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59 Increasingly, the process is not as simple as a recruiter inveigling a disaffected individual, or a person or group self-recruiting in isolation. In the United States, the radicalization of Timothy McVeigh illustrates this hybrid situation, while in the United Kingdom speculation continues regarding the trip by two of the July 2005 London bombers to Pakistan, as well as their associations with other actors in the United Kingdom. In both cases, the bombers appeared to have recruited themselves, but in neither case did they act alone. Instead they sought logistical support from a wider network. As important, if not more so, than logistical support is the moral support provided by the movements. This held true in all three cases, where the movement provides deeply needed political and ideological succor to the violent actors in the operational part of the movement.7 Ultimately, even if the grooming of earlier phases is successful, either through bottom-up or top-down processes, it may encourage association and mobilization, but will not necessarily lead to violence or self-sacrifice.8 Individuals are not likely to accept such “high-risk activism” even when the motivation for action is already present.9 Religion therefore becomes instrumental for justifying violence and for altering the individual’s calculus of the involved risk and cost. In each of EWI’s case studies, religion was rarely the objective cause of violence. Instead, religion was distorted into a rationale and sanction for the commission of violent acts and to incite recruits to commit violence. Religion is used, or misused, to provide a rationale and justification for violence in a way that increases the likelihood that a disaffected individual will engage in violence. By introducing religious justifications for violence, extremist leaders create a framework in which normal constraints become irrelevant. Religion alters the cost/benefit dynamic, removing biological and material self-interest and replacing it with what has been termed spiritual self-interest.10 Serving God, in this case through violence, becomes a central means for salvation, the true reward.11 The individual is not only promised spiritual benefits, but also indoctrinated to believe that a failure to act means risking their own salvation and possibly allowing satanic forces to prevail. Extremist movements are adept at using the religious nature of their message to convey this sense of personal obligation and responsibility to act. Individuals who accept this premise are willing to undertake high-risk actions because failure to do so would “jeopardize


Mike German (former special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, current policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union) interviewed by Daniel Levitas (EWI Researcher), March 2007. 8 Ibid. 9 Wiktorowicz, Radical Islam Rising, 200. 10 See Wiktorowicz. 11 Ibid.

their prospect of salvation and thus their self-interest. In short, inaction violates self-interest.”12 Creating a war mentality in which these actors take on the identity of soldiers of God also removes the criminality involved in the commission of violence. Soldiers are meant to kill the enemy, and doing so in the name of God makes the war just. Religion eclipses and supersedes the state in its authority over the commission of violence, and as God’s law trumps man’s law, this breaks the state’s monopoly over violence. Extremists of each faith thus commit violent acts with a full sense of legitimacy. Once an individual is spiritually primed to commit violence, the act itself is most often triggered by any number of tangible and temporal motivations including: •

A desire for revenge, generally viewed by extremists as justice;

The desire to mark a symbolic date;

The belief that the enemy is encroaching, and a failure to act would be catastrophic; or

The assumption that all non-violent means of action have failed, and something must be done.

Additionally, group dynamics often play a role, and just as an individual may have a tipping point that pushes or pulls him toward violence, so too may a movement. In searching for an answer as to how religion can be such a force for good and also used to support such evil actions, one of the most important variables is language. Language plays a larger role than simply the passive sanction of violence within the movement. In each of the three case studies, EWI’s research also found numerous instances in which language was used to publicly incite violence or provide ideological support for the commission of violence. This type of sanction is critical in Israel, since extremist actors and groups will not act without the authorization of rabbis who will back them and give them the theological and ideological permission to carry out their activities. Yigal Amir has said he would not have assassinated Rabin without sanction from the rabbis, who issued the order of Din Rodef [the Law of the Pursuer] against the prime minister. This judgment decries that it is a person’s obligation to kill a “pursuer” in order to save the “pursued.” It is a rare and grave judgment in modern times, given that is essentially a death sentence. Essentially, by branding Rabin, these extremist rabbis helped to incite, and certainly sanctioned, his murder.13

12 13

Ibid, 200. See Chapter 2 in this report (Kraft).