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Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Battle Causes of Terrorism - Challenger - First Rebuttal

The thoughtful Iron Blogger Democrat, has advanced the theory that the causes of terrorism has it's roots in desperation.

I am not willing to discount this theory outright because there is no doubt that desperation is a motivation for someone to join a terrorist group. Indeed, a Rand report written recently entitled The Dynamic Terrorist Threat: An Assessment of Group Motivations and Capabilities in a Changing World finds that Hamas recruited members from refugee camps and prisons (pp 35) and one could infer that many of these people were desperate. It also found that the Colombian terrorist group FARC drew members from peasant villages where one could imagine that poverty breeds desperation (pp 36).

But while desperation may be a motivator for a particular individual to join a terrorist group it can not be the complete answer.

One reason is that people act on their feelings of desperation in a variety of ways. Some will take their desperate situation and become bank robbers, while another will become Secretary of State. Some will become terrorists I am sure.

However, not all people who become terrorists were desperate people.

In that same report, the Rand corporation noted that in addition to recruiting people from refugee camps, Hamas also recruited people from Universities (pp 35). And since Hamas ran the schools and other social organizations, they are able to recruit young people and use these institutions to indoctrinate them over long periods of time, all the while observing them for doctrinal purity.

Which brings me to point out that which causes people to "crash an airplane into a building", as the Chairman put it, has to have some overriding ideology which not only attracts recruits, but gives them the commitment to carry out acts of terror, sacrifice themselves, and be indifferent to the lives they take in the process. This, in my view, can only be done by having bought into a world view that is larger than themselves and has a grand cosmic or historical struggle as a component.

For FARC, it is communism. They do not convert their recruits on the money to be made by selling cocaine; the great class struggle is what motivates the rank and file.

For al Qaeda, it is a struggle between the righteous and the infidel that gives meaning to their sacrifice while inoculating members to the carnage left in the wake of an operation.

Mr. Bullock notes, correctly in my opinion, "Religion by itself does not cause terror, even fundamentalism". And while that is true, there still needs to be an schema which gives the struggle context; which gives meaning to the loss and pain, the successes and defeats. In the case of al Qaida, that schema is the Wahabist interpretation of Islam and the struggle between Allah and Shaitan for supremecy in the world. It is not the only framework available but it is the one being used in this case.

Drawing again from the Rand report, we read:

With regards to terrorism, the term ideology means the consensus of grievances and objectives that a terrorist group is trying to address through violence.13 In this context, terrorists' ideologies may take on many forms-e.g., religious or political-but still serve the same purpose-motivating actions, unifying members, and linking the organization to communities for which it purports to fight. (pp 30)

Hamas sees its terrorist campaign against Israel as part of the fight for Palestinian independence. ((pg 30)

FARC engages in guerrilla warfare and its ideology is neither nationalist nor religious; instead, it claims to fight for control of Colombia to take power and institute socialist reforms. (pp 31)

al Qaeda's leaders have commingled religious and political strains within its ideology. Al Qaeda does this because it pulls its leaders and operatives from multiple terrorist groups, each with its own particular set of local objectives. Al Qaeda then unites these multiple objectives under a pan-Islamic ideology, presenting the different groups with a common enemy: the United States. (pp 31-32)


(To that last bit I would add that in Islam, most especially as espoused by Wahabism, there is no difference between religious and political life; they a part of a continuum that includes (but is not limited to) ones personal and business relationships as well.)

Because of the ideological framework in which the organizations operate, many terrorist organizations recruit very carefully among other groups who are like minded or seek out individuals who are attracted to the ideological framework.

RIRA originally drew most of its recruits from the ranks of former PIRA fighters. This recruitment allowed the RIRA to begin its activities with an immediate pool of hardened operators, already skilled at building bombs and avoiding British authorities. In addition, other reports suggest that the RIRA attempts to recruit young persons without a past record of violent activities, in such areas as south Armagh, Derry, and Dublin.37 Furthermore, it appears that these new recruits support the breakaway faction.38 If such reports are true, the case of the RIRA illustrates not only the importance that terrorist groups place on new recruits to sustain their existence but also the dangers involved in not integrating recruits in such a way that they bolster group cohesion. (ibid. pp 36)


An important point here is group cohesion. You can not have an effective terrorist organization without a confluence of ideology. Desperation is simply not enough.

al Qaeda appears to recruit its members on multiple levels.For example, the organization recruits and trains operatives for specific attacks, as in the case of the "Hamburg cell" and its role in the September 11 attacks. In this instance, potential recruits were identified and observed over a period of one to two years and then brought to Afghanistan for further observation and training. In other circumstances, al Qaeda relies on the members of local groups with similar ideologies and goals to act as its "recruits," as in the case of the October 2002 bombing in Bali. Therefore, al Qaeda appears to recruit local foot soldiers as well as individuals with specific skills and characteristics (e.g., having passports from Western countries), depending on its planned attacks. This pattern and degree of sophistication is, at this point, isolated to al Qaeda. (ibid pp 36-37)


I have focused on how these groups recruit because I think that it is essential to the argument that Jihadists have an overriding framework that is based on an extreme interpretation of Islam. That it is the framework that attracts the individuals to the group and it is that framework which keeps the group cohesive and functioning. The historical context that I described in my opening statement feeds into the this framework and functions on many levels which I will not go into at the moment and may not in this discussion.

Having said all of this, I would be remiss in addressing a point that needs to be made:

We are not really discussing the causes of terrorism.

Terrorism is a tactic employed by people who do not have the resources to employ an army. This is the real cause of terrorism; lack of a military force. I guarantee you, If Osama and the boys had political and economic control of North Africa and the Persian Gulf, they would be raising an army and we would not be discussing "terrorism". But the ideology driving these folks would be the same.

Only much more dangerous.

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