Religion can be defined as a compilation or set of cultural beliefs and values that an individual or group of individuals, usually a society or community, establish in relation to human spirituality. Religion often defines moral and spiritual values for members of the society or community which they must follow. These values are expected to be strictly observed by all followers of religion.
According to Law, religious systems often establish certain specific symbols that explain its origin and values (Law, 2009). For instance, Christianity is represented by a cross which symbolizes the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified, whereas Islam is represented by a crescent and star to represent Allah. Interestingly, almost all religions have their own sacred stories and beliefs that have a connection with human’s life and the universe. Most religions often tend to derive certain moral, ethical and religious laws that define lifestyles of their followers.
History of Religion
The word religion originates from a Latin word “religio” which means “respect to that which is sacred”. All religions believe in the existence of sacred beings whose powers surpass that of ordinary human beings. Furthermore, the existence of these beings is beyond human understanding.
The history of religions dates back to thousands of years ago. However, most religions became well defined between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. During the 19th and 20th centuries, religious groups became more systematic and four major groups could be identified. These are Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduisms. They are grouped taking into account the size of population. Although various theories have been put forth to explain the origin of religion, they all have the same opinion that religion is rooted in the belief of the existence of a supernatural power or spirit that controls lives of ordinary human beings.
Various religions have various beliefs concerning the existence of this supernatural being or power. Christians, for instance, believe trio-nature of God. Islam contrasts this belief by asserting that God is one and He is indivisible. Christianity is based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. For Christians God is the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit. This religion is further divided into Catholic and Protestants. Islam is based on the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. It is dominant in Northern Africa, Middle East and South Asia. Traditional religions, for example, African traditional religion, were practiced in Africa before the arrival of Christianity and Islam and Chinese folk religion that is practiced by most Chinese around the world.
According to Law, some scholars have classified religions as either universal or ethnical. Universal religions are those that seek worldwide acceptance and recognition, whereas ethnic religion can be identified with a particular ethnic group (Law, 2009). However, Richard and Hepner contrast this ideology by arguing that all religions, either universal or ethnical, are generally based on a particular culture (Richard & Hepner, 2011).
Most religions have organized behaviors such as holding meetings or gatherings regularly for spiritual enrichment. This also includes performance of rituals, offering sacrifices, feasting and holding sermons. Religions also adopt certain aspect of human cultures such as music, dancing, and art. They also tend to formulate laws that govern the conduct of their believers.
The word “terrorism” has been used for centuries now, but still does not have an exact definition. Law argues that it is often confused with deadly criminal activities. He further says that even the U.S. Government Agencies that deal with terrorism have been giving either contrasting or different definitions. In my opinion, however, one can rely on a definition given by the U.S. Department of Defense that defines it as calculated use of unlawful violence to instill fear amongst societies in pursuit of individualized objectives that either have political, religious or ideological basis (Law, 2009). Three main elements of terrorism can be derived from this definition. They include use of violence, force or coercion, creation of fear and intimidation of people in a certain societal or communal setting. In most cases, the target group is usually non-combats or people who do not share the same views or ideologies with the terrorists.
The term can be used when applying to force and coercion to inculcate fear and terror amongst people. It is generally used to refer to forceful acts or violent attacks that individuals or groups of individuals carry out illegally to create instill fear or do harm amongst a certain target group. Usually, terrorists’ activities are carried out for political and/or religious goals. Such actions usually target a certain group of persons. Terrorists often injure innocent civilians deliberately.
Acts of terrorism may take various forms ranging from civil, political, and religious to non-political terrorism. Carsten Bockstette further argues that terrorist usually have similar objectives and do have the same background. Moreover, Carsten Bockstette also explains that terrorism is an act of political or religious violence that is intended to aggravate and create fear or terror amongst people (Richard & Hepner, 2011). This psychic terror is created by violent attacks and victimization that associates massive and brutal destruction of the targeted population. The terrorists will create this fear by ensuring that they obtain maximum publicity from the media. They therefore make sure that the terror message is delivered to the target group.
At the international scene, not even the United Nations have adopted or given out any definition of terrorism. They failed to adopt a definition that was given by Carsten at the George Marshall Center for European Security Studies.
History of Terrorism
Many historians believe that terrorism has a longer history than even the history of modern nations. It has existed for thousands and thousands of years. Terrorism is believed to have started from the first century when Jewish leaders killed their enemies to get rid of Roman rulers from Judah. Between the eleventh and thirteenth century, a secretive Islamic sect cropped as a terrorist group, executing thousands of members of Abbasid and Seljuk. The word “terrorism” is derived from the word “terror” which was instigated in early 1790s after the French revolution.
According to Law, non-state terrorism started during the twentieth century (Law, 2009). It resulted from a variety of factors some of which include clashes along ethnical lines, increase in anti-colonialism, formation of religious groups, and development of new ideologies such as communism. Today, terrorism has been developed and spread to every part of the world. By mid 1960s, it became an international concern and by 1988 the first type of modern terrorism was carried out through the bombing of Pan Am flight. By 1972, the attack of Munich Olympics revealed that terrorism was driven by political motives.
Richard and Hepner explain that the terrorists’ activities are usually driven by the motive to draw attention of certain target audiences, which often happen to be the government, a community or the entire world. Such activities are usually directed towards a specific population. Obtaining publicity is the joy for terrorists (Richard & Hepner, 2011). They further argue that the public’s or government’s response is the determining factor of the effectiveness of a terrorist act. For instance, a bombing at the Beirut International Airport that left more than two hundred and fifty US military personnel dead and a thousand others seriously injured was a possible attack message to the American people and the U.S. government. In response, the U.S. Federal Government decided to withdraw its marines from Beirut. From the terrorist’s point of view, they succeeded in their mission of inducing terror/fear among the U.S. Congress and common people.
Additionally, terrorism may have other objectives and other publicity. For example, terrorists may attack people to demand a change, to split themselves from a certain government (segregation purposes), or to expose weaknesses of the government especially in terms of provision of security to citizens.
The Outlook of Terrorism
In my opinion, terrorism is threefold as it includes; the terrorists, the victims and the general public. The victims and general public view terrorists as evil people who are against the well-being of citizens and humanity in general. Terrorists usually consider themselves non-evil but rather freedom fighters. The victims of terrorism will often suffer from psychological disturbances and traumas after attacks. The general public, governments and religious groups will respond to terrorism by spiteful and pitiless condemnations and may come up with anti-attack or counterattack techniques to prevent repeated future attacks.
Effects of Terrorism on the Society and Religion
Terrorism has many unpleasant impacts on the society and religion in particular. At societal levels, it affects the political, social and economic statuses of various societies. It causes political unrest within the society. Other social effects of terrorism include displacement of people, inter-racial wars and discrimination against groups of people who have alleged connection with terrorists. Additionally, families lose their loved ones and societies might lose prominent persons or leaders. It also causes decrease in populations.
Most religious groups will respond to terrorism with anger, rage, hatred and revenge. Terrorism has caused inter-religious conflicts and emotionally and spiritual deficiency amongst believers. Different denominations have lost trust amongst themselves due to terrorist attacks. Law asserts that most outcomes of terrorism will affect both the society and religions equally, for example, economical impacts of terrorism such as destruction of private properties, poor economic growth, outflow of investors after terrorist attacks and decreased productivity and supply of essential goods and services (Law, 2009).
Religion and Terrorism
Today, the most threatening sources of terrorism are religious groups. Certain religions are alleged to justify violence based on their faith, for instance, most terrorists have Islamic backgrounds. Groups such as Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah all come from Islamic world. On the other hand, such religions as Christianity and Hindu are not as much connected with terrorism as Islam.
In my opinion, since most religions claim favor for themselves, over and above other religious groups, they often feel righteous above others and hence will exercise violence due to conflict of claims to superiority.
However, those who criticize religion such as Hitchens believe that religions are doing terrific harm to the society. They believe that religions are hurting the society by committing unnecessary violence in pursuit of their greedy goals. Regina Schwartz, on the other hand, claims that religions are fostering violence against non-members whom they consider outcasts (Law, 2009).
Religious Responses to Terrorism
Over the past decades, religious groups have strongly rebuffed, reviled and opposed to the use of terrorism by governments and other religious organizations. Most religious groups view legal systems or people whose beliefs are not in agreement with their values as illegitimate and outcasts. Moreover, certain religious activists have formed special organization to tackle terrorists.
In my opinion, different religions have different responses to terrorism. First and foremost, Christians’ views on terrorism and related attacks can be dated back to the Old Testament when Cain killed his brother Abel. This set the grounds for Christian teachings based on love and peace which are today.
On the other hand, Muslims believe that it is good for them to die during Holy War, also called Jihad. For this reason, they are usually ready to die in the name of salvation of other people. For example, those who bombed the World Trade Center stated that they had Holy War with America.
Religious Approaches to End Terrorism
In my opinion, all religious groups should work close together and in conjunction with state governments to end terrorism. They should put aside their differences in beliefs and values and combine efforts towards combating terrorism. Various religions should create a network of organizations that work towards security and safety of common civilians.
Religious leaders should advocate for peace, love, unity, and good governance. They should ensure that the state does not discriminate any person(s) in terms of religion. Equality and equity must be exercised for all people. All citizens should be allowed to exercise their democratic rights and freedoms irrespective of their religious backgrounds. The state should treat all religions equally. This would help unite different religious together and hence reduce tension amongst them. From a religious perspective, all people should assist and support their governments in formulation and implementation of policies that aim at ending terrorism. Religious groups should also avoid prejudice, malice and rage towards other religions or non-followers of their faith. Different religious should be willing to accept views from other religions. For examples, most of the Arabic and Islamic communities, if not all of them, have been viewed by other religions as masterminds of terrorist attacks today. They should preach and teach virtues such as peace, love, unity, and forgiveness rather than hatred, malevolence, rancor, and enmity.
The government as well should adopt a clear chain of commands that would easily facilitate the fight against terrorism, for instance, the U.S. Department of Defense should work closely with other departments such as the Department of Immigration and Foreign Affairs. In addition, Anti-Terrorists Organization should also be swift and flexible enough to acquire new technologies and improve the existing ones. This would assist them in ensuring smooth and reliable anti-attack and control operations.
Similarly, there should be clear and open communications between the government, security agencies, religious groups, and citizens. A good communication network will enhance exchange and sharing information relating to terrorists.
Religious groups are thus responsible for disclosure of any terrorism organization they might be aware of. Sensitive information such as a country’s security systems should be kept secret. This would facilitate minimization of chances of misuse of information by terrorists for their own good.
Future of Religion and Terrorism
Terrorism has shown unbelievable capability in sprouting and spreading itself across various nations. It is also expected that it might continue flourishing despite various efforts put by states, religious groups and human rights organizations to fight it. Terrorism has become more advanced in terms of technologies used during attacks and severity of outcomes. The world has observed increasing difficulties in terrorism warfare. Most governments have been unable to prevent or control terrorists’ attacks successfully. Terrorism organizations have devised new methods and technologies of attacking their target audiences.
Terrorism often involves acts of violence that affect religions and the society negatively at large. I would thus recommend all religions to come together and help fight against this vice. According to Richard and Hepner, certain terrorism groups are still at their infant stages and thus can be controlled easily (Richard & Hepner, 2011). It is the responsibility of religious leaders to assist the state in fighting against terrorism.
Similarly, since most terrorists activities are provoked and driven by political, social, and religious motives, religious groups can keenly observe and keep an eye on any abnormal behaviors or suspected actions that might be associated with terrorism. Finally, terrorism is an epidemic faced by all religious groups and societies all over the world. It is, therefore, important that everybody joins in hand-to-hand battling with it.