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What You Should Know About CESNUR

CESNUR and Internet Terrorism

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Cesnur and Terrorism

Do you criticize cult apologists? Do you post your criticism online in newsgroups or on web sites? In that case, Massimo Introvigne suggests you may be engaging in what he calls "Internet warfare and Internet terrorism." I'm not kidding. CESNUR recently posted an article titled:

It is the text (more or less) of a paper Introvigne presented at the annual conference of the Association for Sociology of Religionoffsite (ASR) (Chicago, Aug. 5,1999).

The session looked like this:

Session 7: Religious Tolerance and the Internet: Problems and Prospects

Convener, Organizer, and Discussant–David Bromley, Virginia Commonwealth University
  • "Anti-cult Terrorism via the Internet"

    Massimo Introvigne, Torino, Italy

  • "Counter-cultists and the Internet: The Slippery Slope Between Christian Apologetics and Religious Intolerance"

    Jeffrey K. Hadden, University of Virginia

  • "Religion and Rhetoric: Managing Scholarship and Interest Groups on
    NUREL-L"

    Douglas Cowan, University of Calgary

An interesting combination, that. David Bromley, Massimo Introvigne, and Jeffrey Hadden are considered by many secular anticult- and Christian countercult professionals to be cult apologists.

Douglas Cowan regularly fills in as moderator of Irving Hexham's NUREL-L mailing list. Mirroring Hexham's statements, Cowan believes that authors of Christian countercult literature

... systematically manipulate information in order to reinforce their points of view. However, it is done for a target audience that is often looking to merely validate their own preconceptions of other religious traditions.

"It is a common belief among fundamentalist Christian groups that if they can invalidate another's worldview they have somehow validated their own worldview."

To cult apologists, criticism of alternative religious movements is akin to "intolerance." Now Introvigne ups the ante, and suggests it is "Internet terrorism." It appears he does not realize that his own criticism, legal threats and bizarre Usenet "experiments" (as described in his paper), could - using his logic - also be considered "terrorism."

Though his paper has already been presented, the online version is marked

Preliminary version. © Massimo Introvigne 1999. Do not cite or reproduce without the written consent of the author.

That likely explains why it keeps changing.

Anyway, the folks who run Kelebekler, a site that has been on the receiving end of Introvigne's "Internet terrorism" (details), posted the following:

They righly point out that "CESNUR uses public funds for a study labelling all its critics as "extreme terrorists"."

What concerns some observers is that Introvigne appears to be laying the groundwork for an approach favored by many cults - that of using the courts in an attempt to silence, or at least harass, critics:

While vigilance against information terrorism via the Internet is in order, the best weapon against any form of information terrorism will ultimately be the integration of new sources into the already existing and internalized hierarchy of information sources. Education, social science, and courts of law (reconstructing new meanings to cater for concepts such as copyright or defamation as applied to cyberspace) will each have a major role to play in this eminently human enterprise.

Terrorism and Political Violenceoffsite, an academic journal, recently published Mr. Introvigne's article, Moral Panics and Anti-Cult Terrorism in Western Europe. The abstractoffsite concludes with

While there are actually and potentially dangerous religious minorities, anti-cult rhetoric in official documents may incite and provoke violence both against the assaulted movements and by the movements threatened. Law enforcement, the article concludes, should focus on the minority of violent religious and millenialist movements and the small extreme anti-cult fringes.

No incidation on whether Mr. Introvigne has considered what pro-cult 'rhetoric' from cult defenders may incite and provoke.

I encourage secular anticultists and Christian countercult experts to provide well-researched responses to Mr. Introvigne's barrage of CESNUR PR. Better yet, spend your time wisely and do exactly what he seems to fear: post well-researched countercult information to the Internet in greater quantities.

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