Introduction to Religious Terrorism

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Introduction to Religious Terrorism

Religious terrorism involves violence that is committed with the stated aim of fulfilling a divinely commanded purpose or that is argued to be sanctioned or demanded by religious belief. It is usually the product of fundamentalist fanaticism.

Religious terrorists often attempt to justify their actions by citing holy texts or receiving a command or blessing from a religious leader. Acts of religious terrorism are often carried out by those who accept that their death is a divinely mandated sacrifice or offering to a higher power or god. For example, suicide bombers are often recruited with assurances that their acts earn them martyrdom, a memorial reverence among the living, and an elite place in the afterlife. Religious terrorism can also involve non-traditional acts in the sense that they are not always affiliated with established religions. Indeed, religious terrorism is sometimes the product of groups or individuals who interpret the world through self-constructed systems of thought, such as millennial or doomsday extremist groups.

Most of the religious terrorist groups discussed in this chapter are Islamist (Muslim fundamentalist). Terrorism is perpetrated in the name of all of the world's great religions. At different times in history, every major religion has suffered cycles of violent discord that has resulted in terrorist acts. However, as the U.S. State Department has noted, since 1980 a majority of international terrorist networks assert Islamist ideals. Accordingly, the current historical cycle of religious terrorism focuses upon a complex web of global Islamist terror networks.

The Islamist groups featured here primarily operate in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, and several other nations. Some are fundamentalist Shia Moslems, some are fundamentalist Sunni Moslems, and many uphold a different vision of the composition of the ideal Islamist state. In places such as Iraq, factions of various Islamist groups are engaged in armed conflict and terror campaigns against each other.

Terrorism committed by the Islamist Taliban government against the citizens of Afghanistan is also discussed in this chapter. The Taliban's terror campaign and sponsorship of al-Qaeda, the Islamist group responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, is more accurately described as state-sponsored terrorism. However, the editors have chosen to include the Taliban in this chapter because their terror campaign was instrumental in drawing international attention to the threat posed by a global surge in religious extremism. Other instances of terrorism perpetrated by state governments are discussed in the chapter on state-sponsored terrorism. Al-Qaeda is featured in the chapter on global terrorism.

Jewish, Christian, and other sectarian extremism acts are also presented. The assassination of Israeli leader Yitzak Rabin is included because his murder at the hands of Jewish extremists was intended to halt the Middle East peace process by instilling fear in those supporting diplomatic solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although also treated as an act of political terrorism the professed motivations of Timothy McVeigh (master-mind of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing), were colored by Christian extremism. The Tokyo subway attacks by the Aum Shinri-kyu (Supreme Truth) cult, which became increasingly violent in the mid–1990s, demonstrate that religious terrorism is not the exclusive purview of the world's major, long-established religions.

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Introduction to Religious Terrorism

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Introduction to Religious Terrorism