Although terrorism has been present ever since the beginning of recorded history, defining it may prove to be slightly controversial task. There is no universally shared definition as it's a highly subjective term that depends upon the point-of-view of the observer. However, there are three perspectives from which terrorism can be looked at and then defined. These perspectives include the terrorist's, the victim's and the general publics.
The phrase "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" is one that even terrorists may re-affirm, thus asserting the controversial nature of the term itself. The following definition released by the United States FBI, can be used to describe the nature of modern day terrorism:
"The unlawful use of force or persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives" (U.S. Department of Justice, F.B.I 1999)
In her book, "What Terrorists Want," Louise Richardson has pointed-out certain basic characteristics that are common to different terrorist organizations across the globe today. These include the following:
Politically inspired to grab attention or to send a political message
There is a threat of or actual physical violence
The act of terrorism and its victims usually have a symbolic significance while the victim and the intended audience are never the same
Such acts usually target civilians and innocent by-standers. (Richardson 2006)
Based on the above characteristics, terrorism in the world can be said to stem from the basic social and economic issues facing the world today. These may include the increased levels of poverty and scarcity, the ever-growing population, high inflation & unemployment, racial and secular tensions, the insurgence of fundamentalist religious groups along with refugees and immigrants moving in from repressed lands into wealthy nations. That, in line with rapid globalization, which brings people with different religious, social, political and philosophical views into the same arena, creates resentment and distrust amongst individuals and communities. (Jenkins 1988)
However, terrorist attacks that began with September 9, 2011, and subsequent terrorist bombings in Riyadh, Madrid, London, and Mumbai amongst other places, have placed religion under the limelight for being the major cause of terrorism in modern times, hence, giving birth to the term, "religious terrorism." Popular evolutionary biologist and atheist, Richard Dawkins, places the blame of 9/11 on the shoulders of religion, declaring that only religion can infuse enough "insane courage" in a person to commit such an act (Dawkins 2001). Most of these attacks now getting closely associated with "Suicide Bombing" as well and from 1980 to 2003 had accounted for almost 3% of all terrorist attacks but were able to cause 48% of the fatalities (Richard Sosis, 2008).
According to Juergensmeyer, the basic essence of religious terrorism is to terrify witnesses of their acts, and justify these acts with religious motivations or associations with religious groups (Juergensmayer 2004). Perpetrators of religious terrorism usually incite fear and panic in the witnesses either by creating apocalyptic scenes of destruction or through inhumane torture (Hoffman, 1993).
Physicist Stephen Weinberg once famously remarked, "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil -- that takes religion." Just like terrorism, religion has been used by politicians and terrorists alike, that is, either as a tactic or an instrument, depending upon purposes and objectives, and is being chosen as a weapon to advance with.
Designated by the United States Department of State as a "terrorist organization," (U.S. Department of State 2005) Al-Qaeda is perhaps the most globally famous terrorist organization that came into notice after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Translated as "The Base," Al-Qaeda is the face of religious extremism and terrorism in the world today. Formed in 1988 by Osama Bin Laden and funded by the United States and Saudi governments, the purpose of Al-Qaeda was to recruit members from various Islamic nations to support the Muslims fighting in the Afghan War to drive out Soviet Union from Afghanistan (Bergen 2001) (Akram 2008).
During this Anti-Communism Jihad, many analysts are of the belief, Bin Laden received security training from the CIA itself (BBC News 2004). The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the Al-Qaeda re-organized their objectives and rallied with a cry of the creation of a new Islamic worldwide Caliphate that is free of all foreign influence (BBC News 2004). In the 1990s, al-Qaeda launched a series of terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies and military outposts, culminating in the 9/11 attacks, which claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 victims. These attacks have been attributed to their ideology which is based on the DIME Concept, Diplomatic, Informational, Military and Economic (Dobrot, 2007).
Although they were driven into hiding at the beginning of the War on Terror, Al-Qaeda remains highly vibrant and highly effective despite the detention of many of its members and even after the recent killing of its founding father, Osama Bin Laden, on May 2nd, 2011. On June 16th, 2011, Bin Laden's long serving deputy took charge of Al-Qaeda as the Organization's leader (Lee Ferran 2011).
Rigid and Intolerant, Al-Qaeda deems non-Sunni branches of Islam as heretics and has been responsible for much of the sectarian violence in amongst Muslims in Iraq as well as Pakistan (Anon., n.d.). It can be seen that religion dominates the basic ideology of Al-Qaeda as its ultimate goal is the achievement of a state or states ruled by its favored form of Islam.
If, in contrast, we look at another Islamic Radical group that has been ranked by the United States Department of State as being one of the top ten foreign terrorist organizations (U.S. Department of State n.d.). HAMAS, The Islamic Resistance Movement, is a Palestinian Islamist political party that governs Gaza Strip and few areas of the West Bank. It had its founding charter written in 1988, which stated its goal to be the establishment of a Muslim Palestinian state along with the elimination of the state of Israel (The Covenant of the Hamas: Main Points n.d.).
HAMAS operates as and consists of three wings; the military wing, the social wing and the political wing. The military wing, which was formed in 1992, consists of Brigades with highly professional training in combat and is usually engaged in covert activities such as carrying out military attacks, gathering intelligence information on (potential) adversaries and attaining weapons of sorts. The political wing governs the administrative and political agenda of HAMAS. And the social wing provides welfare services such as funding of educational centers, orphanages, mosques, healthcare services, soup kitchens etc. To Palestinians along the Gaza Strip and a few areas of the West Bank. (Hamas Charter 1988).
The military wing of HAMAS conducted various terrorist attacks in the early 1990s claiming the lives of Israeli military as well as civilians (After the Hamas Earthquake 2006). This was followed by various suicide bombings leading up to the middle of 2000s.
Al-Qaeda as well as HAMAS was both formed to protect the Muslims from oppression and non-Muslim rule. Their intentions lied upon the safeguarding of Islamic faith and values.
But how each organization chooses to interpret and obtain its objectives is entirely based on the ideology, circumstances and conditions of origin and the personality of the figures heading the respective religious group.
Al-Qaeda chose to use various acts of terrorism such as suicide bombings, kidnappings, attacks on U.S. embassies to capture the attention of the world. By infiltrating Iraq and the outskirts of Pakistan, threatening further distress and mayhem in these nations unless they conform to by their version and interpretation of Islam. This indicates the evolution of Al-Qaeda from an organization working towards the freedom of Muslims from oppression and communism to an organization intent on ensuring that certain Islamic Nations fall under their rigid control. Therein lays the political motive of this terrorist organization (Sedgwick, 2004).
HAMAS, on the other hand, started off with a string of violent suicide bombing attacks that lead to thousands of Israeli civilians and militants losing their lives, has turned to abandon its original charter and thus declaring it a part of history and irrelevant in modern times (Adas 2010). After winning the 2006 election by a stunning majority (After the Hamas Earthquake 2006), HAMAS offered Israel a ten-year truce "in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories." These territories include the much disputed West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem (BBC News 2006).
As it's ascertainable from the examples stated in this text, Al- Qaeda represents those religious terrorists and violent extremists who share the decision to interpret religion to justify violence and enforce their views and ideologies. Al-Qaeda not only deploys terrorism but religion as a tactic as well in order to try to persuade civilians and governments to bend to their will.
Although, HAMAS did not have any humble beginnings either, its course of action did change after it had won the 2006 elections, flipping one-eighty…