The Contrasting Ethical Foundations of Terrorism in the 1980s

by Bruce Hoffman

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This paper argues that the character of the ethical foundations of terrorism have changed. Increasingly, terrorism is perpetrated by groups with a dominant religious component in contrast to the largely politically oriented groups of the past two decades. Terrorism motivated by a religious imperative is less discriminate than that with political aims, and it therefore encompasses a wider range of targets. In addition, the shift from a predominantly political to a largely religious motivation explains the increase in the lethality of terrorist acts more than does the growth in the number of terrorist groups or their need to commit more violent acts in order to attract public attention.

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