Headlines and policy initiatives need to move away from using ‘religion’ as a way of explaining many terrorist attacks, research has shown.
A Senior Research Associate at Lancaster is proposing a new analytical model in the study of terrorism which gives more informed answers to the ‘why’ questions that surround terrorist attacks.
Dr Matthew Francis, of the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion, suggests that by studying the ‘sacred’ beliefs and values – those that are non-negotiable and of core importance – of both religious and non-religious groups, we can better understand why some go on to commit acts of terrorism.
Dr Francis analysed the discourses of a number of groups, religious and non-religious, violent and non-violent, and marked examples of statements that evidenced their non-negotiable beliefs and values. He then studied these core beliefs and values, the language that was used to describe them and the way the groups responded to them being defied and threatened.
For example, in comparing statements from Al Qaeda around the time of 9/11 with a non-violent Islamist group, he noticed that although both believed that Jews and the West were responsible for the persecution of Muslims, they spoke about it in different ways and with different suggested solutions. Al Qaeda saw violence as the only option whereas the other group did not.
Dr Francis advises, therefore, that using broad religious labels as an explanation for terrorism, such as ‘Islam’, is inappropriate and can lead to dangerous stereotyping.
He suggests the analysis of groups’ non-negotiable beliefs and values could be used as an investigative tool to give informative answers as to the motivations and justifications for violent terrorism.
Dr Francis said: “While governments have been keen to differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Islam, this in itself is unhelpful and religion is still being used as the main headline in most explanations.
“So Islam and terrorism are often confused and it is assumed that people become terrorists just because of more broadly-held religious beliefs.
“When we start to examine the values of terrorist groups, we can get a better idea of what is unique about them and what actually motivates them.”
The full research is available on open access for free here.