Terrorism and some religious responses:Terrorism is not a pleasant enterprise either to the one who executes it or to the one it istargeted to. By design, terrorism is an unpredictable use of violence against anindividual, group, community, or nation to attain the goal of the perpetrators. Its aim mayinclude overthrowing, destabilizing, or replacing the existing systems and institutions orretaliating for the hurt and harm committed. Ideological, political, social, moral, personal,and religious motivations may play a role in such actions. Terrorism has been usedthroughout history and throughout the world by states, organizations, groups, andindividuals. Religious communities have not shied away from terrorism; they often haveused flimsy support from their respective traditions. Modern technologicaladvancements and communication facilities have given a greater lethality and mobilityto terrorists. The phenomenon of terrorism is not going to go away unless humancommunities deal with the issues perpetuating them locally and globally.Through wars and conflicts, terrorist acts have taken a heavy toll on humanity especiallyon innocent civilians. According to UNICEF, 80% of victims of all such aggressions inrecent years have been civilians, mainly women and children. Looking back to the lastcentury, despite all its valuable accomplishments, the 20th Century has turned out bethe bloodiest century in human history. It is estimated that more than 60 million peoplewere killed by fellow humans, more than in all the previous centuries of human history.The century ended with about 21 million refugees around the globe, including about 6million internally displaced people and more than 300,000 child soldiers (under the ageof 18), girls as well as boys, engaged in armed conflicts.Even though human conflicts and the September 11 tragedy can be explained inpolitical and social terms, explicitly or implicitly religious components shape andmotivate them depending on the persons who give leadership to them. There are noeasy answers for the wide range of religious and ethical questions that have beenraised subsequent to September 11 tragedy. A lot of reflection is needed to ponder anadequate response. Conflict in human communities cannot be totally avoided: it isbound to happen regularly. But the issue is how we can best utilize the resources thatare available to us to avoid, defuse, and prevent conflicts. Can religious resources beutilized to achieve these goals?Preventing religious teachings and visions from becoming a tool to perpetuate terrorism,as in the case of September 11, is crucial for the well being of humanity and the rest ofthe creation. Since religious communities are shaped by the plurality of circumstancesand environments in which they are located, close cooperation and betterunderstanding among religions is the only way to achieve this goal. In times ofdesperation and calamities, it is normal for people to turn to their ultimate visions for life.For most, these visions are provided by their religious heritage. Accordingly, followingthe terrorists attack, people in the USA and in many part of the world respondedreligiously. Prayer services, memorials, joint faith worships, vigils, and religiousdiscourses were in place immediately after the incident. A German theologian, visitingsoon after the incident, noted with surprise the slogan, "God bless America," echoed in
almost every public and private building. His remark was that such a pious and religiousbenediction is hard to find in Germany and in Europe in the present context. However,in Europe some other-closely religio-cultural actions would certainly take place. Thelighting of candles, and their placement in windows or public places as a message ofpeace and solidarity, and the organizing of a concert for a peace rally both would beimportant actions.While the majority of the world was going through shock, a small group of sympathizersof such terrorist action were jubilant, not because they delighted in death and thesuffering of others, but rather they felt that their religious perspectives provided themwith a means of response to what they perceived as evil. For them it was a successfulaccomplishment of a planned action to uphold Islamic truth. It was a moral revenge anda spiritual act. Religiously it was jihad against evil society and the infidels in America, aninterpretation that was not accepted by the majority of Islamic leaders, theologians, andcommunities the world over.The three religions directly implicated in the September 11 event are Islam, Christianity,and Judaism. It is not so much that these religions directly contributed to it, or led theway to it, but rather that the people who are directly or indirectly associated with all thehappening around the event come primarily from these three religious traditions. TheUSA and the rest of the Western nations are predominantly shaped by Christian valuesand worldviews, the Middle East and Central Asia by Islamic traditions and cultures, andIsrael and Jews living in USA by Jewish values and traditions. Even Hinduism isindirectly implicated, as there is an ongoing conflict in Kashmir between the so termed‘Muslim terrorist’ and the government of India, a nation with a majority of Hindus. In thepast twelve years of intense struggle, more than 36,000 have been killed, including‘terrorist’ freedom fighters, as well as soldiers, police, and civilians. This has causedenormous damage to the social fabric of the society, not to mention the materialdamage.One of the affirmative disclosures of this tragic event was the value of intense interfaithwork that has been going on with some vigor since the 1960s. The interfaith unit of theWorld Council of Churches, the Pontifical Council for Inter-faith Relations, the manynational and regional councils of church and denominational programs amongChristians. and similar attempts among the Jewish and Islamic communities and worldbodies, have, through their interfaith work, created a new ethos for addressing issueswhen religious feelings are brought out in conflicting situations. The presence andparticipation of people of different faiths at the worship service in the National Cathedralin Washington D.C., and at many interfaith services, especially the one held in Yankeestadium in New York, were witnesses to such positive attitudes that have developed asa result of interfaith ministries. Who could have imagined that Dr. Billy Graham would bewilling to participate and preach in a service at the National Cathedral alongside aJewish Rabbi and Muslim Mullah, sharing the same chancel area as worship leaders,and reading and praying from their own sacred texts and traditions?
Even earlier, those who had given their time and talents for interfaith relations shared acelebrative moment when the United Nations recognized the importance of interfaithrelations and summoned a conference of religious leaders in New York just prior to theMillennium summit meeting of world leaders in August 2000. One can draw on the resultof the careful work that has been done by religious bodies, educational institutions, andlocal communities regarding better understanding between the Islamic faith andsocieties since the Gulf War in 1991. However, the task became complicated whenreports from investigation of September 11 identified those involved in the terrorist actsas adherents of Islam, and alleged to be highly motivated by their religious teaching. Itonly further demands from all those who are aspiring for peace and justice a renewedcommitment for interfaith work at all levels.Islam, Christianity, and Judaism:What does Islam, Christianity, and Judaism teach regarding the perceived and/or realadversaries to its faith and community? We have to recognize that none of thesereligions are monolithic. They are divided into numerous groups, denominations, andsects, some with distinct theological emphasis and ethical practices. In these religionsthere is a huge spectrum of opinions and expressions. In actuality, what is witnessed isIslams, Christianities, and Judaisms with all their internal pluralities. The range ofattitudes stretching from liberal to conservative, just to use one denominator, is wideand complex. What one can summarize from these religious traditions has to be broad-based and limited to the generic characteristics that undergirds each of these religiousfamilies, even though such an exercise is extremely presumptuous.Islam:Islam believes in diversity of religions. Islam actually took birth in the context of Judaismand Christianity being the prevailing religions. Islam shows a special respect towardsJudaism and Christianity because of the common faith heritage. Islam expects thefollowers of these religions to live an upright life as the wish of the creator. The Qur’anteaches: "And those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and theSabians -- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shallhave their reward with their Lord" (2:62) [Ali, 1997:33-34]. (Ref. Surah 2:148; 22:67). Asfar as a Muslim is concerned, deviating from Islamic faith is regarded as an offense,which could be punishable even by death.According to the Qur’an, the prophet Muhammad gave priority to seeking reconciliationand peace with Jews and Christians, as well as with other opponents and enemies. TheQur’an clearly prohibits offensive war, and believers initiating aggression. Surah 2:190states, "Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you. But do not transgress limits; forAllah loveth not transgressors." [Ali, 1997:76] Even though peace and reconciliation aregiven priority, there are the possibilities of individuals reading several texts of the Qur’anto find support in engaging in acts of aggression and war like that of September 11,aiming at those who are identified as enemies of Islam or to those who have wrongedthe Islamic community. "To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to
fight), because they are wronged" (22:39). "O Prophet! Strive hard against theunbelievers and hypocrites and be firm against them" (66:9). Those who are killed ingenuine war (jihad) as martyrs will live in the presence of the Lord. "Think not of thosewho are slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay, they live finding their sustenance in thepresence of their Lord" (3:169) [Ali, 1997: 832,1494,172] (Ref. Surah 22:58).As soon as the perpetrators of the terrorist act had been identified as Muslims, the word‘jihad’ was repeatedly referred to by the media, as was the case in the 1970s during theIslamic revolution in Iran and the establishment of the Islamic Republic under AyatollahKhomeini. According to Marcel Boisard, Muslim jurists classify ‘jihad’ (which means‘intense effort/total endeavor/striving’) into four different types: 1) the intense effort bythe heart; 2) the tongue; 3) the hand; and 4) the sword. The effort of the heartrepresents the internal spiritual and moral struggle; it aims at victory over ego. The effortof the tongue represents the calm preaching and teaching of the morals of Islam. Theeffort of the hand represents the setting forth of good conduct as example for theIslamic community and others. The effort of the sword corresponds to armed conflictwith enemies of the Islamic community in circumstances where believers arepersecuted and their freedom curtailed. This last category, engaging in the efforts of thesword, is further divided by Boisard into six types: I) against the enemies of God; 2) forthe defense of frontiers; 3) against apostates; 4) against secessionists; 5) againstgroups who disturb public security; and 6) against monotheists who refuse to pay thecapitation tax [Boisard, 1988:24-25]. Even then, certain conditions are attached tominimize the violence and damage done to people and property.On the basis of the majority of the identified perpetrators of September 11 being SaudiArabians, including the alleged plotter and financier, Osama bin Laden, one couldconclude that what has been behind the September 11 incident, and some of the earlierincidents of terror, is the religious worldview of the Wahhabiya (ahl-al-tawhid ‘People ofUnity’) movement. This particular movement within Islam owes its inspiration andteachings to Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1787) of Arabia, who in the 18thcentury called on Muslims to return to the pristine teachings and practices of earlyIslam. True Muslim believers, Wahhab felt, should uphold the absolute Oneness of God(Unitarianism), abandoning all the kafir (unbeliever) elements like the veneration ofsaints, grave cults, decorations of mosques, and the Sufi innovations and luxuriousliving that subsequently crept in. If the original grandeur of Islam is to be regained, theIslamic community must reorient their total life by strict adherance to the Qur’anicteachings and enunciations by the prophet Muhammad. Islamic state law must governthe people’s life. All polytheist and infidels interfering in the way of this puritanical Islamare to be considered adversaries, including individuals, groups, religious bodies, ornation states.In the face of opposition among the Muslim community itself, Wahhab and his teachingswere sympathetically received by the local Dir’iyah prince Muhammad ibn Sa’ud and hisfamily in 1745. This religious and political solidarity was instrumental in Arab resistanceto the Ottoman Empire, and to the expansion of the Sa’udi rule over the ArabianPeninsula. After decades long struggles, when Ibn Sa’ud was able to establish the
Kingdom of Saudi in 1932, Wahhabiya assumed the prime religious position in theKingdom. In order to make sure that the Wahhabiya vision of Islam was adhered to bothin public and private spheres, a number of measures were introduced including theoffice of ‘religious police’ -- mutawwi’un (enforcers of obedience). However, in recentdecades even the Sa’udi royal family has come under the criticism of staunch Wahhabisfor their openness to non-Muslims and values in their territory, and increasing laxitytowards citizens. Therefore, it is not so much democracy, but the modernization andwesternization that are a threat to Muslims of Wahhabiyah orientation and calls foropposition including jihad to protect the integrity of their vision of Islam.Besides the Wahhabiyah movement, there are also other groups within Islam whosubscribe to the jihad of the sword as a religious belief for the protection of communityand faith. It is clear from the above discussion that Islam is not a pacifist religion. Today,however, the majority of Muslims, and several International Islamic Organizations, willinterpret even the fourth category of jihad as a concerted effort to overcome the evilfound within human society so that peace with justice is accomplished for all humansthroughout the world. Muslim leaders also try to promote peace with justice throughtheir participation in inter-religious organizations like the World Congress of Religionsfor Peace. Also. Islamic nations, as active members of the United Nations, work closelywith other nations of the world in shaping a common future for humanity, bringing in theIslamic ideals of peace and justice.Christianity:Christianity had its origin as a marginalized and persecuted community. However, afterrecognition by the emperor Constantine in 312 CE., it soon developed it own means ofusing force to achieve its objectives. This included punishment, persecution,imprisonment, banishment of those who strayed away from the true faith, torture,execution of those who refused to repent and recant their false beliefs, and crusades toretrieve lost territories and reclaim members. These methods of force developedsteadily as Christianity’s power consolidated with the sponsorship of the state and itsown organizing skills. Many of these acts throughout history were carried out with thehelp and blessings of Christian rulers and political powers.During the Protestant Reformation, such forces were unleashed against various groupsof Christians, resulting from complex combinations of faith, ethnicity, culture, class, geo-political loyalties and past histories. Such inter-Christian rivalries in the physical sensehave vanished today. Physical conflicts of any substantial nature today are mostlyperpetuated by socio-political and ideological disagreements, rather than by religiousdifferences. Alongside such developments, where force was used for achieving thegoals, there was always a counter voice focusing on non-violent methods of resolvingissues, shaped by virtues of love and mercy.Christianity has both pacifist and nonpacifist theological stances depending ondenominations and historical traditions. For nonpacifists, the ‘just war’ theory, developedby theologian and church father, St. Augustine (354-430 CE.), has a variety of
interpretations that can be applied again and again in situations of war. War andviolence are considered as answers when they are used as instruments for justice, self-defense, or for defending innocent lives and preventing enormous damage to materialmeans. This holds as long as they are undertaken by competent authorities, and whenall means of reconciliation have been exhausted. The plea for negotiation has beenspurned, and can be used only as a last resort when there is a reasonable hope forvictory.Those who are committed to pacifistic views can point to the fact that in the NewTestament there is not only reaffirmation of the commands of loving ones neighbor asoneself (Matt.19: 19, 22:39; Mk 12:31. 33; Lk. 10:27) [based on the teachings in theHebrew Bible (Deut. 6:5, Lev. 19:18)]. but also the stipulation to not resist the evil doerswith actions of aggression (Matt. 4:39), and even to love ones enemies and pray forthem (Matt. 4:44; Lk. 6:27, 35). Inspired by the teaching of Jesus on non-violence andhis own Hindu faith tradition, Mahatma Gandhi demonstrated the power of pacifisticmeans of accomplishing the social and political changes. Martin Luther King Jr. wasable to build on it in his own struggle towards racial justice. The teaching of Jesus, andexamples of Gandhi and King, have been emulated by many individuals and groupsaround the world, demonstrating that pacifism is a viable option in the world of war andviolence. Both pacifistic and non-pacifistic views continue within Christianity, leaving thechoice to its members.However, with the development of separation of church and state, Christians of manydenominations leave the issue of war, violence and aggression to the best judgment ofthe state as long as they have the satisfaction and confidence that the state is dulyelected and acts within broad stipulations for just war. The New Testament teachings tosubmit to ruling powers: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities: forthere is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have beeninstituted by God" (Rom. 13:1) and, "For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of everyhuman institution" (1 Pet. 2:13), make it possible for many Christians to take suchposition. Where political principles of church and state separation are in operation,resistance to any state promoted war and violence, whether by Christians or people ofother faiths, become both apolitical opposition and a faith action. A number of individualChristians, Christian organizations, and churches in the USA and around the globe haveraised their voice against the way the USA, primarily in support of the UK, hasproceeded to retaliate since October 7. Since any change to that status can only bebrought by state legislation, the task of church becomes more of a conscience raiserand an advocate for change of state policy based on its own faith perspective.Nevertheless, one cannot underestimate the influence of Christian communities andchurches on state policies where they are a sizeable majority.Judaism:In the Torah, the Jewish scriptures, we not only read about faith traditions, but alsoJewish social history. Early Judaic tradition operated with an unique understanding ofcovenant relation between God and the Jewish community. As long as Israelites were
faithful to the covenant they could count on the protection of God. When Israelites brokethe covenant, they were reprimanded, including facing defeat by their enemies andcaptivity by foreigners. In the midst of all this, God’s faithfulness always endured, givingthem hope against their adversaries. In some Jewish traditions, God is understood aspermitting occasional war and providing victory to Israel, God’s chosen people. Thisincludes the songs of Moses and Miriam, which speaks of a warrior-Lord who triumphedgloriously over Pharaoh’s mighty army (Ex. 15:1-21). Another, the laws of war, isencoded in Deuteronomy 20:1-20. Even the central symbol of God’s presence amongpeople, ‘the ark of covenant,’ was carried into the battlefield to assure victory againstthe adversaries (Num. 10:35-36; 1 Sam. 14:1-8). At the same time, prophetic voicesrepeatedly spoke about God’s expectation of Israelites to be a light and blessing tonations (Isa. 42:6. 49:6. 19:24). It also expressed God’s special care and concerntowards the poor and the marginalized, both of Israel and the neighboring communities,through acts of justice, tempered by a merciful and forgiving attitude (Duet. 10:18,24:17; Ps. 82:2-4; Isa. 1:17; Amos 5:23-24; Mic.6:8). The prophets, on occasion,envisioned that all nations would be drawn into Lord’s house and live in ‘shalom’ (peaceand well being). "Nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learnwar any more. (Isa. 2:4b; cf. Isa. 56:1-8; Mic.4: 1-4)In modern times, major voices of Judaism are manifested in the movement of Zionism,with the founding of the Zionist organization in Basel in 1897. It was a sociopoliticalmovement with secular leadership meant to overcome all the adversities that werefaced by the Jewish community. Nevertheless. Zionism has drawn on the religious andethnic sentiments of its community. As a model for mission, it has focused on the wishof their ancestors exiled in Babylonia (597-538 BCE) to return to Jerusalem and torebuild the temple. However, there has been no consensus among the Jewish faithfulregarding the physical return to Zion, the retaking the land, and the founding of theState of Israel that happened in May 1948. Those who have not subscribed to politicalZionism understand the return to Zion as a spiritual yearning for the messianic rule ofjustice and peace, not to be substituted with human accomplishment of resettlement inthe former territory, or of establishing a nation-state. While supporters of politicalZionism see it as an act of ‘self-emancipation,’ especially in the context of the horrors ofthe holocaust, the affected Palestinians and Arabs see the Zionist claim for a separatestate as a ethnocentric and ‘ethno-territorial’ agenda. Therefore, the Palestinians andtheir sympathizers see Zionism as a scheme of violence and terror. According to them,"The methods of Zionism were designed first to ignore, then to isolate, then finally todispossess, evict, and if possible exterminate the native non-Jewish inhabitants ofPalestine" [Zionism & Racism, 1977: 243].The number of wars and armed confrontations since 1948 with Arab neighbors, thecontinued occupation of neighboring territories, and the prevention of the formation ofthe independent State of Palestine, has made Palestinians, Arab neighbors, and a largesection of the Muslim world perceive the State of Israel as the aggressors andperpetuators of terror against the Palestinian people. However, the State of Israel seesall its aggression on the Palestinians and neighbors as self-defense and self-preservation. Even though acts of war and aggression were not necessarily done as
religious acts, for outsiders, these acts of terror, and religion, exist in a symbioticrelation as the Sate of Israel is primarily anchored on a faith community. Rabbi Lernerexplains the complexity further:"the critique of Israel and its policies toward the Palestinian people, cynicallymanipulated by Bin Laden and his cronies, is nevertheless basically legitimate. What isamazing is that even at this moment when the Middle East is exploding, there is noserious analysis of Israel’s role. A unique combination of Jewish establishment powerand Christian guilt (deserved) for the Holocaust has led to an amazing reality inAmerica: there is no public discussion of the role Israel has played in generating thewild level of anger at the West from which the terrorists are able to recruit" [Lemer,2001]. The issue here is how to relate particular religious vision about social reality andcommunal identity in a complimentary and a relational way in the midst of plurality ofcommunities and religions. Marc Ellis articulates this as a probing question: "Did theJewish experience of atrocity demand a focus on Jewish survival and empowerment, ordid this experience speak to Jews of the need to build a world where atrocity wouldnever happen again to any people?"