Violence in the Name of God.

According to the Ten Commandments, the third commandment states “You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain.”  For thousands of years, the name of God has been sacred.  No one dared utter his name in a sentence or write it out.  For many years, the name of God has had a powerful resonance in human history.  However, in today’s modern world, the name of God is constantly misused, whether in a curse word or just as an expression of anger.  Recently, however, the name of God has been used in another way; propaganda.  Terrorists, especially those in the Middle East such as Bin Laden, have called on the name of God to go to war with the West.  In other words, to gain legitimacy with people, terrorists declare war with the West or their enemies as God’s will.  People follow them, because religion has a very profound influence in this area and all over the world.  If God declares war on someone, He cannot be wrong, because He is always right.  These people then give in to these self- proclaimed prophets or holy warriors and join their cause.  How does religion influence modern day terrorism?

First of all, it is important to understand the core characteristics of religious terrorism, which are found Bruce Hoffman’s book, Inside Terrorism.  The first and foremost characteristic of religious terrorism is violence.  According to Bruce Hoffman, “For the religious terrorist, violence is first and foremost a sacramental act or divine duty executed in direct response to some theological demand or imperative.” (Hoffman, 88).  Another factor is that religion is used as a propaganda tool, in that it is used explain certain events and to justify using force (Hoffman, 88).  According to Hoffman, “Religion- conveyed by sacred text and imparted via clerical authorities claiming to speak for the divine- therefore critically serves as a means to explain contemporary events and, in turn, as a legitimating force justifying violence.” (Hoffman, 89).  Hoffman also says that this is why religious figures are usually required to bless terrorist operations before they are carried out (Hoffman, 89).

It is important to realize that religion and terror are not only used by Muslims, but Jews and Christians as well.  Dating back to the first century, there was a group of Jewish terrorists known as the Zealots who fought against the Roman empire in what is now Israel (Hoffman, 83).  The Zealots would carry out assassinations on Roman officials or guards by using a dagger (83).  Zealots would go into crowded places such as markets, with their daggers hidden under their clothes (83).   When they would spot their Roman target, they would silently approach their target and slit their throats in plain view of the public (83).  This act of violence by the Zealots were meant to have a profound psychological effect on their enemies and to send a strong message to their audience (83).  The Zealots were also said to have a primitive form of chemical warfare such as poisoning wells and granaries used by Romans and would even sabotage Jerusalem’s water supply (83).

One of the hot beds of religion and terror occur between Jews and Palestinians over the site of the Temple Mount.  Jews believe that the Dome of the Rock is an abomination, because it stands on the supposed historic site of Solomon’s temple or the Temple Mount.  Christians are also involved in this issue, because they support Israel’s claim that the Dome of the Rock sits on the site of the Temple Mount.  Christians, however, have a different reason for wanting the Temple Mount put up.  It has to do with the Book of Revelation and is discussed widely in the book, End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, by Gershom Gorenberg.  Gorenberg discusses certain terrorist acts carried out mostly by Jews to destroy the Dome of the Rock.  In one incident, Gorenberg describes a man named Dennis Michael Rohan who tried to burn down the Dome of the Rock (Gorenberg, 108).  He asked a tour guide to help him get inside the compound and he asked to go into the Dome alone (Gorenberg, 108).  He was allowed and started a fire near the altar (Gorenberg, 108).  The damages were extensive, which angered many Palestinians (108).  When questioned by Jewish authorites, Rohan said he was taking orders from God (108).

Gorenberg also decribes another popular incident in Jewish terror, which is shooting at the Tomb of the Patriarchs by an Israeli named Baruch Goldstein (Gorenberg, 203).  Goldstein, who was a member of the Kach party headed by Meir Kahane, was bitter over his friend’s death by Palestinians during hostilities over the Oslo Accord and wanted revenge (204).  One day during Purim, while many Muslims are in the mosque praying for the month of Ramadan, he put on his Israeli Army uniform and opened fire inside the mosque until he ran out of ammunition (204).  He was only stopped until Muslims in that mosque caught up with him and beat him to death basically with blunt objects (204).  After he “martyred” himself, he gained sainthood status among redemptive Zionist Jews (205).  Rabbi Meir Kahane is extremely Zionist and believes that all Arabs should be wiped out and that everyone in the world hates Jews (Hoffman, 97).  He has dehumanized Arabs by calling them dogs that multiply like fleas (97).  Another important sect of religious extremists in Jerusalem is called Gush Emunim, which means The Bloc or The Bloc of the Faithful who are mostly made up of Kahane’s followers (97).  Gush Emunim started out as nonviolent sect protesting land being given to Palestinians (98).  They are extremely messianic as they are Zionist (98).  Certain leaders of Gush Emunim, according to Gorenberg’s book, were planning to blow up the Dome of the Rock (98).

Religion in terrorism is nothing new, but it has evolved over time in a “new” terrorism.  This term, applied by Bruce Hoffmann in his book Inside Terrorism, basically means a new kind of religious terrorism has come about.  This kind of terrorism is far more lethal than other forms of terrorism.  Religion in the new terrorism is not just an influence, but is the base of the terror organization.  On September 11, 2001, Osama Bin Laden praised God for his “victory” over the U.S.  Many people in Muslim countries, praised Bin Laden as a hero of their faith.  “New” terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda are based on the Sunni version of Islam. Why would people want to praise someone who committed an action so heartless?  The answer could have something to do with a Muslim concept called jihad.  Jihad is defined as a holy war, but it is much deeper than that.

Terrorists also use the Muslim concept of jihad as a means to stand up to the West.  Jihad has been a difficult concept to understand, because it has more than one meaning.  In the first place, jihad originally meant a spiritual inner struggle inside every Muslim to be good by praying and fasting regularly and being an attentive spouse or parent (Esposito, 26).  Another meaning is to work hard to spread the word of Islam (26).  A third meaning is to be supportive of oppressed Muslims all over the world in places such as Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, or Kosovo (26).  The fourth meaning, however, applies more to Bin Laden’s idea of jihad (26).  This meaning talks about overthrowing the “oppressive” governments in the Middle East and attacking America.  Using jihad as a propaganda tool can make it a very potent weapon, especially in the Middle East (26).  The concept of jihad is central to Muslim belief.  According to John L. Esposito, he states in his book, Unholy War:  Terror in the Name of Islam that “Jihad is a defining concept or belief in Islam, a key element in what it means to be a believer and follower of God’s will.” (Esposito, 26).  In other words, if Muslims follow any of these meanings, they believe they are doing God’s will.

Another case of violence in the name of God is in Algeria.  Algeria has had a history of violence ever since the 1950s when they were seeking independence from France and thus the FLN was formed.  The FLN, however, was a secular group fighting for Algeria’s independence, which was gained when Charles DeGaulle, the Fascist leader of France, decided to grant them independence to stop the violence.  In more recent years, however, two Muslim extremist groups have appeared in Algeria.  At first they were one group called the FIS or the Islamic Salvation Front.  The FIS was able to obtain political power out of the violent anti-government riots during October 1988 (Esposito, 102).  In order to quell the violence, the government decided to hold elections, which included FIS on the ballot (102).  Islamic opposition parties had flourished during this time, because of the socialist government’s inability to improve the status of Algerian society and economy (102).  The FIS became one of the strongest opposition parties, because they had a national organization and an effective mosque and social welfare network (103).  FIS supported many professionals such as university professors, small- business owners, physicians, etc… (103). Their party was a new and different elite, with a modern education, but with more Islamic orientation (103).  The party was looking for a national identity that reflected Algeria’s cultural and religious heritage (103).  They also stood for effectively solving the economic, social, and moral problems of Algeria (104).  In June 1990, the FIS won by a landslide (54% of the vote) (104).  The FLN government, however, was angered by this victory and used the military to kill, imprison, and drive out the FIS members and to tighten control over their people and repressed almost any opposition (104).  After being driven underground, the FIS became a militia group known as AIS or the Islamic Salvation Army (104).  Then a civil war broke out (104).  Many Algerian citizens were either victims of the government or of the newly formed GIA or the Armed Islamic Group (105).  The GIA formed after the FIS was forced to go underground (105).  Its members included men who came back from fighting jihad in Afghanistan (105).  The fatalities of the civil war during the late 1990s were at about 100,000 (106).  In 1997 and 1999, elections were held again and a cease- fire was called between the government and the AIS or the military wing of the FIS (106).  Even though the FIS was barred from the elections, two other Islamic parties were allowed to participate and won a good number of seats, but the elections in 1999 were flawed when all of the opposition backed out, charging that the military rigged the election in favor of the current leader (106).  The government is still in charge today and the GIA still continues its bloody jihad (106).

When people think of religion and terror they usually associate them with Muslims or even Jews.  However, Christians have had a long history of using religion to carry out terror among other nations.  The most famous example of this occurred back in the medieval ages during the Crusades.  During Medieval Europe, knights were very violent towards peasants by killing, raping, and stealing from them in the name of the nobles or royalty (Carr, 52).  At this time, the Catholic bishops were trying to put an end to the knight’s destructive habits, until Pope Urban II decided to satisfy the bloodthirsty knights by declaring that they should take on the Muslim menace (Carr, 56). During this time, Christians were going to other lands to spread the Word of God through the use of the sword (Carr 59).  In other words, those who did not want to accept Christianity were killed.  During this time, Muslims and Christians would also fight over possession of Jerusalem.  The Christians lost and the Muslims took over Jerusalem, which left a stain between Islam and Christianity for many years.  Even the founding of our nation was done on the basis of using religion to promote the battle against Native Americans.  During this time, many settlers came to believe the Indians as pagans or agents of the Anti- Christ and would go fight them for land, but in the name of God.  Finally, according to Hoffman, religious terrorists view themselves as “outsiders” who are seeking fundamental changes in the current order (Hoffman, 102).  This alienation also helps religious terrorists to carry out far more deadly and destructive operations and their category of “enemies” is very open- ended (102).  Religious terrorists also use dehumanizing terminology towards their enemies such as dogs in order to condone and to justify the use of bloodshed or violence on their enemies, who are not even worthy to be alive (102).

In this modern world today, many people would think that violence in the name of God does not apply to Christianity anymore; they could not be more wrong.   Violence in the name of God still happens in many sects of Christianity.  Take for example, the struggle between the Catholic Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Protestants in Northern Ireland.  For many years, the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland have been at odds with each other, particularly because Protestants had oppressed Catholics there by placing them in ghettoes or treating them as inferiors.  Some Catholics decided it was time to fight back and created and organization called the Irish Republican Army.  As the name suggests, the IRA is an extremely right wing nationalist terrorist group.  The IRA was very weak in the beginning, because they were so poor, they could not even afford weapons.  However, through connections in other countries such as America, they were able to obtain guns and other weapons.  However, they were also famous in their early days for developing a special type of car bomb, which is now known as the ANFO car bomb.  Their opponents were the Protestant Ulster Defense Force and the Ulster Volunteer Force.  The violence between these two groups continued until the Good Friday Agreement, which called for a ceasefire.

Another incident of violence in the name of God in the Christian religion occurred in the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma.  The bomber, Timothy McVeigh, was an extreme right wing conservative and hated the current U.S. government.  In 1995, he carried his sick scheme to blow up a government building and chose the Oklahoma building as his target in commemoration of the attack on the Branch Dravidian compound by the United States government (Hoffman, 103).  On that day, he loaded up a rental moving truck with explosives and parked it in the parking garage at the lower level of the building (Hoffman, 103).  He got far enough and the explosives were detonated and brought down most of the building.  Many people, including children were killed that day.  Timothy McVeigh was said to have connection with a white supremacist movement known as American Christian Patriot (Hoffman, 103).  Timothy McVeigh’s act was senseless, but it was soon mimicked by other Christians, especially those who strongly opposed abortion.  During this time, there were many bombings of abortion clinics by those who opposed the issue.  These examples of social terror show that the most dangerous terrorist groups may not be political, but religious.  However, it also shows that most religious groups are politically motivated.  According to Bruce Hoffman “However, in all these groups it is the political, not the religious aspect of their motivation that is dominant; the preeminence of their ethno- nationalist and/or irredentist aims is incontestable.” (Hoffman, 82).  Religious terrorist organizations may not be like Al- Qaeda in that they use religion to justify their radical political views.  For example, white supremacist groups such as the Christian American Patriots wish to create an all white government in the United States.

In conclusion, when God says “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”, God was not just talking about using his name in a curse word like in most modern societies, but also not to call on His Name to justify your own evil actions.  As mentioned above, many religious terrorist organizations use the Name of God for propaganda purposes.  In other words, they will use God’s Name to justify their own radical political motives.  The Name of God was not only powerful in history, but it is still very powerful today, especially among the three primary religions: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.  These religious terrorists can be very dangerous and probably even more so than other terrorist groups as seen in the events of September 11, 2001.  These religious groups also dehumanize their enemies by calling them dogs, menaces, or even infidels.  With all these potent aspects and using religion to back them up, it is not hard to see why religious terrorist groups are such a threat.  While these so called religious terrorist groups call on the God to justify their actions, they seem to forget that they disgrace Him when they take His Name in vain for their own selfish purposes.


Works Cited.

Carr, Caleb.  The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians.  Random House.  New York.  2003.

Esposito, John L.  Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam.  Oxford University Press.  New York.  2002.

Gorenberg, Gershom. The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount.  Oxford University Press.  New York.  2000.

Hoffman, Bruce.  Inside Terrorism.  Columbia University Press. New York.  2006.



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