Religion, Politics and the Military in Today’s World


Georgios Gartzonikas


Hellenic Air Force


Corresponding address:

14 Mpouziki Street


Athens, Greece


Dr. Joanne K. Lekea*

Hellenic Airforce Academy & National and Kapodistrian University of Athens/Department of History and Philosophy of Science

Corresponding address:

7 Neas Rodonis Street,

Melissia, 151 27

Athens, Greece


Phone Number:

0030-210-8035951, 0030-6972035616


E-mail address: ,


Panagiotis Michos


Hellenic Air Force



Corresponding address:

23 Kolokotroni Street

Amarynthos, Euboia




E-mail address:


The main purpose of this work is to understand the processes leading to the religious breakdown between east and west, as well as the current form of terrorist activities. The idea of holy war has definitely its roots in the past and we can only find its root causes and understand its development over time by looking at the parameters that determined it. Therefore, in order to understand the present, we need to take a few steps back and look at the history of the relationships between the West and Islam as a whole entity changing over time, without any time gaps.

In the current paper at the essence of the two civilisations, East and West, that becomes the determinant of the personality of their citizens and defines their identity, which in turn is the determent factor for their relationships and conflicts. We look at this phenomenon by taking a historical view at the Byzantine era – at the time of Crusades – that is the start of the conflicts between the two civilisations.

Finally, we conclude with an insight in how the meta-physical essence into which the two conflicting civilisations have arrived can become the centre around which the personality of their citizens revolves. We will try to analyse that by looking at fundamentalism, in its religious and political extensions, the crusades in the west and martyrs in East, as well as the meaning of martyrdom, in Islam that gives a meaning and covers current terrorists, who conduct and justify their atrocities in the name of religion. In this context, we examine the role and the impact of religion on the army’s institutions, as well as the influential role military chaplains can play in order to diminish the ideological differences between East and West.


Keywords: jihad, holy war, terrorism, Islam, fundamentalism


  1. The notion of Holy War in the West

The notion of Holy War in the Christian West was ideally expressed through the crusades. The initial seeds of the idea of Holy War appeared in the West during the 9th century, when death for religious causes during a fight started being recognized as worthy of a holy reward. It seems that, the primary role in the creation of a concept of holy war in the West was performed by the convention of adoration. The adoration of the Holy Places had started concerning and stirring Christians from the 4th century and ever since it went on incessantly until the 11th century. Actually, by the end of 7th century, it was included in regular penances and later on it was considered to be offering the possibility of a self-regulating purification to those who were willing to be exposed to the sufferings and dangers of such indications of religion. By 10th century, the blessing of the pilgrim’s wand, who departed for Jerusalem, was introduced in the liturgy as well. The pilgrims started being organized into groups and slowly becoming armored to protect their lives. Thus, armored action was legitimized for the pilgrims and one of the factors arose which would lead to the crusades, which are considered by some people as a deadly adoration.

    A crucial part for the creation of an expedient climate, which resulted in the phenomenon of crusades, was performed by the psychological agent as well. A series of calamities, like earthquakes, floods, famines, which occurred during the 11th century, and the eschatological traditions about the end of the world at the completion of the millennium, created a religious effusion and a psychological condition that found a resource on the way to Jerusalem, the crusade. This factor performed an essential role in the modulation of a crusade notion, but it wasn’t the only determinative one. Because, if anyone accepts this, he will have to reject the material motives as far as the crusades are concerned. Those motives did exist, as it is generally accepted, and it is mentioned in current sources. The enforced-due to the reformative movement- papacy, the new conception about the form and the obligations of a Christian knight and his connection to the offering of service to the Church, the constantly growing wave of pilgrims, the social and economic situation, the desire for peace on a European ground, the eschatological beliefs and the peculiar psychological climate prevailing, they all met at some point, during the last decade of the 11th century, with the promise of veniallness. The juncture of all these various tendencies and their completion with the remission, is a work of Urbane II and it occurs in Clermont in 1095, when the first crusade is declared. A necessary condition, however, for the remission giving was the motive, which should be the desire for the saving of the soul and the liberation of the Churches, not the acquisition of wealth or glory.

    The declaration and the organization of the holy war by the pope, meant that the leader of the Church had earned the status of protector of the Church and had replaced the emperor in this position, which was the aim of this reformative movement. Furthermore, through the crusades, the papal Church had the opportunity to constrain the conflicts between Christians so as to turn their war disposal (mainly the knights) towards the struggle against the faithless, a thing which would benefit Christianity in miscellaneous ways. This way, it gave a new meaning to the sense of knighthood, for it combined the ideal of a warrior with that of a Christian who is fighting for his faith.

    Another motive for the West Church was the desire for unification with the Church of Constantinople and an expansion of its sphere of influence in the East. Certainly, this was an obsolete request and tendency, but at that time, within the context of an ecclesiastic reformation, it obtained an even bigger importance for the arising papacy. Thus, some ideological, religious, but at the same time, political and material motives impelled the motivators of the crusades and the crusaders themselves. However, it is not easy to perceive which of these motivating powers was the most significant.

    The crusades bear certain characteristics, which we mention in short, because they’re the foundation for the comparison between ideology and practical application in the conduct of the Christian holy war in the West and the East:

a.       The aim of the crusade is to defend the Churches of the East and help the Christians that are persecuted by the faithless Muslims, to revenge for the insult that had occurred towards God with the conquest of the land that belonged to them, to punish them for the despoilment and destruction of temples and the persecution of His believers. The liberation of Jerusalem is still one of their main goals. Thus, the aim of the crusade is the glory of Lord, the expansion of the Christian world, the offer of further land to the Church and through it, to God.

b.      Holy war has a divine origin and is conducted after a divine command for the reason that has just been mentioned.

c.       The main exterior characteristic of the holy war of the West is the symbol of the cross. The cross is ahead of the army and is carried on the crusaders’ shoulders. The cross is signum salutis, it carries the salvation of the soul and victory.

d.      The hope for salvation that is given by the symbol of the cross is related to the promise for a forgiveness of sins.

e.       Torment is another element of the holy war. The crusader, who is killed or dies during the course, is recognized as a martyr, as it is stated in epistles and chronicles.

f.        God helps and protects true believers during the battle. For this reason, the purification of the warriors is essential before every battle. This is obtained through litanies, prayers, fast, avowal (sometimes with Communion as well) and charity.

g.       The parallelism with images and situations from the Old Testament is another particular characteristic of the crusades. The crusaders’ campaign in the Holy Places is thought to portray the Israelite’s path towards the Promised Land.

h.       The history of crusades is full of miracles, prophecies and predictions, just as it is in the Old and New Testament.

i.         The terminology of the crusades shows their immediate connection to adoration and their divine descent, according to their contemporaries’ conception. The crusaders are milites Christi, athletae Christi, fideles Christi. For their enemies, the Christians use a certain terminology as well, that has to do with the confrontation of their faith. Thus, they usually call their enemies infideles, gentiles, pagani.  These characterizations have also to do with religion: inimici Dei, satellites diaboli, satellites Antichristi. The Christians are presented as God’s children, while the Muslims as Devil’s children.

j.        The crusade is mainly the Church’s issue. The pope, being a representative of God, is the one who has the province to declare, organize and guide it.

k.      The crusade is virtually an aggressive war from a military perspective, even though in the sources it is presented as a defensive one.

l.         The corps of saints and martyrs had become an object of worship by the first centuries of Christianity. Adoration was thought to provide a greater moral completion if the pilgrim managed on his way home to bring back some valuable phylactery from the corps of a saint or martyr.

m.     In the East, there was an early development towards the worshipping military saints. Their worship, as it seems, was spread to the West during the 11th century and before the first crusade. Their presence in the battlefield emphasizes the religious character of the crusades.

  1. East: The Islamic Holy War          

       The spread of religion in Islam is parallel with the expansion of the state. This is because almost every expression of public and private life (politics, justice, morals, social and familiar behavior) is closely connected to religion and result from the Koran. The Koran is a godsent book for the Muslims. In this we have the ‘revelation’ of God’s will through the prophet Mohamed and is, along with hadith (the traditions referring to the actions and words of Mohamed) the basis of the religious, moral, legal and political concepts that rule the lives of the Muslim world. In Islamic conscience, there is no political thought which is independent of the religious one and ‘the purpose of the political life is determined by religion’.

     The Koran teaches the believers that they are the finest people on earth, the only ones who are marching to the road of salvation and justice. These people haven’t got as a common characteristic the tribe or social class, but religion. The faithful Muslims are those who ‘believed and accepted exile and tried with their fortunes and themselves for God’s purposes’ irrelevantly of their racial or social background. This subsumption, however, is meant not only as religious, but as political too and the believers must pursue it by using all means, peaceful and violent, in order to render Islam an international religion and an international state. The achievement of this goal demands for incessant and hard effort and a lot of time. For this reason, until its ultimate fulfillment, the Islamic notion divides the world in two areas, the ‘area of Islam’ (dar al-Islam) and the ‘area of war’ (dar al-harb). In the first area belong all those territories that are under the Muslim law and are inhabited by Muslims, congenital or after a reversal and by non-Muslims who belong to communities of permissible religions. The second area includes all those countries that are out of the Islamic law and are inhabited by faithless. Islam’s immutable target is to vanish the ‘area of war’, to subsume it to the Islamic law, to convert the entire world in an ‘area of Islam’ and unite it under the same religious and political power. Thus, the ‘area of Islam’ is in an incessant state of war against the ‘area of war’, until it incorporates with Islam.

    The instrument that is used for a global conversion to an ‘area of Islam’ is jihad, the ‘holy war’, the only war recognized by the Islamic law, for it is fair and sacred at the same time. Jihad was fair and ‘holy war’ which turned against the faithless. Through ‘holy war’ Islam defeats all threatening enemies, interior and exterior:


Fight against those who don’t believe in God…until they pay homage through voluntary homage, and they feel humiliated. [Koran (9) 29]

    In exchange, Islam offered them ‘security’ and ‘protection’ of their lives and fortunes, the ability to act out their religious duties and some legislative and judicial autonomy. The term jihad derives from the verb djihada, which, according to its grammatical variants, has multiple interpretations: make an effort, work eagerly, torture, annoy, struggle, fight, battle, conduct holy war, and fight against the faithless or heretics. Literally, the term jihad means the effort taken for a specific action. This can be spiritual, and aim at a moral and religious perfection after the destruction of temptations and senses, but at the same time a physical perfection, as stated by the divinization of the fight, the ‘war at the course of God’, for religion’s sake. The Koran and Hadith are usually used with this second meaning. Many believe that the ‘greatest’ and most difficult jihad is the spiritual one, while the physical is of less importance, inferior, because visible enemies are fought more easily than the invisible ones. According to Muslim jurals jihad can be conducted in four ways: with the heart, language, hands and sword. The first way expresses the spiritual, ‘greater’ jihad. With the second we have the defense of law and fighting off the injustice, the third and fourth are to conduct war against the faithless. Generally, jihad is connected to military action as an individual and collective duty of the Islamic community.

    As long as jihad refers to the effort for a moral and spiritual perfection through the fighting off of temptations, this is an individual obligation. But, when it comes to physical effort, to the war ‘on the grounds of Allah’, this obligation becomes collective and concerns the entire community, and it is asserted by the state and through it by God who has the ultimate power. Participation in jihad is obligatory for all men, as long as they correspond to certain requirements: they are faithful, spiritually and physically healthy, economically independent, with no debts and with a sufficient fortune so as to provide for themselves and  their families, to have their parents’ permission (with the exception of certain occasions of sudden attacks from the enemies). When they take part in jihad they must be obedient and faithful to their commander, honest and outright. The most important requirement is the purpose of their participation in a holy war, which must be kind and unselfish. Such a purpose is the defense of religion and the communication of God’s words to the faithless, and not the demonstration of courage and the obtainment of glory. The weak, the sick, the disabled, the poor, the slaves, the children, the old and the women are released from their obligations to jihad. The latter just help during the fight by taking care of the injured men, caring them and the dead, offering water to the fighters and encouraging them. Only in case of a sudden attack are they obliged to fight.

     Those who fight in the ‘course of God’ enjoy spiritual and material benefits. ‘Heaven’s doors are under the veil of the sword’ and they are open to those who take part in the holy war, on condition that their participation is due to their faith and not the pursuit of earthly benefits. They themselves are recognized as martyrs, if they are killed while they are fighting, they enter straight to heaven. Their place next to Allah is superior to that of the other ‘residents’ of heaven and their graves are distinguished from the graves of the rest of the believers by the sword that is shining on them. So, the consecration of war is quite obvious, as long as it is conducted for the religion’s and God’s sake. The warriors of jihad ensure, except for heaven, a participation in spoils of war. If they are killed during a battle, their share is given to their heirs.

         Jihad is the instrument with which Islam was pursuing the conversion of the ‘area of war’ into an ‘area of Islam’. Thus, holy war wasn’t an end in itself, but only the medium for the achievement of the goal. So, if this goal could be obtained peacefully, there was no reason for a war. The Muslims were obliged, before the hostilities began, to invite the faithless to embrace Islam. If they accepted, there was no reason to fight. This ‘invitation’ always had to precede the declaration of war to give the enemy the possibility of choice between Islam and peace or war. If the enemy rejected this alternative, a war was declared. Jihad is a continuous obligation that will vanish only when the entire area is subsumed in Islam. From what has been mentioned, we can see the offensive nature of physical jihad, of jihad as a holy war, since it aims at an international prevalence of the Islamic law.

When Muslims wage war for the dissemination of Islam, it is a just war: ‘Fight for the sake of Allah against those who fight against you but do not be violent because Allah does not love aggressors’ (al-Baqara 2:190)…Kill them wherever you find them. Drive them out of places from which they drove you…Fight against them until idolatry is no more and Allah’s religion reigns supreme’ (al-Baqara 2:190-92); when non-Muslims attack Muslims, it is an unjust war: "Fight for the cause of Allah... how could you not fight for the cause of Allah?...True believers fight for the cause of Allah, but the infidels fight for idols" (al-Nisa' 4:74-76)[1].

   When it comes to the conduct of war, one finds only small differences between Islam and other monotheistic religions or the international laws of war. Islam recognizes moral constraints on military conduct, even in wars against non-Muslims. As in other traditions, two categories of restrictions can be distinguished: restrictions on weapons and methods of war, and restrictions on permissible targets. And, just as other traditions sometimes permit these constraints to be set aside in extreme situations: ‘Necessity overrides the forbidden’. This precept allows moral constraints to be overridden in emergencies, though the criteria for determining whether an emergency exists are vague.

The Koran asks believers to honor their promises and agreements: ‘Keep faith with Allah, when you make a covenant… Do not break your oaths’ (al-Nahl 16:19). And: ‘Those who keep faith with Allah do not break their pledge’ (al-Ra’d 13:19). It also prescribes that the enemy be notified before an attack. Finally, regarding permissible targets of war, Koran is strictly prohibiting the targeting of children, women and the elderly. Consistent with this prohibition, as well as with the pre-Islamic tribal belief that it is not a sign of honor for a man to demonstrate his power to someone who is weaker, is the precept that prisoners be fairly treated (al-Insan 76:8-9). And because the goal of war against unbelievers is to force them to submit to Islam, not to destroy them, the rules of war forbid plundering and destruction.


 3. Martyrs in Islam and Christianity 

The expression 'martyrdom' has had a strange destiny in Islam. In the Koran, the word means bearing witness and not dying a holy death. It was, in all probability, after the Muslim conquest of Palestine in the seventh century that the notion of 'witness' (shahid) took on the explicit meaning of 'holy death' and the connotations of the Greek notion, meaning both 'witness' and 'martyr'. The expression shahid refers to Muslim martyrs who died on the field of battle whilst fighting the infidel, and who were promised great rewards in the life to come. The underlying sense of 'bearing witness' makes the martyr both the protagonist of a holy death and a witness to the truth of his faith.

In Christianity, acceptance of holy death was an act of witness testifying before men to the sincerity of one's faith before God and to the righteousness of the cause. The same twin meanings can be found in Islam. The Muslim shahid does, however, differ from the Christian martyr in one fundamental respect. In Christianity, death results from the Christian's refusal to obey the will of a powerful figure who wants to impose his religion upon him. The Christian does not seek to inflict death upon the Roman pagan who wishes him to foreswear his faith. He simply denies him the right to force him to go against the precepts of his religion. In the case of Islam, martyrdom is a death resulting from the fight against the enemy of the religion of Allah. It is dying for the cause of God that leads to the believer's death as a martyr: 'Whoever fights for the cause of God, whether he dies or triumphs, on him We shall bestow a rich recompense' (IV: 74).

In Christianity, the physical violence comes from those who hold authority and the Christian does not react with equivalent violence; in Islam, the fight against the enemies of Allah is characterised by legitimate violence, and one can slay or be slain. The enemy is not accorded any privilege and is not allowed to strike with impunity. If God's warrior slays, he will be rewarded by God; if he is slain, he has his place in Paradise. At this level, martyrdom takes on a totally different meaning to the meaning it has in Christianity. The Muslim's use of violence is legitimate and his fate will be decided at the end of the fight 'for the cause of God'. Martyrdom can therefore be summarised as follows:

1. One who fights for the cause of God, has immense merit.

2. One who dies in the course of the fight is a martyr and will go to Paradise.

3. Martyrdom is the non-intentional result of death on the field of battle (or in similar circumstances) at the hand of an enemy.

4. The ideal type of martyrdom involves an active commitment on the part of the Muslim.

5. Unlike Christianity, Islam does not renounce the use of physical violence against an enemy.


4. Τhe wider trend of religious terrorism

Between the mid-1960’s and the mid-1990’s, the number of fundamentalist movements of all religious affiliations tripled worldwide. Simultaneously, there has been a virtual explosion of identifiable religious terrorist groups from none in 1968 to today’s level, where nearly a quarter of all terrorist groups active throughout the world are predominantly motivated by religious concerns. Unlike their secular counterparts, religious terrorists are, by their very nature, largely motivated by religion, but they are also driven by day-to-day practical political considerations within their context-specific environment. This makes it difficult to separate and distinguish between the political and religious sphere of these terrorist groups.

 Nowhere is this clearer than in Muslim terrorist groups, as religion and politics cannot be separated in Islam. For example, Hizb’Allah or Hamas operate within the framework of religious ideology, which they combine with practical and precise political action in Lebanon and Palestine. As such, these groups embrace simultaneously short-term objectives, such as the release of imprisoned members, and long-term objectives, such as continuing to resist Israeli occupation of their homelands and liberating all the ‘believers’. This is further complicated with the issue of state-sponsorship of terrorism: Religious terrorist groups become cheap and effective tools for specific states in the advancement of their foreign policy political agendas. They may also contain a nationalist-separatist agenda, in which the religious component is often entangled with a complex mixture of cultural and political factors.

  The growth of religious terrorism is also indicative of the transformation of contemporary terrorism into a method of warfare and the evolution of the tactics and techniques used by various groups, as a reaction to vast changes within the local, regional and global environment over the last three decades. These changes can be seen in numerous incidents, from the spate of hijackings by secular Palestinian terrorists and the mayhem of destruction caused by left- and right-wing domestic terrorists throughout Europe, to today's unprecedented global scope and level of religious extremism.

A survey of the major religious terrorist groups in existence worldwide in the 1990s would reveal that almost all experience a serious sense of crisis in their environment, which has led to an increase in the number of groups recently formed and caused an escalation in their activities. This crisis in the religious terrorist's milieu is multifaceted in the social, political, economic, cultural, psychological and spiritual sphere. Yet, this sense of crisis, as a perceived threat to their identity and survival, has been present to varying degrees throughout history. In these cases, the believers use the religion in a variety of ways: they take refuge in the religion, which provides centuries-old ideals by which to determine goals; they find physical or psychological sanctuary against repression; or they may use it as a major instrument for activism or political action. Thus, religious terrorists perceive their actions as defensive and reactive in character and justify them in this way. Islam's jihad, for example, is essentially a defensive doctrine, religiously sanctioned by leading Muslim theologians, and fought against perceived aggressors, non-believers. In its most violent form, it is justified as a means of last resort to prevent the extinction of the distinctive identity of the Islamic community against the forces of secularism and modernism.

Almost all the contemporary terrorist groups have a distinct religious imperative. As such, the militant extremists' decisions to organize, break away or remain on the fringe are, to a large extent, conditioned by the political context within which they operate. Their decisions are shaped by doctrinal differences, tactical and local issues, and the degree of threat that they perceive secularization poses to their cause. This threat of secularization may come either from within the movements themselves and the environment within which they come into contact, or from outside influences. If the threat is external, it may amplify their sense of marginality within, and acute alienation from, society. It may also fuel the need to compensate for personal sufferings through the radical transformation of the ruling order. The internal threat of secularization is often manifest in a vociferous and virulent rejection of the corrupt political parties, the legitimacy of the regime, and also the lackluster and inhibited character of the existing religious establishment. Thus, religious terrorism serves as the only effective vehicle for violent political opposition.

The religious terrorist groups' perception of a threat of secularization from within the same society is also manifest in the symbolism used in the selection of their names, indicating that they have an absolute monopoly of the revealed truth by God. It is, therefore, not surprising that some of the most violent terrorist groups over the last decade have also adopted names accordingly: Hizb'allah (Party of God), Aum Shinrikyo (The Supreme Truth) and Jund al-Haqq (Soldiers of Truth). These names also endow them with religious legitimacy, historical authenticity, and justification for their actions in the eyes of their followers and potential new recruits. They also provide valuable insight into their unity of purpose, direction and degree of militancy, with names like Jundallah (Soldiers of God), Hamas (Zeal), Eyal (Jewish Fighting Organization) and Le Groupe Islamique du Arme (Armed Islamic Group, GIA) which promises unabated struggle and sacrifice.

The threat of secularization from foreign sources is also the catalyst for springing religious terrorists into action. Intrusion of secular values into the extremist's own environment and the visible presence of secular foreign interference provoke self-defensive aggressiveness and hostility against the sources of these evils. This is especially true against colonialism and neo-colonialism by western civilizations or against other militant religious faiths. These defensive sentiments are often combined with the visible emergence and presence of militant clerical leaders. Such leaders have more activist and militant ideologies than the mainstream movement from which they have emerged as either clandestine instruments or breakaway groups. It is often the case that these clerical ideologues and personalities act as a centrifugal force in attracting support, strengthening the organizational mechanisms and in redefining the methods and means through terrorism. At the same time, they provide theological justification, which enables their followers to pursue the sacred causes more effectively and rapidly. The so-called spiritual guides, who ultimately overlook most political and military activities while blessing acts of terrorism, can be found in almost all religious terrorist groups. Examples include Hizb'allah's Sheikh Fadlallah and Hamas' Sheikh Yassin, the militant Sikh leader Sant Bhindranwale and Aum Shinrikyo's leader, Shoko Ashara.

In many ways, religious terrorists embrace a total ideological vision of an all-out struggle to resist secularization from within as well as from without. They pursue this vision in totally uncompromising holy terms in literal battles between good and evil. A xenophobia against everything alien or secular which must be removed from the entire land, and a vehement rejection of western culture. This distinction between the faithful and those standing outside the group is reinforced in the daily discourse of the clerics of these terrorist groups. The clerics' language and phraseology shapes the followers' reality, reinforcing the loyalty and social obligation of the members to the group and reminding them of the sacrifices already made, as well as the direction of the struggle. In this task, many religious terrorist groups draw heavily upon religious symbolism and rituals to reinforce the sense of collectiveness. Examples of this emphasis on collectivity include the local reputation of the fighters of the underground military wing of Hamas, famous for never surrendering to arrest, the growth of Hamas martyrology, which lionizes martyrs with songs, poems and shrines, and the frequent symbolic burning and desecration of Israeli and American flags by several Islamic groups across the Middle East. This collectiveness is also reinforced by the fact that any deviation or compromise amounts to treachery and a surrender of the principles of the religious faith is often punishable by death.

The sense of totality of the struggle for these religious warriors is one purely defined in dialectic and cosmic terms as believers against unbelievers, order against chaos, and justice against injustice, which is mirrored in the totality and uncompromising nature of their cause. As such, the religious terrorists perceive their struggle as all-out war against their enemies. This perception, in turn, is often used to justify the level and intensity of the violence. For example, this theme of war is continuously detectable in the writings and statements by the terrorists, as exemplified by by Article 8 of Hamas' manifesto justifying that jihad is its path and that "[d]eath for the sake of Allah is its most sublime belief."

Religious terrorism also offers its’ increasingly suffering and impatient constituents more hope and a greater chance of vengeance against the sources of their historical grievances than they would otherwise have. Violent acts give these groups a sense of power that is disproportionate to their size. The basis for this feeling of power is enhanced by a strategy of anonymity by the religious terrorist which confuses the enemy. The perpetrators adeptly exploit this fear by invoking religious symbolism, such as the release of videotaped images of an endless pool of suicide bombers, ready to be dispatched against new targets. Religious extremists are unconstrained in the lethality and the indiscriminate nature of violence used, as it is conducted and justified in defense of the faith and the community. In fact, the lack of any moral constraints in the use of violence cannot only be attributed to the totality of the struggle itself but also to the preponderance of recruits of young, educated and newly-urbanized men (often with very radical, dogmatic, and intolerant world-views), in contemporary religious terrorist organizations. While the resort to martyrdom by certain groups can be explained by the heightened sense of threat to the groups and their causes within their own environment, it can also be explained by an increasing level of internationalization between groups both in terms of contact, similarity of causes and as examples of strategies. This is particularly evident among Muslim terrorist groups. For example, many Algerian, Egyptian and Palestinian Muslim extremists have participated alongside the Mujahadin fighters in the Afghanistan conflict. They trained with these Afghan fighters and supported them both physically and ideologically.

Yet, the mechanisms of unleashing acts of religious terrorism, in terms of intensity, methods and timing, are tightly controlled by the apex of the clerical hierarchy and most often dependent on their blessing. In most cases the strictly hierarchical nature of religious terrorist groups with a highly disciplined structure and obedient cadres means not only that the main clerical leaders command full control over the political as well as military activities of the organization, but also that the strategies of terrorism are unleashed in accordance with general political directives and agendas. Yet, the use and sanctioning of religious violence requires clearly defined enemies. The identity of the enemy and the decision to use religious violence against them are dependent on, and shaped by, the heightened degree of the sense of crisis threatening their faiths and communities. Internally, this militancy may be directed against the corruption or injustices of the political system, or against other religious communities; externally, it may be focused against foreign influences, which represent a cultural, economic, or political threat to the respective religious communities.

In comparison to their secular counterparts, the religious terrorists have not been particularly inventive when it comes to using new types of weaponry in their arsenals, instead relying on the traditional bombs and bullets. Yet the religious terrorists have demonstrated a great deal of ingenuity in terms of the tactics used in the selection of means, methods and timing of violence to cause maximum effect. They have utilized the notion of martyrdom and self-sacrifice through suicide bombings as a means of last resort against their conventionally more powerful enemies. While few terrorist groups adopt large-scale campaigns of suicide missions, the religious terrorist utilizes the traditional methods of assassination, kidnappings, hijackings, and bombings in a skilful combination in alignment with the current political context on the local, regional, and international level. Despite the growth and array of religious terrorist groups with diverse demands and grievances, they are all united not only in the level and intensity of violence used, but also in the role played by religious symbolism in selecting the targets and the timing of the violence itself.

Many of these terrorist groups are compelled to undertake operations with a distinct political agenda for organizational reasons to release imprisoned members or eliminating opponents. Nonetheless, the targets are almost always symbolic and carefully selected to cause maximum psychological trauma to the enemy and to boost the religious credentials of the terrorist group among their own followers. This is clearly evident from the selection by Muslim terrorists of western embassies, airlines, diplomats and tourists abroad as symbolically striking at the heart of their oppressors. Finally, the timing of the violence by religious terrorists is carefully selected to coincide with their own theological requirements or to desecrate their enemies' religious holidays and sacred moments.

5. Conclusions-The role of military chaplains.

This paper has sought to demonstrate that, contrary to popular belief, the nature and scope of religious terrorism is anything but disorganized or random but rather driven by an inner logic common among diverse groups and faiths who use political violence to further their sacred causes. The resort to terrorism by religious imperative is also not a new phenomenon, but rather deeply embedded in the history and evolution of the faiths. Religions have gradually served to define the causes and the enemies as well as the means, methods and timing of the violence itself. As such, the virtual explosion of religious terrorism in recent times is part and parcel of a gradual process of what can be likened to neo-colonial liberation struggles. This process has trapped religious faiths within meaningless geographical and political boundaries and constraints, and has been accelerated by grand shifts in the global political, economic, military and socio-cultural setting, compounded by difficult local indigenous conditions for the believers.

The uncertainty and unpredictability in the present environment as the world searches for a new world order, amidst an increasingly complex global environment with ethnic and nationalist conflicts, provide many religious terrorist groups with the opportunity and the ammunition to shape history according to their divine duty, cause, and mandate while it indicates for others that the end of time itself is near. As such, it is imperative to move away from treating this new religious force in global politics as a monolithic entity but rather seek to understand the inner logic of these individual groups and the mechanisms that produce terrorism in order to undermine their breeding ground and strength, as they are here to stay.

Bearing these in mind, the role of military chaplains can be very important in helping soldiers realize the enemy’s deeper beliefs. It is well known that during a war, soldiers face various dilemmas concerning the treatment of their enemies. Here are some relevant questions that came into play when asymmetrical warfare and terrorism rose: why terrorists choose to attack non-combatants? Does this mean that their culture does not respect certain moral dimension during hostilities? If this is case, are we obliged to protect from unnecessary harm such an enemy and his population? Military chaplains during their contact with soldiers or by preparing and forwarding informative material can help people in the army to comprehend and respect the differences among different religions. They can show us that except for the differences, important similarities exist as well. But the most important is that they can teach, perhaps with their own example, that mutual understanding, respect and love among people is crucial, even if we do not all share and credit the same beliefs.



* The author acknowledges funding support for this work from “Pythagoras” project, which is co-financed from Op. Education through ESF (European Social Fund) and National Resources.

[1] Present-day Islamic fundamentalist groups—groups whose programs are based on the revival of Islamic values—often invoke the idea of jihad to legitimize their political agendas. The reason for this misuse of the concept is simple: most fundamentalists are lay people who lack intimate knowledge of Islamic sources and who politicize Islam to justify their activities. Before the Gulf War, for example, this occurred in Egypt, during the Lebanon War, and in the civil war in Sudan.