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Experts contrasts difference between secular, religious terorrist groups


Dr. Jonathan Fine, researcher at the Institute for Counter Terrorism in Herzliya, answers questions after delivering a lecture at an event for young Jewish professionals at Beth Tzedec.  (Photo: Rachel Levy Sarfin) Dr. Jonathan Fine, researcher at the Institute for Counter Terrorism in Herzliya, answers questions after delivering a lecture at an event for young Jewish professionals at Beth Tzedec. (Photo: Rachel Levy Sarfin)

 

TORONTO - Al-Qaeda isn’t your grandmother’s terrorist group. The fundamentalist Muslim movement represents a sharp divergence from secular groups such as the Shining Path in Peru, said Dr. Jonathan Fine, researcher at the Institute for Counter Terrorism in Herzliya. Fine spoke at a recent event for young Jewish professionals sponsored by Congregation Beth Tzedec.

About 40 people sipped wine and nibbled on gourmet kosher cheese as Fine contrasted the agenda of secular and religious terrorist groups. The former government advisor on arms control, conflict resolution and counter terrorism tactics compared the significance of the rise of organizations such as Al-Qaeda to the fall of communism. Fine explained that since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, terrorism carried out by religious fundamentalists of all faiths has increased dramatically.

Until the mullahs hijacked the movement to overthrow the shah, terrorism around the globe was secular in nature.

Fine divided secular terrorists into three camps: anti-colonial, separatist and radical leftists. While these groups had different goals, Fine noted that they would still try to maintain a dialog with the authorities they worked against. Secular terrorists constantly communicated their goals to their enemies. On Sept. 11, 2001, Fine said he was struck that the hijackers did not talk to air traffic controllers.

“It was the sound of silence,” he said.

The attacks of Sept. 11 shocked the world. Fine believes that academics trying to understand Al-Qaeda miss crucial points. These professors and lecturers attribute the rise of religious terrorism to globalization, the end of the Cold War and the weakening of secular regimes across the world. Fine pointed out that academics do not comprehend how members of Al-Qaeda or similar organizations think because they do not read the religious texts that fundamentalists read.

These writings, which religious terrorists hold as sacred, give insight into how such groups identify their enemies.

For example, the texts that shaped Hamas’ ideology lead them to identify the entire Jewish people as their foe. And although they might not communicate with their enemies, organizations like Hamas are not shy in sharing how they feel about their nemesis.

Al-Qaeda and Hamas are also deadly serious in fulfilling their goals. Fine believes that if Iran develops nuclear warheads, it will use them against Israel.

“The world can’t afford to let Iran have the bomb,” he declared.

Fine sees the threat of religious terrorism playing out in the Middle East today as Egypt, Turkey and Syria all struggle with instability.

“I don’t know how things will unfold,” he admitted.

What he does know is that democracies have an obligation to defend their citizens against both religious and secular terrorists. The one advantage to dealing with secular terrorists is that they are not suicidal, giving governments more time to plan operations against them. Religious terrorists, conversely, have no qualms about sacrificing themselves. Their willingness to die makes targeted killings an important tool in the fight against terrorism, even if some democracies feel squeamish using that method.

The event was part of the Harry and Fraida Topper Annual Lecture Series at Beth Tzedec on Jewish life and Israel.

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