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Symbolism and Sacrifice in Terrorism

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This article compares an ETA shooting incident in the Basque lands with an IRA bombing in Northern Ireland with the aim of examining the often overlooked role of symbolism in ethnic terrorists acts. The study of symbolism is important because it plays a part in impelling the terrorist to act and then in defining the targets of their actions. And one of the most important symbolic acts is that of sacrifice, particularly the blood sacrifice whereby acts of violence link with religion and with man's collective being. The article examines how the importance of symbolism to ethnic nationalist terrorist arises from the particular cultural, social and religious milieu in which they live. This analysis suggests that the terrorist act itself is symbolic of the terrorist cause and should not be only understood in purely rational 'means-ends' terms.

Keywords: ETA; IRA; Terrorism; blood sacrifice; ethnic conflict; symbolism

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2002


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