Combating Terrorism

Combating Terrorism


Dr. Ali S. Awadh Asseri

(Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon)


         The religious roots of terrorism can be traced back to the Sicarii – a Jewish Zealots group that was active during the Roman occupation of first century Middle East. The famous weapon of the Sicarii, from which they also derived their name, was the sica (the short dagger which literally means 'dagger men'). The weapon was used to murder those (mainly Jews) who were deemed apostate, and thus, selected for execution. Such killings usually took place in daylight and in front of witnesses and were meant to send a message to the Roman authorities and those Jews who collaborated with them-a tactic that would also be used by subsequent generations of what would become known as terrorists. Followers of other religions also resorted to methods that today, might be termed as terrorism. One such group were the Assassins-an eleventh century offshoot of a Shia Muslim sect known as the Nizari Ismailis. Like the Sicarii, the Assassins were also given to stabbing their victims in broad daylight. The Assassins , whose name gave us the modern term, which literally meant 'hashish eater' – a reference to the ritualistic drug taking they were, perhaps falsely, rumoured to indulge in prior to undertaking missions- also used their action to send a message. Often, the Assassins' deeds were carried out at religious sites on holy days – a tactic to publicize their cause and incite others to do it.[1]

     Sacrifice was the central element of the killings carried out by the Thugees – an Indian religious cult who ritually strangled their victims as an offering to the Hindu goddess of terror and destruction, Kali. In this case, the intent was to terrify the victim rather than influence any external audience. Between the seventh and the nineteenth centuries, the Thugees were responsible for as many as one million murders. Most probably, they were the last example of the religion- inspired terrorism until the phenomenon re-emerged some time ago.[2] In fact, before the nineteenth century, religion provided the only acceptable justification for terror. Secularized motivations for such actions did not emerge until the French Revolution.

(To be continued)

[1]  Hoffman, op. cit., pp. 2-3.

[2]  Ibid