One of the problems in today's society that is truly global is terrorism. The definition of terrorism has changed over time from its beginning during the French Revolution. Then, it was defined as a revolutionary tool of statecraft to be wielded by leaders in order to create a new society. This definition has reappeared periodically, as other country's leaders have used fear to coerce their populations.
In Nazi Germany, Stalin's Russia, and the American Jim Crow South are all examples of this use of terrorism. While it is often said that "one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter," most analysts have agreed that terrorism is NOT guerrilla warfare, insurgency, criminality, or insanity.
The term "terrorism" is used to refer to an action by groups or individuals that exist within one or more countries that is political, violent, and designed to have far-reaching psychological effects. Terrorism is the use of violence (or the threat of the use of violence) against symbolic targets in order to force POLITICAL change: in official behavior and procedures, in regulatory rules and guidelines, and in laws.
While varying in methods, terrorism is a tool used by militarily weak organizations in order to win political rather than military victory. Terrorist organizations can be broadly characterized as one of several different types, but it is important to remember that each group is actually a mixture of these types in varying amounts.
Groups with secular goals may draw on co-religionists for recruits or support; religious groups may also have political and economic grievances, and so on. Ethno-nationalist groups have the well-defined goal of an independent government. This goal guides the choice of targets: generally the people or institutions associated with oppression and misrule. Attacks on such targets will undermine their legitimacy and promote the group's alternative with its audience. Examples of this kind of group include the Irgun Zvai Leumi in British Palestine, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in Israel, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, and the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) in Algeria.
Revolutionary terrorist groups want to remake the social and political system, and think that acts of violence are necessary to convince the masses that revolution is a possible and desirable thing. This belief in the "teaching value" of violence guides their choice of targets in the same way as ethno-nationalist terrorism, but with an emphasis on selecting people who are important nodes in the network fabric of society. They also differ from ethno-nationalist groups in that their goals for after the revolution are not always clearly defined. Examples of this kind of group include Narodnaya Volya in Russia, the Red Army Faction (RAF) in Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy, the National Liberation Movement (NLM, also called the Tupamaros) in Uruguay, and the Montoneros in Argentina.
Finally, and appearing more recently on the world stage, are religious terrorist groups. Unlike the other types, religious terrorists do not want to reform the system in which they live, they want to destroy it. They seek to hasten redemption through action -- their violence is intended to ignite apocalypse, and is given sanction/dispensation by a religious leader. They tend to have binary views of the world, believing that some people count and others do not; therefore the objectives of their violent acts are to wipe out as many unbelievers as possible. Examples of this kind of group include Aum Shinrikyo in Japan, al Qaeda globally, Hamas and Hezbollah in the Middle East, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and the American Christian Patriot movement in the United States.
Regardless of type, however, analyst Bruce Hoffman has identified the following goals as being shared by all terrorist organizations: attention, acknowledgment, recognition, authority, and governance. "Attention" is sought through publicity for the terrorist's cause. Many terrorist groups have become masters at manipulating both mass and social media for this purpose. The point of terrorism is to cause overwhelming fear and anxiety about the unknown, thus stampeding people into a different set of behaviors.
"Acknowledgement" refers to the terrorist group's need for others to sympathize with and support their cause -- for terrorism to be successful, it has to convince others of the rightness of its cause, and those others must materially sustain the terrorist group.
"Recognition" refers to the goals of having other organizations recognize their group as the advocate for their particular constituency, and recognizing the rights of their constituency. By "authority," it is meant that the group can effect a change in governance, geographical territory, or distribution of wealth on behalf of its constituency. And "governance" refers to the permanent consolidation of the group's authority -- its acceptance by its constituents and others as a legitimate government making and enforcing rules.
Terrorism can be conducted by both hierarchical, centrally organized groups, or by networked cells or individuals that share the same motivation. Much counterterrorism rhetoric assumes that the choice to use terrorism is based on someone's inherent criminality or lunacy. However, there are many people with criminal tendencies and/or mental illness, but there are not that many terrorists. So one must consider other factors as well. There are many elements involved in becoming a terrorist, from personality and ideology at the level of the individual and his or her choices, to the strategic environment and choices made by the group, and the societal conditions in which they exist.
Walter Laqueur identified personal characteristics that people who become terrorists have shared, such as religious and nationalist fanaticism. A fanatic is obsessive in pursuit of an idea, and sees obstacles as evidence of persecution to which one must forcefully react. However, there are other reasons people become terrorists.
For example, Robert Pape found that many suicide bombers act altruistically -- sacrificing themselves in order to further a goal that their community supports -- while some act egotistically, in order to escape intolerable personal situations. Others have found that terrorists tend to live in the future (after they have been victorious), to have a willingness to sacrifice material comforts in pursuit of their agenda, to share an impatience with other methods, and to have a belief in the efficacy of violence.
There is also a correlation between right-wing terrorists and psychopathy, although it should be noted that terrorists of all types of groups can become either inured to or enamored of the violence they wreak.
Many commentators in the past have focused on the pathologies of the people who become terrorists. Others have pointed to societal conditions, and to the organizational needs of the group. All are important, and work together to create a terrorist. Robert Pape also researched the strategic imperatives of the group. For some groups, using terrorism (especially suicide terrorism) makes a lot of sense, and the choice to use it is rational.
Suicide terrorism in particular works because it is shockingly effective, comparatively inexpensive, more lethal because it is guided and yet easy to do, and more secure than other methods and therefore harder to stop and more likely to succeed. It can offset the material and technological superiority of the enemy. It can also make the group stand out from other groups that may be competing for the same audience and for the same recruits and funding on behalf of the same constituency. Many groups carry out criminal activities, such as robbery and drug trafficking, in order to fund their political activities, preferably only until other means of support can be secured.
Laqueur also identified societal predictors of terrorism, such as high levels of youth unemployment, inequality, as well as social and economic stagnation. Poverty by itself is not a good predictor of becoming a terrorist, nor is social class. This means that one's absolute condition is not a contributing factor -- rather, it is one's perception of one's condition relative to others that are relevant. He also identified semi-democratic conditions or weak dictatorships as being conducive to terrorism -- enough so that people's grievances are not addressed, but not so oppressive that the government has clamped down on everything.
Left-wing revolutionaries in the late 1960s were reacting to the failure of student-led protests to create a freer, more just, and less materialistic society. The Tupamaros in Uruguay pioneered a very theatrical style of urban "guerrilla" actions that made them very popular with the public. They specialized in humiliating government officials in showy ways, such as a box that exploded revolutionary leaflets at a book fair, robbing a businessman of both his gold and documents proving his tax evasion, or occupying a town by using a fake funeral cortege to smuggle in weapons and "mourners." However, the Tupamaros were destroyed when Uruguay's military seized power in a coup in 1973 and cracked down.
The same enthusiasm for revolution in the abstract (and lack of political insight) also animated radical left-wing groups in Europe such as the Red Army Faction (RAF; also known as the Baader-Meinhof gang). Another definition of international terrorism is that of a shared political agenda and the ability to operate across borders, with members from more than one country. Palestinian groups were the most closely associated with this in the 1970s, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and their series of airplane hijackings; the terrorists would hijack a plane en route and use the passengers and crew as hostages in exchange for imprisoned compatriots. Also, there was the group Black September with a series of bombings and assassinations that culminated in the deaths of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich in 1972.
Furthermore, groups such as the RAF would travel to take part in Palestinian training camps, often receiving material support as well as instruction. The pioneers of suicide bombing were the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, who also used it as a battlefield tactic on land and at sea in the 1980s. Aside from maintaining elite units whose purpose was suicide bombing, ordinary fighters wore cyanide capsules that they would ingest if they were captured. This level of commitment became a cultural imperative in ethnic Tamil areas, and would be the model for the Palestinian group Hamas and the Lebanese group Hezbollah, which in turn would be the models for the Iraqi insurgency after the American invasion in 2003.
The 1990s saw a resurgence of right-wing violence in Europe, particularly Germany, and in the United States. These terrorists, however, did not attack the representatives of state institutions, but people and places representing the cultural, racial, or ideological "Other." Particularly at risk were immigrants, their businesses, and cultural institutions, but also attacked were abortion clinics, gay bars, and synagogues.
The deadliest terrorist attack on American soil until September 11, 2001, was the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by anti- government white supremacists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. The past 20 years have seen two innovations in terrorism: the quest for weapons of mass destruction, and the evolution of new organizational forms. Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo pursued many avenues to mass fatalities: chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons before settling on a poison nerve gas for an attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995. One of the most famous groups was al Qaeda, the group responsible for the 9/11 attacks. After the attacks, the U.S. military response destroyed much of the hierarchical organization, but al Qaeda was able to retain capacity and to reform itself as a global, networked organization linked more by ideology than by operations.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|