Root causes of terrorism

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Last updated: March 31, 2019

A consensus on the definition of terrorism has been difficult to develop due to the lack of academic and legal agreement. However, analyst such as Tore Bjorgo argue, as a core assumption, that terrorism is a set of methods of strategies of combat rather than an identifiable ideology or movement (Bjorgo, 2005). It also involves the premeditated use of violence against non-combatants in order to achieve a psychological effect of fear on other than the immediate target (Bjorgo, 2005).

In addition terrorism is an extremism of means rather than one of ends (Richardson, 2006).The root causes of terrorism are vital in combating this phenomenon. The concept has developed relatively slowly after the 2001 terrorist attacks in Washington D. C and New York City. The causes of terrorism are centered around four basic aspects of modern life: psychology, politics, the domestic and global economy and religion. Psychological Causes Explanation of the psychological causes of terrorism at an individual level is insufficient.

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This is primarily due to the lack of uniformity in terms of personality type and general psychological traits (Richardson, 2006).In fact terrorist groups often flush out those mentally weak individuals seeing them as a potential threat to the organization (Bjorgo, 2005). Therefore in order to understand the psychological causes of terrorism, an in depth investigation must occur of the reasons individuals join terrorist organizations. An analysis of the generational matrix, religious fundamentalist terrorists and the fusion of individuals within the organization demonstrate the psychological causes of terrorism. Generational Matrix The psychological causes of terrorism are different for nationalist-separatists and social revolutionary terrorist.This is demonstrated in a generational matrix (figure 1).

The top right hand quadrant indicates a situation where a person is loyal to their parents and thus to the political regime. These people do not become terrorists. In the top left hand quadrant are those youths who are loyal to their parents whom are disloyal to the political regime (Bjorgo, 2005). They have thus become damaged as a result of the political regime. These terrorists are carrying on the mission of their forefathers as an act of vengence and are known as nationalist-separatists terrorists (Bjorgo, 2005).

Omar Rezaq, Abu Nidal Organisation terrorist, is a case in point of nationalist-separatist terrorism (Victoroff Kruglanski, 2009). Rezaq’s mother was eight years old when the 1948 Arab-Israeli war broke out forcing her family to flee their home of the West Bank. Rezaq was brought up in the volatile West Bank village where his grandfather was a farmer.

Throughout his life, Rezaq experienced extreme violence with the break out of Arab Israeli Six Day War and the 1968 battle of Karameh.Although his family side for the regime and against terrorism, Rezaq was motivated to engage in terrorism sighting the injustice against him and his family (Victoroff Kruglanski, 2009). The lower left quadrant signifies individuals rebelling against their parents whom were loyal to the regime. In contrast to nationalist-separatist terrorists groups, social revolutionary terrorism are an attempt to gain revenge against the generation of their family, which they hold responsible for their failure (Bjorgo, 2005). Many argue that Osama bin Laden is a prime example this as evident from his strike outs at the Saudi regime for accepting the U.

S military of the “land of the two cities”. Figure 1: The Generational Matrix Religious fundamentalist terrorism The chief leader of a religious fundamentalist group is an important actor for spreading terrorism through their use of religious justification (Bjorgo, 2005). This is because the hierarchical structured places the chief leader at the top. For ‘true believers’ the radical clerical is seen as the interpreter of God’s word. He thus uses the tests of the Qur’an to justify and endorsing the destruction of the enemy through (Richardson, 2006).

The cleric bestows an interpretation of the religious texts, which justifies and encourages violence, which the cleric’s followers accept (Richardson, 2006). For example, Ayatollah Khomeini has utilized radical interpretations of the Qur’an to provide the foundation for the instigation of his Islamic revolution. To justify his terrorist extremities, Khomeini used selected versus from the Qur’an including, “And slay them where ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out… Such is the reward of those who suppress the faith” (Qur’an 2: 190-3).Fusion of the individual within the group Once recruited, the individual identity is meshed together with the group identity, particularly among the more radical elements of the organizations (Bjorgo, 2005). As such there is no room for individuality, while at the same time self-perceived success becomes more and more linked to the organization (Victoroff Kruglanski, 2009).

Therefore each individual has a vested interest in ensuring the success of the organization. This leads to the increased significance of the group, which provides greater prestige on its members.This results in a cycle encouraging group members to increase dramatic and violent operations in order to increase the groups and therefore their own power and prestige (Victoroff Kruglanski, 2009).

This is thus an example of a symbiotic relationship between the individual need to belong to a group, the need to ensure success of the group, and an enhanced desire to be an increasingly active part of the group (Bjorgo, 2005). Political Causes Politics provides individuals with the motivation and justification for engaging in acts of terrorism.Over the past decade, the international community has been flooded with American backed propaganda about the links between democracy and terrorism, and state sponsored terrorism. However this is quite a simplistic way analyzing the political causes of terrorism. Motivation for individuals and organizations to engage in terrorism usually arises from policy decisions, while the justification for terrorism arises from a lack of state stability. State weaknesses Analysts, including Erica Chenoweth, believe that political instability or the inability of a government to control its population causes terrorism (Bjorgo, 2005).As terrorist groups form, a government’s inability or unwillingness to prevent terrorism provides opportunities for terrorists’ organizations to take root.

There are two ways in which countries can create opportunities for terrorists. Firstly, due to a an unstable political system, an environment that lacks enforcement, accountability and monitoring capacity is created (Bjorgo, 2005). The second reason that attracts terrorists to politically instable states is they themselves are political actors who are reacting to some established order (Bjorgo, 2005).According to Bruce Hoffman, “terrorism is designed to create power where there is none, or to consolidate power where there is very little” (Richardson, 2006). Not only are the means placed at the terrorists’ disposal by the permissive environment in which they operate, by they also thrive on the absence of political power by occupying a legitimate political space which has been left open by instability (Bjorgo, 2005). These features are most commonly associated with countries in transition. The situation of powerlessnessA state may utilize terrorism as an alternate means of governance in order to uncover and resolve actual or perceived potential threats (Forest, 2006).

This can be due to the state’s inability to engage successfully in political conflict through ‘conventional’ means. This situation arises due to two reasons. It firstly arises when a state is unable to collaborate its resources and has a limited ability to deliver them (Forest, 2006). This is often the case with new fragile states in which governments perceives themselves as challenged or threatened by large portions of society attempting to rule over them.

The second cause of powerlessness for a state is when the targeted group is not receptive to specific standard responses by the government (Forest 2006). This is highly dependant on the level of vulnerability of this group. Organizations tend to be less vulnerable, and therefore unreceptive, to conventional government actions when they bolstered by a large proportion of the population or when their commitment to their values and ideologies is high (Bjorgo, 2005). This often occurs in newly established states that engage in conflict with a specific group. An example of this is al-Quaeda in Iraq during 2004.

Therefore as it is difficult to entertain the idea of engaging in acts such as war against the majority of its population or a particularly committed organization, states are often forced to utilize terrorism (Forest, 2006). Terrorism and Foreign Policies Over the past centuries, particular western foreign policy, have provided motivation for terrorist acts. The impetus for terrorism, particularly in the Middle East, can be traced back to such individuals as Richard of Lion-hearted, and the irresponsible behavior of the European colonialists (Richardson, 2006).Over the last few decades, there has been a conflict between Islamic states and the foreign policies of the US and its allies (Bjorgo, 2005). For example, Osama bin Laden and his followers were infuriated in August 1990 when the Saudi Arabia government agreed to allow the first Bush administration to station American troops in the country to protect against the possible invasion by Iraq, following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait (Bjorgo, 2005).

This was an influential event for Bin Laden launching terrorist attacks on US embassies in Nairobi and Deres Salaam, the USS Cole and the World Trade Centre.The Armed Islamic Group executed many terrorist attacks against France during the 1990s after the country’s decision to support the Algerian regime (Forest, 2006). Political choices of terrorism It is important consider the reasons that cause political movements to engage in terrorism. Michael Stohl, amongst others, argues that semi-repressive regimes contribute to the escalation of political conflicts into terrorism by relying on an inconsistent mix of repression and reform.

Increased reform has the ability to create incentives for political action.In addition, repression can decrease opportunity cost for the opposition of violence and terrorism (Bjorgo, 2005). However, when these avenues are utilized inconsistently, politically fuelled terrorism will increase due to the perceived weakness in the regime (Forest, 2006). Alexander Schmid and Joshua Sinai contend that some leaders choose terror tactics in expectation that governments will increase repression, leading to a shift in public support from governments to the terrorist’ causes (Bjorgo, 2005).

Radicalization often occurs when a militant group preys upon popular outrage over a specific hostile event.This is evident from the wave of terrorist attacks since the 2003 US led invasion of Iraq. According to Gabriel Sheffer, diasporas are a promoter of terrorist tactics (Forest 2006). This is demonstrated by the fact that twenty-seven of the fifty most active contemporary terrorist organizations are either segments of ethnonational or religious diasporas, or in fact supported by them. These organizations are motivated by discrimination and repression against their “brethren in hostlands, homelands, and third or fourth countries of residence” (Bjorgo, 2005).

Their use of terrorism is spurred on by a lack of ineffective peaceful and nonviolent protests. Quite often these groups are pessimistic over their chances of victory. However they are more concerned with dramatizing the injustices and creating imperatives for reform (Bjorgo, 2005). Economic Causes A common misconception within the international community is that poverty is a root cause of terrorism (Bjorgo, 2005). However terrorism is more closely linked with inequality. The phenomenon of globalization has as also contributed to the dramatic increase in terrorism over the last two decades.Terrorism and inequality Terrorists often utilize inequality, rather than poverty, as a means of justifying their acts. This echoes the insight of the deprivation theory of political violence, which is that people become resentful and disposed to political action when they share a collective perception that they are unjustly deprived of economic and political advantages or opportunities enjoyed by others (Lutz and Lutz, 2008).

This is certainly the case within the terrorist’s organization like Hizballah and the Shi’a in Lebanon.Tore Bjoego argues that inequalities experienced by ethnic groups is the chief root cause of ethno nationalist terrorism such as the campaigns of the Provisional IRA in Northern Island and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka (Bjorgo, 2005). These self-determination groups usually form due to a systematic deprivation of their rights to equal social and economic opportunities, and a dispossession of their political privileges (Bjorgo, 2005). Individuals are particularly motivated to engage in terrorist acts when the conflict becomes longstanding and bitter, with few prospects for a mutually acceptable solution.This notion helps in the explanation of the findings reported by Krueger and Malechova who concluded, after the 2001 public opinion polls, that in the West bank and Gaza the most educated Palestinians are the biggest supporters of armed attacks against civilians inside Israel (Richardson, 2006). From a relative deprivation perspective, it is expect educated Palestinians to be more resentful of their status as an occupied people and thus more supportive of terrorism. This is especially the case considering the political context as non-violent political means have been largely closed to them (Richardson, 2006).

Globalization and terrorism While globalization has strengthened modern economics, the side effect is that it has increased inequalities and social polarization within nations. Economic disparities usually lead to political upheavals and could invite interested groups to resort to terrorism as a method of achieving the desired goals (Richardson, 2006). According to Tom Bjorgo this inequality is used as a justification for the use of violence by social revolutionary terrorists who claim to represent the impoverished as exemplified by the Red Terror in Soviet Russia.

Globalization also promotes politic and cultural resistance (Richardson, 2006). The formation of a singular globalised market has brought about cultural westernization, which has destroyed traditional ways of life in most regions around the world. Opponents, such as al-Qaeda to this have been born in due to this (Forest, 2006). Westernisation is used by nationalist and radical religious movements as a way of explaining their use of terrorism (Forest, 2006).

Organizations claim their use of violence is only in an attempt to cleans their society and culture from foreign influence.Globalization has also created conditions in which terrorism can thrive. Opportunities of mass migration, as a result of globalization, have allowed new minorities in settled societies. These minorities attribute to the growth of international terrorism in three related ways (Forest, 2006). Firstly, terrorist use these minority groups as a means and route for moving materials, funds and people across borders.

Secondly, minorities provide a source of funding due to payments of protection, membership or a split of criminal profits. Thirdly, new minorities are a source of human capital for international terrorism.Terrorist organizations prey on the instability of these new minorities as was exemplified by the 2005 London Bombings (Forest, 2006). Religious Causes Hector Avalos strongly argues that the necessity of violence is often built into the structure of religion. The violent acts perpetrated by an individual are justified as spiritual blessings (Richardson, 2006).

This motivates individuals to commit acts of terrorism. An example is the bombings of abortion clinics and the shooting of abortion clinic staff by Lutheran and Presbyterian activists in Maryland and Florida (Richardson, 2006).However, this concept is considered quite controversial as a root of terrorism as each religion sees themselves as non violent. In addition many observers have pointed out that very few conflicts are about religion rather they are about national territory, political leadership and socioeconomic control (Richardson, 2006). In contrast, Mark Juergensmeyer contends that religion is an indirect cause of terrorism as it has a close ties with political leaders and the moral make up of society (Richardson, 2006).For example, in Hinduism the kings were thought to uphold the divine order through the white umbrella of dharma (Forest 2006).

Conclusion The concepts of psychology, religion, the economy and politics have been extremely influential in the creation and subsequent growth in terrorism. They provide terrorist organizations with the impetus and justification to commit atrocities particular groups in society, states and the general global community in order to express their ideology and influence the structure, beliefs and make of society.

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