No End to War
Following is chapter one from Mr. Laqueur's newest book, No End to War. Click here to purchase a copy from Amazon.com.
O N E
Roots of Terrorism?
To understand terrorism one ought to investigate its roots rather than deal with its outward manifestations. This statement, endlessly repeated in recent years, happens to be perfectly correct and is, of course, quite true with regard to any phenomenon in the world. Unfortunately, the statement has very often become a misleading slogan, justifying a parade of hobby horses. Instead of studying the available evidence, preconceived notions have frequently been proclaimed as the received truth.
The causes of terrorism have been a source of bewilderment and misconceptions for a long time. It was widely believed that terrorism was a response to injustice and that terrorists were people driven to desperate actions by intolerable conditions, be it poverty, hopelessness, or political or social oppression. Following this reasoning, the only way to remove or at least to reduce terrorism is to tackle its sources, to deal with the grievances and frustrations of the terrorists rather than simply trying to suppress terrorism by brute force. As an American linguist put it, "Drain the swamp, and the mosquitoes will disappear."
Such views had much justification in past situations. To give but two examples -- the Russian revolutionaries and the Irish patriots. Tsarist Russia was at the time the most repressive country in Europe. Its rulers had almost unrestricted power. There was no political freedom, no redress against injustice. The masses lived in grinding poverty; the distance between an extremely rich aristocracy and the peasants was enormous, and the bureaucracy was often corrupt. In these circumstances, some members of a highly idealistic young generation decided to engage in acts of violence against leading figures of the hated regime. Two waves of terrorist activities occurred, in the late 1870s and again in the early years of the twentieth century. As for the motives and character of those participating in the terrorist movement, these were selfless young people without personal ambitions; they wanted to sacrifice themselves so that the people of Russia would enjoy a better life free of oppression. Originally these young people had tried to bring about change by "going to the people," meaning a propaganda campaign. They had opted for terrorism only after having realized that legal action was either impossible or ineffectual. They were sad that they had to kill, and they went out of their way not to hurt innocent people. Their first terrorist actions had been in self-defense and were directed against officials who had been particularly cruel in the treatment of political prisoners. Given the selfless character of the terrorist movement, that it had wide sympathies in Russian society and frequently received help was not surprising.
The Irish terrorists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were fighting for national independence and freedom from foreign occupation. England had ruled Ireland for centuries and faced growing opposition as an Irish national consciousness (fueled by religious antagonism) became stronger. The dismal economic situation -- which included periodical starvation leading to mass emigration to America -- also played a role in this context. The terrorist attacks carried out by the Fenians (and later the IRB, the IRA, and other organizations) both in Ireland and on mainland Britain were aimed to achieve the old dream: Irish freedom from the British government. As in the case of the Russian revolutionaries, the motivation of the Irish patriots was selfless and idealistic. They enjoyed the moral support of wide sections of society, including even Irish Protestants. The Irish were merely the best known and most prominent of a whole series of small nationalist terrorist groups -- some in Europe, others in colonial or semicolonial countries such as Egypt and India.
However, the nineteenth-century terrorists -- with all their sterling qualities,
heroism, and idealism -- encountered for a variety of reasons a great deal of
criticism not only on the part of their political opponents but also among those
who shared their political aspirations. The majority of Russian socialists (including
the young Lenin) decided not to join the terrorists because they thought their
policy harmful. The killing of Tsar Alexander II who had come to power in 1881
(and was by Russian standards a relatively liberal ruler with a program of modest
reforms) led to a backlash, a more severe policy on the part of the regime.
The defeat of Russia in the war against Japan and the upsurge of the democratic
forces that ensued forced the Tsarist government to introduce a constitution
and make a variety of other concessions, but the terrorist attacks that reached
their climax in 1906 made it easier for the reactionary forces to withdraw the
The struggle of the Irish for national independence evoked much sympathy among the European left at the time, but the left was still doubtful about the means used. England, after all, was a democracy, albeit an elitist one. The Irish had the right to vote and the Irish party (Parnell) had considerable influence; they enjoyed a reasonable prospect of attaining their political aims following the growth of democracy and a persistent political struggle. Karl Marx and Frederic Engels sympathized with the Irish national cause, but at the same time sharply condemned terrorist attacks. Engels called the perpetrators of the Clerkenwell attack in London cannibals, cowards, and stupid fanatics, and Marx wrote in a letter that one could not really expect the London proletarians to be blown up in honor of the Fenians.
The general attitude of the European left was negative toward the anarchists, the third terrorist group at the time and the one which generated the most fear. Individual anarchists engaged in assassinations of heads of state and government ministers, and very infrequently these actions were undertaken by groups. Anarchism had a hallowed ideological tradition; the terrorists among them were a small minority, but they received all the limelight. Opposition to these acts was both a matter of principle as well as rooted in tactics. How could murder be justified in political regimes in which alternative ways existed to register protest? It was one thing to attack dictators and another, very different one to shoot politicians who had been democratically elected. Anarchism also harmed the cause it wanted to promote, for governments and the public at large tended to blame not just the small groups or the individuals who engaged in terrorist acts but socialism and the radical democratic movement as a whole. Lastly the motives of some anarchists were suspect. The majority was deeply idealistic, and their main impulse was the desire to liberate mankind from its shackles. But there were also highly strung, unbalanced figures among them, as well as herostratic personalities, even criminal elements. One of them, after having thrown a bomb, said that victims little mattered as long as the gesture was beautiful, and another just before his execution commented, "Now at last I am a famous man."
Thus even in the nineteenth century, in the heroic period of terrorism, it was clear that the decision to engage in terrorist acts was as much a matter of personality as of ideological conviction.
The Fenians and the Russian revolutionaries had no monopoly as far as their ardent wish to see their country liberated. In fact, we do not even know whether those who were throwing the bombs were the ones most deeply committed to their cause. All we do know is that their thirst for action (or their aggression) was greater than that of their comrades.
After World War I, and even more after World War II, the character of terrorism began to change. Terrorist operations were frequently carried out by groups of far-right and fascist inspiration, such as the Free Corps in Germany, the Romanian Iron Guard, or Japanese terrorists who drew their inspiration from the Samurai. There is no reason to doubt the idealistic inspiration of these terrorists and their willingness if need be to sacrifice their lives. But it became abundantly clear that terrorism was by no means a left-wing or progressive phenomenon. Those, for instance, who in 1922 killed the German Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau (who was of Jewish origin) were the precursors of the Nazi movement. Terrorism still occurred frequently on the basis of national conflicts, but it was no longer primarily directed against political and military leaders of the other side; it became progressively more and more indiscriminate. Furthermore, other forms of terrorism occurred, such as terrorism that was largely religiously motivated and terrorism which consisted of a mixture of ideological and criminal elements, such as the drug trade. All this was quite different from nineteenth-century terrorism, and generalizations trying to cover all these manifestations became difficult if not impossible.
The targets of nineteenth-century terrorism were kings, ministers, and generals. This was true even for terrorism in Europe and elsewhere up to the 1970s, though increasingly middle-level targets were included -- such as judges, bankers, or other figures who were not very much in the public eye. True, there had been the occasional pronouncement on the part of terrorists that "there are no innocents," but by and large the killing of bystanders had been accidental, not part of a strategy. More recently, especially in ethnically motivated terrorism, acts of violence have been indiscriminate. Hence the many attacks against "soft" targets such as tourism (Djerba, Bali, Mombasa).Relatively few political leaders or other prominent public figures were killed, and the strategy became to assassinate as many members of the enemy group as possible. The reason might have been, in part, that it is usually more difficult to assassinate a leading political figure who is often well guarded. But mainly the change in strategy was caused by the growing fanaticism, the beliefs (1) that not just a few figures but the whole enemy society was a legitimate target, (2) that the aim was not to propagate an idea but to destroy, and (3) that the murder of children, women, elderly people, and other noncombatants would spread even more fear and panic than attacks against soldiers and security forces.
The geography and the etiology of terrorism -- the analysis of where terrorism occurred and where it did not occur in the twentieth century -- is of some help in understanding its roots. If terrorism is the result of intolerable oppression, one should have expected terrorism in the most oppressive regimes: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Soviet Union. There were a few attempts to kill Hitler and Mussolini (none to assassinate Stalin), but these were the actions of individuals and not systematic terrorism. In the Soviet Union (as in Spain under Franco), terrorism occurred only after the totalitarian regime had been dismantled. In Latin America in the 1970s, terrorism first occurred in Uruguay, the most democratic of the South American countries, not in the harshest dictatorships.
The reasons were obvious: In an effective dictatorship, the political police could prevent attempts to prepare terrorist campaigns. Even in a military dictatorship that was not particularly efficient -- such as Franco's Spain -- there was no terrorism. The operation of the Basque ETA began only after the dictator had died. Terrorism in Greece started after the Colonels had been ousted, not under their rule. On the other hand, terrorism of the extreme left did occur in democratic regimes such as Germany and Italy in the 1970s as well as regimes that were at least democratic to some extent. These terrorist campaigns led to the overthrow of democratic governments in some Latin American countries that were incapable of stemming the terrorist tide. But the military dictatorships that succeeded them suppressed terrorism without much difficulty. In brief, terrorism did not stand much of a chance against political regimes able to use unrestricted force against them, unhampered by laws, considerations of human rights, and public protests. Terrorism could flourish only in a surrounding that was at least partly democratic in character or, alternatively, in a wholly inefficient dictatorship.
It has been widely argued that a direct correlation exists between terrorism and poverty -- that poverty, especially in what used to be called the third world, is the most important factor responsible for terrorism. However, the historical evidence does not bear out such categorical statements. It stands to reason that if all mankind were to live in small countries, preferably in small cities, and if all human beings were well off, there would be less violence, be it crime or terrorism. But there is no reason to assume that violence would disappear altogether.
Some European terrorist groups and some Islamists have claimed to act on behalf and in the interest of the poorest of the poor.<1> But in the forty-nine countries currently designated by the United Nations as the least developed hardly any terrorist activity occurs. (Among the criteria underlying this list are not only low per-capita income but also weak human resources and a low level of economic diversification.) In the list of these countries, in particular those located in Africa (the majority), many have experienced major unrest such as civil war (e.g., Burundi, Somalia, and Sierra Leone) and others have fought against each other (Ethiopia and Eritrea), but only one in which terrorism played a certain role, namely, the Sudan. But in the Sudan too, it was not the native Sudanese element that played the main role but foreign terrorists who were hiding in the country and using it as a training ground. They had bought themselves into Sudan, which was relatively easy in view of the poverty of the country and the radical Islamic orientation of some of its leaders. The same situation prevailed in Eritrea. But these countries were not safe havens for terrorists; when the French made an offer, the Sudanese government turned over Carlos, who was hiding in Sudan, and Eritrea released Ethiopian terrorists to Addis Ababa.
The Sudanese rulers realized that the presence of foreign terrorists only caused trouble. The country was put on the list of "rogue states," and economic sanctions were taken. Furthermore, the Sudanese government was involved in a semipermanent war with the non-Muslim tribes in the south of the country and did not need further complications. Bin Laden, who was residing there and had heavily invested in the country, had to leave.
What of other, somewhat more developed countries? From what classes of society were terrorists recruited? Was it not true that the grave economic problems facing countries such as Algeria or Pakistan, to name but two -- a high birth rate and economic stagnation resulting in high unemployment, mainly among the young -- created a fertile ground for terrorist movements? Again, the evidence in favor of the poverty argument is not conclusive. While the Irish Republican Army (IRA) has traditionally recruited its followers from the lower middle class and the working class, the Basque Euskadi Ta Azkatasuna (ETA) seems to have been composed mainly of young people of middle-class origin. Whereas Northern Ireland, the mainstay of the IRA, belonged to the less prosperous regions of the United Kingdom, the Basque provinces are among the most developed of Spain. In the Middle East, Palestinian groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and particularly the Lebanese Hizbullah are constituted to some extent of relatively poor people, but then the great majority of people in these societies are not wealthy. In any case, the leadership and the early Palestinian terrorists, such as the various popular fronts for the Liberation of Palestine, were strictly middle class, including one of their early heroines, Leila Khaled.
The Algerian Islamist terrorists came mainly from poor families, but the most militant such as the Egyptian and Saudi suicide bombers came from middle- or upper-middle-class families. Their parents were professional people, successful merchants, or belonged to the higher echelons of the bureaucracy. This applies in particular to the Bin Laden network, many of whose members were graduates of universities or technical high schools or military academies. The Egyptian terrorists concentrated their efforts for many years in the cities of Upper Egypt such as Assyut and Minya, which belonged to the more neglected regions of the country, but within that area they looked for their recruits among families who were better off and in particular university students. Ahmed Sheikh, London-born and sentenced to death in Pakistan for the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl, came from a well-to-do family and was educated at private schools, but was thrown out from two of them, which tends to point to more than average psychological trouble.
This phenomenon, the appeal of terrorism to students with a middle-class background,
has been observed for a long time in other parts of the world. Ernst Halperin
noted with regard to Latin American terrorism in the 1970s that if one were
to apply a Marxist class analysis it would appear that terrorism was a movement
of middle-class students against entrenched oligarchies, looking for an improvement
in their status and their prospects as well as for political power.<2>
The European terrorist groups of the extreme left in Europe were predominantly middle class (more in Germany than in Italy), whereas those of the extreme right -- neo-Nazis and skinheads -- belonged to a lower social stratum. Shining Path in Peru was definitely a movement of the poor, but the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka was not. In brief, one would look in vain for a clear socioeconomic pattern in the composition of terrorist movements. Terrorism rarely occurs in the poorest and richest countries, especially if these happen to be small societies in which there is little anonymity; between these extremes, terrorism can occur almost anywhere.
It has been argued that the leadership of revolutionary movements has always been constituted by the elite. Marx after all did not come from a poor family. Engels owned a factory, and the prophet Muhammad, having married a wealthy widow, was well-off too. But radical Islamic terrorism is not a movement aiming at social revolution. While support for al Qa'ida was strong among the poor in Pakistan, there are obvious reasons that the militants should come from the middle class, even the upper middle class. A contemporary terrorist operating outside his own country has to be educated, have some technical competence, and be able to move without attracting attention in alien societies. In brief, such a person will have to have an education that cannot be found among the poor in Pakistani or Egyptian villages or Palestinian refugee camps, only among relatively well-off town folk.
One other factor has contributed to the terrorist potential in the Arab world: uncontrolled demographic growth and the incapacity of the Arab governments to find jobs for young people leaving the schools and graduating from the universities. Among the regions with the highest total fertility rate (TFR) are Gaza with 7.9 percent and Saudi Arabia with 7 percent. Saudi Arabia is a rich country (even though its income substantially declined over the last decade) whereas Gaza is poor. Both countries have been leading recruiting grounds of terrorists. But relatively few terrorists have come from Jordan and Syria, which also have a TFR of 7 percent. In countries like Egypt and Algeria, hundreds of thousands of young people graduate from the universities each year. Of these young people only about half will find a job, and the percentage of those finding a satisfactory job is even smaller. These young people will be found in the coffee houses drinking coffee, smoking water pipes, and not surprisingly discussing radical politics, and among them the terrorists will find sympathizers. A high percentage of youth unemployment can be found in all Arab and most Muslim countries, rich and poor; governments have failed to make any real effort to find jobs for the younger generation. They left supervision of education in the hands of the Islamists, and secular entertainment for young people hardly exists at all. These seem to be the main causes of radicalization among the young generation, not poverty per se.
The present distribution of wealth between nations and within many nations is not conducive to social and political peace. Many reasons can be adduced in favor of greatly increased efforts on the part of developed nations to help their less fortunate brothers and sisters. But this process will take a long time and cannot possibly be one-sided. Greater prosperity depends not just on the transfer of capital and investment but to a large extent on education and, generally speaking, the creation of a suitable climate for economic development. In recent decades, the Far East has developed relatively quickly, quicker than Europe, whereas in most African countries there has been negative development. The Middle East, by and large, has stagnated.
In the third world, and in particular in the Arab and Muslim countries, another trend has contributed to radicalization: the growing frustration about the social and economic stagnation of the Muslim world and particularly the Arab countries, the oil-rich societies among them. Furthermore, terrorism has, of course, added to the pauperization of the region. This effect was palpably felt through the Muslim world after the events of September 2001 -- international companies ceased to invest in the Middle East, the tourism industry (very important in countries like Egypt) collapsed, exports from the Arab countries sharply declined, and unemployment increased.
How to explain the persistent belief that poverty and starvation are the main, if not the only, causes of terrorism in the contemporary world? It has to do in part with certain political assumptions: that the misery of the third world is the fault of imperialism and the third world's exploitation by the developed countries, a version of the Leninist theory of imperialism which lingers on. Westerners have been told not only that the global division of wealth is unjust, but that it is their fault. Of course the colonial powers have exploited their colonies, but the powers also contributed to the colonies' economic development. The colonies rebelled against foreign rule not primarily because of economic exploitation; had they remained colonies, the economic situation of many would be better today. Underlying the belief that terrorism is generated by poverty is the assumption that in this case it might be relatively easy to remedy this state of affairs by offering much greater support to the poor countries, to have a redivision of wealth, by providing employment and thus restoring hope.
The misery of hundreds of millions in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, not to mention Africa, has a variety of reasons; it should figure high on the international agenda. But even those most sympathetic to the cause of the third world have realized for a long time that to account for violence in these parts, more sophisticated explanations are called for. As Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, put it: The poor of this world suffer enough; one should not in addition brand them as potential terrorists.
Similar misconceptions have prevailed for a long time in a related field: hate crimes. In a famous study more than sixty years ago, two psychologists established a correlation between lynching and cotton prices in the United States. When prices were low, lynchings went up. This finding was accepted for a long time as an established truth. But new studies many years later covering longer periods found no such correlation. Had there been a correlation, one would have expected more lynchings in America during the Great Depression, but this was not the case. Studies concerning the level of unemployment and attacks on foreigners in Germany in the 1990s likewise found no correlation, and that the causes of violence must have been different.
Terrorism, like revolutions, occurs not when the situation is disastrously bad but when various political, economic, and social trends coincide. In the 1970s, social scientists pointed to the concept of relative deprivation and frustration leading to aggression. These concepts were also not very successful trying to account for terrorism, and they led away from the realm of economics to the field of human psychology.
While poverty is sometimes a contributing factory to the emergence and spread of terrorism, national-ethnic tensions are of considerably greater relevance, and much of the present study is devoted to this topic. Such conflicts were at the bottom of the confrontation in Kashmir, in Israel/Palestine, in Chechnya, and in Sri Lanka. They were not a decisive factor in some of the bloodiest terrorist campaigns, such as in Algeria, Colombia, or Central Asia. In other words, resolving national conflicts would be no more of an universal panacea to end terrorism than eradicating poverty. Solving national conflicts and reducing tensions between various ethnic groups remain vital aims but would not provide a magic wand. People who practice terrorism are extremists, not moderates, and the demands of extremists can hardly ever be satisfied without impairing the rights of other ethnic groups, especially if two groups happen to claim the same region or country.
Another reason frequently adduced for the spread of terrorism is the clash
of civilizations and the inability of the West to prevent it. There is some
truth in these assertions, but mainly in the case of Islam and hardly with regard
to the Far East or India, where there is less of an inferiority feeling vis-<agrave>-vis
the West. Radical Islamists have been trying hard to add fuel to such a potential
A review of wars, civil wars, and other contemporary conflicts shows indeed a greater incidence of violence and aggression in Muslim societies than in most others. If we ignore tribal warfare in sub-Saharan Africa (notably in Nigeria and Somalia as well as the Sudan), the Islamic factor has been prominently involved; almost 90 percent of these conflicts appear to affect Muslim countries and societies. Of the twenty-two member states of the Arab League and the fifty-seven member states of the OIC (the Organization of the Islamic Conference), hardly any have been free of major political violence during the last twenty years. The United Arab Emirates and perhaps also Morocco and Kazakhstan may provide exceptions, but it is difficult to think of others. Muslims have a hard time living as minorities in non-Muslim countries, be it in India, the Philippines, or in Western Europe. Muslims find it equally difficult to give a fair deal to minorities -- Muslim or non-Muslim -- in their own midst, be it the Berbers in Algeria; the Copts in Egypt; or the Kurds, the Baha'i, or the Christians in the Sudan, Pakistan, and East Timor.
However, the bloodiest war since 1945 has been between two Muslim countries, namely, Iran and Iraq, and the bloodiest terrorist campaign with about 100,000-150,000 victims took place in Algeria with the Islamist FIS (Front Islamique de Salut) and GIS (Groupe Islamique Arm<eacute>e) attacking Algerian government forces and society. There have been armed conflicts between Morocco and the Polisario, and between the Sudan and its neighbors, not to mention Afghanistan and the two Yemens. Iraq has attacked Kuwait, and Syria has invaded Jordan. There has been trouble between Muslims in the Caucasus as well as in Central Asia.
In some cases Muslims have been the aggrieved party. One needs to think only of the Chechen, Bosnia, Kashmir, the West Bank, or the Uighurs in China. But the moment the Albanians had the opportunity, they turned against their Serbian and Macedonian neighbors; the Chechen invaded Dagestan; the Muslim Kashmiris made it known that they wanted not only a state of their own but to expel those who were not Muslims. The radical Palestinian groups have made no secret that they do not merely want to liberate the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 but to destroy the state of Israel, for which they argue there is no room in an Islamic Middle East.
Given all these conflicts and tensions, it seems unlikely that, despite the hostility against the West (which, after all, is not a monolith either), the Muslim countries have a common cause against what the radicals among them consider the Big Satan. Never in its history has the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) managed to solve a conflict between its members.
In brief, the elements of disunity among these countries are stronger than those making for common action. The radical Islamists have opposed Arab nationalism, which they consider a Western importation because it is a divisive factor. But at the same time they have added fuel to Arab dissension by attacking (following the guidance given by their gurus such as Sayed Qutb) the present Arab governments, all of whom they think unbelievers and corrupt traitors. They are capable of engaging in common action on the diplomatic front, such as voting as a bloc in the United Nations. But it is difficult to imagine the rise of a new Muhammad uniting the various tribes and leading them to war. There is not that much cohesion because Islam has spread much too far: Islam in Africa is more African than Islamic and Moroccan Islamists have not much in common with Albanian, the Uzbek, or the Indonesian. The Islamists violently oppose modernism, but large sections of the Islamic world have been irrevocably affected by Western ideas. It seems hopeless to turn back the wheel of history.
One of the reasons adduced not just for the unpopularity of the United States but for the global spread of terrorism is U.S. military aggression in the postwar world. Ms. Roy, the prominent Indian writer, in a widely publicized essay after the terrorist attacks in September 2001, listed some eighteen or twenty wars in which the United States was involved. The list is correct even if it includes some wars in which the United States intervened on behalf of the United Nations to protect a Muslim minority (Kuwait, Bosnia, and Kosovo). If Ms. Roy had applied the same standard to her own country, she would have found that India fought Pakistan five or six times, and there were military conflicts with China, intervention in Sri Lanka, the conquest of Goa, fighting over many years in Kashmir and the Punjab, in Nagaland and Bodoland, and in Assam, Tripura, and with the Naxalites. In brief, the number of armed conflicts in which India was involved was slightly larger than the number of wars waged by the United States. Islamist terrorism against the United States was rampant in particular during the Carter administration, which tried harder than any other to establish friendly relations with the Muslim world, arming the Afghan rebels, for instance.
The next major upsurge of Muslim terrorism directed against the United States came under the Clinton administration when the Oslo peace process was under way and when Washington intervened to protect the Muslims in former Yugoslavia.
A frequently mentioned cause of terrorism is the state of Israel. As a leading Orientalist put it facetiously many years ago -- if it were not for Israel, businessmen would get fat contracts, the supply of cheap oil would be guaranteed, generals and admirals would get bases, and missionaries would face an onslaught of people desiring to be converted to Christianity. To this list one should now add that terrorism would disappear, and democratic and prosperous societies would emerge in the Arab world.
Israel has many critics and enemies, and as a result of its policies on the West Bank and Gaza it has often become difficult for its friends to justify its actions. Israeli domination of the holy places and its unwillingness to share control with the Muslims has been a cause of deep resentment in the Muslim world. It has also been a source of danger of a further spread of the conflict, for there is always the possibility that a religious madman or fanatic, not necessarily Jewish, will try to burn or bomb one of the Muslim holy places. Such an action might have incalculable consequences, given the indoctrination of Muslim masses over many years by religious leaders. Such attempts have occurred in the past and may take place in the future, and they could well lead to a religious war.
Furthermore, Israel should have given up most of the territories occupied in 1967 long ago, for its own sake, not to pacify the outside world. No democratic country can rule in the long run so many hostile subjects and retain its democratic character. Occupation is bound to lead to oppression and armed resistance. The longer the inevitable decision to surrender most of the territories is postponed, the more difficult it will be. Under Barak, Israel offered the return of almost all the territories, but Yasir Arafat refused the offer. Nevertheless, Israel should have gone ahead unilaterally, if need be, despite all uncertainties.
However, the idea that the surrender of the territories and the emergence of a Palestinian state would have a decisive effect on the incidence of global terrorism is far-fetched. For some of Israel's neighbors and, of course, for the Palestinians, Israel is a crucial problem and it is unlikely that the radicals among them will accept its existence even within the borders of 1948. For the Muslim world at large, Israel is a symbol and a catalyst of their rage rather than the cause. An Israeli retreat from the occupied territories will not decisively strengthen the position of the present governments of countries such as Egypt or Saudi Arabia. It will make no great difference (or perhaps no difference at all) with regard to the great majority of present armed conflicts in the Muslim world, be it in North Africa or Nigeria, in Central Asia, Pakistan, the Caucasus or the Philippines, not even in the Persian Gulf, and it is quite unlikely that Israel's retreat would reduce the hostility to the West of the radical Muslims in Western Europe. The radical Islamists have bigger fish to fry; they aim at the punishment and if possible destruction of America and Western civilization. Israel is a small Satan compared with the various big Satans on their political horizon. Far-reaching concessions are in Israel's best interest, but they will hardly induce countries such as Egypt or Syria or Saudi Arabia to move closer to the West.
The attempts to explain contemporary terrorism are quite different in character from the explanations offered a century earlier when anarchism fascinated and frightened public opinion in Europe. Cesare Lombroso, the founder of modern criminology, claimed that he had found one of the main keys for this new startling phenomenon; the anarchists, he claimed, suffered from avitaminosis. For all one knows, some of those who threw the bombs at Lombroso's time may indeed have had an insufficient intake of vitamins, but the same was probably true for many of their less aggressive contemporaries. Lombroso's ideas seem ridiculous one hundred years later, but are present-day explanations closer to reality?
Terrorism has causes; ex nihilo nihil fit -- nothing comes out of nothing. There is a connection between terrorism and the economic and social situation. There is a connection with the political state of affairs, and at the present time, there is a connection with Islam. If all mankind would be as wealthy as the very richest countries are right now, there would, in all probability, still be violence, but there would be less of it.
Such conclusions do not, however, take us very far. Many terrorisms exist, and their character has changed over time and from country to country. The endeavor to find a "general theory" of terrorism, one overall explanation of its roots, is a futile and misguided enterprise. The motives of the Russian revolutionaries of 1881 have as much to do with al Qa'ida and the various jihads as does the terrorism of Oklahoma City with Peru's Shining Path or the Colombian revolutionaries and drug dealers.
The motives of the Russian terrorists of 1881 and of 1904 can be explained without difficulty against the background of the political situation in Tsarist Russia. But even this relatively obvious and easy explanation cannot account for the fact that some revolutionaries opted for terrorism whereas others preferred political action. These young men and women were by no means more radical in their rejection of the regime than their comrades who rejected terrorism. Of those who survived, more than a few in later life became liberals, conservatives, even die-hard reactionaries. If so, what motivated them: impatience, lack of belief that political action would lead to any results? Was it a matter of personality rather than ideology and objective circumstances? The search for the roots of terrorism has been too frequently lopsided in its endeavor to discover "objective conditions" which, it was believed, always generate terrorism. Such conditions, needless to say, do exist, but they are not the only factors involved. If it were different -- if terrorists are, indeed, as some claim, "people like you and me" -- there would be billions of terrorists, but there are only relatively few.
Hence it is important to consider psychological factors such as aggression
and fanaticism, which are frequently neglected or even ignored in the terrorist
context. They are neglected because they are much more difficult to define.
While it is always possible to point to ways and means to deal with "objective
factors," the psychological motives involved are far more elusive, far
more difficult to confront. Such investigations are also neglected because they
are repugnant to many as they tend to reduce the importance of the ideological
factor in terrorism and lump together terrorists with other individuals showing
high degrees of violence and aggression -- such as serial murderers. Furthermore,
if a strong biological-genetic base were proved, this might lead to a climate
of hopelessness, for while there are ways and means to reduce unemployment and
defuse national conflicts, there is no known cure at the present time for fanaticism.<4>
The realization that "objective factors" and ideology are usually insufficient to explain the decision of individuals or groups to opt for terrorism has led to a preoccupation with psychological and biological factors: Is there such a thing as a "terrorist personality"?
Psychologists of various schools (behaviorists as well as psychoanalysts) have stressed the importance of childhood experiences. Geneticists have shown a correlation between violence, aggression, and biological-genetic factors, while research has focused on the presence of an extra chromosome (Klinefelter's syndrome), on serotonin and testosterone levels, and on the presence of toxic heavy metals and certain brain defects. But however interesting these studies, causation has no more been established than in the case of the objective factors; a great many people may have elevated serotonin and low cholesterol levels and yet do not become terrorists -- and vice versa.
The Irish patriots of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries fought for national independence, but their activities cannot explain why other minorities in Europe (even inside the United Kingdom, such as the Scots) did not choose terrorism as their strategy. Why did the radical Basque opt for terrorism whereas the Catalans, also a minority in Spain albeit a more numerous one, did not? Why did the Chechen engage in violent actions, but not the Tatars or other Muslim minorities in Russia? Why did the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka opt for terrorism and engage in one of the most protracted and bloody campaigns whereas the Muslims in Sri Lanka have not? And why have the Tamils in Southern India, far more numerous than those in Sri Lanka, been satisfied with their status and not carried out a war for total independence? Many hundred national and religious minorities in the world are persecuted and discriminated against; in fact there are few countries in which minorities do not believe that they are unfairly treated.
To find an explanation to the questions of why and in what circumstances terrorism occurs, one ought to consider at least in passing the questions of why and where terrorism does not occur even though all the "objective" reasons such as oppression and persecution do exist. To give but a few examples -- the untouchables in South and East Asia (scheduled castes or Dalits in India, Burakami in Japan, and similar groups in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myamar, Pakistan, etc.). They number about 240 million and their treatment has been often abominable, yet there has been no terrorism. Could it be that they are so degraded and fearful that they do not dare to protest and oppose their persecutors?
It could be argued that most national and religious minorities have accepted that, given the mixture of national groups in the modern world, it would not be possible to have total independence short of ethnic cleansing such as the world has never witnessed. There is of course also the fact that some ethnic groups demand the same territories as their rivals. But such sober calculation is probably not the main reason for the absence of terrorism in many parts of the globe and its presence in others. In every case, the specifics of the situation have to be considered. There are similarities, but in the end each case is different.
This takes us back to the changes that have taken place in the character of terrorism over the past 150 years. Terrorism in the nineteenth century aimed at social revolution or national liberation. Their quarrel was not with society at large, only with a small layer of oppressors. There were cases of indiscriminate killing, but these were the exception rather than the rule. This situation began to change in the 1970s, a little earlier in the case of nationalist-separatist terrorism. It refers to the brutalization and dehumanization in the choice of targets. That attacks should become indiscriminate was only logical, for the enemy was no longer a thin layer but the whole opposing group. If an anarchist declared in the late nineteenth century that there were no innocents, this declaration came from a fellow traveler, not a terrorist speaking on behalf of his group. It was considered by most of his fellow militants a willfully paradoxical and wicked statement. A hundred years later indiscrimination had become common practice. Terrorist spokesmen would still occasionally claim that they were fighting only wicked governments, not other people, but in practice they aimed to kill as many people as possible. On occasion they would declare that civilian victims were after all taxpayers and young girls would one day be mothers and give birth to babies who would become enemy soldiers. Rape and mutilation were unheard of in nineteenth-century terrorism, but toward the end of the twentieth century they became the rule rather than the exception in some parts of the world.
Old-style terrorists, with the exception of a few marginal cases, would not have considered using weapons of mass destruction or even of leaving their bombs in places such as supermarkets where innocent bystanders would be the victims. This dehumanization is in large part the result of religious fanaticism especially in the case of Islamism, but it is also true in the case of radical nationalist terrorism. It has occurred in particular in the fantasies and the actions of the extreme right in the United States; the case of the Turner Diaries is an obvious example. These groups felt themselves so isolated and so powerless vis-<agrave>-vis an omnipotent enemy that every weapon seemed permissible to have a chance in an unequal combat. The greater the fanaticism and the madness, the greater the urge to destroy as many enemies as possible. Whereas nineteenth-century terrorism especially in its anarchist variant had considered terrorism "propaganda by deed," the extreme groups of a later period had no wish to persuade anyone; their aim was to destroy as many of the enemy forces as possible, with "enemy forces" referring to all infidels, including small babies.
Just as the Holocaust would have been unlikely in nineteenth-century Europe, the new terrorism became possible only as the moral values and the whole Zeitgeist changed. Terrorists of an earlier period with all their hatred of the enemy had still felt bound by certain conventions. They would not have engaged in actions considered inhuman, and they would not have declared that they intended to "drink the blood of their enemies" and to "dance on their graves." Some present-day terrorists expect their enemies to drink their own blood and to infect them with AIDS and commit similar cruelties, or at least they claim to believe this. There were, of course, cases of indiscriminate killing by terrorists well before the 1970s, but only thereafter, with bombs placed into jumbo jets or the attack against Olympic athletes, did such practices become the prevailing strategy.
There were not a few unstable personalities among nineteenth-century terrorists, especially the Anarchists and the Russians, but there were few paranoiacs among them. On the other hand, persecution mania plays an important part in the new terrorism. Terrorism adapted itself and was motivated by a fanaticism that manifested itself in, among other things, indiscriminate mass killings and suicide bombings.
The term "fanaticism" comes from the Latin fanum (a holy place) but acquired early on the meaning of being possessed. It has frequently been described by theologians and historians of religion, whereas psychologists and psychiatrists have often shied away from investigating the phenomenon. A workable definition has been provided by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf; more than any other modern leader Hitler invoked fanaticism as an essential element of the Nazi movement.
Hitler noted that the mobilization of the masses could never be achieved by "half-hearted statements and actions" but only by total lack of any (humane) consideration and the fanatical, relentless pursuit of the goal. The enemy had to be smashed and destroyed; he was not just wrong, he was always totally wrong. The greatness of each great movement, Hitler declared, is rooted in a religious fanaticism totally convinced of its own rightness, intolerant against everything else. Seen in this light, the greatness of Christianity was not in attempting to compromise with similar philosophical schools but in fanatically and without compromise pressing its own message.
Hitler's insistence on the religious sources of fanaticism should not blind us to the fact that Hitler and his comrades were by no means motivated by traditional religion, except perhaps in a new, self-made variety. Nor was he reliable as a student of religion. Christianity was, after all, during the first three centuries of its history the religion of persecuted minorities, in contrast to Islam whose founder was -- or to be precise, became -- a military leader and whose followers in the course of the next three centuries engaged in military expansion in Asia and North Africa.
Religious sources of fanaticism cannot wholly account for contemporary manifestations. The first suicide bombers in the Middle East in the early 1980s were not Muslims but secular Christians. The Tamil Tigers, who produced more suicide bombers in the 1990s than any other terrorist movement, were not motivated by religion either. Nationalism, in other words, could produce a fanatical appeal similar to religion. The kamikaze pilots in World War II are an obvious example, as are soldiers in other armies in all recent wars who went on actions from which the chances of returning were minimal (SS units in so-called Himmelfahrtskommandos, the crew of German submarines in 1944, etc.). Nationalism quite apart, esprit de corps -- the feeling of loyalty to a group -- played an important role.
But with all this, the religious (or quasi-religious) sources of fanaticism are beyond doubt. They appear perhaps most clearly in certain episodes in the history of Christianity, such as the story of the Crusades. The speeches of Pope Urban and other princes of the church called the pious to go to the Holy Land to save the holy places from the Saracenes who had desecrated and destroyed them. The chronicles describe how the scum of France (faex residua Francorum) responded with great enthusiasm shouting "Deus lo volt" -- God wants it -- but how later on the nobles joined the Crusade (as well as many thousands of children and women wholly ill prepared who never made it), how Jerusalem was conquered, and how a bloodbath took place thereafter. Many Jewish communities have been destroyed on the road of the crusaders, but they did not spare Eastern Church congregations either. Many of their contemporaries thought these enthusiasts possessed and crazy, but the movement affected tens of thousands.
It was not, of course, only the Pope who had played a role in this incitement, but demagogic priests also like Peter of Amiens, a type of fanatic who recurs during the Middle Ages up to Savonarola, the Inquisition, and the burning of witches. Fanaticism suffered a decline even before the Enlightenment, but it had a revival in some churches such as the Russian Orthodox church in the late nineteenth century; there was a reaction elsewhere too against a century of tolerance and humanity.
The Russian religious philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev has provided a psychological profile of the fanatic, which may fit the fanatics of all religions. According to Berdyaev, the fanatic sees everywhere treason, betrayal, and the breaking of fidelity. He discovers everywhere conspiracies against his beloved idea, against the object of his faith. He is obsessed with a maniacal pursuit after the snares of the devil. Being in the grip of a persecution mania, it is very difficult to bring him back to reality. He sees enemies all around him, and he always becomes the persecutor. He reacts with force, for the devil seems always very strong and omnipotent, and in many ways the fanatic believes more strongly in Satan than in God. The fanatic in Berdyaev's profile acts with the greatest of malice, coercion, and cruelty. His whole life is devoted to persecuting heresy, and he cannot exist without an enemy.
Berdyaev, who wrote in 1937, noted the tendency of fanaticism to divide the world into two hostile camps. This observation applies to the same degree to radical Islamism at the present time.
It is more difficult to follow Berdyaev's generalizations when he claims that fanaticism is always rooted in fear and a perception of danger. He left out of his purview the element of hatred and aggression. Nor is it true, as Berdyaev argues, that there is a basic difference between the fanaticism of the Middle Ages and modern times, inasmuch as in the Middle Ages there was deep religious faith such as no longer exists in the modern age. Also the Middle Ages carried a great intolerance of culture and intellectual creativity. Torquemada and the other inquisitors believed that they tortured people in order to save their souls from perdition, which cannot be said about the modern inquisition.
For Christianity and the other major religions, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the burning of witches are a thing of the past. But in Islam, once the most tolerant of religions, fanaticism in various manifestations (Wahabism, Salafism, etc.) had a revival in modern times. In some branches of Islam, such as Shiism, fanaticism has always been stronger than in others (e.g., self-flagellation). But in the decades before Khomeini's rise to power, this tradition seemed to be on the wane.
With the resurgence of fundamentalism came a recurrence of fanaticism. The idea of saving the souls of their victims is certainly alien to the present-day terrorists; on the contrary, victims should be annihilated so that there should be no remembrance of them. Nor is terrorist cruelty limited to unbelievers. One need to think only of the Algerian terrorists who excelled in unspeakable acts of cruelty toward their own coreligionists as well as children. True, some of the Islamic fanaticism could well be pre-Islamic in motivation. The Koran and Hadith, for instance, command a decent burial even to enemies (especially Muslim enemies), whereas the traditional way to deal with the corpses of political enemies in Iraq in the 1950s and 1960s but also elsewhere in Muslim lands has been mutilation. This practice has certainly not been in conformance with the prescriptions of religion; the Taliban has acted in a similar barbaric way.
Fanaticism is an essential part of terrorism, for how can one expect militants to kill and to expect to be killed but on the basis of a very strong, single-minded belief? Hence the upsurge of barbarism in terrorism, religious and secular alike. There was a basic difference between Russian revolutionary terrorists of a hundred years ago, among whom there was the belief that by killing (which was politically necessary) they committed a sin for which they were to be punished. These terrorists of a bygone age had been motivated by a feeling of idealism and duty toward their class or their country. The last words of those about to be executed, such as Fischer, one of the accused in the Haymarket trial in Chicago ( "This is the happiest day in my life"), reveal that they were deeply convinced that upon them, like upon Christ, was the burden of deliverance. The fanatical devotion of some of the early Nazis -- such as Schlageter, who was executed by the French in 1923 after some acts of sabotage -- was paid homage by a leading Soviet communist, Karl Radek. He wrote at the time that the fact that Schlageter risked death showed that he was determined to serve his country. Radek drew the conclusion that the Communists shall do everything in their power to ensure that men like Leo Schlageter, willing to go to their death for an ideal, should not have died in vain but be harbingers of a better world.
To state the obvious again, terrorism has changed over time and so have the terrorists, their motives, and the causes of terrorism. A century ago terrorism was either socialist revolutionary or anarchist, or in some cases, nationalist separatist such as in Ireland and the Balkans. A world map of terrorism around 1970 still showed, broadly speaking, the same trends -- left-wing terrorism in some European countries and in Latin America, nationalist terrorism in the Middle East, but also terrorism carried out by groups of the extreme right -- in Germany and Romania in the 1920s and 1930s and in later decades also in Italy, Turkey, and other countries. This terrorism was predominantly internal, directed against the ruling government or other parties and social groups. Only in a few cases was terrorism based in one country directed against another, such as in the Middle East and on the Indian subcontinent.
During the 1980s and early 1990s there was a worldwide decline in terrorist action. The left-wing groups with a very few exceptions had disappeared, the right wing had declined in influence, and while the nationalist-separatist trend continued to operate, there were also signs that it was abating. The Irish and the Basque terrorists were negotiating on and off with the governments of their countries, and the peace process in the Middle East also caused a decline in the number of acts of terrorism. Some of the sponsors of state terrorism, including Libya and Sudan, became noticeably less active than they had been before, and the Iranians tried harder to obliterate their traces. As the annual report of the State Department for the year 2000 stated, only nineteen U.S. citizens had been killed that year in acts of international terrorism. (Seventeen of them perished in a single attack -- on the USS Cole in the port of Aden.)
However, during the 1990s, a new factor arose that became within a few years the most important by far on the map of international terrorism: Islamic terrorism. There had been, of course, such groups before, such as in Algeria, but sometimes they were overlooked; on other occasions they were thought to be mainly local and nationalist rather than religious in character, such as in the case of Kashmir and Palestine. (Kashmir and Palestine had been originally national conflicts, but they have become more and more religious-political -- Islamist in other words -- in recent years.) In other places the military operations by Islamic groups took the character of guerrilla warfare rather than terrorism in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
But with the attempts of al Qa'ida under Osama bin Laden to establish something like an international coordination bureau of Muslim terrorist groups and an International Brigade, the role of Islamic terrorism became predominant and most other terrorist groups became marginal -- except, of course, for the local authorities involved.
All this history has to be recalled for the simple reason that an analysis of the roots of terrorism at the beginning of the twenty-first century cannot be based exclusively on the experience of earlier phases. But to reiterate once again, it would be even more misleading to proceed with such an analysis from the assumption that terrorism has no prehistory. Both the features the new terrorism has in common with the old and the essential differences have to be taken into account. Religious and nationalist fanaticism is the predominant feature of terrorism at the present time, which does not preclude that in future decades terrorism might appear also in other guises.
<1.> Ted Honderich, a British philosopher, argued that the terrorism of 2001 was connected with the poverty of countries like Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Sierra Leone. Ted Honderich, After the Terror (Edinburgh, 2002).
<2.> A study by Alan Krueger and Jitka Maleckova of Princeton and Prague University, respectively, made this point; the study was prepared for the World Bank but encountered opposition and could not be published. Robert Barro, Business Week, June 10, 2002. It was subsequently published in the New Republic, "Does Poverty Cause Terrorism?" (June 24, 2002). A study of Israeli Jewish terrorists in the 1970s and 1980s reached similar results -- a pattern of higher education and better-paying occupation than the average. But the findings about the role of "education," which are also mentioned in the Krueger/Maleckova study, are not conclusive for they do not clarify the essence of education involved, whether it refers, for instance, to a liberal education based on humanist values or on a mainly technical training accompanied by political and religious indoctrination. The equation of various kinds of education is not helpful and might be quite misleading.
<3.> Hizb al Tahrir in Britain and other jihadist groups have argued all along that a clash between Islam and other civilizations is inescapable. See "The Inevitability of the Clash of Civilizations," khilafah.com (September 2002).
<4.> According to political correctness, human beings are born as tabula rasa; there are no innate traits; men and women are born good and corrupted by society. Neurobiological research into the foundations of human nature has been hamstrung because of the legacy of the racialist theories of Nazi Germany. Hence the reluctance to acknowledge that people may not be born entirely ``characterless'' and that they are not wholly formed by culture. Are there equal levels of talent, tolerance, and aggression at birth? If people are born with anything, this should be the subject of study. The issue is discussed in Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate (New York, 2002). The relevance for the study of terrorism is obvious; that terrorists are not genetically programmed goes without saying; further on in this study we shall deal with the crucial role of indoctrination in the making of suicide bombers. But the question whether biological factors are at all involved, and if so, to what extent, still remains to be investigated.
comments powered by Disqus
- Arizona Historical Society soon could be history
- Yale's Donald Kagan says students need to study Western civilization
- Ken Burns on Colbert to promote his new documentary, "The Address"
- UC Santa Barbara History Department featuring a series on the Great Society at 50
- Historians are trying to recover censored texts from World War I poets