A “cosmic war” is an imagined battle between metaphysical forces—good and evil, right and wrong, order and chaos—that lies behind many cases of religion-related violence in the contemporary world. These transcendent spiritual images have been implanted onto the social and political scene, magnifying ordinary worldly conflict into sacred encounter. There is nothing specific to Christianity, Islam, or any other religion about this idea of cosmic war. Every religious tradition contains images of grand battles that have a divine valence to them. Hence every religion has some kind of mythic or legendary scenario of warfare that can be transported into contemporary conflict and elevate a social or political confrontation into cosmic war.
The Tiger Movement had one ultimate political goal, and two main alternating methods to reach this goal, which was to obtain recognition by world community for the right of self-determination for a group of people living in the northern and eastern provinces of the island of Sri Lanka (in accordance with UN A/Res/42/159, from 1987). These people were Tamil speakers. Self-determination implied the right to secession and to the establishment of a separate and sovereign state called Tamilīlam. Peaceful methods to reach this goal were negotiations, diplomacy, lobbying, conferences, workshops, and above all mediatation; Gandhian methods like hartal “strike” (closing down of shops) and satyāgraha “holding onto truth” (non-violent resistance like sit-downs) have also been used during the period 1956 till today. The Tiger Movement has promoted the non-martial method of fasting to death in protest, but this was not in the orthodox Gandhian way, which did not make a choice between martial and non-martial acts dependent on the circumstance. All non-martial methods could be militant, but not violent.
Depending on the circumstances, alternate methods, closely related to each other and to the goal, were used. The non-martial methods were used transnationally, the martial methods nationally, only on the island of Sri Lanka, with one exception—the assassination in 1991of Rājiv Gāndhi, which was executed in Tamiḻnāṭu.
Vēluppiḷḷai Pirapākaraṉ was conscious of several methods to reach the goal, but there was only one goal. In 2003, however, the Tiger Movement for the first and only time, suggested a temporary suspension of this goal, an interim regional autonomy instead of separatism for a period of trial of five years. This did not change the ultimate goal, but suspended its realization in time to create space for negotiations. The government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) rejected this proposal, called Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA); The GoSL already had an ultimate goal, the preservation of the constitutional and centralized unitary state. This rejection threw both sides back to their starting point.
The martial method to reach the ultimate goal consisted of several different forms of armed struggle, which were parallel with the non-armed struggle; each time the non-armed struggle failed, the martial struggle gained momentum, from the 1970s to 2009. We count today four periods of war from 1983–2009, separated by truces and cease-fires, but not by peace. Combatants made extensive use of the martial method of voluntary death, which in media language goes under the name of suicide attack, belt bombing, etc. The media has made this an identity-marker of the Tiger Movement.
The Tiger Movement’s martial methods comprised assassinations squads, whose task was to assassinate VIPs related to the GoSL, guerrilla attacks, martial methods of a standing army with specialized brigades, and attacks by deep penetrating units, often ending in voluntary death. The motto for all methods related to its ultimate goal was “the task of the Tigers is (to establish) Tamiḻīḻam.” The combatants’ determination was to act according to the norm do or die, which might end up as do and die—as it did in May 2009, the end of the Tiger Movement.
The leader of the Tiger Movement, Vēluppiḷḷai Pirapākaraṉ, held the firm view that methods may change (continuously), but the goal does not. He held the same ultimate goal, which was political, to establish Tamiḻīḻam based on the right of self-determination of a people. It was universal, he emphasized. He also referred to legal forms of violence in a national struggle for liberation from colonial and foreign domination (according, for example, to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/33/24 of November 29, 1978).
The reason for actualizing the right of self-determination for Tamil speakers was the result of political, social, and economic discrimination, including 171 massacres, well documented by the North-East Secretariat of Human Rights (NESoHR). [NESoHR, Massacres of Tamils 1956–2008 (Chennai: Manitham Publishers, 2009). There is a German edition, which also contains the massacres by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). NESoHR, “Damit wir nicht vergessen …” Massaker an Tamilen 1956–2008. Mit einer Einführung von Professor (em) Dr. Peter Schalk (Heidelberg: Draupadi Verlag, 2012)]. These massacres amounted to genocide in the interpretation of the Tiger Movement, performed by the government of Sri Lanka from 1956–2009, and by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), during 1987–1990, with the assistance of deliverance of arms by India, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and Pakistan. The Tiger Movement was well aware of geopolitical reasons why the United States and India would not allow Tamiḻīḻam to emerge. The unarmed and armed struggles by the Tiger Movement were to counteract a deeply felt injustice. The two methods were closely related to the ultimate goal, which gave the Tiger Movement a moral justification, though the world outside did not necessarily agree.
Today we see that both methods were unsuccessful and the ultimate political goal was not reached. The GoSL suppressed the peaceful methods, and the martial methods earned the Tiger Movement the classification of “terrorists” by the United States, the European Union, India, Sri Lanka, and several other states. The end of the Tiger Movement came in May 2009, but Tamil speakers still cultivate its ultimate political goal, especially in the worldwide, transnational diaspora.
The Tiger Movement (puli iyakkam) was only one half of the organization known as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE), founded in 1972 and reconstructed in 1976. The other half was known as the People’s Movement (makkaḷ iyakkam). In an environment of lasting peace, we could speak of a military organization that was subordinated to a civil society, but in a war environment, the hierarchy was reversed. The People’s Movement became supportive of the Tiger Movement in many ways. Civil tasks, like political administration, police, the judiciary, and the financial sectors were under the Tiger Movement in a de facto state, which was not recognized by any state.
GoSL based its claims for unity and the recognized sovereignty and integrity of its state on recognition by the United Nations and on a Constitution from 1972 and 1978. It insisted on the preservation of a centralized state-formation characterized as a unitary state, which made separatism, even non-violent agitation for separatism, illegal.
The ultimate goals of both parties, the recognition of the right of self-determination of a people and the preservation of the sovereignty of a state were incompatible. Confederalism and federalism were also rejected by the Tiger Movement, because they were too little, and by the GoSL, because they were too much.
Ryan P. Jordan
For centuries before the European colonization of North America, sectarian, ethnic, and racial discrimination were interrelated. The proscription of certain groups based on their biological or other apparently ingrained characteristics, which is one definition of racism, in fact describes much religious prejudice in Western history—even as the modern term “racism” was not used until the 20th century. An early example of the similarities between religious and racial prejudice can be seen in the case of anti-Semitism, where merely possessing “Jewish blood” made one inherently unassimilable in many parts of Europe for nearly a thousand years before the initial European conquest of the New World. Throughout Western history, religious values have been mobilized to dehumanize other non-Christian groups such as Muslims, and starting in the 16th century, religious justifications of conquest played an indispensable role in the European takeover of the Americas. In the culture of the 17th- and 18th-century British colonies, still another example of religious and racial hatred existed in the anti-Catholicism of the original Protestant settlers, and this prejudice was particularly evident with the arrival of Irish immigrants in the 19th century. In contemporary language, the Irish belonged to the Celtic “race” and one of the many markers of this race’s inherent inferiority was Catholicism—a religious system that was alternatively defined as non-Western, pagan, or irrational by many Anglo-Saxon Protestants, who similarly saw themselves as a different, superior race. In addition to the Irish, many other racial groups—most notably Native Americans—were defined as inferior based on their religious beliefs. Throughout much of early American history, the normative religious culture of Anglo-Protestantism treated groups ranging from African slaves to Asian or Middle Eastern immigrants as alternatively unequal, corrupt, subversive, or civically immature by virtue of their religious identity. Historians can see many examples of the supposedly dangerous religious attributes of foreigners—such as those of the Chinese in the late 19th century—as a basis for restricting immigration. Evangelical Protestant ideas of divine chosen-ness also influenced imperial projects launched on behalf of the United States. The ideology of Manifest Destiny demonstrates how religious differences could be mobilized to excuse the conquest and monitoring of foreign subjects in places such as Mexico or the Philippines. Anglo-Protestant cultural chauvinism held sway for much of American history, though since the mid-1900s, it can be said to have lost some of its power. Throughout its history, many racial or ethnic groups—such as Hispanic Americans, African-Americans, or Asian Americans in the United States have struggled to counter the dominant ethnic or racial prejudice of the Anglo-Protestant majority by recovering alternative religious visions of nationhood or cultural solidarity. For groups such as the 20th-century Native American Church, or the African American Nation of Islam, religious expression formed an important vehicle to contest white supremacy.
Hans G. Kippenberg
An instruction manual consisting of four sheets in Arabic was found with three of the four teams that performed the terror attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. The writing conceived of the action as a raid (ghazwa), as we know it from early Islamic history. It instructed the teams how to perform the ghazwa correctly. Purifying their intentions by recitals, rituals, and bodily cleaning, they turn their attack into an act of worship. A part called the “second stage” anticipates the issue of assuring divine protection at the airport. Finally “a third stage” urges the teams to act in the plane according the practice of the Prophet and to achieve martyrdom.
To understand the manual and its framing of the violence, six dimensions will be analyzed: (1) Arguments for and against the authenticity of the document are discussed. (2) The attack happened in the wake of a declaration of war by the “World Islamic Front for the Jihad against Jews and Crusaders” in 1998, signed by Osama bin Laden and leaders of other jihadist groups. (3) The message spread across the Internet and was accepted by various groups that regarded the situation of Islam as threatened, among them a group of young Muslim men in Hamburg. A network called al-Qaeda emerged. (4) The present world is dominated by the power of ignorance and hubris (jahiliyya). The manual prescribed an attack in terms of the raids (ghazwa) of the Prophet in Medina. (5) The manual presumes a particular communal form of organizing militant Muslims. (6) It celebrated militancy of Muslims and presupposed a fighter’s ethos in the diaspora. An argument is made that the American concept of terrorism as a manifestation of evil and immorality destined to be eradicated militarily by the United States and their allies ignores the secular character of conflict and accelerates the cycle of violence.
From the late 1970s to its defeat by the Government of Sri Lanka in 2009, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fought for Tamil independence in Sri Lanka. The ultimate aim of what was often considered to be one of the world’s most disciplined and efficient insurgency groups was to create an independent Tamil homeland (which they called Tamil Eelam) in the northern and eastern parts of the island. The LTTE based itself on a unique mix of Tamil nationalist, socialist, and feminist visions of a new future for the marginalized Tamil communities of Sri Lanka. The LTTE became feared for its extensive use of suicide missions, carried out by soldiers of both Hindu and Catholic backgrounds. Because of the marginalization of the Tamil-speaking Muslims from the Tamil nationalist project, none of the LTTE soldiers were Muslims. Generally speaking, religion played—and in the 21st century continues to play—a minor role in the ultimate nationalist goal of establishing Tamil Eelam. Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka centers around Tamil culture, language, literature, and regional identity, not religion. The LTTE’s official ideology was strictly secularist, expressing a clear separation between religion, the state, and politics. The LTTE accepted individual religious practices in its ranks—for example, having a personal crucifix or a holy picture within military camps, but did not facilitate institutionalized religious practice. Yet religious formations, controversies, and practices have been important, if not crucial, to Tamil separatism and, ultimately, to the LTTE itself. In a short period of time, the LTTE developed a unique martial culture and martyr cult, drawing on numerous cultural and religious sources in Tamil society. This martyr cult encompassed references to the Christian tradition of martyrdom, Hindu bhakti (devotional) literature, and classic Tamil heroic poetry. Each martyr’s self-sacrifice formed part of a symbolic universe that was fundamentally nationalistic, but Christian and Hindu references and ritual language were employed to help to legitimize the sacrificial act. The ideology of martyrdom transcended the martyrs’ religious backgrounds, and instead of a place in paradise or release from the cycle of reincarnation, it promised eternal life in the memory of the nation. Within the cultural and political universe of the LTTE, the nation and its territory became sacralized, and the LTTE’s meticulously articulated martial culture began to take on quasi-religious qualities. At the ideological level, the LTTE propaganda machinery managed to balance secularism, deep religious sentiment, and religious diversity, and religion functioned as a multilayered concept used for a variety of purposes by military and political leaders. Religion can also be identified as various “fields” within the movement: “civil religious,” “Śaiva religious,” and “Tamil Catholic religious,” allowing for overlapping yet distinct Hindu, Catholic, or nonreligious identities under the sacred canopy of Tamil nationalism.