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POLS 373 Foundations of Comparative Politics. What Makes a Terrorist? May 29, 2007 Professor Timothy C. Lim California State University, Los Angeles. What Makes a Terrorist? Explaining Political Violence. “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”.

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POLS 373 Foundations of Comparative Politics

What Makes a Terrorist?

May 29, 2007

Professor Timothy C. Lim

California State University, Los Angeles


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”

What does this statement suggest? What does it suggest about defining the concept of terrorism?


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

Defining Terrorism: A First Look

  • Which of the following are terrorists?

    Members of the African National Congress (ANC) who fought against the white South African government during the period of apartheid

    States that use weapons of mass destruction against civilian populations, whether intentionally or unintentionally

    Members of an “insurgency” in post-Hussein Iraq who attack both military and civilian targets

    Soldiers who murder and rape civilians

    Members of organizations, such as al Qaeda, who carry out attacks against civilian targets


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

This definition tells us that there are many motivations for terrorism, from the purely individual, to the criminal, to the political: essentially, anyone, any group, or any state that commits “anxiety-inspiring” violence is a terrorist

This definition tells us that terrorism is necessarily “illegitimate” (which technically means “not authorized by law”): but, this creates a very broad definition of terrorism, since most (violent) force is not authorized by law. It also raises the question: whose law? If a state authorizes the use of force against civilians, does that make it legitimate?

Defining Terrorism: A Few Definitions

“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.” (Schmid and Jongman, 1983)

“Terrorism constitutes the illegitimate use of force to achieve a political objective when innocent people are targeted.” (Walter Laqueur)

“Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country's most urgent needs." (Maximilien Robespierre, 1794)

“The deliberate, systematic murder, maiming, and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear in order to gain political ends …. Terrorism …is intrinsically evil, necessarily evil, and wholly evil” (Paul Johnson)

The last two definitions provide a useful contrast: one argues that terrorism, by definition, is virtuous while the other argues that it is inherently evil: these are examples of ideologically-based and highly polemic definitions


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

Defining Terrorism: Key Points

There is little agreement on how to define terrorism: one study in the 1980s, noted that there were 109separate definitions in the literature

The difficulty of defining terrorism is compounded by the ideological, political and emotional “baggage” the term carries

Still, despite the extreme difficulty of defining terrorism, any study of terrorism requires a clear-cut definition, an operational definition

… as one scholar puts it, we need to transform the concept of terrorism “into a useful analytical term rather than a polemical tool”(Martha Crenshaw)


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Key Elements of Definition: What does the statement that terrorism is premised on the “pursuit of political change” suggest? What does it tell us about the underlying basis or motivation of terrorist activities?

Key Elements of Definition: Terrorism is “design to create power where there is none.” What does this suggest or tell us?

Summing Up: Is this a reasonable definition of terrorism? Does it serve the purpose of distinguishing terrorism from other types of violence? Does it avoid emotionalism and polemics?

Here is one “analytical definition”

[Terrorism is …] the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change….Terrorism is designed to create power where there is none or to consolidate power where there is very little. Through the publicity generated by their violence, terrorists seek to obtain leverage, influence and power they otherwise lack to effect political change on either a local or international scale.

In addition, terrorists are subnational or non-state actors.

~ Bruce Hoffman (a terrorism “expert”)

Key Elements of Definition: In this definition, terrorists cannot be “states.” Is this a legitimate, non-ideological, analytically significant distinction?


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

Defining Terrorism

  • One Last Caveat: No matter how try to define the word “terrorism,” just the mere mention of itcauses problems. For this reason, it mightbe preferable to come up with a newterm altogether …

  • One set of scholars proposes this alternative:

“Violent substate activism”

This is, I think, a very useful term, but for our purposes, we will use the word terrorism in our discussion that follows


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Explanations of Terrorism

Rational Choice

Cultural Approaches

Structural Approaches


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

A Musical Interlude … Edwin Starr’s “War”

War, huh, yeah

What is it good for

Absolutely nothing

Uh-huh

War, huh, yeah

What is it good for

Absolutely nothing

Say it again, y'all

War, huh, good God

What is it good for

Absolutely nothing

Listen to me

Ohhh, war, I despise

Because it means destruction

Of innocent lives

War means tears

To thousands of mothers’ eyes

When their sons go to fight and lose their lives

I said, war, huh

Good God, y'all

What is it good for

Absolutely nothing

Say it again

War, whoa, Lord

What is it good for

Absolutely nothing

Listen to me

War, it ain't nothing

But a heartbreaker

War, friend only to the undertaker

Ooooh, war

Before we start: Listen to the song as a rationalist. Consider the underlying message of Starr’s song, which is that war (political violence) is a fundamentally irrational act. How would a rationalist respond to this message?

Induction then destruction

Who wants to die

Aaaaah, war-huh

Good God y'all

What is it good for

Absolutely nothing

Say it, say it, say it

War, huh

What is it good for

Absolutely nothing

Listen to me

War, huh, yeah

What is it good for

Absolutely nothing

Uh-huh

War, huh, yeah

What is it good for

Absolutely nothing

Say it again y'all

War, huh, good God

What is it good for

Absolutely nothing

Listen to me

Video intentionally removed

War, it ain't nothing but a heartbreaker

War, it's got one friend

That's the undertaker

Ooooh, war, has shattered

Many a young mans dreams

Made him disabled, bitter and mean

Life is much to short and precious

To spend fighting wars these days

War can't give life

It can only take it away

(lyrics continue)


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

The Rationality of War (Political Violence)

  • So, is war (or political violence) good for “absolutely nothing”?

  • How would a rationalist answer?

    HINT: While war may not be good for everyone--especially those who fight it--it may be very “good” for others

KeyPoint

To rationalists, war is not fundamentally different from other forms of political violence, including terrorism. Thus …

US oil profits


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

The Logic of Terrorism

  • … to understand the rational choice explanation of terrorism, we must be begin with a basic assumption, namely, …

    Terrorism is a ________ act

rational

What does it mean to say that terrorism is “rational”? What are the implications of this premise?


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

The Logic of Terrorism

  • Key Implications

    To say that terrorism is rational is to say that terrorists are not crazy, that they are not “abnormal” or otherwise suffering from a psychological disorder that compels them to behave in a pathologically violent manner

    To say that terrorism is rational is to say that terrorists, like everyone else, have specific, “reasonable” goals they wish to achieve through their actions; terroristic violence is, in this regard, an instrument or means to an end

    To say that terrorism is rational is to say that terrorists engage in a rational process of strategic calculation; that they weigh the costs and benefits of many options and choose the “best” alternative among many

The figure on the next slide illustrates these three implications


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

The Logic of Terrorism: A Simple Idea

“Goal”

The following figure helps to illustrate the basic idea behind the statement, “Terrorism is rational”

“Tools”

The “hammer of terror” (as opposed, say, to the “pliers of protest”) may be used when it is the most effective tool available to achieve the goals of the organization

Political Actors/Terrorist Organization

Political actors typically have a range of available tools: they will choose the one that is most effective

Terrorists are the basically the same--and as sane--as other political actors


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

The Logic of Terrorism: Key Implications

  • Real-world Implication: Consider one argument made by Patrick Rael, which is presupposes that terrorists, such as Osama bin Laden, are rational actors …

    “Of all the misinformation, half-truths, and outright lies about terrorism put forth by the Bush Administration, none is as pernicious as the one repeated by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer … [and others in the Bush administration]. Echoing a claim Bush has frequently made since the attacks on September 11, 2001, Bremer asserted, with all the authority his 14 months as special envoy to Iraq confers, that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. because they ‘hate freedom.’

    However reprehensible the attacks on September 11 were, responding effectively to the threat they represent requires the courage to confront the situation truthfully. Seeking to comprehend Islamist Jihadists by facilely asserting that they simply hate freedom is about as sensible as, well, invading a non-Islamist state such as Iraq in the hopes of destroying Islamist terrorism. It does not serve the truth, nor the security of the American people, but only the short-sighted and misguided political aims of those in power.”

    Click to see rest of article


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

The Logic of (Suicide)Terrorism

  • A Logical Quandary?

    Can suicide terrorism be considered a rational act?

The answer is not at all clear; what is clear, though, is that suicide attacks can be effective, very effective. Indeed, they can be one of the most effective “tools” in the arsenal of terrorist organizationsFor terrorist organizations, suicide attacks represent a relatively low cost way of achieving a political goal: consider the suicide attacks launched by Hizballah against the US and French military contingents stationed in Beirut in 1983 (click to read more about this incident)

Click


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

The Logic of Terrorism

  • If terrorism is a rational act, we must still explain why the choice of terrorism is made, why individuals become terrorists

    The answer should already be clear …

    Individuals turn to terrorism when they believe that no other viable option exists to achieve a political goal; terrorism arises when the “benefits” of using political violence outweigh the “costs


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

The Logic of Terrorism

  • The lack of viable options is a key to understanding terrorism. It tells us, among other things, that …

    Terrorism is a response to objective conditions--political, social or economic inequality, injustice, oppression, exclusion, and so on (conversely, that terrorism is less likely in the absence of inequality, oppression, injustice, and exclusion)

    Terrorism is rarely a first response; instead, it is typically a last resort, an option used when all other methods have failed or are doomed to fail

    Terrorism is (relatively speaking) a “weapon of the weak”

    Terrorism is most intense in places where inequality, injustice, or oppression are very high; however, if the costs are too high, if any resistance is absolutely doomed to failure, then terrorism would not be anticipated

Examples: in Soviet Russia, in North Korea, in Iraq under Hussein, there was relatively little, even no significant terrorist activity. State power was so extensive and effective that the likelihood of successful terrorist activity was practically zero


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

The Logic of Terrorism

  • Rationality, Mistakes, and Constraints: Additional Points

    Terrorists, while rational, often make serious, even deadly miscalculations; some decisions, in short, are very bad ones

    One reason is the lack of __________________________ ; in addition, strategic ________________ makes any outcome problematic

    Another reason is the fact that they typically face overwhelming odds against success in the first place: consider Hizballah’s confrontation against Israel and the United States …

perfect information

interaction

Hizballah’s leadersrecognized that they were no match militarily to the USand Israel, so even under the best-case scenario, failure was always a strongpossibility

End of rational choice argument


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

Culture, Religion and Terrorism

  • Most culturalists would agree that there is a strong relationship between culture and political violence; the relationship, however, should not be described as strictly causal…

Particular cultures make terrorists

Culture can make large-scale terrorism possible*

* Under certain conditions and in certain political, social or economic contexts; moreover, pretty much any culture--from Islamic, to Hindi, to Christian, to Jewish-- has this same potential


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

Culture, Religion and Terrorism

  • A discussion of therelationship betweenculture and terrorismwith former terrorists

    Pay careful attentionto what is said aboutthe importance ofculture …

Video intentionally removed •Available on CourseSite


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

Culture, Religion and Terrorism

  • Important Caveat

    Culture or cultural factors do notact alone. The importance of cultureas a variablemust always be understood within particularcontexts

What does this mean? What “particular type of context” might matter?

To get a sense of the importance of context, let’s consider the message in Buju Banton’s “Circumstances” …


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

Another Musical Interlude … “Circumstances” by Buju Banton

Circumstances made me what I am

Was I born a violent man

Circumstances made me what I am

Everyone should understand

May sound strange, might sound foolish

But things ain't getting better

Everyday another fall victim to the beretter

Why is there so much violence

Killing we one another

Let us learn to live and let that light shine brighter

Bad influence through influence the youth dem get slaughter

As bad as badman use to be

Dem respect di father

Is like no eyes no realize seh

Times get harder

Mi talk all night with all mi Might

But still is laughter

<Repeat chorus>

Him say, when I try to cope

Tell mi self there is hope

It seems like the biggest joke

Eh eh,

And as I put down the gun

Still dollars must run

All now employment can't come

Have mi a jam and a cool

Want go back in a school

The system lick mi

There's no hope for those

Who have not from the slum

Take di little much we have

Still hunting we down

I beg unu show some love

Unu wi get back, he replied

<Repeat chorus>

Well a no little cry

Mama cry, papa cry too

She warn the bwoy with all heart

And that couldn't do

Now dem find him dead with a Smith and Wesson

Six weeks and change

Now mi hear him missing

Why so much violence, too much violence

It hurts my soul and I won't keep silent

May sound strange, might sound foolish

But things ain't getting better

Everyday another fall victim to the beretter

Why is there so much violence

Killing we one another

Let us learn to love and let that light shine brighter

Bad influence through influence the youth dem get slaughter

As bad as badman use to be

Dem respect di father

Is like no eyes no realize seh

Times get harder

Mi talk all night with all mi might

But still is laughter

<Repeat chorus>

Tell mi self there is hope

It seems like the biggest joke

Eh eh,

And as I put down the gun

Still dollars must run

All now employment can't come

Have mi a jam and a cool

Want go back in a school

The system lick mi

There's no hope for those

Who have not from the slum

Take di little much we have

Still hunting we down

I beg unu show some love

Unu wi get back some, now


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

Culture, Religion and Terrorism

  • While culture and cultural factors do not act alone, culture can still be said to have an autonomous effect insofar as culture may provide a necessary basis for collective (as opposed to individual) action

  • That is, one might say that without an appeal to cultural or religious symbols, certain collective undertaking would be difficult if not impossible too achieve

    • This is probably truer with terrorism than with other types of collective endeavors since the becoming a terrorists requires an extraordinarily high level of commitment and risk--and sometimes certain death

Consider the points made in the video segment: Even relatively privileged individuals become terrorists. Their behavior cannot be explained by rational factors alone: it would make much more sense for privileged individuals to free ride on the efforts of others. To fully explain their choices requires an understanding of how culture can have a fundamental impact on an individual’s identity, thinking and perceptions.


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

Important Note: Inequality and seriously imbalanced power relations are an underlying factor in many, if not most cases of terrorism: Northern Ireland, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Algeria, Pakistan, and Palestine, to name a few. At the same time, inequality and political discrimination don’t always lead to terrorism; conversely in relatively equitable societies, incidences of domestic terrorism occur. Context matters, but does not explain everything.

Culture, Religion and Terrorism

  • The Case of Terrorism in Lebanon

    The larger context: Prior to the emergence of terrorism in Lebanon, Lebanese society was characterized by the unequal division of political and economic privileges between Muslims and Christians

    Domestic inequality was exacerbated the country’s weak security situation, both domestically and internationally: Lebanon was subject to two military incursions by Israel, the first in 1978 and the second in 1982

    The dominant group in Lebanon was supported by Israel; the subordinate group was supported by Iran


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

Culture, Religion and Terrorism

  • The Case of Terrorism in Lebanon

    What role did culture play in the rise of terrorism in Lebanon?

    Was there a natural fit between “pure” Islamic values, practices, and beliefs, on the one hand, and terrorism on the other hand?

NO

The short answer is …

Instead, Islamic culture was co-opted by leaders of organizations, such as Hizbollah; Islamic culture was reshaped to suit the needs of the organization, to help the organization achieve its political goal


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

Culture, Religion and Terrorism

  • The Case of Terrorism in Lebanon

    How were Islamic values co-opted to justify or legitimize terrorist violence, especially with regard to the use of suicide bombers?

The use of suicide attacks was justified by the spiritual leader of Hizballah in the following manner: When an enemy cannot be attacked through conventional means, then the combatant must fight with “special means,” which includes purposefully sacrificing one’s own life. But “such an undertaking differs little from that of a soldier who fights and knows that in the end he will be killed. These two situations lead to death; except that one fits in with conventional procedures of war, and the other does not.” Thus, “there is no difference between dying with a gun in your hand or exploding yourself.”


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

Culture, Religion and Terrorism

  • The Case of Terrorism in Lebanon

    In sum, the rise of political violence in Lebanon was a complex process that involved social, political, economic and cultural factors; external political relations were also significant

    Culture, however, did play a prominent, if not indispensable role in spurring and sustaining collective action that increasingly relied on “violent substate activism”; in this regard, it is important to understand that culture is a extremely powerful symbol or system of meaning

Click formore


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End of Lecture

What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

Culture, Religion and Terrorism

  • The Power of Culture: A Reprise

    Culture, it is important to remember, is not the only powerful system of meaning … consider the power of another, more pervasive system: nationalism

    In the name of nationalism (or patriotism), we are willing--even eager--to wage brutal wars where the mass killing of innocents is justified as “collateral damage”; in the name of nationalism, we are willing to subordinate other values and beliefs; in the name of nationalism we are willing to give up our own lives

This is not to say that nationalism is bad; rather, it is to say that nationalism--an idea, a belief--is a powerful, very powerful force in the world. As with any system of meaning, it can have a very positive effect or a very negative one. In this sense, there is nothing inherently “evil” about nationalism, just as there is nothing inherently good about it.

KeyPoint


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What Makes a Terrorist?Explaining Political Violence

Do They Really Hate Freedom? The Myth of the Insane Terrorist

By Patrick Rael, Professor of History, Bowdoin College

(Con’t from previous slide) Even before the attacks on September 11, bin Laden repeatedly sought to state his motives. In 1996, he explained that the attacks of that year on U.S. embassies in Africa were meant "to kick the Americans out of Saudi Arabia," which he claimed had become "an American colony." Later the same year he cited the U.S. embargo of Iraq and Israeli killings of Palestinians as further justification for terrorist attacks. In 1998, bin Laden again set forth his reasons for taking up arms against the U.S., this time citing U.S. intervention in Saudi Arabia, the site of Islam's two holiest places

…. While few may agree with bin Laden's analysis of the U.S. role in the Middle East, it cannot be said that he has no clear argument. Rather, he has consistently pointed to three factors in justifying his actions: the presence of U.S. troops on Saudi soil, U.N. sanctions against Iraq, and Israel's policy toward its Arab neighbors

So why do they hate us? They hate us because they believe, not without cause, that the U.S. has long acted against the freedoms of everyday people in the Arab and Muslim worlds. What do they want? They want to pursue their vision of freedom by liberating Saudi Arabia and the Arab and Muslim worlds from U.S. influence.

…. No one should give bin Laden what he wants, because the order that would result would be at least as unjust as the one that currently reigns throughout much of the Middle East and Islamic world. It would also foreclose the possibility of constructive cooperation with the developed world.

Yet as misguided as we believe al-Qaeda's notions of freedom to be, we would do well to remember that those on the "Arab street" who support the Jihadists believe our rhetoric of freedom to be just as specious as we believe bin Laden's to be. The only purpose served by the "they hate freedom" claim is to tar those who attacked us with the brush of irrationality. In perpetuating the falsehood that bin Laden and the terrorists have no specific grievances, Bremer did this community a disservice. Bin Laden may be wrong and cruel, but he is not crazy.

Bremer's approach cannot further the cause of understanding the

disaffection that leads to terrorism, because it is simply not the case that we face insane and irrational foes with inscrutable motives. But by granting some small measure of legitimacy to the grievances of the dispossessed rank-and-file to whom al-Qaeda appeals, we may open a doorway into a safer future for all.

… Instead, the myth of Islamist irrationality has caused us to pursue an unwise and dangerous course. It may be that U.S. forces can simply exterminate those who oppose us in the Islamic world, but given the course of events in Afghanistan and Iraq it doesn't seem likely.


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A retrospective article on the Beirut bombing in 1983: the first suicide terrorist attack against the United States. To read the full article go to:

http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/10/21/lebanon.anniv.ap/


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Understanding the Role of Culture: An Interactive Model first suicide terrorist attack against the United States. To read the full article go to:

An interactive understanding of culture: recall this figure from earlier in the quarter

It illustrates a basic assumption in contemporary cultural analysis, which posits that cultural factors never “act alone”: they interact with economic, political, social, historical and other forces to produce specific outcomes in specific places and times

Cultural forces

Economic forces

“Outcome”

Political forces

Historical forces

Transnational factors

Institutional factors


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