Two decades ago I had tea with one of Ulster’s most infamous murderers in his home. It was a strange occasion. We sat drinking from china cups and eating slices of fruit cake served from a silver stand, while my host, Billy Wright – otherwise known as King Rat – bragged about bloodstained activities on the frontline of the Troubles. As he sat there in his blue denim shirt and jeans, I was struck by the incongruity of this loyalist killer talking so brazenly about the most terrible deeds while serving cake on paper doilies.
Wright crops up briefly in this absorbing attempt to answer a difficult question: does terrorism actually work? King Rat was called “one of the most efficient and ruthless killers” on the loyalist side by a government minister, leaving behind him a trail of up to 20 deaths and many devastated lives. Yet his lethal activities began in response to the IRA slaughter of 10 Protestants in south Armagh. And this shows how terrorism can backfire so disastrously; instead of protecting Catholics, as proclaimed, the IRA violence sparked many more murders.
Perhaps most depressing are the testimonies of those who kill and maim to feel a twisted sense of celebrity or power
The question in this book’s title is complex, controversial and near-impossible to answer given the many varying strands woven into the tapestry of history. But that does not make this attempt by Richard English, a Belfast-born professor of politics at the University of St Andrews, any less interesting. He has spent 30 years studying the subject and, as we know all too well, terrorist outrages grab attention and promote causes with sickening ease. One expert even calls it “performance violence” – although its threat tends to be wildly exaggerated.
The author admits some people might struggle with daring even to ask whether terror works. He carefully sets out his criteria, saying that even if stated goals are not achieved, there can be partial success through secondary strategic aims. Much of the book focuses on four case studies: al-Qaida, the Provisional IRA, Hamas and the Basque separatist group, Eta. In his conclusion, however, he skims through many more from the African National Congress, now governing in South Africa, down to the Free Wales Army who “failed miserably in their small-scale efforts”.
The difficulties of analysis are shown by al-Qaida. Clearly it has not achieved its core objective to force the US and allies from the Muslim world; instead, its actions reinforced Washington’s involvement, often in a violent and destructive manner. Osama bin Laden underestimated the strength of his enemy, influenced by the speed with which the Americans pulled out of Somalia after 18 soldiers were killed there in October 1993. Additionally, for all the publicity given to Islamic State, the regimes in most Muslim countries are not those desired by the jihadis.
Yet as English also points out, al-Qaida violence has hurt the US and its allies, both economically and through loss of life. He concludes that the group embodies a wider truth about terrorism: “the capacity of small numbers of terrorist zealots to change the world, but not entirely as they would have wished or anticipated”. It also shows the paradox of terrorist publicity: atrocities can grab attention, but often backfire on the perpetrator’s cause, as we saw after 9/11 or more recently in France.
Northern Ireland is even tougher to assess, given the length of struggle and extent of influences on the current state of play there. IRA bombs and bullets have not achieved a united, independent Ireland. But did they help bring about a milder form of self-determination, ensuring nationalists the capacity to determine their own affairs? While former Provos are quoted saying they failed dismally and it was all “a futile, useless waste of lives”, those involved in peace negotiations admitted they focused on those using violence, given their aim of stopping the bloodshed.
Ultimately English ducks his own question, insisting there can be no simple answer given the overwhelming complexities involved. Yet that does not make his work less valid. Perhaps most depressing are the testimonies of those who kill, maim and destroy to feel a twisted sense of celebrity or power. One Republican boasts there was no shortage of women “prepared to give more than the time of day” to terrorists. A second talks of “great comradeship”. A third simply says: “I felt important.”
Does Terrorism Work? is published by Oxford University Press (£25). Click here to buy it for £20.50
What are the causes of terrorism and how can it be stopped?
“Terrorism and guerrilla warfare, whether justified as resistance to oppression or condemned as disrupting the rule of law, are as old as civilization itself. The power of the terrorist, however, has been magnified by modern weapons, including television, which he has learned to exploit.” (Guerrillas and Terrorists) There are many definitions and forms of terrorism: biological and chemical, nuclear, international, cyber, criminal, environmental, and US Domestic terrorism are some examples. Usually, terrorists blackmail governments with hostages to reach their ultimate goals. “In the 1980’s, kidnapping was the preferred action of terrorists groups.” (World History People and Nations) In some incidents, terrorists kill unsuspecting, innocent people and themselves as well.
The Purpose of Terrorism:
Why do people become terrorists and inflict terror? What is their true purpose? Why do they have to destroy the remaining peace in our world? Before this research, I realize that terrorism took so many forms. Since terror means fear, horror, and fright, terrorism was a just “horrible thing” to me. Now, it is an issue that has a great impact on our society and world; it is not to be taken lightly.
Many analysts, researchers, and professors have tried to define the purpose of terrorism. Some believe that that can only be achieved when we know how the mind of a terrorist works.
Terrorists are like pests that one can not get rid of. Like a virus being exposed to anti-bodies, they just get stronger and “immune” to our defenses. “Terrorists are nothing if not adaptable. International terrorists have shifted tactics and targets many times over the years in response to changing circumstances. Shifting political fortunes and new antiterrorism measures will continue to force existing terrorist groups to reinvent themselves and new groups to find new methods.” (“The Rise of Terrorism”, Online)
“Terrorism, the systematic use of violence or threat of violence by organized groups to achieve specific goals. Terrorist activities may be directed against individuals, organizations or governments. Terrorism is employed by radical groups to obtain concessions from established governments, such as a change in policies unfavorable to them or the release of imprisoned members of their organizations…” (“Terrorism”, N. S. Encyclopedia T-169)
“The 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. Cyber-terrorism could thus be defined as the use of computing resources to intimidate or coerce others. An example of cyber-terrorism could be hacking into a hospital computer system and changing someone's medicine prescription to a lethal dosage as an act of revenge.” (Sproles and Byars, Online)
“The terrorist's mission is often hard to understand, especially when the terrorists in question are young, and have no real political motives. In the book The Terrorists: their Weapons, Leaders and Tactics, by Christopher Dobson and Ronald Payne, terrorists are said to live by two rules:
"1. The use of violence is obligatory to induce fear and chaos, and 2. It must be aimed at the people and the institutions of the established order." (“Lisson”)
Who can be identified as terrorists? The previous quote was applied to the Columbine High School shooting. The victims were teenagers and adults, but the “terrorists” were two hateful teenage boys. “High School is four long years to a young person, and the repeated mocking of the so-called 'Black Trench Coat Mafia' drove hatred into the hearts of the taunted, hatred for those who mocked them. And, as we saw at Columbine High, the outsider's anger at being excluded from their society often takes a dangerous turn.” (“Lisson”)
Children lose their innocence much due the fact that they are being exposed to sex and violence at a much earlier age. Television, the Internet, and video games easily manipulate the mind of a child. And teenagers can be cruel, even the students of Brooklyn Tech. One can occasionally witness fights and gang initiations in high schools. Almost anyone with Internet access can read the Anarchist's Cookbook, written by William Powell, and published in 1971. “The original written text provides both a historical overview of Anarchy, Marxism and Terrorism, detailed step by step instructions on how to classify and use drugs, and how to terrorize using both firearms and chemical weapons.” (“Lisson”)
Stephan H. Leader is a security analyst and assistant programmer who tried to define the purpose of terrorism. “For many years, to paraphrase terrorism expert Brian Jenkins, most international terrorists wanted a lot of people watching--not a lot of people dead. They wanted publicity for their causes and used hijackings and bombings to manipulate the American political system and other target governments to further their various agendas.
Evidence increasingly suggests that religiously motivated terrorists are much less interested in drawing attention to themselves and their cause and more interested in punishing adversaries by killing large numbers of people. Many recent incidents seem to underline this trend: the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings; the 1992 and 1994 Buenos Aires bombings of the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish Community Center, respectively; various suicide bombings in Israel; and car bombings in Algeria all seem to be characterized by an apparent desire to kill large numbers of people.” (“The Rise of Terrorism”)
The Causes of Terrorism:
After quoting the purposes and intentions of terrorism, the causes should be highlighted as well. A main cause of terror and violence is hate. For instance, doctors have been killed and clinics have been bombed. Why? “Issue-group extremists are another growing source of terror violence. Recent escalations in attacks against medical staff, clinics and hospitals by anti-abortion campaigners in the USA, and against research scientists, laboratories and commercial premises by animal rights campaigners in the UK, are indications of the kinds of motivation involved. Although issue-group extremists aim at changing specific policies or practices rather than the whole socio-political system, their potential for endangering life and social and economic wellbeing should not be underestimated. Issue-group motivated terrorism shows every sign of increasing in the heavily urbanized pluralist democracies, with their complex and vulnerable systems of communications, transportation, electronic funding transfers, etc.” (“Commentary No. 53”, Online)
About a decade ago, “six states were actively supporting and sponsoring terrorist acts. Today, seven states are still on the official U.S. list of supporters of international terrorism (Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria), but only one, Iran, is believed to be sponsoring terrorism actively… Increasingly, terrorists are organized into ad hoc groups. Such groups are fluid organizationally and tend to coalesce into task forces for specific missions. Yonah Alexander has called the new mode of operation "well organized disorganization." As a result, terrorist groups are harder to track and penetrate, and their targets are harder to predict.” (“The Rise of Terrorism”)
The causes of terrorism are different in each distinct nation. In Africa, especially Rwanda, the “ethnic cleansing” is the basis of terrorism. Africans flee from their enemy tribes or armed militias. Their “weapon” of terrorism is rape, torture, and massacre. “International spillover of such conflicts in the form of terrorist attacks in other countries will vary according to political and strategic circumstances. Where an ethnic group believes it may be in danger of being suppressed or driven out of its base area, and especially when it has militant supporters with access to weapons and explosives based in foreign countries, an international terrorist campaign is far more likely.” (“No.53”)
In the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, terrorism originates from ethnic rivalries and hatreds. Those causes were the results of removing Communist dictatorship. Where in region, does terrorism strike the most? Bosnia is often the target to terrorists. “Less well-known in the West are the conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh and Georgia. The recent attempt by the Russian Army to suppress Chechen separatism is a dramatic reminder that the Russian Federation itself is full of ethnic groups that bitterly reject Moscow's right to rule them.” (“No.53”)
In the world, where is terrorism the most horrific and frequent? The Middle East has experienced the most violence since 1968. “If one defines the Middle East as including Algeria and Turkey, both of which have spawned conflicts involving considerable terrorist violence, including some international spillover, this region remains the most dangerous source of terrorist challenges to the wider international community, accounting for over 21% of all international terrorist incidents worldwide in 1992, and over 23% in 1993.” (“No.53”)
“In Afghanistan itself, the forces set in motion by a decade of civil war and intervention continued to sustain internal oppression and instability and to breed global terrorism long afterward.” (Milestones of the 20th Century 142)
This is ironic because there have been many efforts to resolve the dispute over the Golan Heights between Israel, Jordan, and Syria. The U.S has urged the nations to form peaceful agreements in the recent years; however, there are four basic motivations for terrorism in the Middle East:
1. “Bitter opposition by Rejectionist Palestinian groups to the agreement between Mr. Arafat and the Israeli government. These groups see Arafat as a traitor who has betrayed the cause of Palestinian self-determination.”
2. “In almost every Moslem country there are groups of extreme Islamic fundamentalists, inspired and actively encouraged by the Islamic revolutionary rÃ©gime in Iran, ready to wage Jihad against pro-western Arab rÃ©gimes, with the aim of setting up Islamic republics in their place.”
3. “However, the Islamic fundamentalist challenge is not directed solely at incumbent rÃ©gimes in the Moslem world. Frequently they widen their range of targets to include westerners within their country. For example, the GIA in Algeria has deliberately targeted French citizens in Algeria since September 1993, because they allege that France is providing covert support and assistance to the Algerian military rÃ©gime, and is historically responsible for the situation in Algeria.”
4. “The Middle East is also the major region of state sponsors and supporters of terrorism: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan and Libya. The position of the USA as the sole remaining superpower and the desire of President Assad of Syria to improve relations with America to gain better diplomatic leverage in the Middle East peace process have undoubtedly helped to mute Syria's terrorist efforts for the time being. But Damascus has not discarded this weapon: it is still giving safe haven to a variety of groups, which it might be useful to unleash at some future time.” (“No.53”)
The U.S. is no different from the other nations; it has faced the wrath of international and domestic terrorists. International terrorists prefer to strike businesses abroad and to kidnap innocent people. In Latin America, especially Colombia, terrorists are mostly kidnappers. “According to reports published by the FBI, in the past eleven years, there have been two international terrorist incidents in the United States. (An international terrorist incident is defined by the FBI as one committed by a group or individual that is foreign-based and/or directed by countries or groups outside the United States or whose activities transcend national boundaries.) One of the two incidents was the notorious and highly destructive World Trade Center bombing in February 1993. The other was not even directed against the U.S. and is hard to characterize as a serious incident: in April 1992, five opponents of the Iranian regime occupied the offices of the Iranian Mission to the United Nations in New York City. The five pled guilty and were sentenced to three months in jail.”
“Last year (1994), there were no terrorist incidents in the United States, according to statistics maintained by the FBI. There was no prevention of terrorist incidents in the United States. There was one set of suspected terrorist incidents, involving improvised explosive devices discovered at two locations in New York. Notes criticizing the government of Israel as being too liberal signed by the Maccabee Squad and the Shield of David accompanied the devices, which did not detonate. The case remains unsolved to date.
In 1993, there were 11 domestic terrorist incidents in the U.S. Nine of the eleven all occurred on a single night when animal rights activists placed small incendiary devices in four Chicago department stores that sell furs. (According to the FBI, the most active domestic "terrorist" groups in recent years have been animal rights activists and "skinheads".)” (“Recent Trends in International and Domestic Terrorism”, Online)
What makes the terrorists so fearsome? Their weapons of course…
Terrorists have access to many horrible weapons such as bombs, guns, viruses, and chemicals. “As noted in Bruce Hoffman's "Responding to Terrorism Across the Technological Spectrum" (a paper presented at the U.S. Army War College's Fifth Annual Strategy Conference, in 1994), bombings have accounted for nearly half of all international terrorist attacks over the last twenty-five years.”
“The raw materials for both chemical and biological weapons can be easily purchased on open, gray, or black markets. Moreover, terrorist groups either have technically trained members with sufficient knowledge of chemistry and laboratory procedures to manufacture such weapons or the money to hire them.” (“The Rise of Terrorism”)
“…Two weeks later, the nation recoiled from yet another violent attack, as gunman Colin Ferguson shot and killed six passengers on a Long Island Rail Road commuter train outside NYC. Following the attack, the President called for tougher laws and licensing and a ban on assault weapons. In the wake of mass murder and the passage of the Brady Bill, gun sales soared around the country as citizens raced to buy firearms before the new waiting limit took effect.” (“To Stop the Slaughter” TIME Annual 1993 116)
“In view of the fact that attacks by terrorist groups have become increasingly lethal over recent years, it is wise to plan for a continuing trend towards massive car and truck bombings in crowded city areas, and "spectacular" terrorist attacks, for example on civil aviation, airport facilities or military or diplomatic facilities, designed to capture maximum attention from the mass media, to cause maximum shock and outrage and to effect some terrorist demands.” (“No.53”)
Are teenagers with guns considered to be terrorists? They hurt the innocent, and in most cases, it is for their own personal gain. “Doug, 16, wasn’t nervous when he finally got his gun. Just awfully self-conscious and giddy. In the parking lot of a McDonald’s in Omaha, Nebraska, Doug paid $25 for a used semiautomatic 12-gauge shotgun. “If you have a gun, you have power,” he says. “Guns are just a part of growing up these days.” (“Kids with Guns”, TIME Annual 1993 The Year in Review 117) According to the National Education Association, 100,000 students carry a gun to school. “Bullets kill nearly 4,220 teenagers in 1990, up from 2,500 in 1985. Gunshots now cause 1 out of every 4 deaths among American teenagers.” (“Kids with Guns”)
How can terrorism be stopped?
Until people around the world are as submissive as the people of the book 1984 are, terrorism will never be eradicated from the face of the earth. “Nations and their people must believe in total pacifism. All sorts of weapons must be destroyed and never to be made again.” (TV Anime Series Gundam Wing Channel 32)
“Faced with this scenario of future terrorism, what are the prospects of European states achieving radical improvements in their measures to combat terrorism up to 2010 and beyond? The true litmus test will be the Western states' consistency and courage in maintaining a firm and effective policy against terrorism in all its forms. They must abhor the idea that terrorism can be tolerated as long as it is only affecting someone else's democratic rights and rule of law. They must adopt the clear principle that one democracy's terrorist is another democracy's terrorist. The general principles which have the best track record in reducing terrorism are as follows:
No surrender to the terrorists, and an absolute determination to defeat terrorism within the framework of the rule of law and the democratic process;
No deals and no concessions, even in the face of the most severe intimidation and blackmail;
An intensified effort to bring terrorists to justice by prosecution and conviction before courts of law;
A determination never to allow terrorist intimidation to block or derail international diplomatic efforts to resolve major political conflicts in strife-torn regions, such as the Middle East. In many such areas terrorism has become a major threat to peace and stability, and its suppression therefore is in the common interests of international society.” (“NO.53”)
While in the process of stopping terrorism, how will people be affected?
“Congress passed, and President Clinton signed into law, the 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act, which grants federal authorities $1 billion to combat terrorism. However, critics argue that the new law unduly expands the federal government’s power and violates citizens’ constitutional rights.
For example, one provision amends the Habeas Corpus Act, a law which became effective in 1867. Habeas corpus petitions involve a review by the courts as to whether prison inmates are unjustly confined. They are often used by inmates on death row. Some lawmakers believe that inmates’ opportunity to appeal the death sentence repeatedly and forestall execution for an extended period of time lessens the threat of punishment. The Anti-Terrorism Act by contrast gives death row inmates only six months to file a petition.
The American Civil Liberties Union believes this provision is a violation of constitutional rights and that prisoners wrongly convicted will not have enough time to overturn the verdicts against them. Supporters of the law say that this provision will eliminate long, costly appeals, which at times run into many years; they argue that speedy executions will be a deterrent to terrorists. The Supreme Court will ultimately rule on the constitutionality of the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
An earlier provision in the Anti-Terrorism Act that would have given the federal government power to wiretap suspected terrorist groups’ phones without a warrant was removed from the final bill, following objections from both Democrats and Republicans. The Act would have allowed the information obtained in this way to be used in court. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) said: "We do not need to give our government vast new powers." Members of civil liberties groups agreed, saying that this provision would have violated people’s right to privacy. Other lawmakers argued that tragedies such as the Oklahoma City bombing make it essential that the federal government be allowed to monitor militia groups more closely.” (“Domestic Terrorism, Close up Foundation, Online”)
Is pushing an old lady off train platforms, an act of terrorism? The victim is an innocent wrinkled-up aged woman and the person pushing her is a “terrorist” to the victim’s family. Others might think of the person as a cruel maniac. Therefore, it is essential that one puts into consideration the thoughts of others before defining terrorism.
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