Bruce Hoffman on "Religious Terrorism"
I'm now reading another of the very short introduction booklets that I bought last week, this one on Terrorism by Charles Townsend, and I've found it useful. He cites and summarizes Bruce Hoffman's views on religious terrorism from Inside Terrorism (London: Victor Gollancz, 1998), which is probably somewhat dated in our post-9/11 era. Anyway, here's Townsend's summary:
Hoffman . . . propose[s] the core characteristics of religious terrorism. First, it has a transcendental function rather than a political one: it is 'executed in direct response to some theological demand or imperative.' Second, unlike secular terrorists, religious terrorists often seek 'the elimination of broadly defined categories of enemies' and are undeterred by the politically counterproductive potential of indiscriminate killing. Finally, and crucially, they are not attempting to appeal to any other constituency than themselves. (Townsend, Terrorism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: OUP, 2002)Interesting, but I disagree in part . . . and suspect that Hoffman might also now have altered some of this since 9/11.
The first characteristic still entirely holds, of course. Al Qaeda certainly believes itself to be acting upon a theological imperative, for it legitimizes its actions by appeal to the Qur'an and hadith (traditions about Muhammad), and it seeks to obtain supportive fatwas (religious legal rulings).
The second characteristic is largely still correct, but we should note that Al Qaeda desires not exclusively elimination, for it is willing to settle for conversion of infidels to Islam. Bin Laden's statement soon after 9/11 -- as some may remember -- was a call for Americans to convert to Islam.
The third characteristic is almost entirely incorrect, in my opinion. Al Qaeda appeals to a broader constituency than itself. It appeals to the Sunni Muslim world -- or tries to do so in an attempt to radicalize Sunnis worldwide and bring them into a jihad aimed at killing or converting infidels.
I could back these points up with facts gleaned from Al Qaeda's statements, but I figure that my observations are pretty obvious and uncontestable anyway, so I'll leave them as they are -- unsupported but widely recognized.