Dr. Ali S. Awadh Asseri
(Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon)
TERRORISM IN THE NAME OF RELIGION
Terrorism by doomsday or apocalyptic religious cults has affected in particular Japan and the United States. Apocalyptic cults believe that the world is coming to an end and that members of the cult will play some role in the eschatological event. Doomsday cults believe they must take offensive action to bring about the end of the world. In March 1995, the Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) Sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subways killed twelve and injured more than 5000. It was the world’s first mass-scale chemical terrorist attack. The 19963 debacle in Waco, Texas, where seventy-four persons were killed, including twenty-one children, and eighty-one-day standoff between the Freemen, a Montana militia organization, and the FBI in April 1996, which concluded peacefully, are two recent examples of the growth of religious cults and their terrorist implications in the United States. Religious extremist movements in the United States, in addition to such apocalyptic cults, include Black supremacy groups such as the Nation of Yahweh, white supremacists like the Ku Klux Klan and other Christian identity movements like the Aryan Nations.
It is misfortune that terrorism exercised by groups subscribing to a deviant creed in the world of Islam has become widespread in the couple of decades. They have targeted Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nation as much as they have targeted the Western countries. The 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States and a number of terrorist attacks against other countries prove that religious terrorism in the twenty-first century will involve an enemy who is invisible and unpredictable, who acts without a stated military objective, does not spare even a power with the most awesome military capability, and aims at mass killing. Fighting such an enemy requires new and multi-pronged approaches, employing military, political and economic means. However, de-radicalizing terrorist networks like al-Qaeda is an uphill task, which may not be accomplished as long as the larger context in which deviant religious culture flourishes is properly understood.
John Esposito writes:
Like all the world’s major religious traditions, Islam has its extremist fringe. Osama bin Laden’s steady dose of proclamations and threats has assumed that Islam, not just extremism or terrorism, receives special treatment. The climate today is one in which questions can be asked and statements can be made about Islam, not simply about the beliefs and actions of extremists, that would not be tolerated if directed at Judaism and Christianity. The danger of this approach is to overlook the fact that militant jihad movements and terrorism are not just the products of warped individuals and religious doctrines, whether mainstream or extremist interpretations, but of political and economic conditions.
Given that, it may be a mistake to equate Islam with terrorism. In fact, the meaning of ‘greater jihad’ in Islam is the struggle for non-violent, positivist and selfless pursuits in the life of a Muslim. Even jihad’s military usage is meant to be for defensive purposes. This is not to say that deviant religious figures within the world of Islam have never invoked jihad to justify their killing of Muslims and non-Muslims in history. They have, and continued to until this day. However, what we need to understand is that the doctrine of jihad is not the product of a single authoritative individual or organization’s interpretation. Rather, it is the product of diverse individuals and authorities interpreting and applying the principles of sacred texts in specific historical and political contexts. It is therefore, important to place the issue of terrorism in the real Islamic perspective.
 Strobe Talbott and Nayan Chanda, The Age of Terror America and the World after September 11 (New York: Basic Books, 2001): and Walter Laqueur, The New Terrorism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 5.
 John Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 152
 Ahmad, ‘Simplifying a Complex Issue,’ op. cit.