While often calling for socio-economic improvement for their nation, their motivation is religious. Although their claim has political content, this is distinctly secondary motivation. For religious terrorism, the religious motive is overriding.
Indeed, the religious imperative for terrorism is the most important defining feature of terrorist activity in modern times. The result of the revolution that transformed Iran into an Islamic republic in 1979 has comprised its crucial role in the resurgence of this strand of terrorism. However, the modern arrival of religious terrorism has not been confined exclusively to Iran, much less to the Middle East or to Islam. Since the 1980s it has included elements of all the world’s major religions and, in some examples, smaller sects or cults as well. Today, words like ‘I acted alone and on orders from God’ can easily come from the mouths of the religious terrorists responsible for the wave of suicide bombings of civilian buses and public gathering-places. (Reich, 1998).
Religion has been seen as a potential weapon that can unite and mobilize people from all walks of life and it has been used properly at the same time misused throughout the history of man. History dictates that the religious movements that are extremists have been influenced by historical circumstances especially coming from certain groups that have felt threatened since religious revolutions do not occur in a vacuum. Religious extremism on the other hand develops when a part of the community violently rebuffs the influence of a challenge whether political or cultural thus creating a response that is threatening.In the Middle East al-Qaeda which is a Muslim-based terrorist organization is involved in religious-based conflicts and it has also sponsored terrorism in most parts of the world. Some of the political conflicts that arise have divided communities based on their religious beliefs. (Reich, 1998).
Religion, on the other hand, can also be a very efficient way of channeling opposition to an exterior threat like an opposing group Such opposition movements that are centered around religion have a higher chance of inheriting several values which provide a network that convenient for recruitment and network organization. Terrorist groups like al-Qaeda do justify their actions through the Islamic religion as they use religion as a very powerful tool in scaring away their opponents. Charismatic leaders can manipulate religion as they define their goals politically in terms of an important urge from God. If they succeed in convincing their followers that God is interested in a particular outcome and that they are his chosen tools, then their argument would be purely based on achieving legitimate results.
The recent events have redirected their attention to whether a relationship exists between religion and terrorism. Extreme Islamic groups such as al-Qaeda have been known to use terrorism in attacking the western world and its culture. On the other hand, a majority of individuals from the Islamic religion do not agree on the use of terrorist activities and they term them as anti-Islamic since the Quran orders the Muslims specifically not to harm those who are not fighters even during the war. (Reich, 1998).
Terrorism is motivated either in whole or in part by a religious imperative, where violence is regarded by its performers as a divine duty or sacramental act that they are performing. Religious terrorism includes markedly different means of legitimization and justification than those committed by secular terrorists. Most religious groups have been using terrorism as a way through which they can obtain their millennia ends since religion is used as a tool in power. (Lewis, 2002).
However, these distinguishing characteristics lead, in turn, to yet more horrible killing and destruction. Tragically, all the major religions have a way of justifying violence since terrorism has long been associated with religion or religious practices. Since the existence of good and evil people that are religious have been deliberating on whether using evil to fight against itself is acceptable in the name of self-defense or even justice. There could be a line of relationship and a connection between the idea of inclination towards terrorism and violence and the thought based on God.
There is evidence that many contemporary and historical groups that are involved in terrorism have very deep-rooted foundations based on religious beliefs as this is where they get their membership from. When religious groups feel that they are threatened they usually result in violence since they consider themselves as a people chosen by God. It is insignificant that the compulsion to kill others in the name of a supreme being is less common since religious sects tend to engage in terrorism in the name of religion. Religion on the other hand provides a mantle of decency for terrorist activities. It is so astounding that al-Qaeda as a terrorist group claims that its motivation is based on religion and similarly the same motivation involves the belief that they have the mandate and the right to involve themselves in terrorism as an endless sacred duty. (Laqueur, 1999).
Most religious terrorists are devout believers in their mainstream religion and they are firm believers that there is no military objective in religious terrorism and therefore a jihad will always be endless as it has a spiritual objective. Nobody ever knows when the earthly situation matches the situation in heaven and for this reason, it is impossible to predict when and how to please God enough, and hence no one cares about how many individuals are killed in the name of spiritual warfare.
For this reason, most experts on religious terrorism say that this could be the most dangerous type of war in the world but certainly, it’s the most volatile and it involves a lot of dedication from its followers. Most religious terrorists do not belong to a cult but instead are firm believers of their mainstream religions. The religious terrorists on the other hand don’t consider themselves in any way as terrorists claiming that they do not enjoy involving themselves in violent acts just for the sake of it, but they regard themselves as militants or religious activists. (Laqueur, 1999).
The religious terrorists seem to always be spiritually prepared to engage in violence as they already have long passed the endpoint and they cannot have any doubt or second thoughts at all. Terrorism based on religious grounds is not easily countered by using the same factors which counter the other forms of terrorism and nether neither diplomatic nor military solutions seem to work. Negotiations and ceasefires also don’t work and just as Hoffman argued that even those groups that have secular wings will act without being constrained since they know that they are praying to God and nobody else.
Most of the time religious terrorists want to lose and not win in their battles since their failure adheres to the fact that there is a notion of martyrdom in being a loser. This particular type of ideology in being a loser is known as fatalistic suicide and it is the most prevalent. It comes with great fear from most analysts as they argue that in case the weapons of mass destruction lands into the hands of the religious terrorists they don’t fear the destruction that they can cause on everybody else including them in the process. (Laqueur, 1999).
Alqaeda is associated with a binding communal Islamic principle known as the defensive jihad and their dominant motivation principle is not the aspect of religion but rather the political stand. However, their motivation religiously is overriding and certainly, the religious importance for terrorism is the most crucial defining aspect of the terrorist characteristics in their activities in the current era. Many people wonder why religion is often linked to terrorism and it is on the other hand supposed to enhance peace and good deeds to fellow men. (Gunaratna, 2002).
Over the past few decades, several people with their origin in the Arab world and claiming to be Muslims have been involved in terrorist acts in most parts of the world and such events including the Middle East conflicts have made them be labeled as Muslim terrorists thus creating several myths. One of these myths is that the Islamic religion condones terrorism as the second myth discloses that the Muslims are typically Arabs. Controversially Islam firmly prohibits any form of terrorism and its acts thereof under any circumstances. (Poole, 2004).
It also clearly states that terrorist activities go against every Islamic principle and prohibits its devout followers from attacking innocent civilians. It further cautions individuals who use the name of Islam for their financial and political advantages like al-Qaeda to be on the lookout since the Islamic religion does not advocate for terrorism. The Muslims that were fighting against terrorism requested the media to avoid using such phrases as the Muslim terrorists, or the Islamic fundamentalists regarding any attacks on terror since they claimed that such things were not in existence. They further clarified that Islam was a religion that supported love, peace, and mutual respect for all and that it was a religion that required a lot of self-control in encouraging dignity and human value. (Durkheim, 1995).
Religious analysts concluded that the September 11th terrorist attackers could be referred to as the al-Qaeda terrorists as their activities had been proven according to the British, US, and officials from Pakistan When a Christian based movement named Ku Klux Klan received credit for the terrorist attack in the 1960s they were however not identified as Christian fundamentalists by religion. The media did not label them as Christians even though they regarded themselves as a movement based on Christian principles since their terrorism acts were a violation of the Christian movement. The same kind of respect is also owed to the Muslim religion as a whole. Terrorism has however become a very popular tactic that is mainly used by religiously motivated groups.This further suggests that such organized groups are usually successful in using terrorism while still having a strong on their support popularly. The success of such movements could be as a result of devoting oneself to definite creeds in a particular religion and also collective devotion that is demonstrated by participating in rituals collectively. (Ohnuki, 2002).
A survey that was carried out recently, indicated that there was no relationship between an individual’s devotion and religious beliefs and terrorism. Alternatively, it is the religious rituals that are collective that highly encourage devotion that is self-sacrificial other than those that are collective since they highly support terrorism that is carried out by religiously motivated organizations. Terrorism is a phenomenon that is gaining so much fame as much of its said growth seems to have had its roots from the increased usage by religiously motivated organizations. (Calvert, 2004).
There is a growing affiliation between religion and terrorism and this could be as a result that religion plays a significant role as it encourages support for the groups that use the tactic. In Islam, there is evidence that demonstrates the relationships between beliefs and support for terrorism amongst those in Muslim societies. In conclusion, terrorism that is religiously motivated is carried out by exclusive Muslim organizations since there is a possibility that a casual relationship exists between the two.
Calvert, J. (2004): The mythic foundations of radical Islam, Orbis, 29-41.
Durkheim, E. (1995): The elementary forms of religious life. New York, The Free Press, pgs 56-78.
Gunaratna, R. (2002): Inside Al-Qaeda. New York, Columbia University Press Pgs 58-88.
Laqueur, W. (1999): The New Terrorism: Fanaticism and the Arms of Mass Destruction. New York, Oxford University Press, pgs 566-670.
Lewis, B. (2002): What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response. New York, Oxford University Press, pg 34-67.
Ohnuki, E. (2002): Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Poole, J. (2004): Tactics of the Crescent Moon, Militant Muslim Combat Methods, Emerald Isle. NC. Posterity, pgs 45-67.
Reich, W (1998): Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind, Washington D.C, Woodrow Wilson Centre Press, pgs 88-98.