To stop terror, we must understand its motives – November 26, 2004

To stop terror, we must understand its motives


The “war on terrorism” is both a buzz phrase and an unsettling metaphor of our times. It is important to realize that counter-terrorism activity is only half the battle. The trauma of 9/11 has prevented a deeper debate in the United States and other countries affected by terrorism. Yet such a debate must take place. It should never be overlooked that terrorism is a tactic by the weak against the strong. Terrorism is theater. Terrorists crave publicity that satellite television and the 24-hour news cycle provide them.


Terrorism analysis generally focuses on one species of terrorism: political terrorism. Yet the noted political activist and writer Eqbal Ahmed differentiates between five types of terrorism: state terrorism, religious terrorism, political terrorism, criminal terrorism and oppositional terrorism. Sometimes these categories converge and overlap.


Of the five types of terror, the political terrorist – the PLO, the bin Ladens, the Chechens – proportionately claim the least in human lives and property but draw the most attention. The form that exacts the highest loss is created by state terrorism.


Ahmed argues that state terror can take the form of private terror. Governments have employed private people to kill their opponents. For example, in Afghanistan, Central America and Southeast Asia, the CIA employed drug pushers in its covert operations. Drugs and guns go together, forcing the categories to overlap.


The second-highest loss is created by religious terrorism. Historically speaking, religious terrorism has caused massive loss, yet relatively speaking, it has been on the decline.


The third-highest loss in human lives and property is caused by criminal terrorism. Ahmed quotes a Rand Corp. study examining the period from 1978 to 1988 in which 50 percent of terrorism was committed without any political motive. It was simply crime and pathology.


If we are to confront international terrorism effectively, we must learn to differentiate between its forms. Political terrorism manifested in suicide bombings or car bomb attacks is a violent way of expressing long-felt grievances. It makes the world hear. Following in this pattern are suicide bombings in the West Bank and Gaza in the 1990s, in Lebanon in the 1980s, in Sri Lanka by Tamil terrorists and more recently by Chechen separatists against Russian targets.


States must also evaluate how their counter-terrorist strategies may be contributing to the growth of terrorism. For instance, U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Iraq have caused thousands of civilian casualties in both countries. It would be futile to explain to the survivors that unfortunately this is collateral damage. Some of them will exact revenge for their loss through suicide attacks.


Suicide bombings, to use Kofi Annan’s words, are morally repugnant. Though true, we cannot and should not close our minds to the motivation behind these desperate acts. Neither can we overlook that such actions are motivated by revenge against the state that has “killed” loved ones, leaving an overwhelming urge to retaliate by sacrificing your own life.


In Sri Lanka, there have been no terror attacks for the past two years since the government agreed to negotiations with Tamil insurgents. Both sides are striving for a negotiated settlement whereby Sri Lanka will remain one country but substantial autonomy will be granted to the Tamil areas in the north and northeast. This model may also have to be followed in situations such as Russia-Chechnya, Israel-Palestine or India-Pakistan.


Negotiating with opponents does not mean caving in to their demands. Rather, it acknowledges that there is a problem. To say that terrorism is unjustified no matter what the justification is to foreclose the alternative of negotiations. Both the state and insurgents are condemned to repeat further acts of violence in which innocent civilians are the primary victims.


The powerful countries have to work with the rest of the world to address conflicts that feed on a sense of historical injustice.


To ignore or minimize root causes of terrorism will mean that international terrorism will continue to cast its baleful shadow across the globe.


— S. Azmat Hassan, a former Pakistani ambassador to Morocco, is faculty as associate professor at Seton Hall University’s Whitehead School of Diplomacy.


— Copyright 2004 The Star-Ledger. All Rights Reserved. Used by NewsBank with Permission.

Record Number: sl200441a75a436a

— From: The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ)

— Published: November 26, 2004


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.


©2022 Syed Azmat Hassan

Log in

Forgot your details?