Religion and Terrorism
Many historical and contemporary terrorist groups evidence a strong religious component, mostly by dint of their membership. Anti-colonial, nationalist movements such as the Jewish terrorist organizations active in pre-independence Israel and the Muslim- dominated FLN in Algeria come readily to mind, as do more recent examples such as the overwhelmingly Catholic IRA; their Protestant counterparts, arrayed in various loyalist paramilitary groups like the Ulster Freedom Fighters, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commandos; and the predominantly Muslim PLO. However, in all these groups it is the political, not the religious aspect of their motivation that is dominant; the pre-eminence of their ethno-nationalist and/or irredentist aims is incontestable.
For others, however, the religious motive is overriding; and indeed, the religious imperative for terrorism is the most important defining characteristic of terrorist activity today. The consequences of the revolution that transformed Iran into an Islamic republic in 1979 have included its crucial role in the resurgence of this strand of terrorism; but, as we shall see, the modern advent of religious terrorism has not been confined exclusively to Iran, much less to the Middle East or to Islam: since the 1980s it has involved elements of all the world's major religions and, in some instances, smaller sects or cults as well. 'I have no regrets,' said Yigal Amir, the young Jewish extremist who assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, to the police. 'I acted alone and on orders from God.'1 Today, Amir's words could just as easily have come