"Anti-Cult Terrorism": A Category Whose Time Has Come"

(Review of Massimo Introvigne's article in "Terrorism and Political Violence" for Spring 2000)

Is there an anti-cult terrorism? The use of this category by Massimo Introvigne in papers presented at several scholarly conferences raised some eyebrows. The category has been now somewhat consecrated by the acceptance, peer review and publication of Introvigne's article "Moral Panics and Anti-Cult Terrorism in Western Europe" in the journal "Terrorism and Political Violence" (12:1, Spring 2000, pp. 47-59). The latter may be safely regarded as the most authoritative academic forum on terrorism internationally, and is widely read by both academic scholars and the law enforcement community throughout the world.
After a discussion of moral panics about "cults" and "sects", and parliamentary reports followed by governmental action (particularly in France) as increasing moral panics, thus contributing to the problem, Introvigne mentions deviance amplification theories and the possibility that "a group publicly maligned in a moral panic environment may react by perpetuating and accentuating precisely these features publicly perceived as less desirable". Deviance amplification, thus, combined with certain internal features pre-existing in a limited number of movements, may contribute to generate a "cultic terrorism" of the kind studied in Robert Lifton's recent study of Aum Shinri-kyo. On the other hand, according to Introvigne, "violence may also erupt from organized opposition to new religious movements". The author mentions the bombing of Mormon chapels and the killing of missionaries in Latin America, and the bombing of premises of both the Unification Church and New Acropolis in Paris, as evidences of anti-cult terrorism. Physical terrorism is in turn prepared by verbal terrorism in the form of "extreme manifestations of discrimination and hate". Introvigne returns on a theme already discussed in recent issues of the journal, quoting Israeli political violence scholar Ehud Sprinzak to the effect that "governments and government agencies are responsible for the generation of large amounts of violence", and concludes that "governments may carry a heavy responsibility in generating violence both against and by assaulted minorities. The extreme discourse of the most lunatic anti-cult fringe may claim legitimation by the similar rhetoric used in French or Belgian official documents". The author identifies four roots of anti-cult terrorism in Europe: an extreme anti-religious language in the most militant fringe of secular humanism; "a left-wing" and "a right-wing" "anti-globalization discourses", both violently anti-American; and "some Islamic fundamentalist groups" that "have welcomed a violent anti-cult discourse, both as a tactical manoeuvre in order not to be involved in the anti-cult public repression, and because cults may target Moslems for proselytization". Introvigne invites to use the category of anti-cult terrorism with caution, without confusing the legitimate cult awareness community with the extreme fringe movements and figures. He argues, however, that the category is necessary precisely in order to direct international law enforcement to focus both "on the minority of violent religious and millennialist movements and the small extreme anti-cult fringes".

PierLuigi Zoccatelli

We encourage readers to purchase vol. 12 no. 1 of "Terrorism and Political Violence".
A limited number of offprints for personal use may be obtained from CESNUR at cesnur_to@virgilio.it

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