Religious terrorism

Religious terrorism is terrorism carried out based on motivations and goals that may have a predominantly 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 has more often been based on anarchism, and revolutionary politics. Since 1980, however, there has been an increase in terrorist activity motivated by religion.[1]:2[2]:185–99

Former United States Secretary of State Warren Christopher has 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."[3]:6 However, the political scientists Robert Pape and Terry Nardin,[4] the social psychologists M. Brooke Rogers and colleagues,[5] and the sociologist and religious studies scholar Mark Juergensmeyer have all argued that religion should only be considered one incidental factor and that such terrorism is primarily geopolitical.


According to Juergensmeyer, religion and violence have had a symbiotic relationship since before the Crusades and even since before the Bible.[3] He defines religious terrorism as consisting 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.[3]:4–10 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.[6]
  • Clerical figures must be involved in leadership roles.[2]:90
  • Perpetrators use apocalyptic images of destruction to justify the acts.[7]:19–20

Martyrdom and suicide terrorism

Important symbolic acts such as the blood sacrifice link acts of violence to religion and terrorism.[8] Suicide terrorism, self-sacrifice, or martyrdom has throughout history been organized and perpetrated by groups with both political and religious motivations.[9] The Christian tradition has a long history of heterodoxical and heretical groups which stressed self-immolative acts and scholarship has to some degree linked this to modern political groups such as the Irish Republican Army.[10] 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 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 represent "value for money".[11] Robert Pape, a political scientist who specializes in suicide terrorism, has made a case for secular motivations and reasons as being the foundations of most suicide attacks, which are often labelled as "religious".[12]


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; these sometimes use organizations, including charities, as fronts to mobilize or channel sources and funds.[13] Charities can involve the provision of aid to those in need, and oblations or charitable offerings are fundamental to nearly all religious systems, with sacrifice as a furtherance of the custom.[14]

Criticism of the concept

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.[12]

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."[15]

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".[4]<

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."[3]:10


"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."[3]:9

David Kupelian wrote, "Genocidal madness can't be blamed on a particular philosophy or religion."[16]:185

Riaz Hassan wrote, "It is politics more than religious fanaticism that has led terrorists to blow themselves up."[17]

On July 2, 2013 in Lahore, 50 Muslim scholars of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) issued a collective fatwa against suicide bombings, the killing of innocent people, bomb attacks, and targeted killings declaring them as Haraam or forbidden.[18]

See also


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ a b Hoffman, Bruce (1999). Inside Terrorism. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-11469-9.
  3. ^ a b c d e Juergensmeyer, Mark (2004). Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-24011-1.
  4. ^ a b Nardin, Terry (May 2001). "Review: Terror in the Mind of God". The Journal of Politics. 63 (2): 683–84. JSTOR 2691794.
  5. ^ Rogers, M. Brooke; et al. (Jun 2007). "The Role of Religious Fundamentalism in Terrorist Violence: A Social Psychological Analysis". Int Rev Psychiatry. 19 (3): 253–62. doi:10.1080/09540260701349399. PMID 17566903.
  6. ^ Interview with Bruce Hoffman; "A Conversation with Bruce Hoffman and Jeffrey Goldberg" pp. 29–35 in Religion, Culture, And International Conflict: A Conversation, edited by Michael Cromartie. Rowman & Littlefield, 2005 ISBN 0-7425-4473-7
  7. ^ Arquilla, John; Hoffman, Bruce; Jenkins, Brian Michae; Lesser, Ian O.; Ronfeldt, David; Zanini, Michele, eds. (1999). Countering the New Terrorism. Santa Monica, CA: RAND. ISBN 0-8330-2667-4.
  8. ^ Dingley, James; Kirk-Smith, Michael (Spring 2002). "Symbolism and Sacrifice in Terrorism". Small Wars & Insurgencies. 13 (1): 102–28. doi:10.1080/714005406.
  9. ^ Matovic, Violeta, Suicide Bombers: Who's Next, Belgrade, The National Counter Terrorism Committee, ISBN 978-8690830923
  10. ^ Sean Farrell Moran, "Patrick Pearse and Patriotic Soteriology: The Irish Republican Tradition and the Sanctification of Political Self-Immolation," in The Irish Terrorism Experience, edited by Yonah Alexander and Alan O'Day, Aldershot, Dartmouth Press, 1991. ISBN 978-1855212107
  11. ^ Madsen, Julian (August 2004). "Suicide Terrorism: Rationalizing the Irrational" (PDF). Strategic Insights. 3 (8). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-05-11.
  12. ^ a b Pape, Robert A. (2005). Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. New York City, NY: Random House. ISBN 1-4000-6317-5.
  13. ^ Raphaeli, Nimrod (October 2003). "Financing of Terrorism: Sources, Methods and Channels". Terrorism and Political Violence. 15 (4): 59–82. doi:10.1080/09546550390449881.
  14. ^ Firth, Raymond (January–June 1963). "Offering and Sacrifice: Problems of Organization". Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 93 (1): 12–24. doi:10.2307/2844331.
  15. ^ Michael Sheehan Lecture: "A Foreign Policy Event Terrorism: The Current Threat" Archived 2007-11-02 at the Wayback Machine, The Brookings Institution, 10 February 2000
  16. ^ Kupelian, David (2010). How Evil Works: Understanding and Overcoming the Destructive Forces That Are Transforming America. New York City, NY: Simon & Schuster. p. 185. ISBN 1-4391-6819-9.
  17. ^ Hassan, Riaz (2010). Life As a Weapon: The Global Rise of Suicide Bombings. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-415-58885-5.
  18. ^ "Fatwa issued against suicide bombings, targeted killings and terrorism". Lahore. 2 July 2013.

External links

2005 Shiloh shooting

Asher Weisgan (1966 – December 22, 2006) was an Israeli bus driver who shot and murdered four Palestinians and injured two others in the Israeli settlement of Shiloh in the West Bank on 17 August 2005. Weisgan wanted to disrupt the Israeli Government's unilateral disengagement plan in Gaza by sparking a Palestinian reaction. On 27 September 2006, Weisgan was sentenced by the Israeli court to four consecutive terms of life in prison, for each person he killed, and an additional twelve years in jail. Later that year, he committed suicide by hanging himself in prison.

Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin took place on 4 November 1995 (12 Marcheshvan 5756 on the Hebrew calendar) at 21:30, at the end of a rally in support of the Oslo Accords at the Kings of Israel Square in Tel Aviv. The assassin, an Israeli ultranationalist named Yigal Amir, radically opposed Rabin's peace initiative and particularly the signing of the Oslo Accords.

Baruch Goldstein

Baruch Kopel Goldstein (Hebrew: ברוך קופל גולדשטיין; December 9, 1956 – February 25, 1994) was an American-Israeli physician, religious extremist, and mass murderer who perpetrated the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in Hebron, killing 29 Palestinian Muslim worshippers and wounding another 125. He was beaten to death by survivors of the massacre.

The Israeli government condemned the massacre, and responded by arresting followers of Meir Kahane, criminalizing the Kach movement and affiliated movements as terrorist, forbidding certain Israeli settlers from entering Palestinian towns, and demanding that those settlers turn in their army-issued rifles, although rejecting a PLO demand that all settlers in the West Bank be disarmed and that an international force be created to protect Palestinians. Jewish Israelis were barred from entering major Arab communities in Hebron. The Israeli government also took extreme measures against Palestinians following the deadly riots after the massacre, expelling them from certain streets near Jewish settlements in Hebron, such as Al-Shuhada Street, where many Palestinians had homes and businesses, and allowing access exclusively to Jewish Israelis and foreign tourists.Goldstein's gravesite became a pilgrimage site for Jewish extremists. The following words are inscribed on the tomb: "He gave his life for the people of Israel, its Torah and land." In 1999, after the passing of Israeli legislation outlawing monuments to terrorists, the Israeli Army dismantled the shrine that had been built to Goldstein at the site of his interment. The tombstone and its epitaph, calling Goldstein a martyr with clean hands and a pure heart, was left untouched. After the flagstones around it were pried away under the eye of a military chaplain, the ground was covered with gravel.

Brit HaKanaim

Brit HaKanaim (Hebrew: בְּרִית הַקַנַאִים‎, lit. Covenant of the Zealots) was a radical Jewish underground organisation which operated in Israel between 1950 and 1953, against the widespread trend of secularisation in the country. The group was made up of students at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem and had more than 35 members at its peak. Among its members were Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who later served as the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, and Shlomo Lorincz who later served as chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee as a member of Agudat Yisrael. The ultimate goal of the movement was to impose Jewish law in the State of Israel and establish a Halakhic state.

Cave of the Patriarchs massacre

The Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, also known as the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre or Hebron massacre, was a shooting massacre carried out by American-Israeli Baruch Goldstein. Goldstein was a member of the far-right Israeli Kach movement. On February 25, 1994, during the overlapping religious holidays of both Jewish Purim and Muslim Ramadan, Goldstein opened fire on a large number of Palestinian Muslims who had gathered to pray inside the Ibrahimi Mosque at the Cave of the Patriarchs compound in Hebron, West Bank. The attack left 29 people dead, several as young as twelve, and 125 wounded. Goldstein was overpowered, disarmed and then beaten to death by survivors.

The massacre immediately set off mass Palestinian protests throughout the West Bank, and during the ensuing clashes a further 20 to 26 Palestinians were killed, and 120 injured in confrontations with the IDF, while 9 Jews were killed.Goldstein was widely denounced in Israel and by communities in the Jewish diaspora, with many attributing his act to insanity. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin condemned the attack, describing Goldstein as a "degenerate murderer", "a shame on Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism". Some Jewish settlers in Hebron lauded him as a hero and viewed his attack as a preemptive strike and his subsequent death as an act of martyrdom. Following statements in support of Goldstein's actions, the Kach movement was banned by the Israeli cabinet.

Christian terrorism

Christian terrorism comprises terrorist acts by groups or individuals who profess Christian motivations or goals. Christian terrorists justify their violent tactics through their interpretation of the Bible, in accordance with their own objectives and world view. These interpretations are typically different from those of established Christian denominations.These terrorist acts can be committed against other Christian denominations, other religions, or a secular government group, individuals or society. Christianity can also be used cynically by terrorists as a rhetorical device to achieve political or military goals.Christian terrorist groups include paramilitary organizations, cults and loose collections of people that might come together to attempt to terrorize another group. Some groups also encourage terrorist acts by unaffiliated individuals. The paramilitary groups are typically tied to ethnic and political goals as well as religious ones and many of the other groups have religious beliefs at odds with conventional Christianity.

Earl Krugel

Earl Leslie Krugel (November 24, 1942 – November 4, 2005) was the West Coast coordinator of the Jewish Defense League. In 2005, he was sentenced to prison on charges of terrorism after he confessed plotting, with the group's leader Irv Rubin, to blow up the office of Arab-American congressman Darrell Issa and the King Fahd mosque in Culver City, California. He was kept in protective custody for three years for the 2001 bomb plot. He was transferred to a medium security federal prison following his sentencing where he was then murdered three days later by a fellow inmate, who struck him in the head with a block of concrete.

Jewish Underground

The Jewish Underground (Hebrew: המחתרת היהודית‎ HaMakhteret HaYehudit), or in abbreviated form, simply makhteret, was a radical right-wing organization considered terrorist by Israel, formed by prominent members of the Israeli political movement Gush Emunim that existed from 1979 to 1984. Two issues catalyzed the establishment of the underground: One was the signing of the Camp David Accords, which led to the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty in 1979, and which the movement, opposed to the peace process, wished to block, viewing it as the first step in the establishment of a Palestinian state in what Jewish settlers call "Judea and Samaria". A second element was the settlement project, which, in bringing two distinct ethnic communities into closer proximity, led to an uptick in hostilities that brought about a growing emphasis on the existential threat in both communities. The Jewish underground developed two operational objectives: One consisted of a plot to blow up the Dome of the Rock, while the other branch concentrated on both avenging acts of Palestinian violence against settlers and of establishing a punitive deterrence. Some understood the terrorist acts as a means of inducing Palestinians to flee their homeland, and parallels are made with it to the Terror Against Terror movement, which had a similar aim. Robert Friedman stated that the Makhteret was "the most violent anti-Arab terrorist organization since the birth of Israel".Members of the Jewish Underground were eventually rounded up and brought to trial on charges that included violating the 1948 Prevention of Terrorism Decree. The charge of membership of a terrorist organization was dropped against 10 out of the 27 in a plea bargain. Most served short terms, and the ringleaders were pardoned and released in 1990.

Jewish religious terrorism

Jewish religious terrorism is religious terrorism committed by extremists within Judaism motivated by religious rather than ethnic or nationalistic beliefs.

Moshe Zar

Moshe Zar (born 1938) is a religious Zionist, a former member of the terrorist organization "Jewish Underground", and Israeli settler leader in the northern West Bank. He has been buying land from individual Palestinians since 1979.

Zar is a long-time friend of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from their service in Unit 101. He was wounded in the 1956 Sinai Campaign, and lost his left eye as a result of his injuries. In 1983, he was attacked and stabbed by a group of Palestinians, but survived.In 1984, he was convicted of membership in the terrorist organization the "Jewish Underground" of the early 1980s, and sentenced to three years in prison for his part in the assassination of Palestinian mayors, but only spent a few months in jail. His wife Yael is quoted by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz as having said at the time: "The underground is not a stage in the life of the Zar family, but a stage in the life of the nation."After one of his eight children, his son Gilad, a security officer of the Shomron Regional Council, was killed in an ambush on May 29, 2001, he vowed that he would establish six settlements in his son's memory, one for each Hebrew letter of his name. The settlement outpost Ramat Gilad was established in 2001, the outpost Havat Gilad was established in 2002 and has been dismantled by the Israeli military forces several times, leading to violent clashes between settlers and security forces.

Saffron terror

Saffron terror is a neologism used to describe acts of violence motivated by Hindu nationalism, usually perpetrated by members, or alleged members, of Hindu nationalist organisations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or Abhinav Bharat. The term comes from the symbolic use of the saffron colour by many Hindu nationalist organisations.

Sicarii (1989)

Sicarii (Daggermen) was a Jewish extremist group active in Israel that took responsibility for a series of terrorist attacks between 1989 and 1990 on Palestinians and Jewish political and media figures considered sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians. They named themselves after the ancient Sicarii rebels, a group of Jewish zealots who opposed Roman occupation of Judea.It is unknown whether the Sicarii were an organized group or a loose alliance of isolated extremists.In March 1989, The Jerusalem Post described the Sicarii as "the most sought-after under group in Israel today". In one telephone call, a member claimed they "identified" with the Kach political party of Rabbi Meir Kahane, which was outlawed as racist in 1988. Investigation failed to identify the members of the group or to identify the culprits in the attacks that the group claimed responsibility for.

Special-interest terrorism

Special-interest terrorism and single-issue terrorism are forms of terrorism that, unlike other forms such as right-wing, left-wing and religious terrorism, tend to focus on a few or only one specific issue rather than on more widespread political, religious or other social change.Those pursuing special-interest terrorism conduct acts of violence in the belief that these will compel a society to change its attitudes toward, treatment of and/or priority given to their cause in their favour. They tend to occupy the extremist fringes of movements that address issues such as the environment, abortion and nuclear technology. Within these, it is some of the more extreme environmental and anti-abortion groups that have turned most toward vandalism and terrorist activities.One well-known form of special-issue terrorism is environmental or eco-terrorism, which in the 1980s was the only type of special-interest terrorism included in FBI statistics. Another form of special-issue terrorism is anti-abortion violence.

Terror Against Terror

Terror Against Terror (Hebrew: Terror Neged Terror, "TNT") was a radical Jewish militant organization that sponsored several attacks against Palestinian targets. The group was founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane's Kach organization, and took its name from Kahane's theory that Arab terrorism should be met with Jewish terrorism. The group began committing violent acts against Arabs in 1975.

On March 3, 1984 a shooting attack against a bus of Arab workers left six injured; a group calling itself "the Shelomo Ben-Yosef Brigade of TNT" claimed responsibility. Three days later police arrested seven suspects in relation to the shooting and a recent string of fires and bombings directed against local Christians and Muslims. Charges were eventually filed against four of the men; Meir Leibowitz, Hazan Levy, Yehuda Richter and Mike Guzovsky, all members of the Kach party.On March 27, 1984, Israeli police arrested four youths from the Ein Kerem neighborhood in West Jerusalem for 14 hand-grenade attacks against Christian and Muslim holy sites. The attacks took place over a series of months in Jerusalem and Palestinian Territories and been claimed by "Terror Against Terror". Three of the suspects, Uri Ben-Ayun, David Deri and his cousin Amram Deri, were convicted and given six-year sentences with a three-year suspended sentence.

General Yehoshafat Harkabi described them as :serious people who occupy high positions among their public . .they have a rational state of mind and their chief motivation stems apparently from the awareness that annexation of the West Bank together with its Arab population would be disastrous and tantamount to national suicide - unless that population were thinned out and made to flee by terrorism. This reasoning is not moral, but it stems from the rational conclusion of the policy that aims at annexation. Such terrorism is neither a 'punishment' nor a deterrent; it is a political instrument.


Terrorism is, in the broadest sense, the use of intentionally indiscriminate violence as a means to create terror among masses of people; or fear to achieve a religious or political aim. It is used in this regard primarily to refer to violence during peacetime or in war against non-combatants (mostly civilians and neutral military personnel). The terms "terrorist" and "terrorism" originated during the French Revolution of the late 18th century but gained mainstream popularity in the 1970s in news reports and books covering the conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Basque Country and Palestine. The increased use of suicide attacks from the 1980s onwards was typified by the September 11 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. in 2001.

There are different definitions of terrorism. Terrorism is a charged term. It is often used with the connotation of something that is "morally wrong". Governments and non-state groups use the term to abuse or denounce opposing groups. Varied political organizations have been accused of using terrorism to achieve their objectives. These organizations include right-wing and left-wing political organizations, nationalist groups, religious groups, revolutionaries and ruling governments. Legislation declaring terrorism a crime has been adopted in many states. There is no consensus as to whether or not terrorism should be regarded as a war crime.The Global Terrorism Database, maintained by the University of Maryland, College Park, has recorded more than 61,000 incidents of non-state terrorism, resulting in at least 140,000 deaths between 2000 and 2014.

Yaakov Teitel

Yaakov Teitel (Hebrew: יעקב טייטל, born November 1972) is an American-born Israeli religious nationalist, convicted for killing two people in 2009. Teitel, who had immigrated to Israel in 2000, settling in a West Bank settlement, confessed to planning and committing various acts of terrorism and hate crimes against Palestinians, homosexuals, left-wingers, missionary Christians, and police officers across Israel. Teitel was sentenced to life imprisonment, which he is currently serving.

Yehuda Etzion

Yehuda Etzion (Hebrew: יהודה עציון‎; born 1951) is an Israeli religious right-wing activist and the founder of Hai Vekayam, a group dedicated to allowing Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount. He was a member of the Jewish Underground and participated in a plot to blow up the Dome of the Rock, for which he was arrested and imprisoned in 1984 for acts of terrorism.

Yigal Amir

Yigal Amir (Hebrew: יגאל עמיר; born May 23, 1970) is an Israeli who assassinated Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin. The assassination took place on November 4, 1995, at the conclusion of a rally in Tel Aviv, Israel. Amir is serving a life sentence for murder plus six years for injuring Rabin's bodyguard, Yoram Rubin, under aggravating circumstances. He was later sentenced to an additional eight years for conspiracy to murder.

Yoel Lerner

Yoel Lerner (1941 - July 2014) was a linguist, translator, educator, and Jewish terrorist, who was convicted of many crimes, including seeking to destroy the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

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