What Is The Connection Between Religion And Terrorism Politics Essay

23 Mar 2015

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With the re emergence of religious motivations for terrorism over the last twenty odd years it would seem logical to accept some connection between religion and terrorism. This connection is a complex one. It focuses on the function that religion plays in legitimising violence. In this essay I will develop the current connection between religion and terrorism. To do this I will need to state some foundation of an agreed definition for religious terrorism and discuss topical issues such as the increased frequency of religiously motivated attacks, yet bearing in mind the distinction between religious terrorism and political terrorism if any. I will also address the significance of religion as a primary and secondary motive while identifying the nature of state sponsored religious terrorism using relevant examples. To be clear, I understand the main questions 'connection' to be the function that religion plays in legitimising a specific violent act.

"Religious terrorism is a type of political violence that is motivated by an absolute belief that an otherworldly power has sanctioned - and commanded - the application of terrorist violence for the greater glory of the faith." [1] This definition of religious terrorism from Gus Martin captures his further thought that "one's religious faith legitimizes violence so long as such violence is an expression of the will of one's deity" [2] In this modern world we have seen religion become a principal source of political violence however by no means is it alone as "nationalism and ideology remain as potent catalysts for extremist behaviour" [3] For the first time though religious extremism is dominating the international community, and in this modern era we have seen an accelerated pace of religious terrorism in the rate of recurrence, magnitude and the widespread range encouraged by globalisation.

Regarding primary and secondary motives, it is understood that religion can be applied

in different ways; it depends on the specifics of the political and cultural environment

significant for that terrorist activity. "In some environments, religion is the primary

motive for terrorist behaviour. In other contexts, it is a secondary motive that is part of

an overarching cultural identity for politically violent movements." [4] So religion as a

primary motive would be at the heart of any extremist group's political and revolutionary agenda. Religion is the catalyst behind extreme fundamentalists. These fundamentalists can be seen all over the globe, significantly from the Middle East with jihad Islamic fundamentalists and even in the United States with violent Christian anti-abortionists. I will briefly look at two small case studies that will clearly show the difference between religion as a primary and secondary motive.

State terrorism is understandably the most organised with the potential scope to apply further violence. It is considered the most organised because of the ample resources available to governments which do not exist for those sub state dissident groups. For example, if a political movement emerged and caused problems for your government's enemy or a potential enemy, then the likely outcome would be for your government to support and assist that specific political movement. If this dissident group resorts to terrorist attacks on your enemy then it would seem logical from your government's point of view to fund operations and supply weapons. "Governments might also train members of dissident groups in the use of weapons and provide expert training for the construction and detonation of bombs. State aid to dissident groups could also include use of diplomatic pouches for communications or arms or the provision of false passports, or even diplomatic passports." [5] It is understood that such support would be of moderately low-cost to a government's foreign policy budget and if and when the circumstances change, support can be withdrawn with little shortcomings. Thus resulting in a nation's unequalled leverage to capitalise through acts of sponsored terror, making the connection between religion and politics ever closer. However it is noteworthy to appreciate that these dissident groups existed before they received external support and will continue to survive after support stops. "Any dissident political group capable of undertaking an extended political campaign of terror must be grounded in its own society" [6] 

Traditional government sponsorship is no longer limited to ideological or ethno- national movements it also includes sponsorship of religious revolutionary movements. This modern religious terrorism surfaced around 1980's whilst other decades had seen movements of secular motivation of ethno- nationalists. A significant point in history would be the overthrow of the monarchy of Shah Muhammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979. The Revolution created a Theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran. We know that through the 1980's Iran sponsored terrorist movement in many countries, with the aim of establishing the same Islamic regime that was in place in Iran. Its own revolution provided testimony to what could be accomplished. It also demonstrated to the world "what an enormously powerful motivating force religion can be, and again it was at a time of the decline of ideologies." [7] 

A decent example of Iranian support can be seen in its ties with Hezbollah, an Islamic political organisation currently in power in Lebanon. "Hezbollah(Party of God) is a Shi'a movement in Lebanon that arose to champion the country's Shi'a population. The organization emerged during the Lebanese civil war and Israel's 1982 invasion as a strongly symbolic champion for Lebanese independence and justice for the Shi'a population." [8] It is a significant connection between religion and terrorism because of Hezbollah's actions stemming from extreme religious motives fused with the tense political environment in which it operates. Lebanon's Shi'a population which makes up approximately half of the Muslims in Lebanon were significantly less politically influenced and historically inferior to the authority of Sunnis, Druze and Maronite Christians. Throughout the last two decades Hezbollah who have previously operated under such names as Islamic Jihad or Revolutionary Justice Organisation have been accountable for numerous acts of political and it could also be argued religious violence. These acts consist of suicide bombings, kidnappings and frequent attacks in South Lebanon towards Israeli interests. Hezbollah proves to be a successful case study because of its involvement in international terrorism combined with being a proxy for state sponsored terrorism. Its members specialise from religious dissident terrorism and have applied "asymmetrical methods such as high profile kidnappings and suicide bombings" [9] Hezbollah is an established competent terrorist force with a diverse social organisation in place to compliment its religious movement. It has provided schools and hospitals for its followers as well as other business interests. These efforts are secondary motives and to some extent fund their initial terrorist movement which is ignited by religion, its primary motive. However you could argue that Hezbollah's primary motive is to free Palestine and to achieve this goal they are using religion as a tool of communication and attraction.

Hamas are another Islamic resistance movement which control both the organisation of its own social services combined with its armed conflict that promotes jihad. Because of its vital social service factor it qualified for Iran's Fund for the Martyrs which reportedly has paid out millions of dollars to Hamas. Iran has provided immense support and given direction towards the Hamas movement. It has trained Hamas associates in Iran and other Hezbollah training camps with a view to returning to the Gaza strip fully equipped with logistical support and military instruction. This is a clear example of state sponsorship of external aid. What is significant is that this sponsorship maybe valuable and key to its current success but it is not essential. More importantly foreign governments providing support do not control these groups. They have their own political agenda however with movements in similar regions "They might consult with their foreign allies and even take their interests into account, but they do not take orders from them." [10] The two previous examples of Hezbollah and Hamas make a compelling case for a connection between religion and terrorism. It is important to understand that a religious terrorist who may have been devout in practicing his or hers religion is insubstantial because "The key is whether they are using liturgy or religious texts to justify or explain the violence or attract recruits and whether there is some sort of clerical figures involved in some leadership roles." [11] 

Before this modern era of religious terrorism, there were however terrorist activity which in some part was justified on religious background. The troubles in Northern Ireland, led to a Catholic-Protestant split. The Irish Republican Army for example was fighting for freedom and a united Ireland. However unlike the south which holds a majority of Catholic's, the issue in the North is that the Protestants are a minority on the island as a whole but the Catholics are the minority in the Northern Province. So there is a struggle for each to try to uphold the majority status. A significant difference from Islamic extremism and the Catholic vs. Protestant struggle in Northern Ireland would be that they never considered themselves as terrorists but as paramilitaries. They do not address each other as religious groups but rather nationalists or unionists. They consciously do not make a religious connection and religion would be considered a secondary motive of the IRA. "Even if they go to church, they do not use liturgy or the Bible to justify their violence, they are not involving clerics in its justification or legitimization. I think it is very different from the contemporary religious terrorism we see today." [12] Unlike the IRA who had success against the British with non lethal terrorism "Bin Laden has made a distinction between good and bad Muslims. With secular groups, you still have some hesitation in inflicting casualties amongst members of their own ethnic group. We now see a twisted use of logic and justification of religion, saying there are good or bad Muslims, the bad ones are therefore fair game." [13] 

Bruce Hoffman considers the connection between religion and contemporary terrorism vital as a means of communication. He uses the example of Osama Bin Laden and the fact that he has issued two fatwa's despite not having any theoretical credentials. Nevertheless he knows that people will listen to them. This is an effective way for him to enhance Al Qaeda's message in order to attract new support. Bin Laden is not alone, there are many "clerical figures in Islam, in Judaism, in white supremacist Christian Churches in the United States, using liturgy to justify violence, including Bin Laden citing the Quran again, a perverse interpretation of it." [14] Hoffman interprets the world more and more so as an increasingly void of ideology which he believes is being replaced by religion. "The struggle against Bin Laden is one of secular humanism against a very reactionary, retrograde interpretation of religion, of religious tradition." [15] Bin Laden fuses the values of ideology with religion. "He has tied it up on one anti-US and anti-Western view that holds that the U.S. and the West are hegemonic powers. His message is not necessarily religious, but he is using religion to communicate it." [16] The connection between religion and terrorism is growing. This conclusion can be made because we have observed terrorist groups broadening their constituency through the role of religion. Al Qaeda for example is a totally different network because it has no 'top down' structure, it holds no specific territory, and it has no state sponsorship declared. Reports suggest an estimated range of 35,000-50,000 operatives with potentially 5,000 of these recruits going through the training camps in Sudan or Afghanistan. It is also estimated that Al Qaeda has presence in 50-60 countries. [17] For instance Pakistani groups are branching out to like minded Muslims in Indonesia "Using religion, they are trying deliberately to spread their revolution beyond their borders in order to create something in which the sum is greater that the parts." [18] Advantages of affiliating with a major religion outweigh the benefits of affiliating with an ethnic group. Traditionally there is very little support for ethnic groups outside of its region whereas affiliating with the Muslim faith for example creates a much wider constituency pool to attract support. In addition to that, mosques have the potential to become key communication vehicles. Well the ingredient of a large number of people meeting at a certain times offers a potential slot for those to twist existing Muslim faith into extremist beliefs

"This is why religion is so attractive for demagogues and for people seeking to use religion to further their causes: because you've got an easy way to communicate with a ready-made audience, and if you can tailor your message in exactly the right way, then you can communicate very effectively with this audience, and that's really the cart driving the horse. It is not so much religion that is driving the terrorism, but people manipulating and exploiting religion in this world devoid of another system of strong beliefs and using it for wrong purposes." [19] 

One worrying thought is that religious violence is more unconstrained than secular violence and potentially more irrational. This could be the result of religion being inherently violent as history has shown us or at least more so than secular ideologies. We have seen the devastation but "The trouble with September 11th was that it raised the bar, the way the criteria for judging terrorism all of the sudden went from a record of 440 victims to seven times as many. It almost created two different categories of terrorists." [20] Acts such as these have only inspired other terrorist organisations as well as providing a wake up call to the USA, that they are not untouchable.

To concluded, the terrorist scene is always evolving and it is not that surprising how religion has become the clear motivation for terrorism since the end of the Cold War. Failing Ideology from the Soviet Union plus the failing establishment of liberal democracies to materialise across the globe have allowed religion once again to be used as a tool to get a means. It becomes clear that beliefs do not dictate a terrorist group's agenda's. However extreme fundamentalism occurs when groups who consciously manipulate beliefs in order to suit their agenda. So to sum up the significant connection between religion and terrorism would be the role of religion for extremist groups which legitimises specific violent actions in order to reach a goal. So in essence its not so much religion being a direct problem, it's when it's in the wrong hands combined with large populations living in repressive societies who would support religious violence to obviously better themselves and their family.



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