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Contrasting Religious and Secular Terrorism


A few years ago, University of Chicago professor Robert Pape was the talk of the town for his theory that fighting occupation rather than religion motivated terrorism. Pape’s book, Dying to Win, was embraced by foreign-policy elites and many academics because it fit with politically correct notions that theology and religious ideology are less the problem than our own actions. Benazir Bhutto’s assassination certainly undercuts Pape’s thesis; those Islamist elements who assassinated Bhutto (or at least claimed credit for it) did seek act to counter ‘occupation’ but acted instead for upon religious imperative.

At any rate, Jonathan Fine has just published an excellent article contrasting religious and secular-inspired terrorism. He debunks Pape’s notion of a unifying theory of terrorism and concludes:

In order to better understand the political mindset of Islamist terrorist organizations, the formative texts of the Sunni and Shi‘i leaders should receive as much if not more attention than the strategies and tactics they apply. Giap, the mastermind of North Vietnamese guerrilla operations, once said, “Political activities are more important than military operations, and fighting is less important than propaganda.” In confronting Islamist terror, ideology is perhaps even more crucial.


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