Religious and Political Factors in the Creation of Terrorists

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Chapter Three: Religious & Political Factors

Are religion and politics are a fundamental factor in what motivates a person to become a terrorist? If so, this chapter can help to develop an understanding into the increase, patterns, and logic of current trends in terrorist activity. As stated by (Palmer and Palmer 2004:14) “The evolution of all major religions has witnessed the emergence of extremist groups vowing to purify the faith”. It is argued that in recent years there has been a sudden rise in the quantity of terrorists motivated by religious concerns and there is a significant relationship between religious motivation and fatality. (Hoffman 1998). Martin (2004) disputes that state sponsored terrorism has seen a decline as a result of increased monitoring by public and private organisations, although contrary to Martin’s findings, religious terrorism is seen as the New Terrorism; “In part because it provides an uncomplicated sense of purpose and a clear world-view” (Martin 2004:170).

Why is religious terrorism becoming more frequent? Why is it more lethal? How are religious extremist groups recruiting more and more followers? And what governmental policies/statutes can be used to stem this rapid growth of terrorism? This chapter aims to answer these key questions on this aspect of terrorism.

This chapter will first examine what religious terrorism is, the evolution of this form of terrorism and show how this research can help to understand current patterns of terrorism. Next, recent work will be analysed on the relationship between religion and terrorist activity, and clarify religion’s role in motivating terror. The chapter concludes with future research questions and policy implications derived from this evolutionary approach.

In determining the religious motivations of becoming a terrorist, we have to find out what is a terrorist in the name of religion? A study of the main religious extremist groups in the mid 1990’s revealed that virtually all experienced a severe sense of a potential crisis in their countries; this has led to a surge in the number of groups recently created and triggered a sudden boom in their activities (Ranstorp 1996). This has lead terrorists not only to feel that they have to preserve the identity of their religion, but they also see this as a way to fundamentally shape their future (Enders & Sandler 2000).

Most literature on terrorism offers different and diverse reasons on every topic related to terrorism, one element is always mutually agreed; that not all terrorists are religious extremists (Hoffman 1998; Martin 2004; Palmer & Palmer 2004). However, the rate at which religiously motivated terrorism has increased in the past few decades makes it even more alarming as it is seen to be more fatal than other forms of terrorism. Between the years of 1981 and 1990 there were only 4.7 suicide bombings on average per year worldwide, which is a stark contrast between the years of 2001 and 2005 of which there were 36 suicide bombings a year (Atran 2006). Even between the years of 2001 and 2005 there was a sudden increase from 81 suicide bombings in 2001 worldwide to 460 in 2005 (ibid). Many academics believe that this largely is down to a surge in Jihadism, which is amongst Muslims a war against the non-believers of Islam (Oxford English Dictionary). However, among all the research and academic findings the media also play a key role in spreading the belief that terrorism and religion are strongly linked. That terrorists, particularly religious terrorists are depicted as delusional, brainwashed and out of touch with reality (Norris, Kern & Just 2003). “Generation Jihad: Young people brainwashed with Al-Qaeda propaganda on the internet” (Thomas 2010), is just one of many examples of the media’s portrayal of religious terrorists.

Accounting for a fifth of the world’s population, Islam is one of the largest religions in today’s world (Huda 2012). Islam, which derives from Arabic, meaning peace and submission, the teachings of Islam state that a person can only find peace within their life by succumbing to Allah in heart and soul. The same Arabic word gives us "Salaam alaykum," ("Peace be with you"), which is known as the universal Muslim greeting (ibid).

Islamicextremistsaremainlymotivatedbyreligion, although they are also compelled by day to day politics involving their countries. This makes it difficult for observers to differentiate between the political and religious world of these terrorist groups (Ranthorp 1996).This is clear to see in Islamic extremist groups, as religion and politics can be difficult to separate in Islam. An example of this is Hamas, an Islamic terrorist group, whose functions are within the basis of religious beliefs, which they combine with the political action in Lebanon (ibid).

The Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Hamas are examples of highly sacred Islamic groups. They belong to a radical section whose religious behaviour represents a clear break from traditional Islamic practise (Burman 2008). “They argue that the prohibitions of mainstream Islamic practise such as dress codes and shaving. They tend to segregate themselves from other Muslims and to be tolerant of deviation, in contrast to Islam’s historical tolerance” (Burman 2008: 4).

Al-Qaeda in the twenty-first century is one of the most active Islamic terrorist groups, with the group allegedly being responsible for the 9/11 bombings and the 7/7 bombings affecting both the UK and the US. Al Qaeda is an Islamic jihad group whose main intention is to inspire and motivate Islamic movements and Muslim followers worldwide to attack those who threaten Islam and Muslims (Gunaratna 2005).

In the defence of Islam, Al-Qaeda attacks allies of the US and Israel as they believe that they are the two nations that hold power over the world. However they do not receive worldwide support from Muslims, they seek to exploit the anger and resentment that Muslims have toward the US (ibid).

The main aim for Al-Qaeda is to establish Islamic states wherever Muslims live. In order to achieve this, Al-Qaeda believes in using jihad. Their ideology is often perceived as ‘jihadism’ which is a willingness to carry out a single armed attack against those who are trying to prevent an Islamic state in their views (Hoffman 1998). What motivates Al Qaeda is not wealth or power but an ideological belief in their struggles (Gunaratna 2005).

Al-Qaeda as well as other Islamic extremist groups, perceives existing governments to be hostile towards Islam, in that they have been distanced from Allah and refused to apply Shari’ah law (Sedgwick 2004). In order to build their support against the Western-world Al-Qaeda indicates that Muslims are always on the receiving end of the West’s brutality, whilst the West also supports and funds Israel in their constant battles with the Palestinian Muslims. In drawing comparisons with the Islamic response to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda seeks to unite Muslims again in a jihad against the West (Gunaratna 2005). Instances such as the Islamic revolution in Iran, the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan which brought the conclusion of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, were Muslims that became part of the mujahidin, putting aside all their differences and fighting beside each other attained victory (Palmer & Palmer 2004).

Although he is demonized by Western-media, Osama Bin Laden is seen in a much more respectable light by his followers in that he led the mujahidin (guerrilla fighters in Islamic countries, especially those who are fighting against non-Muslim forces) (Oxford English Dictionary), to victory against the Soviet Union and that he will do the same against the evils of the West. The victory was seen as a divine rightfulness and an indication that the path they had taken under Bin Laden was the correct one. They also believed that after the fall of the Soviet Union that the US had become the most powerful nation through the efforts that Bin Laden and the mujahidin had achieved in Afghanistan (Gunaratna 2005).

US troops in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, along with military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were seen as acts of aggression by Al-Qaeda. Such was the widespread anger of Western presence in the Middle East, it lead to increased Al-Qaeda’s support and transformed them into their present state (Tucker 2004). The US coalition in Afghanistan and Iraq has been instrumental in the worldwide growth of Al-Qaeda and with the US’s invasion of Iraq along with the fragility of the state of the country; a greater unity among Islamic extremists is growing in support for more attacks (Juergensmeyer 2003).

Al-Qaeda’s ideology is to incite Muslims until they reach a point of boiling over. Even though the 9/11 bombings and the 7/7 bombings have failed somewhat to ignite a response from fellow Muslims, there still exists a large discontent with US and the Western-world’s foreign policies toward the middle east and towards the Islamic world. This trend is rising and will be used further to enhance the cause (Atran 2006; Gunaratna 2005).

Along with Islam, another major religion that has affected the UK has been Christianity, particularly the division between Catholics and Protestants. If the word terrorism was uttered 30 years ago as opposed to now the most likely response would be Catholics or Protestants (Horgan 2005). This is because at the time, that was when the UK’s struggles against terrorism were that of Catholics from Ireland, mainly the Irish Republican Army (IRA), but countering the IRA was the Protestant organisation Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) (Norris, Kern & Just 2003).

The division between Catholic and Protestants has been evident ever since the creation of the Protestant church in the 16th century (Park, Cohen & Herb 1990). Even though differences are few and far between, for example the Pope being head of the Catholic Church whereas Protestants have independent churches, both believe that there is only one god, that Jesus is their saviour and that the Holy Bible is in two parts both Old and New Testament (ibid).

These differences in faith led a revolution that successfully challenged UK’s rule in the whole of Ireland in the early years of the twentieth century. The war which presided between the years of 1916 to 1921 concluded in the creation of an independent Irish Free State in 1921. But in exchange for its independence, the IRA's leadership agreed to allow Ireland's six northern counties, which had slightly more Protestants to Catholics, to remain under the UK’s rule. The UK reconstituted these provinces as Ulster or Northern Ireland (BBC 2013). Conversely, this made the matter worse as the Catholics believed Northern Ireland should join a united, independent Ireland but the Protestants wish to remain part of the UK. Ties between Ireland and the UK remained chilly into the 1970s. Meanwhile, the old IRA preserved a low level campaign of violence aimed at reuniting Ireland. By the 1960s, however, its activities had dwindled significantly (Simonsen & Spindlove 2000).

The IRA back in the 1960’s was considered one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world. Although the IRA has never been listed as a terrorist organisation by the State Department, the British Home Office lists any organisation and any splinter groups from the IRA as terrorist organisations (Crenshaw 1981; Horgan 2005).

The main motivation for the IRA’s terrorist acts were because of the presence of UK troops in Northern Ireland and an event to which many academics regard as the turning point as Bloody Sunday in 1972 where Catholic marchers were fired upon by UK troops, killing 13 marchers, none of which were carrying weapons. As quoted by a member of the IRA as to why he joined the terrorist group “I grew up in a non-political family…I always had tremendous interest in Irish history…but for me anyway, the sight of the B Specials and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) beating Catholic people off the streets in Derry was a big factor in joining the Republican movement” (Horgan 2005: 86). This IRA member’s motives as well as Al-Qaeda’s above were the oppression of his people by the UK which led to his commitment in becoming a part of the IRA to defend themselves.

Although the IRA officially gave up their stance in July 2005 against the UK, the peace process in Ireland came with the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998. This was seen to many as a retreat by the UK government, to others the GFA was a significant move towards amity in Northern Ireland. Within the GFA, the conditions laid down in the agreement would also require withdrawal of UK troops’ presence in Northern Ireland and the decommissioning of paramilitary groups (Crenshaw 1981; Simonsen & Spindlove 2000).

However, there are fears that the violence may be returning to regions where Catholics and Protestants live amongst one another. An example of what may come was reported by the BBC, “Ronan Kerr, a 25-year-old police officer, was killed by a car bomb in Omagh in April 2011, which was followed in June 2011 by several nights of rioting in East Belfast, where three people were shot in the city’s worst street violence in over a decade” (BBC 2013).

As a result of a dramatic rise in religious terrorism over the past few decades, it’s not a surprise that there has been a reaction from leading governments worldwide to protect themselves. “The war on terror is currently at a stalemate, Americans have been stung by the jihadists, but neither their stability nor their ability to retaliate has been put at risk” (Palmer & Palmer 2004: 247). Palmer and Palmer (2004) indicate that currently the war on terror isn’t being won by either the West or the terrorists who have opposing ideologies and are showing no signs of immediate resolution.

Although the Good Friday Agreement was made in 1998, the majority of governmental reaction towards terrorism has come at the turn of the century and especially post 9/11 (Berman 2008). There has of course been a knee-jerk reaction after the 9/11 bombings and this was done in the form of the “Uniting & Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism” (Patriots Act 2001).

The Patriots Act became law on the 26th October 2001, under 6 weeks after the 9/11 bombings (Evans 2001; McCarthy 2002; Gearty 2005). With the disguise of anti-terrorism, law enforcement officers and government leaders have now been given wider boundaries on encroaching civilians’ rights these include searching of people’s houses or workplaces without prior notice, wiretapping people’s phone and email conversations and even to a certain degree of eavesdropping on attorney/client conversations (Whitehead & Aden 2001; Evans 2001). As well as a growing argument for the introduction of national identification cards across the United States, threating all citizens to be “tagged” (Whitehead & Aden 2001). Although as Whitehead & Aden (2001) have noted, with many civilians at first happily reducing their rights as they believed it would lead to tighter security, which would lessen the likelihood of another major terrorist attack, must be mindful that doing so places limitations on their freedoms which may in time lead to major compromises to their way of life, that could make themselves vulnerable to recruitment by extremist groups.

The UK’s reaction to the 9/11 bombings came in the form of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATCSA). Similar to the Patriots Act 2001 implemented by the US government post 9/11, the ATCSA contains provisions on disclosure of information, upgraded policing on nuclear and aircraft companies, retention of communications data and general anti-terrorism policing powers (Gearty 2005).

This Act has been seen as controversial as it conflicts with many aspects of the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically Article 3, the right to not be tortured (Whitehead & Aden 2001; Fenwick 2002).

The ATCSA builds on the Terrorism Act 2000 which itself has also been seen as controversial (Ferrari 2004). The Terrorism Act 2000 completely reforms the law concerning prevention of terrorism in the United Kingdom, albeit with some exceptions; furthermore, it applies to any terrorist activity in the United Kingdom and abroad (Chaterjee 2002). Some key aspects of the 2000 Act were, an actual definition on terrorism; terrorism in the context of the Act not just connected with Northern Ireland and internationally but also domestic groups within the UK; and the concept of prohibition is extended to all types of terrorism including terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland (ibid).

It has been amended many times since being made in 2000, predominantly in 2006 after the 7/7 bombings which specifically prohibits statements that glorify terrorism (Parker 2007). Many academics presumed the 2006 Act would be vigorously used by the UK to prosecute terrorists; rather it has rarely been used. A possible reason for the sparing use of the 2006 Act could be that with it being rushed through Parliament in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings that it is so controversial, officials dare not use it (Parker 2007; Pantazis & Pemberton 2009).

Religious and Political terrorism has undoubtedly seen a dramatic rise over the past few decades (Hoffman 1998, Palmer & Palmer 2004) particularly with the rise in Islamic terrorists, where religion and politics are intertwined. However there must be other motives as to why some people see terrorism as the answer?

In the next chapter I will be discussing the socio-economic factors which motivate people to become terrorists.