Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Terrorism in the Name of Religion

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Terrorism in the Name of Religion

Article excerpt

Introduction

On 25 February 1994, the day of the second Muslim sabbath during Islam's holy month of Ramadan, a Zionist settler from the orthodox settlement of Qiryat Arba entered the crowded Ibrahim (Abraham's) Mosque, located in the biblical town of Hebron on the West Bank. He emptied three 30-shot magazines with his automatic Glilon assault-rifle into the congregation of 800 Palestinian Muslim worshippers, killing 29 and wounding 150, before being beaten to death. A longstanding follower of the radical Jewish fundamentalist group, the Kach movement,(1) Baruch Goldstein was motivated by a complex mixture of seemingly inseparable political and religious desiderata, fueled by zealotry and a grave sense of betrayal as his prime minister was "leading the Jewish state out of its God-given patrimony and into mortal danger."(2) Both the location and the timing of the Hebron massacre were heavily infused with religious symbolism. Hebron was the site of the massacre of 69 Jews in 1929. Also, the fact that is occured during the Jewish festival of Purim symbolically cast Goldstein in the role of Mordechai in the Purim story, meting out awesome revenge against the enemies of the Jews.(3) Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, speaking for the great mass of Israelis, expressed revulsion and profound sadness over the act committed by a "deranged fanatic." However, a large segment of militant and orthodox Jewish settlers in West Bank and Gaza settlements portrayed Goldstein as a righteous man and hailed him as a martyr.(4) During his funeral, these orthodox settlers also voiced religious fervor in uncompromising and militant terms, directed not only against the Arabs, but also against the Israeli government, which they believed had betrayed the Jewish people and the Jewish state.

Israeli leaders and the mainstream Jewish community tried to deny or ignore the danger of Jewish extremism by dismissing Goldstein as, at most, belonging to "the fringe of a fringe" within Israeli society.(5) Sadly, any doubts of the mortal dangers of religious zealotry from within were abruptly silenced with the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by a young Jewish student, Yigal Amir, who claimed he had acted on orders of God. He had been influenced by militant rabbis and their halalic rulings, which he interpreted to mean that the "pursuer's decree" was to be applied against Israel's leader.(6) Most Israelis may be astonished by the notion of a Jew killing another Jew, but Rabin was ultimately the victim of a broader force which has become one of the most vibrant, dangerous and pervasive trends in the post-Cold War world: religiously motivated terrorism.

Far afield from the traditionally violent Middle East, where religion and terrorism share a long history,(7) a surge of religious fanaticism has manifested itself in spectacular acts of terrorism across the globe. This wave of violence is unprecedented, not only in its scope and the selection of targets, but also in its lethality and indiscriminate character. Examples of these incidents abound: in an effort to hasten in the new millenium, the Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo released sarin nerve gas on the Tokyo underground in June last year;(8) the followers of Sheikh `Abd al-Rahman's al-Jama'a al-Islamiyya, caused mayhem and destruction with the bombing of Manhattan's World Trade Center and had further plans to blow up major landmarks in the New York City area;(9) and two American white supremacists carried out the bombing of a U.S. Federal Building in Oklahoma City.(10) All are united in the belief on the part of the perpetrators that their actions were divinely sanctioned, even mandated, by God. Despite having vastly different origins, doctrines, institutions and practices, these religious extremists are unified in their justification for employing sacred violence, whether in efforts to defend, extend or avenge their own communities, or for millenarian or messianic reasons. …

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