Following the tragedy of 9/11, history’s most deadly terrorist attacks, the U.S. declared War on Terror. As a result, terrorism has become a source of pervasive fear and loathing across America. On September 12th the nation awakened to a reality already known throughout much of the world and the first question Americans asked was, “Why do they hate us?” But few waited to hear the answers. Perhaps some thought it was a rhetorical question, while others waited for the government and media to provide answers.
The first rule of war is to know your enemy. Terrorists are not a simple enemy to know. They have a myriad of complex motivations as individuals and as groups. In fact, few people can even agree on a definition of terrorism. Many people agree that terrorism is a despicable crime, but others argue that one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.
This series of Issue Briefings attempts to present some alternative viewpoints, not to justify or condone terrorism (mandatory disclaimer), but to shed some light on what motivates people to kill and die for a political purpose and to suggest some different perspectives and ways to approach the problem of political violence.
In 2001, the U.S. State Department had officially designated 22 foreign terrorist organizations. By 2003 the list had grown to 36 organizations with dozens more groups listed as unofficial terrorist organizations. Either terrorism is a tremendous growth industry, or the definition of terrorism has become increasingly liberal in its designations.
Terrorism is not a mysterious phenomena; it’s simply a form of political violence. It’s a tactic, not a movement. Terrorism represents the final escalation in the process of political violence. Arguably, terrorism or less deadly forms of political violence would not exist if other non-violent methods of reform and conflict resolution were available to the dissidents.
A Definition of Terrorism
Virtually every book on terrorism begins with a discussion of the problem in agreeing on a definition and no single definition has universal acceptance. For the purposes of this report, however, we have chosen the definition of terrorism used by the U.S. State Department, contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d). That statute contains the following definitions:
“The term ‘terrorism’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant* targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.
The term ‘international terrorism’ means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country. The term "terrorist group" means any group practicing, or that has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism.”
*Noncombatant is interpreted to include civilians and military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed and/or not on duty (a point of dispute). Attacks on military installations or on armed military personnel when a state of military hostilities does not exist at the site, such as bombings against US bases in the Persian Gulf, Europe, or elsewhere, are also considered terrorism. The U.S. also recognizes that, “terrorist acts are part of a larger phenomenon of politically inspired violence, and at times the line between the two can become difficult to draw.”
This definition, like most others, raises more questions than it answers. Is airline hijacking, or kidnapping violence? Is a government building a non-combatant? If innocent civilians are casualties of violence directed against a legitimate target (collateral damage) is the act terrorism, or a tragic mistake? If violence against non-combatants is perpetrated by a state, is that not terrorism? If not what it? And, why does it matter?
Applying the “terrorist” label to an organization immediately demonizes that group, invalidates their objectives and disqualifies its followers from any voice in the political process. Ironically, such consequences reinforce the situation that motivated the group to resort to violence in the first place. Many states assert that they will make no deals with, or concessions to terrorists. It is standard practice to also deny dissidents access to the public media and airwaves to explain or advance their causes. Governments that refuse to talk to, or negotiate with terrorists foreclose opportunities for early resolution. Meanwhile some countries have been considerably more willing to negotiate, often paying ransoms, arranging prisoner releases, or agreeing to other demands.
Types of Terrorism
The current interest in terrorism focuses on the violence perpetrated by Islamic Fundamentalists (Islamists) Terrorism has been used as a tactic for centuries but has become more pervasive since the 1960s. After World War I and II, colonial powers redrew the maps in many parts of the world and gradually reduced their colonies. This led to a rise in nationalist movements seeking self-determination, or seeking to replace rulers that had been imposed by the colonists. Many of the resulting conflicts have involved revolutionary warfare strategy and guerrilla tactics.
However, traditional guerrilla warfare is often inappropriate in urbanized countries. For instance, rebels cannot gain and hold control over land when opposed by superior forces and cannot employ overt hit-and-run attacks effectively, without large losses. What emerged was a new doctrine of urban guerrilla warfare, which has evolved to include terrorist tactics.
Until recently, terrorism has been most closely associated with ethnic and minority group struggles for independence and self-determination. The primary area of conflict could usually be defined, as could the adversaries and their various aspirations. During the 1990s a new form of international terrorism emerged that appears less rational, less focused, more international and more deadly – Islamist Terrorism.
In fact, many of the causes and motivations remain strikingly similar to what could be called traditional modern terrorism. What is different is the religious ideological foundation, the broad definition of adversaries, the evolution in terrorist tactics and the desire and potential for devastating levels of destruction. Islamist extremists appear willing to ignore taboos against killing innocents and able to rationalize their actions by distorting Islamic teachings. The potential to use chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons of mass destruction has created a new level of terror that demands effective solutions.
Unfortunately, states have had relatively poor results deterring, containing or eliminating political violence. Those that have been successful have used extreme, repressive measures that have threatened the rule of law, personal freedoms and human rights. There must be a better answer.
Terrorism doesn’t just happen. Terrorism is an advanced stage of a failed political process that begins with inequities and injustice, and moves from frustrated attempts at reform that breed fear and anger, to political confrontation that erupts in violence, which can be exploited to rationalize the use of any form of violence against any target. It seems that solutions to terrorism could be found at any stage of the evolving, or deteriorating political process. This suggests that we must start by understanding the historical context for today’s conflicts.
Since the end of the Cold War, world conflicts have changed. Today’s conflicts tend to be internal, or intra-state conflicts, rather the conflicts between states. Many states were created by the former colonial powers after World War I and again after World War II. Westerners, the former colonial powers, drew the boundaries of these new states with little regard for ethnic and religious demographics that had existed for centuries.
The Kurds, for example, were promised a state of Kurdistan after WWI, but when the lines were drawn, the Kurdish people had no state and were divided among Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Iraq was overlaid on a region inhabited by Kurds and Arabs, with the Arabs further divided between Sunni and Shia’ Muslims, even though the Shia’ more closely identified with people of Iran. Palestine was partitioned to create a Jewish state - Israel. Ireland was partitioned with the South becoming Ireland, while the North was retained as part of the United Kingdom. Elsewhere, national groups were absorbed into a larger, multi-dimensional state. The Basques of the northern Iberian Peninsula were absorbed into Spain. A wide array of ethnic groups merged to become Turkey, Yugoslavia and the USSR. The Tamil people were absorbed into Sri Lanka and so forth.
Few people are willing to abandon their ethnicity, culture, language, religion or traditions to pledge allegiance to a new, artificial and unproven state. Yet to survive states had to compel people to accept their authority. Their challenge was to create a nationalist identity where there was none. Rulers often resorted to oppressive tactics: imposing a state religion, or language, banning certain cultural traditions and imposing limitations on public gatherings, organizations, expression, or participation in the political process.
After World War II, America emerged as an economic powerhouse. Europe was rebuilt and re-established its economic strength as the world economy developed. Meanwhile many of the new states floundered, while some with natural resources, like oil, prospered - but those that prospered rarely shared the wealth. Only the ruling classes enjoyed the economic benefits. In some cases the ruling class was the majority, in others the rulers were a privileged minority group that had been favored by the former colonial administrators and retained their grip on power.
As members of disadvantaged classes became better educated and aware of the relative deprivation suffered by their people, demands for reform were heard, but rarely heeded, driving people to organize in resistance to their unjust state. The stage was set for violent confrontation. Dissidents quickly learned the lessons from China, Brazil and Cuba and acted to provoke the state regimes to repressive over-reaction that would serve to drive people to rebellion and rebels would emerge as freedom fighters.
Every cause needs a theme and for people who are economically disadvantaged the clarion call is invariably redistribution of wealth – power to the people. Throughout Latin America, for instance, peasants demanded land reform so they could own their land instead of working as servants to the rich landowners. The landowners had close ties to ruling regime and the customers for their products. In many cases the landowner was the United Fruit Company, an American corporation. It could, as easily be an oil company or mining firm.
When revolt broke out, America would predictably side with the regime to protect and preserve its “national interest.” The rebels would be demonized as communists, or Marxists bent on spreading their anti-American ideology. America would be condemned as “Imperialist.” The Castro revolution in Cuba was anathema to America because it set a precedent that might inspire others.
The Cold War ideological struggle between communism and democracy continually resulted in America taking sides with repressive, elitist regimes that exploited the poor and working classes. This historical pattern continues today to influence dissidents and insurgents to dismiss the U.S. as an imperialist power bent on maintaining the status quo. It also leads to criticism that America promotes democracy, justice and human rights in words only, and only for Americans.
If Cuba was the inspiration for the era of Latin American revolutions, the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran has been the catalyst for the current era of Mid-East turmoil. America again demonstrated that it would take sides with the Kings, Sheiks, and Shahs that controlled the precious resources at the expense of the common people. The Palestinians became the symbol for America’s self-serving foreign policy.
In its efforts to protect Israel, the US subverted the fledgling pan-Arab movement. With US support, Israel developed into a major military and nuclear powerhouse. Presumably to balance Israel’s military strength, America supplied military aid and training to nearby Arab states. Eventually it became evident that there was no Arab-Israeli parity – the only plausible use for Arab military hardware would be between Arab states, or against a state’s own citizens. There are no democratic states in the Middle East. The oil-rich regimes have done little to benefit their citizens, creating anger and discontent. Countries like Jordan and Syria that have no oil are even more prone to upheaval, and in all cases it is the US that is seen as the key obstacle to change.
It’s not surprising to see the emergence of al-Qaeda, an organization that points the fingers of blame at America, at repressive regimes and at a nuclear-armed Israel. It’s also not surprising to see the Saudis supporting madrasses (Islamic religious schools) that teach a curriculum of fear and hate – it’s no more illogical than America arming its future adversaries. What is curious is that the U.S. and other western democracies appear capable of repeating its previous foreign policy errors, denouncing reformers, while supporting oppressors.
Some of the reactions to terrorism play into the hands of the perpetrators and help further their goals and objectives. For example: A fundamental goal of any opposition movement is publicity, denying access to media, or censoring news can force extremists to blast their way into the news. Before reacting to political violence, it’s important to identify the dissident’s goals and objectives. The following list identifies a number of possible objectives, not all of which may apply to any specific group.
Typical Terrorist Objectives Include:
1. Attract public attention to the group’s grievances
2. Encourage empathy for their unfair/unjust situation and sympathy for the cause
3. Demonstrate the inability of the state to provide security
4. Demonstrate the illegitimacy of the state’s institutions
5. Polarize the public to simplify the debates and arguments
6. Coerce the public into pressuring the state into compromise solutions
7. Force the state into repressive reactions that discredit the government
8. Force the state into repressive reactions that serve to recruit new members and supporters
9. Demonstrate the economic consequences of continued violence
10. Highlight the potential political consequences of continued conflict
11. Attract international attention and encourage intervention
12. Provoke widespread civil uprising to change the government, or form a separate state
Publicity has traditionally been a major dissident objective, as Brian Jenkins of the Rand Corp. has commented that, “terrorist don’t want a lot of people dead; they want a lot of people watching.” Jenkins has also described terrorism as a form of political theater. This may be true of national liberation movements, but today’s Islamist extremists now want a lot of people dead.
Terrorism has been described, correctly, as a tactic of the weak. It’s adopted by groups of dissenters who lack the resources to attack the state and its forces. Clearly a rebel force that had the capacity to attack and defeat the government’s forces would do so to achieve their goals as quickly as possible. Such opportunities rarely, if ever, exist in strong states. The alternative is to wage a war of attrition, gradually wearing down the state’s and public’s resolve. Terrorists seek to instill a climate of fear that erodes the public psyche, and to impose escalating economic costs, draining the state’s financial resources and the collective will.
Many of these objectives could be pursued without resorting to terrorism against innocent civilians. However. States recognize that their forces and facilities are the primary targets of political violence and they adopt security and force protection measures that deny insurgents the ability to strike at these priority targets. By hardening priority targets, states encourage insurgents to attack softer targets in the civil sector. When the insurgents comply, the inevitable consequence is civilian casualties, whether intentional, or accidental. Insurgents have now become terrorists for perpetrating violence against non-combatant targets. In fact, the “targets” may not have been non-combatants, but such distinctions are rarely considered.
Once dissidents have crossed the threshold to terrorism the rules change the costs and risks escalate and the challenge to maintain and build public support increases. For dissidents terrorism is the tactic of last resort, when all else has failed.
One can argue that for weak regimes, lacking broad public support and legitimacy state terrorism is also a tactic of the weak, but the tactic of first resort.
The international community has often demonstrated a willingness to tolerate political violence against civilians perpetrated by states – state terrorism. Repressive states have been responsible for far greater terrorism than any so-called terrorist organization, yet they are allowed to continue their participation in the world’s political and economic community. Only in the most enduring and grievous cases does the international community sanction, or exclude a repressive state. In addition, countries and arms merchants sell arms, provide military training and economic support to repressive, even terrorist regimes, seemingly oblivious to the fact that state repression breeds international terrorism and that terrorists will target those who lend support to their adversaries. It’s little wonder that terrorism has emerged as a major threat to world security and peace.
One aspect of political violence and terrorism that’s rarely discussed in depth are the economic impacts, both negative and positive. The direct costs incurred to defend against and counter terrorism is enormous, worse still are the incalculable social and human costs. But terrorism has its upside too, creating an economic boom for defense-related industries and private contractors. Repairing and rebuilding cities like Beirut, or London’s financial district and Lower Manhattan are a windfall for those who profit from the efforts. Constructing forts and security installations, or erecting Berlin-style peace walls and security fences through Belfast, or around Israel’s Occupied Territories, shift limited state funds from more socially useful services, but create business opportunity and profits. The unspoken issue is that these expenditures create a new constituency that benefits from continued violence. The beneficiaries can become influential, if conflicted, advocates of hard line policies that suit their business objectives.
Motivations for Political Violence
Karl von Clausewitz described “war as politics by other means.” One might describe terrorism in the same way, or as “war by other means.” There are two types of terrorism: rational and irrational. Rational terrorism has a political goal and a purpose. Irrational terror might be described as mindless violence that serves some dark psychological imbalance and is as difficult to understand as the motives of serial killers. As such this is the realm of psychologists and psychiatrists, not political scientists, politicians, statesmen, and security specialists. This briefing deals only with “rational terrorism.”
Rational terrorism is an outgrowth of public dissatisfaction and political dissent and a form of revolt against the established order, or regime. Few, if any, dissident movements willingly adopt terror as a conscious tactic, namely because such tactics provoke public revulsion and condemnation. Dissident movements will usually begin as reform movements that fail to achieve their demands and proceed through stages of escalating fear, frustration, anger and hardening attitudes:
Frustrated Attempts at Reform
Reactionary Counter Attack
Violent political conflict can be categorized in terms of the motivation and aspirations of the combatants.
1. Political – In some cases the dissidents have what may best described as political motivations. It’s said that war is diplomacy by other means; violent political conflict could be described as politics by other means. The motivation may be to affect a political reform, or overthrow a regime perceived as illegitimate or lacking public trust and support. Terrorism may be used as to demonstrate the weakness and vulnerability of the regime, to reveal its inability to provide security, to provoke government repression to help recruit followers, and ultimately to force leaders from power. This motivation has been most common in Latin America, and would be typical where there is an oppressed majority population that is denied political influence.
2. Cultural – This motivation is most common in situations where an ethnic or religious group fears extermination, or loss of their common identity, language or culture. It may also be combined with political motives, where the rulers discriminate against the ethnic group in terms of jobs, economic opportunity or access to the political process. In the case of oppressed minorities, opposed by a strong, entrenched regime, terrorism may be seen as the only available option. This is especially true where demands for political reform are ignored, where there are few, if any, external allies, and where the regime resorts to collective punishment for what are seen as reasonable and justified demands.
3. Psychological – A surprising number of pro-government analysts favor this explanation, which asserts that some terrorists are unbalanced, violent individuals suffering some form of psychosis. Others may be egomaniacs driven to achieve recognition through violence, and who attract a following of other dysfunctional individuals. This characterization may be accurate in cases where terrorist appear to have no logical goal, or motivation, or a purpose that makes little sense to normal people. This can include cases where the goal is the psychological benefit achieved by vengeance (Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing). Psychologically motivated terrorism is simply a criminal act, like serial killing, and doesn’t qualify for analysis as political violence.
Cultural motivations can be further classified into three broad, but non-exclusive categories.
Separatism – (let’s separate) In situation where the ruling group is seen to be unfair and unjust in its government administration, dissident groups fight to form a separate state. Example would include the aspirations of Tamils in Sri Lanka, or Basques in Spain to establish a separate state for their people.
Cohesion – (aka Irredentism – let’s get back together) The objective is to re-unite an ethno-political group that has been divided and separated by an arbitrary state border. An example is the conflict in Northern Ireland where Irish Republicans (typically Catholics) aspire to unify the 6 northern counties with the Republic of Ireland.
Nationalism – (let’s organize ourselves) The aspiration of a national group (people related by ethnicity, religion, language or culture) to create a formal state for their nation. An example is the aspiration to establish Kurdistan as a homeland for the Kurdish people. This entails elements of both separatism and irredentism of Kurds living in Turkey, Iraq and Iran.
In today’s world there are any number of intractable conflicts, some active, others dormant but unresolved. Some of the most enduring are the divisions in Ireland, Korea and Cyprus, each one dividing people by artificial borders. Many are described in Flashpoints Country Briefings. Most of these can be classified as traditional forms of political violence, including terrorism.
Many analysts and scholars draw distinctions between traditional terrorism and the new international terrorism, represented by al-Qaeda and the militant Islamist movement. But is this really new, or just a different manifestation of political unrest, with a violent twist and more deadly potential?
Up until 2001, the number of terrorist incidents had been declining, but the attacks were becoming more deadly, culminating with 9/11. Since invading Afghanistan and Iraq that trend has clearly been reversed. Day in and day out, the news reports attacks against occupying coalition forces (as insurgency) and escalating attacks against civilian targets to deter collaborators.
Much of the conventional wisdom is highly politicized and may be better characterized as propaganda, myth and misperception.
One current theme is that terrorism is not the result of poverty and economic deprivation. "Research shows that terrorists are never poor and uneducated. “While some on the left urge policymakers to address the root causes of terrorism, Laqueur says that such an approach won't yield the desired results, since the commonly identified wellsprings of terrorism -- poverty and political oppression -- fail to account for the terrorism that most threatens the United States. According to Laqueur:
1. Almost no terrorism occurs in the world's poorest 49 countries, and of course the Sept. 11 terrorists all came from middle- and upper-middle-class families.
2. Similarly, the 20th century's most repressive regimes (Stalin's Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany) were free of terrorism, while in South America in the 1970s terrorism first broke out not in the harshest dictatorships, but in Uruguay, the most democratic state.
3. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, then, terrorism flourishes in countries that are "democratic in character, or alternatively, in a wholly inefficient dictatorship,"
Lacquer writes.” Source: The Roots of Terrorism, Daily Policy Digest, 17 June 2003
Lacqueur's tortured logic implies that harsh repressive measures, such as those used by Russia and Germany will eliminate terrorism. Between them Stalin and Hitler are responsible for killing as many as 30 million people. The obvious counter argument is that with state terror at such a level, there’s little opportunity for dissent and citizen's terrorism. It begs two questions; would people resisting such regimes have been labeled as terrorists or freedom fighters? And, is extreme state repression the kind of solution appropriate for modern Western democracies?
If terrorists are not poor, the unspoken idea is that their grievances are unfounded and they don’t deserve consideration. Hence their mindless violence justifies the harshest responses.
Although it seems obvious that the “might is right” approach is ethically wrong, impractical and counterproductive, many security analysts and policy makers advocate this approach. Arguably, the strongest advocates are hard line Israelis, like Netanyahu and Sharon. Their strategy is simply to crush terrorists in any way possible.
Since 9/11, this strategy has found new advocates in the U.S. Richard Pearl, a member of the Bush administration’s Defense Policy Board co-authored a new book suggesting the “kill ‘em all, and let God sort it out” strategy. When asked about the use of a carrot and a stick, Pearl responded that, “the carrot is that we won’t use the stick.”
Other analysts take a different view. According to Alan Krueger, “No other factor besides a lack of civil liberties -- including the literacy rate, infant mortality rate, terrain, ethnic divisions and religious fractionalization -- could predict whether people from that country were more or less likely to take part in international terrorism.
Thus economically well off countries that lack civil liberties have spawned relatively many terrorists. Poor countries with a tradition of protecting civil liberties are unlikely to spawn terrorists.” (Source: Alan B. Krueger, "Poverty Doesn't Create Terrorists," Economic Scene, New York Times, May 29, 2003.)
Another common theme is that terrorist organizations are Marxist in ideology. This view is more a remnant of the cold war perspective than a reality. Virtually every dissident group seeks to define an ideological foundation for their cause. Since most repressed and disadvantaged people seek to share in their countries wealth, the inevitable call is for redistribution of that wealth through land reform, private ownership or expropriation of foreign-owned business. To their adversaries this sounds like, and can be condemned as communism.
History shows that few revolutionary movements result in communist governments (China and Cuba being exceptions) Today, with communism discredited, it’s even less realistic to fear the onset of Marxist, or communist states.
It’s doubtful that terrorism is any sane person’s first choice. Most disgruntled people would start with a petition stating their grievances and setting forth their demands for reform. If denied, they might organize to demonstrate, or protest and might engage in civil disobedience – all designed to attract public attention and broaden their support. If denied again, they might attempt legal action, if such avenues are open to them. And if they fail, what then? And what if the denial involves being attacked and beaten by authorities, or being arrested and imprisoned? The reactions of the state government can directly influence the course of future events.
Oftentimes, counter-demonstrators who fear that the government will give in to dissident’s demands confront demonstrators. These clashes can lead to violence and destroy hope for resolution of the problems. A classic example comes from Northern Ireland.
In 1969, disadvantaged Irish Catholics demanding reforms in housing, employment, civil rights staged a protest march. Counter demonstrators attacked them, while the police first stood by, then joined in the attack. Later, the government appeared willing to address the Catholic grievances, so Protestants mobs attacked Catholic homes with firebombs, forcing terrorized residents to flee as entire streets were burned, while police failed to protect the Catholic communities and/or joined in the attacks. Thus emerged the Irish Republican Army to protect catholic communities under attack.
The Catholic communities were unarmed and unprotected by the police, yet Protestant attacks continued and escalated, including a series of bombings, until Catholics were killed. The purpose of these “loyalist” attacks was to convince the government to ignore catholic demands. Unable to quell the inter-community violence the government brought in British troops. This was a temporary improvement until the soldiers also took sides against Catholics.
The IRA was weak, essentially unarmed and out-gunned by the police and British army, while the citizens remained under threat from loyalist bombs, firebombs and personal attacks. But Ireland is an agricultural country with plenty of fertilizer and diesel fuel and the IRA soon developed skills at bomb making and soon surpassed the skills of their loyalist adversaries. Although the IRA’s initial targets were the security forces, it wasn’t long before plans went awry and civilians were killed – once that happened the terrorist label was applied, never to be removed. And once a person is condemned and vilified as a terrorist, the response becomes “I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb,” and violence escalates.
Israel & Palestine
The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians had a very different beginning (See: Israel-Palestine Country Briefing). The U.N. voted to create the state of Israel on the land where the Palestinians lived, under British authority, but without self-government. The Jews attacked immediately to claim their land. As the British exited, neighboring Arab states also claimed the land. The fledgling UN never did intervene to establish two governments as decreed in the UN resolution. Palestinians lost out, but never accepted defeat. Once Egypt and Jordan renounced their claims to Palestine, the Palestinians opted to fight for their own future. By this time Israel was a substantial military power with American warplanes, attack helicopters, tanks and their dreaded bulldozers, used to demolish Palestinian homes and orchards.
The out-gunned PLO had two choices, ignore the injustice and surrender their aspirations, or continue the struggle by whatever means possible. They chose the later and defined a new form of high-profile international terrorism: highjacking airliners, kidnappings, bombings and hostage taking. Their goal was to shock the world, attract attention to their cause and encourage international intervention.
Perhaps, as a result of their high-visibility terrorism, states, namely U.S. presidents, accepted the need to negotiate a solution to the Middle East conflict. From the Palestinian perspective, however, the result has been to isolate Palestine, subverting their Arab allies and providing little action to address the most enduring grievances.
An essential part of Israel’s grand nation-building plan is to encourage immigration of Jews from other countries to Israel. As millions of Jews move to Israel, the state must provide jobs and housing settlements. With over 300,000 settlers now living in the Occupied Territories, claimed by Palestine, it’s difficult to accept that Israel will ever withdraw. But Palestinian extremists have a plan.
The current rash of terrorist suicide bombings are intended to exacerbate the climate of fear and increase security costs for a nation that is financially vulnerable. The terrorist’s goals are to discourage Jewish immigration, motivates others to leave Israel, and thereby force the government to ultimately agree to Palestinian demands. The violence may be unconscionable, but it is not mindless. Surely, there are also extreme factions that somehow envision the destruction of Israel, but the radical fringe exists in every conflict and it is counter-productive to act as if the extremists speak for all the people, or to allow them to scuttle solutions.
It’s essential to note that Islam is a worldwide religion, not just an Arab religion. The foundations of Islam lie in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, but Muslims number in the hundreds of millions around the globe. Recent public opinion polls indicate that only 15 percent of Indonesians, 7 percent of Saudis and 15 percent of Turks have a favorable image of America. The fact that the governments of these states have friendly relations with Washington suggests the different perspectives of those who benefit and those who suffer from US policy. It is those who continue to languish without prosperity and hope that are the targets of the Islamist dissidents.
Like secular revolutionaries, Islamic Fundamentalists (Islamists) seek to establish an ideological foundation for their struggles. To do so, they distort the teachings of Islam to define a common enemy. That enemy is portrayed as the Western culture of democracy (scorned as un-Islamic by ideologues of Islamic terrorism), capitalism (decried as Imperialist exploitation), and individualism (opposed by Islamists who believe in a new Caliphate to lead the community of Muslims worldwide.
Again, there are conflicting viewpoints. Michael Radu writes, “We are told, the Islamic states are poor and undemocratic, which justifies rebellion against their tyrannical rulers. Why is that so, and what can be done about it by Muslims and others? Perhaps most Muslim countries are undemocratic because they are Muslim.
When given an electoral choice in 1992 in the first and last democratic elections in the Arab world, most Algerians preferred the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) over the secular (and corrupt) ruling socialist party — although perfectly aware that FIS's ideology meant not just "one man, one vote" but "one man, one vote, one time." Which raises a very uncomfortable question for both conservatives in the U.S., who routinely blast the lack of democracy in the Arab world, and the human rights fundamentalists such as Amnesty International on the left, who support absolute democracy and at the same time condemn the Islamist disregard of all freedoms, as in Iran.
This line of thought suggests that Islam is inherently defective and leads to the clash of civilizations viewpoint that is then twisted to argue for holy war against Islam. In his report “Islam and Democracy” published by the U.S. Institute of Peace, David Smock writes that, “The explanation of why so many Muslim countries are not democratic has more to do with historical, political, cultural and economic factors than with religious ones.”
There is much to support this view. Democracy is a Western concept, barely 200 years old. It has been slow to take root not only in the Muslim world, but also in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Each of these regions are home to ancient civilizations, cultures and traditions. Like Islam that embraces shura, or “consultative decision-making,” other religions and cultures have accepted methods of governance. Is democracy the answer?
Democracy is inherently unfair; it provides for majority rule. If the majority is unfair and unjust, the minority will eventually rebel, as they so often do. Throughout the colonial era, democratic Western powers often granted power to rule to minorities, as a means to divide and conquer large masses of people. Given the inconsistencies associated with Western democratic principles and the way they’ve been applied, it’s not surprising that democracy is not always seen as the solution to life’s political problems.
As Western powers continue attempts to establish democracies in Muslim countries, or in states like Haiti, Cuba, North Korea or Rwanda and Angola, one predictable consequence will be a continuation of political violence and terrorism.