Origins and Contexts of Terrorism
As seems inevitable, when ambiguous and alarming events occur and unfold, many single and oversimplified explanations appear, and these represent, in part, attempts to reduce uncertainty and anxiety. Thus, the causes of terrorism suggested include “poverty,” “inequality,” “globalization,” “technology,” “energy,” “oil,” “Islam,” “Islamic fundamentalism,” and “psychopathy,” among others. There are also widespread challenges to each of these causes on both scientific and ideological grounds.
In approaching the daunting questions of origins and contexts we are guided by the following first principles:
The search for a single or even a few causes is misguided. The factors influencing contemporary terrorism are a blend of historical, economic, political, cultural, motivational, and technological factors, to name only the most obvious.
The logic of cause-followed-by-effect is inappropriate to the understanding of origins and contexts of terrorism. Causes differ qualitatively in their generality as determinants. Some are remote background conditions, others are facilitating circumstances, others are precipitating factors, and still others are inhibitory factors. The most appropriate way to organize these factors is in a nesting or combinatorial way. Each adds its value at a different level and significance to work toward more complete accounts and explanations.
At the very least it is essential to separate the origins and context issue into two distinguishable levels: (a) the historical, social, political, and cultural conditions that constitute a favorable soil in which terrorism can take root and grow, provide a continuously changing mix of support and discouragement for terrorism, and constitute one of the main audiences for terror-
ists and (b) the immediate motivational, ideological, group, and organizational determinants of terrorist activities themselves. The explanations at each level are separate, though they overlap and articulate with one another as one regards the total picture. We employ this distinction in our own account, treating the more general conditions first and the immediate ones afterward.
IMPERIALISM, COLONIALISM, AND GLOBALIZATION
The impulse for territorial expansion, conquest, and domination is as old as history itself. The ways in which this impulse has expressed itself, however, reveal vast differences. For comparative purposes, we mention three variations.
Imperialism is, above all, a system based on military conquest, territorial occupation, and direct governmental/military control by the dominant imperial power. This characterization clearly applies to the classical Roman, Ottoman, Spanish, and Soviet empires, and it is also evident but not so unequivocal in other cases, such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The political sovereignty of occupied regions is not a salient issue; that notion does not apply to militarily occupied and controlled territories. Imperial powers are also dominant economically, but the mechanisms are extraction and exploitation of resources through the mechanisms of expropriation, direct control of economic activities, and coercion (including slavery in some cases).
If we regard the eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century European cases as the major referents, colonialism overlaps with but is distinguishable in important ways from imperialism. Military conquest, settlement, territorial acquisition, and administrative rule—sometimes military, sometimes civil—is the essence, but in practice the administrative rule varied from direct rule resembling imperialism to indirect rule involving a symbiotic relationship between colonial rulers and indigenous authorities. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century colonialism also involved more striking economic contrasts between the technological and industrial superiority of the (developed) colonial powers and the (undeveloped) colonial countries. The resultant pattern was the extraction of primary products necessary for
industrial production (e.g., cotton from India and Egypt) or for consumption in the colonizing countries (e.g., tea, sugar, coffee, spices).
After the effective demise of British, French, Dutch, and Belgian colonialism in the decades after World War II, there was acceleration in the development of the form of international organization described as globalization. Globalization is something of a misnomer, because economic, political, and cultural penetration around relevant parts of the globe is observable through several millennia. Since the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989-1990, the world system has also been called “the American hegemony.” This is also misnamed, because the dominant powers are a complex combination of North American, West European, and East Asian powers. Nevertheless, the role of the United States is paramount. The contemporary global mode is one of economic influence, realized through greater economic productivity (and its concomitant, wealth) based on a superior, science-based technology. This influence is realized and exercised by the mechanisms of trade among nations, capital and financial investment, and power in the international monetary system.
There is also an aspect of military domination, but this is primarily realized not through military conquest and administration of occupied territory, but through a technologically superior arsenal of weaponry, occasional wars and “peacekeeping” interventions, and, above all else, military intimidation. American hegemony also has a less tangible political-ideological ingredient, namely, a conviction of the moral superiority of a particular (American) version of democracy and its accompanying characteristics of personal liberty, constitutional rights of citizens, and mass political participation. This ideological dimension affects U.S. foreign policies toward other nations, generally favoring nations like itself politically and distancing itself from or applying pressures on nations unlike itself. The final aspect is a cultural one, consisting mainly of the effective export of cultural and materialist values through the worldwide American domination of the mass media, especially television.
In that part of the world that currently commands the nation’s special attention—referred to variously as the Arabic or Islamic world—we observe a long period of interaction, penetration, and conflict with the West. Especially in the late eighteenth century, there was exposure to and borrowing of West-
ern military and other technology and such ideas as democracy, nationalism, and the rights of women, as travel, commercial activity, and communication increased. The forces of modernization, however they may be defined, are thus several centuries old; an informative account of the historical process is found in Lewis (2002). Of special subsequent significance was the century-long (1830 through the end of World War I) colonization and political control of North Africa and the Near East countries of Syria, Lebanon, and modern Iraq, Jordan, and the Palestine mandate. In the twentieth-century, commercial and cultural penetration and influences have accelerated, dramatically in the case of the exploitation of oil but more generally as well.
IMPACTS ON “RECEIVING” SOCIETIES
The general impacts of the complex of influences imposed by more powerful societies are both to dislocate and to provide alternatives to the traditional ways of life in the affected societies. Economic production is transformed, systems of wagelabor increased, existing patterns of inequality altered, economic expectations stirred, and political institutions modified or displaced. Traditional and authoritarian political values and institutions are shaken by exposure to ideas of freedom, rights, and democracy. Competing religious forces, especially nonreligious secularism, are introduced. And especially recently, commercial and cultural penetration has exposed the world, and notably the non-Western world, to a range of materialistic values and aspirations that are evidently unattainable in those societies in the historical short run.
A political corollary of these modernizing influences is that, under conditions of domination by and acculturation to a more powerful society, the receiving society experiences an increase in the growth, complexity, and magnitude of political divisions. Some of these are “class” in nature, as new groups—for example, a new middle class, a paid laboring class, or the unemployed—come into being and develop interests in common. Other divisions are cultural in nature, as groups crystallize along the dimension of how much and in what ways they want to be modernizers (e.g., democratic, capitalistic, secular) and how
much and in what ways they want to preserve a traditional way of life.
All these impacts are observable in dramatic form in the world’s Islamic societies. They combine with several additional features of these societies to make for very high levels of discontent and combustibility.
Almost all of the Islamic societies in the world fall into the category of rapidly growing populations that have relatively high proportions of young people compared with those of working age, but low proportions of elderly people. The Muslim population is the most rapidly growing religiously defined category in the world, doubling perhaps every 25 years at current rates. These populations have been growing on an average of more than 3 percent per year, although fertility is declining in many of them (Roudi, 2002). These patterns yield large families in which younger siblings in particular are likely to suffer from lack of parental investment of resources and emotional care.
Such societies have few resources to devote to education, so their high numbers of young people cannot be trained to participate in advanced economic activities. It is hard for such countries to guarantee employment for their youth, who experience high rates of unemployment, engage in criminal activity or gang violence, or must otherwise migrate to the richer countries, where they work in low-level jobs. Such poor countries are also often obliged to spend substantial sums on police control and national defense against neighboring poor countries, in which they employ local youth in low-level military jobs.
The majority of the world’s Muslims are poor and live in countries characterized by great inequalities of wealth (World Bank, 2002). The ratio of children to workers in the Muslim world is very high, especially because there are so few women in the labor force, so the actual ratios of children to workers are almost double the child to adult ratio. Finally, high growth ratio produces large numbers of children in families, and this may spread thin the family’s financial and emotional resources. Some research suggests that later-born children in families are more rebellious. This suggests the possibility that in a population in which many families have many children, the level of rebelliousness in the society may be higher (Sulloway, 1996; Skinner, 1992; Paulhus et al., 1999; Zweigenhaft and Von Ammon, 2000).
The relevance of these outcomes to an understanding of
social unrest is clear. Unemployed young males with poor local prospects will feel angry and frustrated. They can seek a future in military endeavors, emigrate to take menial work, or become involved in criminal activity in a foreign and often culturally inhospitable environment. Sexual frustration may also be part of the picture. Marriage is often a high-cost matter in these countries because it requires substantial outlays for parents and elaborate ceremonies. Young women have restricted choices in the local marriage market because of the male exodus and little hope of employment themselves unless they also emigrate (especially if local customs deter them from entering the labor market).
Looking at these demographic and economic realities, it is clear that the majority of Muslims in the world experience a high level of absolute poverty. These poor compare themselves with the rich in their own societies and with an unrealistic view of Western culture gleaned from films and television, and thus they also experience a high level of relative deprivation. This combination is a sure recipe for social unrest in general. Insofar as these conditions are blamed on the United States and the West in general—as they typically are—they also provide a favorable atmosphere for supporting violence against these enemies, as well as a potential recruiting ground for recruits to this cause. To note this is not to argue that poverty causes terrorism, but that it is one ingredient in a volatile mix of causes.
REACTIONS TO IMPACTS
It is a reasonable historical generalization that those who are dominated—or who believe themselves to be dominated—by stronger outside powers come to resent and oppose their oppressors. Especially under conditions of imperialist and colonial domination, in which direct force is used against the population, this discontent can often be held in check, at least temporarily. When societies experience economic and cultural domination without direct military occupation and political control, the opportunities to express discontent publicly are usually more readily available.
This rejection of outside domination is not surprising and can be readily appreciated. It is not as frequently appreciated
that the hatred of outside domination is typically only half the picture. The other half is conveyed by the idea of ambivalence.
To bring the point closer to home, anticolonial ideologies are mainly negative toward the colonial powers. But they also contain the seeds of positive attraction. A remote but telling instance of this is found in the cargo cults, a widespread religious phenomenon mainly in colonial Melanesia. These movements, which were millenarian, envisioned the end of the world accompanied by the arrival of Western ships or airplanes loaded with tinned foods, transistor radios, and other Western items. At the millenarian moment, too, white Westerners would be destroyed, and the true believers would survive in a world of Western plenty (Worsley, 1957). Further evidence of this type of ambivalence is provided by the fact that colonial societies, once independent, frequently establish institutions and retain political and other values resembling those of their former conquerors.
A similar ambivalence toward the United States is now found throughout the world, including (perhaps especially) Muslim societies. On one hand there is America the demon, the rich, godless, morally and sexually corrupt, imperialist country that has come to its wealth by exploitation, a power that dominates the world and forms alliances with the ruling elites in their own societies, a nation that is hypocritical in its assertions of equality when it is plagued with racism and poverty, and the power that is primarily responsible for the existence and support of Israel. Side by side with this, however, is a utopian America, as the immigrant communities of Detroit, Brooklyn, and Los Angeles typify. America is a place to come to, a place of wealth and consumption where the payoff for hard work is leisure and opportunity, and where freedom is buttressed by myriad choices in both the market and in the polity. This positive side of the ambivalence, moreover, stands in stark contrast to what almost all Muslims can realistically aspire to in their own societies.
Typically, it is psychologically difficult to hold both sides of an ambivalent attitude at the same time, and it usually is resolved by rigidly accentuating one side to the exclusion of the other. In anti-American Muslim ideologies this appears to be the case, with vitriolic hostility as the conspicuous and exclusive element and the admiration and envy suppressed. Insights that
take account of this element of ambivalence signal a potential chink in the armor of what appear to be exclusively hostile attitudes, yield a more realistic grasp of the social psychology of protest and resentment, and instruct Americans as to the half-truth of the question asked by some in the wake of September 11: “Why do they hate us so much?”
The complex of economic, political, and cultural penetration does not occur in a vacuum. It is always interpreted and reacted to in the framework of the cultural milieu it affects—accepted, altered, synthesized, or rejected, all in complex ways. An inevitable accompaniment of the process is the widespread perception that the domestic culture is under threat of extinction. The reactions to this perception are, as indicated, multiple, but, in light of the religious character of much of recent terrorism, we take special note of what have been called revivalist or fundamentalist reactions. This variant of terrorism in particular has developed in the context of a wider Islamic revival.
Revivalist or fundamentalist movements are efforts to restore an often-imagined indigenous culture, especially its religion, to a pure and unadulterated form. Their elements have been found in American Indian movements such as the ghost dance (Mooney, 1896) and peyote religion (Slotkin, 1956), revivalist cults, nationalist movements in colonial societies, revivalist and fundamentalist Christian movements, and in some extreme Western political movements such as fascism. The typical ingredients of such movements are:
A totalistic worldview rooted in a sacred religious system.
A profound sense of threat, angst, and apprehension about the destruction of their society, culture, and way of life.
A specification of certain agents who are assigned total responsibility for this deterioration.
An unqualified, and absolute, sense of rage that is felt to be morally legitimate.
A utopian view of their own culture and society—perhaps referring to an imagined, glorious past—standing in
point-by-point opposition to the decaying and threatening world they confront (Smelser, 1962:120-29; Juergensmeyer, 2000).
The historical picture in many Muslim societies is not different from this general pattern. The analogy is not between cults and terrorism as such, but between nativistic movements and Islamic revivalism, which provides a fertile ground for religiously based terrorism. The penetration of Muslim societies by Western values during the past few centuries has occurred in the context of Islam, one of the world’s great religions, dedicated to the transcendence of God and the observance of Islamic law. It is also a religion with a proselytizing tradition and a centuries-long history of both conquest of and humiliation by Western Christian and Eastern Orthodox powers—a history actively remembered in detail in Muslim societies to this day. It is, finally, a religion with a keen sense of infidels, both inside and outside Islam. All these features have conditioned the reactions to the West in Muslim societies, including the Islamic revival.
Revivalist-like movements of a totalistic sort—i.e., to “Islamize” the religious community by imposing Islamic norms throughout all spheres of life—antedate deep Western influences. Among these are the Safavid movement that eventually became the basis of the Shiite state in Iran. There were also a number of nineteenth-century antecedents, and the early twentieth century witnessed the rise and consolidation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its subsequent underground offshoots (Voll, 1994).
The widespread Islamic revival in contemporary times partakes of elements of these earlier movements but has added new and different ingredients (Maddy-Weitzman, 1996). Some of these ingredients include: (a) It expresses the feelings of humiliation at the loss of the supremacy of Islam, the imposition of European commercial and colonial power, and the Euro-American domination in world affairs. Its enemies are foreign infidels, non-Muslims in their midst, representatives of more moderate forms of Islam, and secular dictatorial regimes in their own societies. (b) It expresses a fear of cultural extinction by the spread of an American consumerist lifestyle, and of individualistic values disrespectful of the old hierarchies of society. (c) It typically takes hold in countries ruled by regimes that repress
even legitimate forms of domestic political opposition (Abootalebi, 1999).
On the more constructive side, the goal of the revivalist movements is the creation of an ideal Islamic society, in which morals are pure and the community just, and all live in a state that protects a Muslim way of life, defends it against enemies, and aggrandizes the domain of Islam. Revivalists regard this envisioned society as a comprehensive alternative to nationalism or capitalism. In the main, the movements are carried by self-declared charismatic teachers, ideologues, community organizers, and political activists. The followers are diverse, consisting of petit bourgeois bazaaris (small businessmen, peddlers, craftsmen, and workers) and maktabis (clerks, teachers, and students) and sometimes the professional middle classes (McCauley, in press; Library of Congress, 1999; Maddy-Weitzman, 1996; Hamzeh, 1997; Sivan, 1997; Abootalebi, 1999; Alam, 2000). The movements have become extensively institutionalized in schools, mosques, clinics, study groups, women’s auxiliaries, and economic enterprises. Some groups take the form of political lobbies and parties, and some have paramilitary forces (Hamzeh, 1997). They constitute opposition movements to domestic governments, as in Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, and Indonesia, or to foreign rulers or occupiers, as in Palestine, Chechnya, Xinjiang, and Kashmir (Sivan, 1997; Alam, 2000).
The revivalist movements represent a small part of Islam in general. It is not difficult to appreciate, however, why Muslim terrorists have taken on the ideology of militant revivalism as their major guiding belief system. It provides a meaningful account of what is wrong in their world and legitimizes their extreme and violent political actions. To say this is neither to assert that Islam “causes” terrorist behavior nor to say that terrorists are simply “exploiting” Islamic beliefs to rationalize their destructive ends. Rather, the presence of extreme Islamic fundamentalism, like the demographic, economic, and political realities found in most Muslim societies, is part of the fertile seedbed in which a particular ideologically based brand of terrorism finds a supportive audience and some recruits. We emphasize, however, that Islam-inspired terrorists are a minority of terrorists, considered worldwide, and that the vast majority of Islamic peoples have no connection with and do not sympathize with terrorism; this relationship is represented in Figure 2-1.
STATELESSNESS AND STATES
Recent terrorist activity in general and the particular organization of Al Qaeda have cemented the view that the “new terrorism” involves a distinctive asymmetry: a stateless and nonterritorially bounded organization that wages war against a state, and vice versa. In domestic terrorism the terrorist organization typically operates within a state but itself is not a state. In international terrorism, the organization may operate within the confines of a single state, but it typically involves a far-flung organization or network of organizations, operating out of the territories of whatever states will harbor, tolerate, or cannot detect it. Corollaries of this view are: (a) that these organizations are out of range of institutions of truce, international diplomacy, alliances, and treaties, all of which are peaceful alternatives to warlike violence; (b) that, unlike states, these organizations do not face the “conservatizing” influences imposed by the state’s necessity to maintain law and order and manage politically negotiated relationships among diverse groups (except in the most totalitarian of societies, and to a limited degree in these); and (c) that they are relatively unreach-
able militarily because they are moving and semivisible targets, forever changing their form and moving from state to state and from place to place within states. This view contains much truth, but it must be qualified in two ways: first, that all “states” are not states as we understand them, and, second, that the relations between states and terrorist organizations are highly variable.
The standard Western model of a state is that it is a discrete, territorially bounded, politically sovereign unit with a legal monopoly over force and violence, responsible for law and order in its domestic population, and the focus of the solidarity, culture, and identity of its citizens. Regarding the panoply of states and other organizations in the contemporary world, we must conclude that the state is not a unitary thing that is either present or absent but is a continuum. The West still has many states that approximate the model—despite the intrusions of globalization on all states—but Afghanistan, Algeria, Colombia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, the former Yugoslavia, and Zaire, while in the United Nations as states, do not, for various reasons, meet the understood conditions. Much has been made recently of the notion of “failed states” to describe the nondevelopment of modern states in the non-Western (including the Muslim) world in the political science literature (Zartman, 1995; Rubin, 2002). Finally, many “nonstate actors” take on state-like roles—United Fruit in Honduras, Aramco in Saudi Arabia—as did the East India Company in an earlier era of British colonialism.
In addition, whatever their approximation to the standard model, states have variable, not fixed, relations with terrorist networks. At one extreme there is the Taliban, which had supportive, hand-in-glove relations with Al Qaeda. Pakistan has had a vacillating relationship with terrorist organizations. Egypt has allowed their terrorists to leave to fight as terrorists in other places but curtailed their activities radically at home. Finally, when Libya at its inception entered the United Nations as a state, it had almost no attributes of a state and has only slowly developed those characteristics. Its international capriciousness during the first two decades of the regime of Muammar al Qaddafi—including some “state terrorism”—drew military attacks from the United States and sanctions from the international community. Since the end of the cold war, Libya has evolved more toward statehood and membership in the world
of states. No longer a pawn in the cold war and facing internal threats from Islamic opposition groups, Libya is not now considered a major part of the worldwide terrorist threat and, indeed, actively collaborated with the United States in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
To realize this double variability—of states themselves and of state-terrorist relations—is at one level heartening. Since all states maintain some kind of relations with terrorist organizations if they are in their midst—supporting, neglecting, opposing, suppressing—this means that foreign policy exercised through state-state relations has variable potential to operate as one form of constraint, albeit uncertain, against terrorism and terrorist activities.
MOTIVATIONS FOR TERRORISM
We now shift from an emphasis on the broader origins and contexts of terrorism to individual terrorists in their group and organizational settings. We have already touched on background reasons for supporting or joining terrorism, such as economic desperation, political repression, and the ready presence of a framing religious ideology. We now turn to more immediate psychological motives, while fully aware of the slipperiness of this exercise. The perils are that (a) human variation is such that there is no single, “typical” terrorist psychology; (b) many terrorists are psychologically inaccessible and when accessible often secretive and nonyielding; and (c) Western psychological concepts and assessments often are not readily exportable and applicable to cultures very different from their own.
With respect to motivational profiles, work by Jerrold Post and others has suggested some similarities among members of given terrorist organizations, as well as some differences among the prototypical membership of different organizations. For instance, members of the German Red Army Faction and the Italian Red Brigades were likely to come from broken homes, and members of the Basque ETA group have come dispropor-
tionately from mixed Spanish-Basque parentage. “Comparable data are not available for Shi’ite and Palestinian terrorists, but specialists share the impression that many of their members come from the margins of society and that belonging to these fundamentalist and nationalist groups powerfully contributes to consolidating psychosocial identities at a time of great societal instability and flux” (Post, 1990:31). In all events, generalizations of this sort must always be tempered by the recognition that the composition of terrorist organizations is diverse and that well-educated and wealthy individuals are also represented, particularly in leadership ranks. More recent research on terrorists has rejected the idea that psychopathy is a key feature of terrorist motivations (McCauley and Segal, 1987; Ruby, 2002; Crenshaw, 1981; Post, 2001).
Leaving aside considerations of pathology or normality, the identity conferred by participating in a terrorist organization can be quite glamorous and appealing. As Post observed about one youthful recruit of a terrorist organization, “Before joining the group, he was alone, not particularly successful. Now he is engaged in a life and death struggle with the establishment, his picture on the ‘most wanted’ posters. He sees his leaders as internationally prominent media personalities. Within certain circles he is lionized as a hero” (Post, 1990:36).
Glorification of and personal salvation through violence is not limited to Islamic terrorists. Salvation as a voluntary martyr to violence or suffering has a religious history with roots in the theology of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as well as analogs in Buddhism. It is only because terrorists and their source populations on one hand, and target populations on the other, share these cultural precepts that such acts have the psychological impact that they do. Self-fulfillment through perpetration of violence also has a history, going back at least to nineteenth-century anarchists, early elements of Soviet communism, and some elements of the cowboy culture. Similarly, utopian visions achieved through apocryphal transformation are not limited to Islam but are common both in mainstream and sectarian aspects of Christianity and Judaism. They are also found in cultures outside the province of the three major Near Eastern religions, although it is not always clear that they have appeared entirely independently of their influence (examples are Melanesian cargo cults and the ghost dance of American Indians).
The glamour of the terrorist identity depends to a large extent on the terrorists’ success. For example, following the tremendous media attention accorded the Palestinian cause in the wake of the killing of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics by the Black September faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, thousands of Palestinians rushed to join the terrorist organizations (Hoffman, 1998:74). It is evident that joining a terrorist group is not related uniquely to any given motivational profile. The search for identity is probably important, but so is the venting of anger, the power motive, and the glamour and aura of heroism and martyrdom—all operating in the context of situational opportunities.
INSTILLING TERRORIST OBJECTIVES: THE PROCESS OF BECOMING A TERRORIST
Why do individuals relinquish the societal values they have been brought up to cherish and adopt an extremist value system that may condone the killing of innocents? Studies of brainwashing, religious conversion, cults, as well as of terrorist groups per se provide a likely answer. It has to do with extreme forms of group influence and social pressures for conformity. The objectives are to isolate the individual from other belief systems, to delegitimize and dehumanize potential targets, to tolerate no uncertainty in rejecting or even killing skeptics, and to adore a leader. All these, taken together, create a separate, closedminded social reality at variance with the social reality of origin or the social reality of alternative cultures.
As Ehud Sprinzak notes: “Ideological terrorism does not emerge from a vacuum or from an inexplicable urge on the part of a few unstable radicals to go berserk. . . . In the main, the process does not involve isolated individuals who become terrorists on their own because their psyche is split or they suffer from low esteem and need extravagant compensation. Rather, it involves a group of true believers. An understanding of this group process seems to be much more important than an understanding of individual terrorists’ personal psychology” (1990:78). Once in the grasp of the group, it matters less what motivation may have brought the individual there in the first place (McCauley, in press).
An extreme illustration of this process is suicide bombing. Ariel Merari, an empirical investigator of suicide terrorism in
the Middle East and Sri Lanka, writes (personal communication, January 10, 2002):
The key to creating a terrorist suicide is the group process. Terrorist suicide is an organizational rather than an individual phenomenon. To the best of my knowledge, there has not been a single case of suicide terrorism which was done on the suicide’s personal whim. In all cases, it was an organization that decided to embark on this tactic, recruited candidates, chose the target and the time, prepared the candidate for the mission, and made sure that he/she would carry it out (often via a back-up detonation device activated via remote control in case the would-be terrorist got cold feet after all). The three critical elements in the preparation are boosting motivation, group pressure (e.g., mutual commitment), and creating a point of no return (public personal commitment) by videotaping the candidate declaring that he is going to do it and having him write last letters to family and friends.
TERRORISM AS A PUBLIC PHENOMENON
One intrinsic objective for terrorists is the drawing of attention to themselves or their cause, not only among their supportive constituencies but also from the whole world. News of terrorists in the media and in public awareness is omnipresent. It is inconceivable to think of a public event—the Olympics, an economic summit, any official gathering—without worrying about security and the threat of terrorist activity. The amount of publicity and literature devoted to terrorism in the past six months is unprecedented. Osama bin Laden was a contender for Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” status, which was ultimately awarded to New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The basis for inclusion was related to terrorism in both cases.
The tremendous attention-getting potential of terrorism may have given rise in the 1990s to a new brand of terrorism that Ehud Sprinzak (2001) recently called “the megalomaniac hyperterrorist,” by which he means “self-annointed individuals with larger-than-life callings: Ramzi Youssef (the man behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing), Shoko Asahara (leader of Aum Shinrikyo and architect of the 1995 gas attack in Tokyo subway station), Timothy McVeigh (the 1995 Oklahoma City bomber), Osama bin Laden (likely planner of the September 11 carnage),” Igal Amir, who assassinated Itzhak Rabin—all mani-
festing in some degree a desire to use catastrophic attacks in order to write a new chapter in history.
Whereas attention-getting in and of itself may be gratifying to terrorist leaders, successful terrorism sometimes advances terrorists’ real-world objectives. High-casualty suicidal terrorist attacks on U.S. and French targets in Lebanon contributed to the decisions of those countries to withdraw their forces. Hezbollah, or the Party of God, is regarded in Lebanon (nearly universally) as the successful vanquisher of the Israeli occupation. Perhaps not coincidentally, 18 months after the slaughter of the Israeli athletes in Munich, Yasser Arafat was invited to address the UN General Assembly. Attention to Islam and Muslim values and traditional Islamic ways is on the rise among young generations of Muslims worldwide. The interest in Islam as a culture is rising, and the call for reexamination of U.S. foreign policy in regard to Muslim countries is no doubt related to attention that terrorist attacks have drawn to these issues.
ORGANIZATION OF TERRORISM: NETWORKS
The preferred organizational form for terrorism is organizational networks or, perhaps better, networks of network-based organizations (Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 2001; Kerbs, 2001). Like other aspects of terrorism these networks are relatively unfamiliar to those who study organizations, who have focused more on formal organizations, such as corporations, hospitals, universities, civil service bureaucracies, voluntary organizations, and organizations that direct the activities of social movements. As a result, there are only some, mainly indirect insights about terrorist organizations from the literature on formal organizations (Crenshaw, 1987).
The characteristics of terrorist organizations can be understood by tracing out the implications of the fact that terrorism must be simultaneously invisible and at the same time coordinated for preparing and executing terrorist activities. Consistent with these purposes, terrorist organizations must maintain extreme secrecy, avoid record-keeping, and minimize any paper trails that could reveal their internal movements, plans, and intentions. The last is extremely difficult to ensure completely,
because of the necessity to rely on computer and telephone—in addition to handwritten and face-to-face—communication as a part of organizational coordination, and the necessity to rely on financial transaction institutions to shift resources from place to place and on credit cards to facilitate movements of their personnel by cars, buses, trains, and airplanes.
The foreign affairs or external political exigencies of terrorist organizations are limited and concern mainly their relations with the host states in which they are located. If they are unknown to those states—rarely if ever the case—then questions of foreign relations with them are moot, because terrorist organizations avoid routine interactions with governing regimes. However, host states usually know about, tolerate, protect, or promote terrorist organizations for their own political purposes. This means establishing relations with terrorist organizations, taking an interest in and perhaps influencing their activities, thus forcing the terrorist organizations to observe and perhaps play along with various state-related realities (Crenshaw, 1985).
Because much of the glue of terrorist organizations is commitment to an extreme ideology in a group with extreme solidarity, this generates a special range of issues of maintaining internal control. They must recruit those whom they regard as ideologically committed and ideologically correct. While there have been news reports that claim to trace associations between individual terrorists and specific schools or other social ties, the panel is not confident that these purported ties are sufficient evidence to make conclusive statements.
Regardless of where recruits come from, the leaders must dedicate some of their organizational activities to maintaining that loyalty and commitment and preventing backsliding among members who are frequently living in societies with values, ways of life, and institutions that are different from their own and may be found seductive. The need to maintain various kinds of discipline through intense personal ties, hierarchical control, and surveillance is very strong. Organizations must ensure that information flows but also that it is kept secret. They must coordinate extremely complex activities of destruction. And they must ensure steadiness of ideological commitment (Della Porta, 1992).
There are several associated points of vulnerability of terrorist organizations, many of which involve failures of information flow, security of information, and coordination of activities.
One additional vulnerability, characteristic of all ideologically extreme and rigid organizations, is the constant danger of schismatic ideological tendencies from within (Schiller, 2001). Demanding extreme conformity, such organizations constantly face problems of internal deviation, mutual accusations among both leaders and followers that they are less than true believers, the splitting off of factions based on ideological differences, and the political intrigues that are involved in preventing such splits and dealing with them once they have occurred (Ansell, 2002).
Direct knowledge about these organizational dynamics is very frail, mainly because it is so difficult to study organizations that are bent on secret operations and concealment of information. Such knowledge must usually come from defectors, detainees who cooperate, and agents who have been able to infiltrate. However, the world has experienced many other kinds of secret, network-based organizations, and a base of knowledge about them and their operations has accumulated (Kerbs, 2001). Among these organizations are spy networks, gang rings such as the Mafia, drug-trafficking organizations, Communist cells, sabotage operations undertaken during wartime and during the cold war period, and extremist social and political movement organizations. In addition, network analysis as a field of study in sociology, social psychology, and elsewhere has yielded a great deal of theoretical and empirical knowledge during recent decades, and some aspects of this general knowledge might also be brought to bear. See, for example, the work of Carley (2001).
We conclude this long section on origins, contexts, motives, and organization of terrorism by noting a number of potential limitations on and vulnerability of contemporary terrorism: (a) their partial dependence on “domestic” friendly audiences, whose support and applause can wane if the terrorists appear to be inept or gratuitously excessive in their activities; (b) their dependence on states within which they operate—variable in terms of their precise relationship with those states—which may constrain their activities in light of their own “state” interests in the international arena; (c) extreme ideological/religious rigidity and backsliding, both of which have the potential to generate schisms within the terrorist organizations; (d) motivational failings, reversals, and defections, always a possibility when so much psychic energy is invested in an extreme cause; and (e) organizational failures, especially in flows of information in a dispersed, secretive network.