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"God and Terror"

Radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, center, speaks to the media from behind bars of a holding cell before the start of his trial in Jakarta, Indonesia, Feb. 24, 2011. Bashir denied that he helped set up a new terrorist cell & training camp.
AP Photo

"God and Terror"

Op-Ed, Public Discourse

May 20, 2011

Authors: Timothy Samuel Shah, Daniel Philpott, Monica Duffy Toft, Former Associate Professor of Public Policy; Former Board Member, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Former Director, Initiative on Religion and International Affairs.

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security; Religion in International Affairs


Whether or not one likes religious actors, they are here to stay. The issue is not whether but when and how religious actors will enter public life and shape political outcomes. The third in a three-part series.


Given what we have said about "God and Political Science" and "God and Democratic Diplomacy," we should note the downsides to global religion. Religion is a great source of war and violence in the world. Indeed, both religious terrorism and religious civil war have increased markedly during the same forty-year period in which religious democratizers expanded. Here, too, the religious were empowered by globalization, technology, and, in general, modernity. This may seem to be a concession to the secularization thesis. After all, the folks known as the "neo-atheists," Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, claim that where religion persists, it is violent and irrational. But things are more complex than that.

Part of the great surprise of religion's resurgence is that it also has been a forceful instrument of tearing down dictatorships, promoting democracy, mediating peace, and healing the wounds of war and dictatorship—quite the opposite of violence. And where religion is the source of violence, it results from the same factors that explain peace and democracy—degree of independence from the state and political theology. In the case of violence, though, these variables take on readings that are the opposite of those that lead to the more peaceful outcomes....

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For Academic Citation:

Shah, Timothy, Daniel Philpott, and Monica Toft. "God and Terror." Public Discourse, May 20, 2011.

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