Terrorism has been defined as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political, social or religious objectives”. While the 1980s saw a growth of politically inspired terrorism, the 1990s witnessed a dramatic increase in terrorism motivated by a religious agenda. We began to witness an emerging trend and shift from terrorism motivated by political ideology towards a dominant religious terrorism.
Religious terrorism is any form of terrorism carried out based on motivations and goals that have predominantly religious influence. In the words of Christopher, a former United States Secretary of States, terrorism acts in the name of religion has become one of the most important security challenges we are facing in the present day. Religion has indeed served as an instrument of social harmony in many civilizations. Paradoxically, it has also served as a motivation for violence. From time immemorial, religious bigots have attempted to legitimize violence in the name of God. Contemporary acts of extreme violence are often justified as ‘Holy warfare’. In the last two decade to be modest, religion has been at the centre of most violent conflicts around the world, thereby gaining notoriety as one of the prime security challenges confronting the world in the wake of the cold war.
The horrific attack on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon by well organized terrorists with strong ties to radical Muslim extremists reveals to us that the combination of religion and violence is not new in history. In the wake of 1980’s there was the rise of religious terrorism in the form of militant Islamic Shiite fundamentalism. Unlike secular terrorists religiously motivated groups have no eternal constituency for whom a terrorist’s heart is designed to influence. They often act anonymously and for no one but themselves which results in increased levels of violence and lethality. Religious terrorism is not limited to radical Islamic groups, a few new groups and movements pose greater threats. Many of the episodes of terrorist violence in the US have been perpetuated by white supremacists that came from a variety of organizations and with a growing movement of sympathizers across the US.
There had been a symbolic relationship between religion and violence. This could be traceable to the early periods of the crusades and the Bible. Religious terrorism consists of acts which terrify, the definition of which is provided by the witnesses- the ones terrified and not the parties committing the acts. Such acts are accompanied by either a religious motivation, justification, organization and world view.
In the modem age, religious terrorism has the following characteristics;
– The perpetrators must use religious scriptures to explain or justify their violent acts so as to gain recruits
– They have clerical figures and personalities that hold various leadership positions
– They use apocalyptic images of destruction to justify their acts.
The Christian tradition has a long history of heterodoxical and heretical groups which stressed suicide terrorism, self-sacrifice or martyrdom as important symbolic acts. Glorifying the culture of martyrdom benefits the terrorist organisation and inspires more people to join the group. Terrorism activities all over the world are supported through not only the organised systems that teach holy war as the highest calling, but also through legal, illegal and often indirect methods of financing these systems.
A basic problem is whether religious terrorism really differs in character and causes from political terrorism. Defenders of religious terrorism typically reason by applying commonly acknowledged moral principles. When religion becomes fused with violent expressions of social aspirations, personal pride and movement of political change, then such religion is no longer innocent. Religious extremism has become the main driver of terrorism in recent years.
According to Global Terrorism Index, the report in 2013 recorded a 60% rise over and above the previous year. Overall, there has been a fivefold increase in deaths from terrorism since the 9/11 suicide attacks. Terrorist acts have included airplane hijacking, kidnapping, assassination, suicide bombing and mass murder. Various groups with religious agenda have been responsible for these. The hijacking of four passenger jets and the destruction of the World Trade Centre on 9/11 was a significant act of violence. The controversies surrounding the subject include whether terrorist act is a self-defense or aggression, national self-determination or Islamic supremacy. Statistics shows that more than 8000 of deaths from terrorism in 2013 occurred in just five countries of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. The prevalence of extremist views in these regions is the main driver behind these trends.
The world’s great religions all have both peaceful and violent messages from which believers can choose. Religious terrorists and violent extremists share the decision to interpret religion to justify violence. Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on the teachings of Jesus Christ, whose resurrection, as understood by Christians provided salvation for all mankind. Christianity’s teachings especially in the fifteenth century Spanish inquisition are sometimes considered an early form of state terrorism. The Roman Catholic Church sanctioned tribunals aimed to root out Jews and Muslims who are not converted to Catholicism, often through severe torture.
Hinduism, the world’s third largest religion after Christianity and Islam takes many forms in practices among its adherents. Hinduism valorizes non-violence as a virtue, but advocates war when it is necessary in the face of injustice. A fellow Hindu assassinated Mohandas Ghandi whose nonviolent resistant helped bring about India’s independence.
Islam has been associated with violence in a variety of contexts including jihad, violent acts by Muslims against perceived enemies of Islam, violence against women ostensibly supported by Islam’s tenents, reference to violence in the Quran and many acts of terrorism motivated or justified by Islam. Muslims use the word in a religious context to refer to three types of struggles:
An internal struggle to maintain faith,
The struggle to improve the Muslim community and
The struggle in holy war.
Adherents of Islam describe themselves as believing in the same Abrahamic God as Jews and Christians, whose instructions to human kind were perfected when delivered to Prophet Mohammed. Islam’s texts offer both peaceful and warring messages. In the late twentieth century, groups motivated by religious and nationalist goals committed attacks, such as the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and suicide bombings in Israel. In the wake of the 21st Century, Al-Qaeda “internationalized” jihad to attack Europe and the United States.
Judaism as a monotheistic religion focuses on the importance of action as an expression of belief. Judaism’s central tenets involve a respect for life’s sanctity, but like other religions its texts can be used to justify violence. Some considered the Sicarii, who use murder by dagger to protest roman rule in the first century Judea, to be the first Jewish terrorists. In the 1940’s, Zionist militants such as Lehi carried out terrorist attacks against the British in Palestine. In the late 20h Century, militant Messianic Zionists used religious claims to the historical land of Israel to justify acts of violence.
The increasingly popular Christian identity teaching is the ideological glue which holds a large segment of this movement hate together. Identity teachings are spreading rapidly through a growing number as well as undiscerning Christian fundamentalist churches in the South, Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Those who monitor new religious groups and movements have an important contribution to make. They must give due recognition to the present trend and future prospects by such groups. Consideration must also be given to the possibility that some groups may direct acts of violence outside the group. Hopefully those monitoring extremists, fringe and new religious movements and groups can provide a needed corrective. With an increased vigilance, we may be able not only to stem the tide of false teaching and abusive practices, but may save lives as well. In the words of Cardinal Pietro Parolin, people of faith have a grave responsibility to condemn those to detach faith from raising an instrumentalist faith as a justification for violence. Religion should not be used as pretexts for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman.
To counter the phenomenon of religious terrorism cultural understanding among people and countries and social justice for all is indispensable. Notwithstanding the many advantages of religion, experience has shown that divergence in understanding the concept of God and the moral imperatives has produced a backlog of accusations which bother on fanaticism, ignorance, intolerance and terrorism which eventually has denied man the needed security he once desire through religion. This position underscores human response to the problem of insecurity and social challenges in the world by searching for security under the protective arm of God as the basis of religion of religion.
May God Bless Nigeria, America And Israel And Take Care Of Us; May God Make His Face Shine Upon Us, And Be Gracious To Us; May The Lord Lift Up His Countenance Upon Us, And Give Us Peace, In Jesus Christ Name, We Pray! Amen!
May The Grace The Lord Jesus Christ, And The Love Of God, And The Fellowship Of The Holy Spirit Be With You All. Amen!