Mark Terry

Friday, October 20, 2006

What do terrorists want?

October 20, 2006
Since I'm writing books about terrorism and have a main character who is a terrorism expert, I thought I might from time to time make a comment about terrorism.

So having recently read Louise Richardson's "What Terrorists Want," I suppose I've come away with some notion of what terrorists want. So?

Well, if you buy Richardson's definitions, which I do, then terrorists want what she dubs the Three R's. They are:

1. Revenge
2. Reknown
3. Reaction

1. Revenge.
The tricky thing here is that the revenge can be for any number of legitimate or fantastical things. Bin Laden reputedly is out to "get" the US and the west for supposed crimes against the Muslim world committed, say, in Saudi and more clearly in Afghanistan when he was on the side of the mujahadeen fighting the Russians. The US supported the mujahadeen by sending CIA agents, providing money and stinger missles to shoot down Russian helicopters. So why would Bin Laden want revenge for this? Well, in his view we abandoned them after the Russians left. Or something like that. And actually, a bigger issue for OBL is when the U.S. set up shop in Saudi, the "Land of Two Holy Places," because we're infidels and crusaders and should never, ever have troops stationed in Saudi. He believes--correctly, I think--that the only reason we're there is to secure Saudi oil for our own uses.

I think more importantly, when it comes to "revenge," is to remember that it's a self-fulfilling issue. They bomb the World Trade Towers in revenge for something they perceive, rightfully or wrongly, that the US did, so we go chase them out of Afghanistan, killing an awful lot of people in the process. Some of those people were al-Qaeda, but plenty were civilians, and now they have a nice, clearly documented motive to recruit people to their cause with reasons to want to wreak revenge on the U.S.--you killed my (fill in the blank, mother, father, brother, sister, friend, comrade, etc)--so I will get revenge on you.

2. Reknown.
Well, if OBL wasn't well known worldwide before September 11, 2001, he sure as hell was afterwards. There's nothing like being dubbed Most Wanted worldwide with a $20 million price on your head to gain some fame. What's a little more interesting is how many suicide bombers or other arrested terrorists have said, for instance, that they only hoped that they would be remembered afterwards. Or that they hoped to see their face on a wanted poster. Or they want their brotherhood, their fellow terrorists (or freedom fighters or jihadists or revolutionaries) to remember them.

3. Reaction
Richardson notes that terrorists don't act in a vacuum. In other words, they don't commit acts of terror just for the hell of it. (I'm not 100% that's true, actually, but I'll get to that). Terrorists, after all, think they're the good guys, they're the heroes of their own stories, and they have goals and things they want to achieve. They definitely don't want to be ignored. They want something to be happened. (And one of the problems with ignoring a terrorist attack is that they will then do something worse in order to get your attention). In theory, al-Qaeda wants the U.S. out of Saudi, they want to have a country all to their own that's Islamic, and even more so, want that Islamic country to be completely in the traditions of Sharia, the very, very rigid and conservative Islamic tradition.

Which, I have to wonder, didn't they have in Afghanistan under the Taliban? Well, yes, but it didn't stop them from bombing us on September 11, 2001 anyway.

Anyway, there are a lot of ramifications to these and plenty of nuance, but they're something to think about.

As for my thoughts on terrorism just to commit terrorism, here goes:

One of the striking things to me about many terrorists is how it has become a job. There's often talk about how once they have what they want (which in most cases is as likely as colonies on the sun) they'll put down their arms and become integrated citizens. Sometimes it happens. Menachim Begin comes to mind, and I suppose you could even think of Yasser Arafat in that context. But within many terrorist organizations, al-Qaeda, the IRA, et al., they are paid a wage, they are given places to live (even if they're caves somewhere), support is paid out to their families. In other words, they have a JOB. And in most respects terrorists feel they are soldiers in a war. Just like soldiers in any country's military, terrorists have a job. And that can make terrorists seem somewhat self-perpetuating.

And I can't quite get past the notion that there is the old definition of the purpose of terrorism, by, I think Stalin, although I'm not completely sure if that's the source. That is to say, the point of terrorism is to terrorize. And although it's clear many terrorists have goals and believe themselves to be true and correct and fighting a war on behalf of some ideal, no matter how twisted, it seems to me that many of them find excitement and adrenaline and even joy in their bomb throwing and violence.

In other words, some terrorists, for whatever psychological reasons, find pleasure in their jobs.

Best,
Mark Terry

12 Comments:

Blogger Ron Estrada said...

So I wonder what America is to do? Do we wall off our country, find our own oil, and leave Israel to become a greasy stain on the ME map? Too many people, as I'm sure you've discovered, over-simplify the problem of terrorism. What do you give to a group whose only demand is that you and your country cease to exist?

This is too deep for a Friday. You need a top 10 list.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

America could start by living up to its own principles. They could follow-up by working with countries who have long and successful records of dealing with terrorism on their own soil rather than assuming they have all the answers. They might even consider setting goals that are achievable, rather than a War On Global Terror, as it's currently called. If the goal was: capture the leadership of al-Qaeda and contain the threat of Islamic extremism, that might be a reachable goal.

But our stated goal the complete annihilation of terrorism. But terrorism didn't get invented on September 11, 2001. It's been around for thousands of years.

Yes, probably too deep for Friday.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Ron Estrada said...

No argument there. Any people group that has ever felt oppressed has turned to what we now call terrorism. Yes, the war on terror is a bit broad. America has certainly lost its way. With our focus on wealth, possesions, and sex on demand, it's no wonder other nations look upon us as a threat to their own principles. But, in the meantime, is there a clear answer? Probably not. Maybe I've gotten to cynical, but I wonder if war is avoidable or only postponed.

My head hurts. Let's do this on a Tuesday.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Douglas V. Gibbs said...

I don't believe the Islamic terrorists believe that they are oppressed. They believe, in my studies, that they are obligated to eliminate anyone that does not conform to their ideology - - granted it is radicals carrying out such actions, but containment will definitely not involve negotiation because when such an ideology is driven by religion the fanatical consequences is that there is no room for talk. In the eyes of the radicals, it is kill or be killed - and to die defending one's faith is a reward, so any type of act of war is acceptable, as long as a large number of infidels are taken out in the process. I agree that America has a difficult job ahead, and alone may not be able to resolve this, if ever. However, one thing has proven to be true. Isolation does not stop terror from coming to one's shores.

10:02 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Douglas,
Containment in this context may realistically mean not isolating them from us, but isolating them from their own community. The way we've fought terrorism to date seems to be creating more terrorists, and creating terrorists from the broader Islamic community that by and large would not support this violent approach. But when we use torture and illegal arrests and our actions kill a lot of innocents, we're alienating the broader Islamic community, which serves to drive them into the arms of the extremists.

The military is very good at what they do, but what they do is probably not a good fit for fighting terrorism, which historically is better fought with police work and intelligence work. The military is a blunt instrument and fighting terrorism seems to require a scalpel.

4:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

will the war in iraq ever stop?! if americans stay in iraq longer more and more people who live in iraq are going to become angry because they have no power over there own country. Therefore more muslims are going to become freedom fighters(terrorists). America can't exactly turn its back though and leave iraq to have inner wars resulting in thousands of more people dieing. Is there a solution? Zoe
p.s i am only 14 so sorry if i havent quite got everything right!

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