Countering International Terrorism
“We are today a Nation at risk to a new and changing threat. The terrorist threat to America takes many forms, has many places to hide, and is often invisible” - President George W. Bush, 16 July 2002 (reprinted in Baird, 2006:415).
It may be unfair, but many critics have claimed that the only thing that’s “invisible” is the Bush administration’s clear plan to alleviate terrorism. Foreign Policy and the Center for American Progress (2006) surveyed “more than 100 of America’s top foreign policy experts” both Republicans and Democrats, and asked them if they thought America was winning the war on terror. “A bipartisan majority (84 percent) of the index’s experts say the United States is not winning the war on terror. Eighty-six percent of the index’s experts see a world today that is growing more dangerous for Americans.” The majority expressed criticism of President Bush’s policy initiatives since 9/11, specifically the detention of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo, America’s policy toward its European allies, North Korea, Iran non-proliferation, and arms control. In a discussion about President Bush’s 2007 State of the Union Address, Amy Zalman (2007) concludes that there are “almost no specific actions or policies recommended to counter terrorism. This is very curious for what is presented to us as among the most monumental and basic menaces to Americans in their entire history.” It’s actually not so curious when one considers the overwhelming lack of agreement and understanding over what terrorism is, what causes it, and how to counter it effectively. There is also substantial disagreement on which actual threats posed by terrorism are the most crucial. Let’s begin by examining what terrorism is.
What is Terrorism?
“...we’re involved in an ideological struggle between extremists and radicals versus people who just simply want to live in peace.” -President George W. Bush, November 13, 2006
To discuss terrorism intelligently, it is necessary to define it succinctly. Boaz Ganor stresses the importance of defining terrorism. “Since terrorism is an international phenomenon, responses to terrorism must also be on an international scale.” Dr Ganor reasons that without a definition of terrorism “it is impossible to formulate or enforce international agreements against terrorism.” (p. 13). He also reasons that without an “accepted definition” legislation barring terrorism “has no value” (p. 14). Dr. Ganor points out that Schmidt and Youngman cite 109 definitions of terrorism obtained from surveying “leading academics in the field” (p. 1). They came away with the following data: 83.5% of those surveyed included violence or force in their definition; 65% defined terror as a political act; 51% included fear or an emphasis on terror; 47% included threats as an act of terrorism; 41.5% considered the psychological impact of terrorism in their definition; 37.5% noted the difference between victims of terrorism and its intended target audience; 32% defined terrorism as planned, intentional, or otherwise organized and systematic; and 30.5% focused on methods of combat, tactics and strategies in their definition. Alex P. Schmid, attempting to incorporate the essential elements from all 109 definitions, arrived at the following cumbersome and wordy definition: Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby-in contrast to assassination-the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human targets of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, as serve as message generators. Threat- and violence- based communication processes between terrorists (organization), (imperiled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion or propaganda is primarily sought ( Badey, 1998:91).
One can see how ridiculous the effort to define terrorism has become. If it were not enough that we can not agree on the components of terrorism- that is, what terrorism is essentially comprised of- our prospects are even worse when it comes to agreeing on what terrorism essentially is. For instance, Kruglanski and Fishman (2006:193, 201-2) reason that terrorism “is a behavioral phenomenon governed by human agency. Individuals must decide to execute a terrorist act and be motivated enough to perpetrate the carnage, often to the point of taking their own lives in the process.” Kruglanski and Fishman distinguish between terrorism as a syndrome and terrorism as a tool. The syndrome label implies that terrorists can somehow be separately identified from non-terrorists with some type of psychological profile or diagnosis. It views the increase in terrorism as a sort of epidemic. Yet, despite many efforts to profile terrorists, no truly unique terrorist personality has been uncovered, nor has any distinct cause of terrorism or “terrorism virus” been identified. Finally, as we’ve already discussed, attempts to define terrorism, and separate it from larger acts of war, are problematic to say the least. Kruglanski and Fishman argue that labeling terrorism as a tool, on the other hand, allows experts to study terrorism in all its variety without having to connect all the dots as to the causes of terrorism or the unique psychological profile of terrorists. It eliminates the search for a single cause, and allows for the focus to be rather on countering the strategy of terrorism. This view of terrorism as a tool is expressed succinctly by Caleb Carr who states that terrorism “is simply the contemporary name given to the modern permutation of warfare deliberately waged against civilians with the purpose of destroying their will to support either leaders or policies that the agents of such violence find objectionable.” Likewise, Andrew Silke (1996:12) insists that “many of the so-called distinctions between terrorism and warfare are illusionary.”
In fact, the sole distinction that Silke offers terrorism is that “despite having been recognized as a phenomenon for several decades, there still remains enormous ambiguity over just what ‘terrorism’ actually is.” Silke insists that terrorist tactics “are merely a subset within the larger domain of guerrilla tactics.” When resources are in short supply, or when the fight is acutely asymmetrical, terrorism becomes the only means available. Peter Bergen (2006:23) also suggests that “terrorism is a cheap form of warfare.” He reminds us that “the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, for instance, only cost a few thousand dollars.” Bergen illustrates just how inexpensive terrorism becomes when you have “a cadre of young men willing to engage in suicidal terrorism.” Official court documents of the Zacarias Moussaoui trial indicated that the 9/11 attacks cost roughly $200,000, “a trivial sum considering the damage it inflicted.” Bergen further argues that “no amount of money will buy you 19 young men willing to commit suicide in a terrorist operation.” Navad Morag (2006:120) categorizes terrorism in a “far feebler class of violent acts than war, both in terms of the number of casualties that it produces and in terms of the social and economic impact that it has.” Morag supports his argument with a single comparison. American suffered 1.08 million casualties in World War II, 407,316 of which were deaths. He then compares WWII, the single largest war of the twentieth century, to the single largest terrorist attack, the September 11, 2001 attack. 9/11 resulted in 3,031 deaths. From an economic standpoint, WWII cost the US roughly $15,655 billion (1990 dollars), while 9/11 has cost the US somewhere around the $27.2 billion mark in direct losses and upwards of $500 billion in indirect losses (lost income, increased insurance premiums, increased defense budgets...). While neither figures factor various offsets to these costs, such as increased employment...etc, they give a rough comparison. Yet, even with the huge financial losses incurred because of terrorism, Stephen Walt (2002:64) argues that terrorism has not significantly impacted the United States’ “material position...The United States is still the leading economic and military power in the world.” We can begin to see more clearly, that the abundant attempts to define terrorism, and to clarify what it is, are without any real success.
Yet with countless definitions to choose from, many continue to construct their own. I will not. I’m partial to Winkates’ definition (2006:88-9): “the premeditated threat or use of violence against persons or property, designed to intimidate noncombatant victims, the object of which is to change or to stabilize private or public policy.” The reason that I like this definition is that it’s simple and precise. Whatever definition one chooses, “the telling distinction between terrorism and other kinds of crime is that the terrorist target... differs from the victim (person attacked), while target and victim are one and the same in common crime.” I adapt this definition somewhat. The definition of terrorism that I will use from this time forth is as follows: (M ≠ PG) (TA ≠ V)
Where motive (M) does not equal personal gain (PG), that is, profit, revenge, gratification, or any other personal motive for action; and the target audience (TA) does not equal the actual victims (V); terrorism can be distinguished from other crime(s). As I stated early on, defining terrorism is not as important as countering it. But defining terrorism is important, for without a uniform definition of terrorism, we cannot determine how best to counter it. However one defines it, however, there is no doubt that terrorism defines the contemporary age. Jessica Stern (1999:6) reveals that while terrorist attacks took 4,798 lives in the ten years between 1970 and 1979, that number rose to 51,797 lives between 1990 and 1996. In 2005 alone, there were a total of 11, 111 terrorist attacks (Desouza & Hensgen, 2007). Eighty percent of all suicide attacks since 1968 occurred after September 11, 2001. Furthermore, 2004 saw more suicide attacks than any other year, and 2005 continued the growing trend with more than one suicide attack per day on average in Iraq alone. The US State Department issued a report in May 2007 revealing that terrorist attacks in 2006 increased by more than 25% over 2005, with fatalities increasing some 40 percent. (Whitelaw, 2007:33). Also, web sites with Islamist postings have vastly multiplied from less than 20 in 2001 to over 3,000 in 2006 (Atran, 2006). Just imagine if the death toll due to terrorism were to continue to increase as it has been: more than tenfold every two decades. Countering terrorism is obviously of the highest priority for every society. As we will soon discover, however, there is wide disagreement on what causes terrorism. Let’s look at some of the theories on the causes of terrorism.
What Causes Terrorism?
“We fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terror.” -President George W. Bush, Monterrey, CA, March 22, 2002 (Reprinted in Azam and Delacroix, 2006:330).
President Bush’s correlation between poverty and terror was criticized based on the data suggesting many terrorist organizations, Hezbollah included, recruit members from the more wealthy and educated in society. Given this potential connection between wealth, education and terrorism, some argue that aid could actually increase terrorism by increasing the pool of financially secure, educated recruits (Azam and Delacroix, 2006:330). James Piazza (2006:159-60, 170-1) finds “no significant relationship between any of the measures of economic development and terrorism.” Rather, Piazza argues that social cleavage theory is “better equipped to explain terrorism than are theories that link terrorism to poor development.” Piazza’s argument is based on the fact that of the “top ten countries in the world where terrorist attacks for the period 1986-2002 took place,” only three had low per capita gross domestic products (Yemen, Angola, and Pakistan), four had medium (India, Colombia, Turkey, and Peru), and three had high per capita gross domestic products (Greece, Israel/Palestine, and France). Contrary to what Piazza calls the “rooted-in-poverty hypothesis,” which argues that poor economic development (measured by per capita income, literacy, life expectancy, distribution of wealth, growth of GDP, stable prices, employment opportunities, and food security), the social cleavage theory posits that the greater the “socioeconomic, ethnic, religious, or regional divisions,” the weaker the party systems tend to be (due to the likelihood that there will be more of them).
Since “the number of (significant) political parties that win votes, make up national legislatures, and form governments is inversely related to the ‘strength’ and stability of party systems,” social cleavage theory reasons that societies that suffer from weak and fractured party systems are more susceptible to terrorist organizations. Jessica Stern (2004:1119) also comments on this: “Poverty does not make poor people into terrorists and murderers. Yet poverty, weak institutions and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels within their borders.” Others, such as Kurrild-Klitgaard et. al. (2006) deny that there is any relationship between poverty and terrorism at all. Six months later President Bush offered a somewhat more qualified position on the connection between aid and terrorism.
In an op-ed article published in the New York Times on September 11, 2002, the President, seemingly responding to this criticism, wrote: “Poverty does not transform poor people into terrorists and murderers. Yet, Poverty, corruption and repression are a toxic combination in many societies, leading to weak governments that are unable to enforce order or patrol their borders and are vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels.” (Reprinted in Azam and Delacroix, 2006:330). This latter statement connects terrorism, not with poverty per se, but rather with the inability of governments weakened by “poverty, corruption and repression.” While repression, in and of itself, may or may not have any connection to poverty or to corruption, Krueger and Laitin, (2003), and Krueger and Maleckova (2003) have identified repressive governments as “typical of source countries.” They conclude that “civil liberties have a negative impact” on terrorism “thus providing some support to George Bush’s view” (Azam and Delacroix 2006, p. 330-1). Kurrild-Klitgaard, Justesen & Klemmensen (2006) find that increased political rights and civil liberties within a given country correspond to a decrease in the generation of terrorists from that country. However, while increased political rights also correspond to a decrease in the occurrence of terrorism within a given country, increased civil liberties do not. The authors conclude that neither the generation of terrorists, nor the occurrence of terrorism is related to inequality, poor economic growth, poverty, or low education.
Furthermore, the author’s find that while a fractured society may contribute to terrorism, religion itself has very little relationship with terrorism. Enders & Sandler (2006) conducted a study to determine whether there were indications of either an income-based or a geographical transfer of transnational terrorist attacks due to the rise of fundamental terrorism, the end of the Cold War and 9/11. And while their study of counterterrorism measures in countries with the top 31 per capita gross national incomes (GNI) between 1968-2003 reveal no indication that income-based transfer is occurring across the board (e.g. terrorist attacks are moving away from wealthy countries to poor countries), U.S. counterterrorism efforts have seemingly deterred terrorist attacks against American targets to countries with less security in place.
With approximately 3,000 deaths and more than $80 billion in damage, 9/11 stands out as the most devastating terrorist attack so far. This, of course, leads to apprehension that the next attack against the continental United States will be even greater in magnitude. And while government officials are beginning to acknowledge that there are no guaranteed defenses against terrorism, no administration can idly sit by and wait for the next terrorist attack to occur. With no uniform definition of terrorism, and no agreement on what causes it, policymakers and security professionals are still charged with the task of countering terrorism. But how does a nation, or a planet for that matter, counter terrorism? As we will soon discover, this too is a matter of intense controversy.
How to Counter Terrorism?
Stripped of rhetoric, however, a war against terrorism must mean a war against political groups who choose terror as a tactic. American global primacy is one of the causes of this war. It animates both the terrorists’ purposes and their choice of tactics. To groups like al Qaeda, the United States is the enemy because American military power dominates their world, supports corrupt governments in their countries, and backs Israelis against Muslims; American cultural power insults their religion and pollutes their societies; and American economic power makes all these intrusions and desecrations possible (Betts, 2006:387).
What this ultimately comes down to, is that terrorism is not an ideology, but a tactic. Its continued use relies less on what causes terrorism, and more on what allows it to continue to be used. This is an important inquiry as it directly relates to my theory that terrorism, regardless of its causes, is ultimately possible only with sufficient popular support. Consequently, only once we find a way to eliminate popular support for terrorism will we be able to eliminate terrorism itself. Measuring popular support for terrorism also affords us a method of measuring and predicting the potential for terrorism in any given society, the direction acts of terrorism tend to be moving in (e.g. westward, eastward, or remaining static), and trends in terrorism, such as whether support is increasing among moderates, or among Westerners...etc.
Terrorism is perhaps the greatest challenge facing mankind in the twenty-first century. It has been researched, debated, analyzed and contemplated by some of the greatest minds on the planet. And yet no known solution exists; no agreed upon procedure is in place to stop terrorism. In my research of terrorism, I have discovered that there is no uniform definition of terrorism, nor is there any general agreement on the causes of terrorism, nor is there any one accepted method of collecting data on individual acts of terrorism. Interestingly enough however, with very few exceptions, nearly all scholars, journalists and security professionals alike agree that counter-terrorists measures require a great deal of diplomacy. I have concluded that, while some minimal definition is necessary to identify terrorism in a uniform manner, knowing what causes terrorism and collecting data on individual acts of terrorism is not as important as knowing how to stop it. When putting out a fire, while it is important to know what type of fire it is before attempting to put it out (applying water to an oil fire will have the same effect as using a flame thrower), firefighters understand that the key to putting out any fire is to remove its source of oxygen. This knowledge affords them a standard plan of action that varies only in detail (what kind of fire is it, and what is needed to remove the source of oxygen). Likewise, terrorism depends on popular support to sustain itself. Without popular support, the majority of funding, recruits and overall acceptance will disappear. Therefore, similar to putting out a fire, the primary goal for eliminating terrorism is to eliminate the sources of popular support. This has to be our standard approach and strategy.
The specific details as to how to eliminate popular support for terrorism will vary from situation to situation depending on the type of terrorism, and what is causing it; but we now have a standard solution. This standard solution will require a variety of diplomatic measures, as the specific reasons for popular support of terrorism will vary from country to country. If popular support for terrorism is high (50% or greater), diplomatic steps to lower it, whatever these may be, must be taken. This indeed will take a great deal of diplomacy. If popular support for terrorism is low, but steadily growing, this too will need to be addressed to lower popular support for terrorism through diplomatic measures, before new terrorist cells form, and acts of terrorism spread into new locations.
This model should not only devise a standard plan of action for counter-terrorism, but it should also provide a means for tracking growing support for terrorism in societies, that as of yet, have not been openly producing or sponsoring terrorist or terrorist activities; or in societies that are just beginning to. Measuring popular support for terrorism may or may not be as straight forward as just surveying members of the population, as these surveys may or may not reflect the true public opinion (people may be reluctant to admit that they are supportive of certain acts of terrorism or that they sympathize with terrorists’ goals and/or motivations). Likewise, in areas where open support for terrorism has not yet manifest itself, potential support for terrorism may more clearly be measured through a disdain for the hegemonic power (the United States) and its policies. I’ve devised a very simple formula to test the survey results. Low popular opinion rates for the hegemonic power (LPOH) and high levels of perceived interference (HLPI) from that hegemonic power should also produce higher popular support for terrorism (HPST): LPOH + HLPI = HPST.
Hence, if 50% or more of the population openly support terrorism, terrorism is an existing product of that society. If less than 50% of the population openly supports terrorism, but 50% or more shares both a low opinion of the hegemonic power and high levels of perceived interference from the hegemonic power, terrorism is also an existing product of that society. If less than 50% of the population openly supports terrorism, and 50% or less shares a low opinion of the hegemonic power and perceive negative interference from it, but these percentages are growing, terrorism is a potential product of that society. Application of this formula will afford us three opportunities: 1) to eliminate popular support for terrorism in societies where such popular support exits; 2) to detect the potential for popular support of terrorism in societies where it has not yet manifest itself, and 3) to identify the various causes for popular support of terrorism in any given society as revealed through the popular perception of the hegemonic power.
Obviously, countering terrorism has to be a high priority for any country. Once the root causes of popular support for terrorism have been identified within a given society, the hard work and diplomacy begins. There is obviously a very intense debate over how to confront terrorists. Do we engage with terrorists groups, try to understand their needs and help them achieve their goals (if possible), or do we constrain them by force? Either way, diplomacy and tough measures are easily spoken of, but difficult to implement. While diatribes about diplomacy or cracking down on terrorism sound great in political speeches and sound bites; finding that difficult balance between diplomacy and the wherewithal to back it up is a much more difficult task. Aside from the terrorists and their host countries, counterterrorism measures can also have negative impacts on the personal freedom and liberty of the citizens of the acting country as well.
William Niskanen (2006:351) questions “how much liberty and property are we willing to sacrifice to counter a specific increase in a threat to our life?” While Niskanen acknowledges that there has been a perceived increase in the threat of terrorism, he argues that there has in fact been no trend “in the actual threat of terrorism to Americans, either at home or abroad.” Accusing the U.S. government of creating a “false sense of insecurity,” Niskanen points out that, in the last ten years, less than 400 Americans per year have died due to terrorism, roughly equaling the number of Americans who drowned in their bathtub, and less than one percent of the total deaths from traffic accidents in America. Furthermore, short of terrorists acquiring WMD, Niskanen contends that the “relative vulnerability of Americans to terrorist attacks is not likely to increase” and that the threat from chemical and biological weapons has been “vastly overblown.” Citing the five deaths caused by the 2001 anthrax attack and the twelve people killed in the 1995 Aum Shinrikyo chemical attack, Niskanen reasons that if terrorists’ sole aim is to terrify rather than to kill, then chemical and biological weapons are the weapons of choice.
Quoting the late Senator Patrick Moynihan, “Terrorism succeeds when people become terrified.” Niskanen suggests that the far greater cost of terrorism is the fear generated rather than the actual damage sustained. He admonishes us not to hold out the promise of the political benefit of this cost to future potential terrorist. Niskanen also strongly disagrees with the toll that current counterterrorism measures are having on our civil liberties such as the imprisonment of Americans in military brigs without formal charges or access to an attorney, eavesdropping, trials before military tribunals, manipulation of immigration laws, the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness data-base, and a data-base of all students in America aged 16-25.
Furthermore, Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows federal agents to seize any tangible object from a private home, and makes it a crime for any person to disclose the occurrence to another. Section 505 allows federal agents to subpoena transactional records without the authority of a court order. And Section 218 affords the government electronic surveillance of citizens and resident aliens. While some may think the likes of Niskanen alarmist, scholars of all walks have begun to debate just how far counterterrorism measures should infringe on civil liberties. In the UK, the Blair administration’s proposed controls on web sites of an anti-government or anti-western nature and media reporting on terrorist attacks is called an “attack on a foundational norm of democratic society.” (Cram, 2006:350). Cram suggests that while the prospect of entire newspapers or radio stations being shut down may be unlikely, as was witnessed in Spain, “journalists will in the future need to tread carefully around the proposed new dissemination offence.” Not to mention, those who run websites or other publications that are critical of UK policy in the Middle East, Chechnya or Iraq, will have to be extremely careful not to be found guilty of inciting or encouraging terrorism.
Conte & Ganor (2005:3-4) remark on the “relationship between terrorism and human rights” and more pointedly, “the potentially negative impact of counter-terrorism upon human rights.” Quoting former UN Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson: “Some have suggested that it is not possible to effectively eliminate terrorism while respecting human rights. This suggestion is fundamentally flawed. The only long-term guarantor of security is through ensuring respect for human rights and humanitarian law.” They further the point with the words of Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth: “...terrorists believe that the ends justify the means, that their political or social vision justifies the deliberate taking of civilian lives in violation of the most basic human rights norms. To fight terrorism without regard to the constraints of human rights in to endorse that warped logic.”
While cultural and societal variance makes international observance of human rights norms complicated, the authors advocate for continued discussion and debate to ensure that the counter-terrorism strategies embraced and enforced comply with at least minimum human rights standards. Unfortunately, many advocates for human rights argue that current counter-terrorism tactics employed today often do not meet even the most minimum standards of human rights. So the question remains, how do we fight a humane war on terrorism? Gregory D. Miller (2007:331, 334-5) has done a superb job of assessing the main debate concerning counter-terrorism: “whether states should use harsh policies to punish terrorists and thus deter future acts, or focus on root causes and reduce incentives to use terrorism.” Miller joins Jerrold Post, Mia Bloom and Daniel Byman (among others) in arguing that we cannot take a cookie-cutter approach to counter-terrorism. And while this is certainly no revelation, his approach, while commonsensical, is also useful. Miller lists a brief who’s who on each side of the debate. First there is the “coercive” side of the debate. This perspective argues that “when states respond aggressively, they develop a tough reputation and deter future terrorism; states that fail to respond forcefully, or that give in to terrorist demands, develop a reputation for being soft and encourage more violence.” Miller (2007:332) lists advocates for punitive solutions such as William O’Brien, Paul Johnson, L. Paul Bremer, Caleb Carr, and William Betts. On the opposite side of the argument is the “conciliatory” notion that, rather than deter future attacks, “harsh government policies breed more terrorism, resulting in cycles of violence.”
The logic here is that violent state responses encourage more of the population to support terrorism. In fact, terrorists often provoke repressive measures specifically to increase the group’s popularity. In contrast, proponents of this view suggest that when states respond in a conciliatory manner, they remove whatever legitimate claims the terrorists might have had, thus reducing domestic support (Miller, 2007:332).
In this camp, Miller lists advocates such as Ruud Koopmans, David Charters, Peter Sederberg, Jeremy Ginges, Sidney Tarrow, and Philip Heymann. After capturing the essence of both sides of the argument, Miller offers an action plan that categorizes anti-terrorism efforts into five categories: do nothing, conciliation (includes such measures as social reform, exchange or release prisoners, and negotiation), legal reform (includes increased role of the police, anti-terrorism legislation, and interstate cooperation), restriction (includes target hardening, increased intelligence, martial law, and sanctions against state sponsors of terrorism), and violence (attacking and/or killing terrorists and supporters). The particular option (s) a state chooses should be based on the motivations of the terrorist organization(s) involved. Miller separates terrorist organizations into four general categories: “national-separatist, revolutionary, reactionary, and religious.”
National-Separatist groups seek autonomy from an existing government, either to form an independent state, as with Basque separatists in Spain or the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, or to become part of another state, such as the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) in Northern Ireland. Other examples are the Quebec Liberation Front (FLQ) and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). These groups generally do not seek to change or to destroy an existing government, but to gain autonomy or independence, and they often claim to represent a specific ethnic population. Therefore, while much of society may not agree with their methods, national-separatist groups often have popular support for their goals (Miller, 2007:335).
Miller suggests that the solution for dealing with national-separatist groups is a combined approach utilizing concessions, legal reform and restrictions. Miller points to Canada’s success with the Quebec Liberation Front (QLF), Spain’s success with Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), and the British success with the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) using this combination. More importantly, Miller points out these same nations’ decisive failures against the very same groups when this particular combination was not used, but instead, only one approach was used. Miller also points out the failures of Israel, Sri Lanka, Turkey and France when these nations attempted to combat national-separatist groups using only one of the four approaches. Revolutionary, or left-wing, terrorists use violence as a catalyst for societal change. Many organizations in this category promote a Marxist-Leninist ideology, but these have declined since the Cold War. Classic examples include the Red Army Faction (RAF) in Germany, Action Direct in France, the Red Brigade in Italy, the Japanese Red Army, and the Weathermen in the United States. Contemporary examples include the Shining Path in Peru, Dev Sol in Turkey, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). These groups typically want dramatic change not only in how a country is run, but in society itself (Miller, 2007:335).
After discussing the mixed results of Italy, Germany, Greece, Peru, Colombia, South Africa and the U.S. in their respective efforts to combat revolutionary/left-wing terrorist groups, Miller concludes that overall, these efforts were met with failure. The approach that provided some measure of success (where counter-terrorism efforts can claim a measure of success) was a combination of legal reform and restriction. Several of these countries also incorporated violence in their approach. It’s notable that nowhere were concessions involved. It is also notable that success, if any, was limited at best. This is not surprising given that little legal reform is far reaching and “conditions under which sanctions will bring about the desired changes in policy will be very rare” (Major & McGann, 2005:348). Reactionary, or right-wing, groups use violence to prevent or reverse societal change. Examples include U.S. hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), and patriot groups such as the Montana Freemen or the Central Ohio Unorganized Militia. Others include the pro-apartheid Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), Italian neo-fascist groups during the 1960s and 1970s, such as the New Order and the National Vanguard, and the Ulster Defense Association (UDA), formed to counter the IRA. These groups may or may not want government reform, depending upon whether they view the state as a cause of social change or a victim of it (Miller, 2007:335-6).
Miller points to incidents such as Waco and Ruby Ridge and the subsequent growth in the U.S. patriot movement culminating in the Oklahoma City Bombing, to demonstrate that increased restrictions resulted in increased violence from reactionary/right-wing groups. Miller also argues that concessions are usually not an option when dealing with these groups (at least not in liberal democracies). While he claims that legal reform has had some success in combating this particular type of terrorism, he completely fails to mention the destructive and counterproductive role of violence. Miller relies on claims that civil lawsuits proved economically devastating against the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in America, and legal reform overcame the Afrikaanse Weerstands Beweging (AWB) in South Africa to support his position that restrictions are the most successful approach against reactionary/right-wing terrorism. While I agree that restrictions alone have the tendency to create increased resistance (not only from the group targeted, but also from others either directly affected by the restrictions and/or otherwise opposed to them for civil liberty reasons), I disagree with Miller regarding the general unavailability of concessions in this application. Obviously, a liberal democracy cannot grant concessions to groups who advocate hate crimes or violence as ends in and of themselves. But, other concessions to legitimate complaints should be explored whenever possible. The fact that certain branches of the KKK were financially devastated via civil lawsuits in no way equates to a victory against the ideology as a whole, nor does it address any legitimate claims the group may express. As for South Africa, legal reform did have its role in ending apartheid. But as Miller himself eventually concedes, “legal reform alone was effective.” In the end, it was “the combination of legal reform, restriction, and concessions” that “stifled the potential for violence” (Miller, 2007:341). Religious terrorist groups often use extreme versions of mainstream religion to justify political violence, and typically want to replace secular governments with more fundamentalist regimes. Examples include Al Qaeda, Hizballah, and Abu Sayyef. This category also includes cult-millenarian groups, like Aum Shinrikyo, which use violence to bring about the end of the world, and see the destruction of a government or society as a necessary step towards apocalypse” (Miller, 2007:336).
Miller acknowledges the difficulty in dealing with religious terrorist groups as they are rarely deterred by violence or threats of incarceration. He more-or-less defaults to restriction as the most successful approach. Where I disagree with Miller’s conclusion regarding religiously motivated terrorist groups is his conclusion regarding the ineffectiveness of concessions. Miller draws this conclusion based on the Japanese government’s granting Aum Shinrikyo legal status as a religious entity in 1989. The fact that the group applied for and received status as a religious entity can hardly be construed as evidence that concessions do not work against such groups. Aum Shinrikyo began in 1984 as a religious movement, and quickly grew in popularity as a cult, not a terrorist organization. It wasn’t until 1990, when the group failed to win seats in the Japanese Parliament, that the group’s leader, Shoko Asahara, began to preach the coming of Armageddon, and to seek the wherewithal to bring it about (Kaplan, 1996). Additionally, Miller claims that after the group had launched multiple terrorist attacks (two in 1994, the now infamous subway attack in 1995, and an attempt to assassinate the head of the Japanese National Police Agency), the fact that the Japanese government did not shut the group down under its Antisubversive Activities Law, further demonstrates that concessions do not work to combat religious terrorism. But, of course, the fact that the Japanese government continued to view the group as a legitimate religious entity rather than as a terrorist organization demonstrates only that they did not engage in one of Miller’s five approaches to terrorism, because they did not perceive the group as a terrorist organization. Miller ultimately argues that legislation allowing the police to “monitor groups implicated in serious crimes,” passed in 1999, proved to be the most successful against Aum Shinrikyo (Miller, 2007:342).
Miller also points out the failed policies of Israel against Hamas, and the failure of the United States in its efforts to combat al Qaeda. Miller discusses U.S. efforts against al Qaeda, stating that both Clinton’s effort to use legal reform alone, and Bush’s earlier effort to use violence alone, have failed. Miller states that the jury is still out on America’s current approach, which is a combination of violence (The War on Terror), restriction (intelligence reform), and legal reform (the USA Patriot Act). I would point out that neither legal reform nor violence alone will ever work against any form of terrorism without some effort to understand and address the root causes of terrorism. As Miller’s study confirms, attempts at countering national-separatist groups succeeded when concessions were part of the mix, and they failed when they were not. Take Israel’s attempts to contain Palestinian terrorism: ...security in Israel means to the IDF an almost indefinite deployment in the West Bank-a state of on-going low-level war. For Palestinian civilians it means no respite from roadblocks and identity checks, cordon-and-search operations, lightening snatch and grabs, bombing raids, helicopter strikes, ground attacks, and other countermeasures that have turned densely populated civilian areas into war zones (Hoffman, 2006:344).
Similarly, according to Miller, efforts to combat revolutionary/left-wing terrorist groups largely failed as well. I would argue that this failure stems from the fact that concessions were neither implemented nor entertained. Miller’s study also confirms that successful dealings with reactionary/right-wing groups are also available when concessions are included in the effort. As for religious terrorism, Miller’s study demonstrates that violence and legal reform alone are ineffective. So far, the US has been spared the frequency of attacks that Israel has experienced. But this could change, and the US could be faced with a barrage of daily suicide attacks, car bombings and other relentless acts of terrorism. Israel’s approach of violence and restriction does not appear to be working at all: ...few Israelis believe that the current situation will lead to any improvement in Israeli-Palestinian relations over the long run. Dennis Zinn, the defense correspondent for Israel’s Channel 1, told me, “Yes, there is a drop off [in suicide bombings]. When you have bombs coming down on your heads, you can’t carry out planning and suicide attacks. But that doesn’t take away their motivation. It only increases it” (Hoffman, 2006: 344).
The US approach to terrorism has been fundamentally the same as the Israeli approach. And I would argue that this is precisely why the US is losing the war on terror. What we are ultimately faced with here is the unavoidable task of not only confronting our enemies, but hopefully one day making peace with them. I see very little of this latter goal in the Bush administration’s objective. Understanding terrorism as a tactic rather than an ideology only awakens us to the realization that we still have yet to understand our enemy. Labeling them “terrorists” tells us nothing about their motives, strengths, and weakness. Most importantly, it gives us absolutely no common ground upon which to begin building peace. We have to go beyond the label, realize that terrorism is only a tactic, a means to an end; and then begin to engage with terrorists, understand them, and negotiate a workable peace. This has to begin with dissolving public support for violent jihad. Quintan Wiktorowicz (2006:215, 218) explains that: In Islam, there are two types of external jihad: offensive and defensive. In Islamic jurisprudence, the offensive jihad functions to promote the spread of Islam...In most contemporary interpretations, the offensive jihad can only be waged under the leadership of the caliph...The defensive jihad (jihad al-dafa’a) however, is a widely accepted concept that is analogous to international norms of self-defense and Judeo-Christian just war theory. According to most Islamic scholars, when an outside force invades Muslim territory it is incumbent on all Muslims to wage jihad to protect the faith and the faithful...the issue remained relatively dormant until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979...For most Jihadis, this “defensive argument” was absolutely necessary to legitimate 11 September...
And we see this “defensive argument” spreading to all parts of the world as a result of the common perception among Muslims that they are under attack by the West, and that they need to “protect the faith and the faithful.” According to Senator Lugar, we are “seeing an increase in suicide bombings” the world over, as is seen in recent examples such as the July 7 attacks in London and the plot in Canada. According to Lugar, this increase in terrorism in the West demonstrates clearly that “the root causes of terrorism” have not been addressed (Committee on Foreign Relations, 2006, p. 2). According to Cronin (2006:72, 79): ...if there is a trend in terrorism, it is the existence of a two-level challenge: the hyperreligious motivation of small groups of terrorists and the much broader enabling environment of bad governance, non-existent social services, and poverty that punctuates much of the developing world. Al-Qaeda, a band driven by religious extremism, is able to do so much harm because of the secondary support and sanctuary it receives in vast areas that have not experienced the political and economic benefits of globalization. Therefore, the prescription for dealing with Osama bin Laden and his followers is not just eradicating a relatively small group of terrorists, but also changing the conditions that allow them to acquire so much power...at the heart of this threat are frustrated populations and international movements that are increasingly inclined to lash out against U.S.-led globalization.
Officials at the U.S. State Department issued a report in May 2007 warning of a terrorist “conveyor belt.” The report suggests that plots such as the ones uncovered in Britain in 2005 and 2006 now appear to bear the hand of al-Qaeda (Whitelaw, 2007:33). Likewise, former senior CIA officer Michael Scheuer (2006:21) sees the growing threat of terrorism as an Islamist conglomerate. Scheuer not only insists that “the Islamists” will most definitely attack America again, but he very pointedly blames American elites for refusing to “recognize the severity of the Islamist threat.” Scheuer the Bush administration is “waging a feckless war that misrepresents the enemies’ motivation, keeps borders open, applies insufficient force, and pursues status quo foreign policies, ensuring the next Islamist generation is more anti-American and numerous-and still has the opportunity to strike the American homeland.” At first glance, this concept of a single, unified enemy appears to fly in the face of the opinions of others, such as Magnus Ranstorp (2006:153), who argues that it “is imperative to move away from treating this new religious force in global politics as a monolithic entity but rather seek to understand the inner logic of these individual groups and the mechanisms that produce terrorism.” Rather than see Islamic terrorist organizations as cookie-cutter proto-types of al-Qaeda, Ranstorp is suggesting that we need to understand the nature and composition of each individual group to be able to counter it effectively. Likewise, Justine Rosenthal (2007:61) warns against lumping all terrorism together as though it were all driven by the same goals and motivations. Even beyond the obviously non-Islamic terrorist groups such as FARC and IRA, there are a host of Islamic terrorist groups, and the temptation is to view them all as clones of Osama bin Laden, ready and waiting to attack the U.S. given the opportunity. But, as Rosenthal points out, many of these groups have substantially different goals from one another. “The goal for groups like Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Chechen rebels is a ‘nation of their own’ with tactics reminiscent of the ethnic violence erupting after abandoned colonialism...”
These groups have little interest in the United States apart from how its actions may affect their immediate and long-term goal of independence. Other groups such as al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya (JI) are indeed “looking to rearrange the global order, instigate the now-infamous clash of civilizations and create a Muslim caliphate that spans continents, all while bringing the West to its knees.” Al-Qaeda and JI have truly global agendas. Then there are a third class of groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan and various separatist groups in Thailand and the Philippines. Rosenthal places this class “somewhere in the middle” between state-centric and pan-territorial groups. The danger in lumping them all together in a war that pits Islamic terrorism against the West (as the Bush administration has done) is that the U.S. will most certainly develop ineffective counterterrorism strategies toward the state-centric groups, and these strategies may very well “push groups that have constrained goals toward the pan-global agenda of Al-Qaeda-creating the very threat we fear most” (Rosenthal, 2007:62).
The argument that terrorism is a collection of individual, heterogeneous groups is given credence by scholars such as Carolyn Warner and Manfred Wenner (2006:1), who insist that Muslim populations in the West share substantially more differences with one another than they do similarities. These differences include socio-economic class and ethnicity, among others. Moreover, the one main similarity Muslims living in the West commonly share, their religion, is largely decentralized. The only Muslim group with any real hierarchy is the Shi’a, which has no strong representation in the West. Together, Warner and Wenner argue that: “Divided by ethnicity and their own religious beliefs, Muslims in Europe will not constitute a group which will be able to impose its goals on European foreign and domestic policy.” Alison Pargeter (2006) discusses this very same issue as well with particular regard to North African Islamists in Europe; many of whom were unable to return to their home country after fighting in Afghanistan. Pargeter’s main point is that these North African jihadists are only a small minority of the total North African population in Europe, and they are far from global in their views. Most have a very limited vision of jihad that is defined by their own ethnic, national and sectarian background. According to Pargeter, while many of these jihadists meet and interact with other jihadists from other countries, the main commonality they share is their view that the West’s interference in the Middle East is unwelcome. Their specific grievances and concerns, however, are most often unique to their own national and ethnic ties.
Peter Neumann (2006) picks up where Pargeter leaves off, so to speak, in addressing the very difficult and delicate challenge of engaging these unique minority groups, while also connecting the dots to perceive the greater strategic threat. Lorenzo Vidino (2006) also addresses this challenge in his discussion of the many various faces of Islamic jihad in Europe, from Al-Qaeda hubs in London (The Finsbury Mosque) and Milan (the Islamic center), to the Algerian Groupe Islamique Armée (GIA), to Gamaa Islamyah (The Islamic Group). So, it would appear the idea that al-Qaeda is mass-producing terrorist groups around the world, like widgets on a “conveyor belt” is somewhat inaccurate, if not alarmist, right? However, if officials at the US State Department are concerned that small individual groups, particularly in the West, are beginning to develop negative opinions of the United States, and are perceiving that the US is interfering in other countries affairs in a negative and disingenuous manner; then they may very well be correct in their concern. Particularly so, if the level of popular support for terrorism is growing in the West, and thus enabling more and more of these groups to resort to terrorism as a tactic. While it is completely possible that these small groups in the West may be inspired and influenced by al-Qaeda and other extremists, the relatively small and divided nature of Muslim groups in the West makes them that much more vulnerable to societal pressure. Thus, without some minimal public support, these small groups would never be able to sustain themselves or their activities. A particularly disturbing phenomenon is the emergence in Europe of local homegrown Islamic terrorist groups such as the Hofstad Group in the Netherlands.
The Hofstad Group, which in 2004 assassinated Theo van Gogh, a controversial film maker, is typical of such groups; comprised mainly of second or third generation Muslims, with no formal connection to a larger group:Their deep knowledge of Western cultures and languages, possession of European passports, and relative lack of ties to large terrorist organizations make their detection a difficult task for authorities. As an increasing number of young European Muslims embrace radical Islam, most European law enforcement agencies are warning, the importance of these types of networks will only grow (Vidino, 2007:579).
Vidino warns that the true danger posed by these predominantly amateur groups, is not the damage their attacks can cause, which can be substantial, but the division they cause in their home societies. In Europe, tension already exists between Muslims and non-Muslims. Terrorist attacks perpetrated by local members of the community greatly aggravate this tension. Immediately after the van Gogh murder, several mosques and Islamic schools were burned and vandalized. In retaliation, a number of Christian churches were also targeted. Vidino points out, that in one of the most tolerant societies in Europe, a small local, predominantly amateur terrorist group, threatened to tear the fabric of society apart at the seams. Applying the formula, one can predict that unless public opinion toward the US is favorably changed in societies plagued with these smaller terrorist groups, the negative public opinion will fester and grow along with the size of these groups, and the public’s support for them as well.