Evolutions in Terrorism need Evolutions in Approach
Terrorism being a highly volatile phenomenon with constantly changing facets, has been a challenge to scholars to define. While the term was once associated with honour and the struggle for freedom, it is today viewed in an extremely negative light. Violence has always been the predominant characteristic of an act of terrorism, however, terrorism today has moved on to non-violent realms in the form of cyber attacks, which are, never the less, harmful to the economy. Terrorists are generally viewed as psychopaths and lunatics who are driven by personal agenda, resorting to violence against innocents in order to vent their frustrations. However, an increasing body of research has shown that terrorists are normal people, being governed by the same psychological, social, and political processes that affect every other human being .
Horgan candidly points out that although youth often terrorize the elderly through harassment and little children terrorize animals as a form of play, one would never consider classifying them as terrorisms . The term ‘terrorism’ has become a part of the common vocabulary and is often used out of context by people lacking understanding of the concept to describe a vast array of violent and malicious actions taken by individuals, organizations, groups as well as governments. However, in order to tame the rise of terrorism, it first needs to be defined, its characteristics identified and its constituents classified. While dictionary definitions on the terms ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ are vague and hardly cover the complex layers of the concept, definitions are often corrupted by the personal views of the author about this particularly controversial subject.
The term ‘terrorist’ was first assigned to revolutionaries during the French Revolution and has been associated with various groups pursuing acts of violence for a vast array of causes. Initially, freedom fighters and urban guerrillas who were revolting against oppressive regimes were also called terrorists by their governments. However, as highlighted by Brazil’s revolutionary Carlos Marighela, ‘to be called an aggressor or terrorist in Brazil is now an honour to any citizen, for it means he is fighting against dictatorship and the suffering it causes’ . However, organizations and individuals today object to being called a terrorist and prefer to be known as fighters.
The definition of terrorism provided by the U.S. State Department based on United States Code, Section 2656f(d), Title 22, is
Premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience
Similarly, the U.S. FBI defines terrorism as
the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a Government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives
It should be noted however that the inclusion of an act of violence, which was earlier considered to be the mainstay of any act to be considered an act or terror, has undergone a drastic change too. The rise in cyber attacks in recent years has revealed a new face of terrorism, challenging traditional definitions . Never the less, scholars agree that that the term ‘Terrorism’ is derogatory , used by one party to negatively describe its opponents, and promoting its own views and beliefs as being morally and ethically correct . From the above discussion, it is clear that, depending on the personal views of an individual, the nature of terrorism and its justification changes. While terrorists today are generally seen in a highly negative light, they have been historical considered to be revolutionaries.
Terrorism can be studied from various perspectives including historical, social, psychological, political and criminal. Earlier researches have tried to understand this phenomenon using various approaches which will be discussed in the following sections of this paper. Although emerging facets of terrorism such as cyber attacks, suicide bombings and radical groups have been included in recent studies, Silke notes that ‘only 20% of published articles on terrorism are providing substantially new knowledge on the subject’ . Causes of Terrorism
In order to address the problems that terrorism creates, it is necessary to identify the factors and causes that lead to terrorism and this required a systematic and thorough study of the subject. Crenshaw’s 1981 article on the causes of terrorism identified three variables, namely: a) psychological, b) structural, and c) strategic, and arises from politically motivated, well thought out decisions . Structural variables are further classified into: a) root causes, and b) trigger causes, the presence of which creates circumstances that increase the potential for terrorism. Crenshaw’s categorizations were a good beginning at identifying the causes of terrorism; however, subsequent research has failed to build on this knowledge. Although Ross endorsed Crenshaw’s work by putting forth his own classifications, he went on to acknowledge that both these works only describe terrorism but are insufficient for detailed analysis of the phenomenon .
Dipak Gupta added that merely suffering arising from social, economic, political or religious oppression did not encourage terrorism until sparked by a trigger . Similar views on the causes of terrorism were presented by Tore Bjorgo and Paul Wilkinson . In 1999, Hoffman, relying on psychological research, noted that terrorist acts shared common characteristics such as unwavering faith in final victory and attacking strategic targets, with terrorists relying on such acts, mostly violent, to convey a message to a specific audience .
Early concepts of terrorism identified economic and social conditions to be causes. However, in the last few decades, terrorism has mostly been spurred by political and religious issues. Terrorism rose every time the U.S. militarily intervened in the affairs of foreign countries where the attacked populace felt victimized . Carr noted that terrorism arises from the acute response of governments against acts of political violence . Similarly, Krueger and Maleckova note that the enduring terrorism in Palestine/ Israel has little to do with ‘poverty and education’ or other economic conditions, and are not the cause of suicide bombings . The perception of what has been popularly terms as ‘Islamic Extremism’ and ‘Islamists’, varies.
One of the myths about the Middle East speaks about the political and social uniqueness of the Middle East region that makes it difficult for it to be viewed on the same plain as the rest of the world. However, Halliday argues that while basic cultural factors such as dressing, beliefs, cuisine and so on vary across the Middle East region, the block that build society, i.e. state, economy and family are the same as anywhere else in the world . He also points out that the region has been equally involved in world history and has been subject to the same political turbulences as several other Asian, African, European and even American countries. The Middle is as vulnerable to changes in global economics and politics as the rest of world. Its people experience the same set of emotions as any other human being would given the circumstances that they live in.
However, Halliday highlights that, while culture as part of a civilization plays a certain role in interstate as well as international relations, it is not a phenomenon specific to the Middle East or to Muslims. Fundamentalists in countries such as Japan, India and Russia have been particularly true to this thesis . However, while Halliday claims that culture has never been the dominant cause of wars, this seems to be an extreme statement. Various communal riots between Hindu-Muslim sections in India, Protestant-Catholic clashes in Ireland, the Crusades and, of course, apartheid are all examples of the great affect that culture, religion and race, as part of a civilization, have on global politics. The fact that this is not limited to the Middle East remains true though.
Although the Western community main views these terrorists as modern day fascists, very few are sympathetic towards the causes that have led to the rise of this form of terrorism .Randall notes that’s that the terrorist tactics used by revolting groups can also be used by states. Further, an oppressive regime declaring an enemy group to be terrorists could actually draw support for the group from the international community .
Terrorism Analysis and its Approaches
The four classifications or approaches towards analyzing terrorism have been mentioned earlier, namely: a) multi-causal, b) political or structural, c) organizations, and d) psychological. The multi-causal approach fundamentally combines social, political, religious, economical and psychological factors, and puts forth the theory that the existence of several of these factors forms the root cause of terrorist activity . According to the political or structural approach, environmental factors such as poverty, social inequality, discrimination and subjugation are identified as causes of terrorism. This approach has been endorsed by left wing scholars such as Ross and T. R. Gurr .
Crenshaw mainly followed the organizational or rational approach towards terrorism analysis, noting that terrorist acts are undertaken as a result of conscious, intentional and well planned rational strategies of organizations or groups which rely on such acts to attain predefined political objectives. Held notes that even democratic nations are undergoing drastic fundamental changes that often result in revolts and acts of terrorism . Finally, the psychological approach, as propagated by scholars such as Hoffman and Sageman , suggests that the collective individual mindsets of individuals lead to the formation of terrorist groups of like minded individuals sharing common goals.
Root Causes, Trigger Causes and Decline of Terrorism
Sageman proposes that root causes can be used to identify traits and attributes that could eventually lead to the creation of a terrorist organization or a person becoming a terrorist . Relying on the researches of the aforementioned scholars as well as the extensive study of terrorism by Borum , a set of root and trigger causes has been compiled to further illustrate how they differ, what impact they have on the incidence of terrorism and why is it important to study them. This compilation is shown in the form of Table 1. John Horgan notes that, as with other cycles, terrorism also undergoes a decline and generally ends . Rapoport assigns a duration of 1 years as the life expectancy of terrorist organizations . Scholars following different approaches to the study of terrorist suggest various causes of the decline of terrorism, a compilation of which is given in Table 2.
Although the various scholars have stated what they view as the causes of the rise and decline of terrorism, there is little consensus between different perceptions. Further, the applicability of these causes to the current wave of terrorism remains doubtful, as is highlighted by the fact that the U.S. ‘War on Terror’ and the constant barrage of terrorist attacks across the globe has far outlived the life expectancy of terrorist organizations as proposed by experts. As such, terrorism needs to be studied from a fresh perspective in order to identify the reasons why the current wave is not declining.
Non-state factors and small organizations have been the center of a major part of researches on the subject of terrorism. This gap has been termed by Crelinsten as a ‘truncated object of study’ (1987). It can be noted that most of the literature reviewed in this paper too take this narrow scope, mainly attributing insurgency to terrorism. Terrorism involves a power struggle, transfer and sharing across levels. The impact of state sponsored terrorism has been effectively highlighted by . This aspect should ideally be incorporated into the traditional definition of terrorism wherein it is described as the process of violent acts being utilized to overthrow governments and regimes or change policies that are considered unfair and oppressive. Broadening the scope of understanding will allow scholars to draw comparisons and identify similarities and differences between various factors influencing terrorism, including states and larger organizations. This will allow a better understanding of the power relations in global terrorist networks as well.
The understanding of terrorism has been limited to the perspective of policies and their impact on the incidence of terrorism. This is beneficial to governments that seek to evaluate what policies are causing terrorism, how they can be controlled and, hence, the burden placed on the economy through terrorist acts can be reduced. However, once again, the scope of understanding here is narrowed as it is focused only on the government’s and policy maker’s perspective with the objective of controlling and preventing terrorism (Wieviorka 1995, Crenshaw 1995, Crelinsten 1987). The other side of terrorist activity, the viewpoint of terrorists as well as other factors that influence terrorism are sidelined, thus having a negative effect on comprehensive development of theories. Regardless of their motivations, whether religious, economic or social, the final objective of terrorist activity is political change.
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