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1.How do economists define rationality? Why, according to Mancur Olson, is it inadequate in explaining collective behavior? Extending this logic, explain why economic rationale cannot explain terrorism? How can we theoretically understand the motivations of a terrorist? In this context, explain the concept of “Janus’ Children.”
Economists such as Karl Popper place the principle of rationality on a situational analysis. According to this concept, a rational person would first analyze his or her situation and social surroundings before selecting a course of action that is reasonable and appropriate. While psychologists seek to understand individual behavior, economists seek to predict the impact of this behavior of society . Economics treats rationality from a logical perspective rather than a psychological one – finding the most effective link between the means and the end. Rationality, hence, becomes an instrument of profit maximization and utility. According to this logic, all rational people within a group sharing the same situation should ideally make the same decisions.
Mancur Olson, however, contends that this concept of logical rationality does not apply to collective behavior. Olson posits that, even if a group does share a common interest, it is not necessary that each member will act to fulfill this object, even if everyone stands to gain from it. A group of rational people serving self-interest, would not act towards a common interest until and unless there is external coercion or a specific trigger for the action . Although the members of the group may have a common objective and stand to benefit from achieving that objective, the degree of benefit attained by each may vary. This in turn would affect the willingness of a group member to act towards the attainment of the objective. In a marketplace, if a cartel is not formed by all members of the group, the group will not be able to succeed in its ventures, whether it is controlling the production or pricing of goods or lobbying for government policies.
In the same manner, economic concepts of rationality cannot be applied to terrorism. In a terrorist group, while the group shares a common goal, the ‘investment’ or actions taken by some members of the faction cannot be compared with others. Similarly, the returns or benefits attained from these actions also differ greatly. For example, while suicide bombers sacrifice their life for a cause, they do not gain anything from the action for themselves. As such, there is not self-interest involved as required by the economic concept of rationality. As mentioned by Olson, while an entire population may be subject to the same circumstances and the same objectives, not all become members of a terrorist group. Hence, the economic concept of rationality does not apply to terrorism.
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 honor 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 .
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 likeminded individuals sharing common goals.
Regardless of the cause of modern day terrorism, one aspect that remains common is that terrorist groups emerge from a larger population sharing the same circumstances and goals. However, the choice of action taken towards the achievement of these objectives varies based on intensity with which a person is committed towards personal wants and group goals. As Dipak Gupta notes, this Janus Head duality of motivations has a major impact on the rationality of a terrorist. While other members of the population may be impacted by the same political, economic, political or environmental situations, the terrorist chooses to act violently, even at the cost of his or her life, as they are more inclined towards the ‘greater good’ of the group when compared to the concerns of their personal well being . To a terrorist, terrorism is the rational path to attaining their motives.
2. Both terrorist groups and criminal engage in illegal activities. How can we conceptually separate the two? In this context, explain how in real life a terrorist organization can veer off toward criminality? Also, explain the three types of participants and their motivations in a mass movement. Give examples.
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.
One of the reasons for modern day revolutionaries to abhor the term terrorist is its link to criminality. There are several aspects that are common between a terrorist and a criminal. Both carry out illegal activities, work in secretive and organized groups and often resort to violent acts that harm innocent civilians. However, the one key differentiator between the two is that of motivation. While the terrorist acts towards the achievement of a ‘greater good’, without consideration towards self-interest or profit, a criminal is mostly spurred by greed and personal gain, even though it may not necessarily be monetary in nature . While terrorists may not have criminal intentions, their organizations often have to rely on criminal means to operate. For example, in order to acquire weapons to carry out attacks or explosives to manufacture bombs, they have to be closely linked to the illegal fire arms and weapons market at a global level. In order to fund their activities, they rely on massive money laundering on an international scale. It is in this manner that the fine line between terrorism and criminality gets blurred further.
Based on their method of operating, terrorist organizations can be divided into three categories, namely: a) Ideological, b) Professional, and c) Anomic. Organizations such as Al-Qaeda, Hammas and the LTTE fall under the first category. In order to carry out intricate, well planned attacks that are often suicidal in nature, these organizations need members who are absolutely committed to the cause and willing to sacrifice their lives for it. Even if those directly carrying out the attacks are not suicide bombers, they run great personal risk of injury. They are mostly spurred by religious or ethnic sentiments. Professional terrorists, on the other hand, rely on advanced technologies to remotely carry out attacks. Bomb detonations are either timed or remote controlled, allowing the attacker a window of escape. They are more politically motivated and run a much lesser risk to life. The IRA and ETA can be considered to be part of this group. Finally, Anomic terrorists are driven by the prospect of financial gain. For example, Abu Sayyaf of Philippines and the Columbian FARC are more interested in taking hostages than outright killing of people. Their members are often mercenaries who get a share of the ransom thus attained .
3. Explain the causes of frustration and anger in the Islamic nations against the West. In this context, trace the origins of the Salafism and the current movement of radicalism in the Islamic nations. By taking a theoretical perspective, explain how, with help of a series of political entrepreneurs the collective identity of the current radical Islamic movement has been formed.
Dipak Gupta states 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 – ‘Islamic terrorism’ in particular. 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 mainly 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 .
Angered by the constant ‘interference’ from the West as well as the inability of local governments and rulers to provide a stable environment, a movement called Salafism began in the late 1990s. Often closely associated with the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, Salafis fundamentally prohibit any deviation or alteration in the religion of Islam and strictly adhere to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. The concept of Salafism is decades old, however, it has donned the mantle of extremism on in the recent past. While the original Salafis prohibited any act of aggression against innocent, modern day Salafi movement has often taken violent routes. In particular, Osama Bin Laden is known to have been a Salafi. At the same time, the Mufti of Saudi Arabia, also a Salafi, has always taken a specifically non-violent stance towards conflict resolution. As a result, there is a tremendous degree of uncertainty over whether Salafis can be considered mainstream terrorists .
The recent political upheaval caused in the Middle East after the Arab Spring brought a new face of Salafism to the fore. While initially there were only two sects – Moderate and Salafi Jihadis – Salafis have now begun to play a major role in the politics and government of several Arab countries including Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Morocco. After the governments and regimes of these nations were toppled through revolt, the Salafis have actively assumed substantial political power in the region.
In times of political uncertainty, people look for an able leader who can lead their country not only in terms of governance but religion and ideology as well. Political Entrepreneurs have been known to emerge during such times, capitalizing on the insecurities of the public to unite them towards their own ideologies . With the Salafi movement gaining legitimate political power in Egypt, the ideology of such politics has become a matter of grave concern. Salafi leaders have gone to great extents to assure the people of Egypt, their neighbours as well as the international community that radical Islamist laws will not be imposed in Egypt. Salafi youth groups such as the Salafyo Cost, named after the famous coffee chain Costa Coffee, have emerged as the moderate face of Salafism . However, conflicts within the Salafi movement, its leaders and members, gives way to great uncertainty as to the direction this movement will take in the near future.
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