Today, the incidence of religious terrorism is disproportionately committed by radical Islamists but there is, of course, no Muslim monopoly in the field of religious radicalism. In recent times, religious terrorism has increased in its frequency, scale of violence and global reach.
What is religious terrorism? What are its fundamental attributes? Religious terrorism is a type of political violence, motivated by an absolute belief that a deity has sanctioned and commanded violence for the greater glory of the faith. Acts committed in the name of the faith will be forgiven by the deity and perhaps rewarded in an afterlife. In essence, one’s religious faith legitimises violence, as long as such violence is an expression of the will of one’s deity.
History is littered with examples of extremist people and nations, who engage in violence to promote their beliefs. Within the Judeo-Christian belief system, references in the Bible are not only to assassinations and conquests, but also to the complete annihilation of enemy nations in the name of the faith. One such campaign is described in the Book of Joshua (chapter 11 verses 1, 4-8, 10-14). The story of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan is the story of the culmination of the ancient Hebrews’ return to Canaan. To Joshua and his followers, this was the Promised Land of the covenant between God and the chosen people. According to the Bible, the Canaanite cities were destroyed, and the Canaanites attacked until ‘there was no one left who breathed’ – assuming that Joshua and his army put to the sword all the inhabitants of the 31 cities mentioned in the Bible. To the ancient Hebrews, the Promised Land had been occupied by enemy trespassers. To fulfil God’s covenant, it was rational and necessary – from their perspective – to drive them from the land, exterminating them when required.
During the Middle Ages, Christian (Roman Catholic) Crusades launched at least nine invasions of the Islamic east, the first one in 1095. These invasions were called the Crusades, because they were conducted in the name of the Cross. The purpose of the Crusades was to capture the holy lands from the Muslims, to whom they referred collectively as Saracens. Christian knights and soldiers answered the call
for many reasons: the promise of land, treasure and glory were certainly central. Another important reason was the spiritual promise, made by Pope Urban II, that fighting and dying in the name of the Cross would ensure martyrdom and thereby guarantee a place in heaven. Liberation of the holy lands would bring eternal salvation. Thus, a ‘“knight who, with religious intent, took the Cross would earn a remission from temporal penalties for all his sins; if he died in battle, he would earn remission of his sins.” This religious ideology was reflected in the war cry of the early Crusades: “Deus lo volt!” (“God wills it!”).’
Most religious traditions have produced extremist movements, whose members believe that their faith and value system are superior. This concept of the one true faith has been used by many fundamentalists to justify violent religious intolerance. Religious terrorists are modern manifestations of historical traditions of extremism within the world’s major faiths.
For example: within Christianity, the medieval Crusades were a series of exceptionally violent military campaigns against Muslims, Jews and unorthodox Christian sects. Later, during the 16th and 17th centuries, Catholic and Protestant Christians waged relentless brutal wars against each other. In the modern era, Christian terrorists and extremists have participated in communal fighting in numerous countries like Northern Island and, in the United States, have bombed abortion clinics and committed other acts of violence.
Within Islam, the relative tolerance of the 15th and 16th centuries is counterbalanced by intolerance today among movements such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Examples of political and public violence, waged in the name of Islam, are numerous.
Modern religious extremism is arguably rooted in faith-based natural law. Natural law is a result of human reason and references to moral traditions and religious texts. In fact, most religious texts have passages that can be selectively interpreted to encourage extremist intolerance; for example, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Matthew 5:38).
Among those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, there are as many conflicting doctrines as there are denominations and sects. The apostle Peter states the sad fact that millions are in the grip of deception: “…speaking of this as he does in all of his letters. There are some things in those (epistles of Paul) that are difficult to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist and misconstrue to their own utter destruction, just as (they distort and misinterpret) the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16, KJV/Amplified Parallel Bible).
The simplicity of the Gospel message is stressed by the Apostle Paul in the first chapter of the Book of 1 Corinthians. When the simple message is preached, and the Holy Spirit does His work in the heart, the intent is that everyone recognises the supernatural power involved, with all praise and honour pointing to Jesus Christ. The Bible warns us of the danger of having our own personal interpretation of Scriptures that simply lead to misunderstanding, man-made traditions and religious conviction – without the transformational experience of revival.
REV STEPHEN BROOKS National Development Manager for Excell 3 www.excell3.com