What is Terrorism? A brief overview.

Battle of Algiers

New alteration to this blog. Controversy levels only apply when I want them to. Why? Because it’s my blog and I can do that. I DO WHAT I WANT!

GUESS WHAT!? Terrorism is another ism. Yup. Terrorism is a system that justifies actions, and LOTS of people in the world use this ism. I feel like there is poor (or a lack of) information about what terrorism actually is, thus I’ll write this.

And since a ridiculous amount of people are poor across the world and upset with their local governmental structures, terrorism does occur.

Check it out:


How is terrorism justified?

Lots of ways.

In fact, lots of Americans themselves engage (or have engaged) in terrorism. The KKK was an organization meant to terrorize black individuals and communities; militant Christian groups target and terrorize abortion clinics; gangs terrorize other gangs and individuals; and, even on the playground, kids engage in light forms of terrorism (though admittedly, there isn’t sophisticated logic for it).

Generally terrorism is split into two categories; domestic (KKK, gangs and so forth in the American context) and international (al Qaeda, ISIS). The terror-ism emphasizes terror as the primary motivator for political change. So, individuals and groups engage in terrorist campaigns for some specified end; in other words, they want something. If they don’t want something, then criminal justice and psychology may have other terms for it; like psychotic disorder or something like that.

Justifications for the use of terror vary. Recently a State department spokeswoman got in some heat for saying that ISIS members need jobs to avoid recruitment … this was spun horribly, but her logic is actually pretty solid. It just wasn’t said in a flattering way.

The logic is this: Terrorist groups are only able to recruit and organize because they can find recruits. So how do you get people to join a cause? With ideas and minimal benefits to people who need it. Mass unemployment and underdevelopment increase the probability that traditional, extremely religious, agrarian-centered people live there. So, if you have extreme religiousness and underdevelopment, and you want the people weaponized and mobilized, then what is your platform? Use what you know. First plant the ideas, and second give people incentives for joining.

To recruit for a terrorist organization, one would need proper justification. In the case of ISIS, a theocratic government, the destruction of Israel, and the death of the west are the promises. For an army, I would target young, unemployed, and undereducated men. If they aren’t already familiar with the Koran, then teach them; offer to educate them. This gets the ideas across easily enough. Compassion goes a long way.

Second, you need to pay and feed people. Because poverty is a serious issue in some of these places, the promise of steady food and minimal pay is a HUGE deal. After all, what else are people going to do? You can only farm so much in the desert, and that family cow can only provide so much. In the end, you can’t convince people to kill others without proper logic (and some form of compensation) … unless they’re mentally unstable to begin with I suppose. Once you implement an incentive system, then the movement starts to take form, becomes relatively autonomous, and, most importantly, gets embedded in the local economy and mindset. So, people are convinced of the ideas, and they have motivation.

So, the KKK convinced members that black people were lesser people and evil. In this case, they used racism to justify terrorism — see how these isms can cause action? This movement essentially weaponized ideas.

Militant Christians are convinced of the immorality of abortion and hence justify bombing abortion clinics; the good outweighs the bad. Faith is a very powerful motivator for people.

A gang’s objective is to gain more territory, and thus justifies actions based on a “family” logic; “we have to do it for the gang” is the dominant paradigm; or, perhaps, it’s an “us or them” mentality. Also, gangs are drug enterprises among other things, so they are the livelihood of those in the system. This is why it’s so hard to abolish gangs; because they bring home the bacon.

In any case, there is some bedrock justification for terrorism. If there were no logic, then it would be pretty difficult to convince people to kill others.


How to terrorists typically fight?

Cheaply. Because creating organizations (not necessarily terrorist groups) in general uses pillars of faith, community, or some other identifier, they typically don’t have lots of cash. If the organization resorts to guerrilla and asymmetrical warfare, then it’s a safe assumption that they are small and not well-funded. ** Although sometimes they could catch the attention of large donors; this was especially the case during the Cold War. So, the US funded and sent arms to the Contras in Nicaragua; Castro received aid and help from the Soviets, and lots of wars were fought with either US or Soviet funding and arms. Why? Because it was a ideological war, and each smaller state you had on your side was very meaningful.

However, if terrorists don’t have significant backing, then what? The organization gets creative and begs, borrows, or steals.

Al Qaeda stole rockets, weapons, and created training camps. Obviously they ended up hijacking airlines and weaponized them; they shot rockets at US carriers, and operated a bit of a ragtag, though well-organized, operation. … Never underestimate the power of proper organization.

Most of ISIS’ weapons are American. Why? They raided Iraqi military compounds, and those weapons were US hand-me-downs from the second Iraq war. During the second Iraq war, lots of groups formed after Saddam was taken out of power. Why? Everybody was afraid of who would be in power, and they were worried of a genocide (like what Saddam did to the Kurds). SO, lots of groups tried to get power, and the US was caught in the middle.

Improvised bombs were made to intimidate US forces in Iraq. The country went through a quasi-civil war, and eventually US troops were blamed because of the initial invasion. Tactics were pretty under the radar. Groups would shoot mortars into various bases, and they adopted a shoot-and-run technique. They hid bombs in dead dogs on the side of the road, buried them deep beneath roads, and ultimately started using cell phones and radio waves for detonation (although the US countered most of the asymmetrical warfare). All of these tactics were developed so they didn’t have to directly confront the military. If they had, US troops would have quelled any of them.

Historically speaking, the United States used guerrilla warfare to fight the British. While the US didn’t directly use terrorist tactics (terrorist tactics usually target civilians and those not in the war game), it is an example of a small organization resorting to guerrilla tactics. Why? American troops were ragtag. Similarly, Castro’s rebel group engaged in this warfare in Cuba. The idea is to take a minimal force to overpower a much larger one.

This type of fighting is attractive to terrorist enterprises. Terrorist acts (indiscriminate killing) can be used to make it seem like the small force is large. In general, terrorist organizations use the ideas of guerrilla warfare and apply terrorist tactics. They use terror to spread fear in order to make their organization seem powerful.

How do groups do this? By doing extreme things. ISIS cuts the heads off westerners and Christians. Why? To spread fear. The idea is that you can rule by fear.

How? Well, if you’re afraid of an organization, then you don’t mess with it (and they’re free to grow). After all, if you’re afraid of a snake, you don’t walk up to it and slap it. Also, the effect of beheading people is cheap. Beheading is a cheap, brutal act that 1) is justified by the organization’s ideas (a desired anti-Western theocratic state), 2) works your organization into a frenzy (some people like extreme things), 3) makes people abroad afraid of you, and 4) may attract donors. In short, the initial action has potentially exponential returns.

Really though, what ISIS is doing is very unique. They are coining money, hijacking oil fields, extracting taxes from people, forcing slave labor, and claiming legitimacy to territory without consent from the people. Essentially, they took the idea that al Qaeda had and simply forced it on people in the Middle East. It’s a theory in action if you will. This, by the way, is where the two organizations differ.

Al Qaeda was simply anti-Western and called for the people to develop a theocracy and, most importantly, destroy Israel. However, ISIS does all that but takes land by force. Essentially ISIS is using terrorist-centric force to establish their dominance where al Qaeda thought the movement would naturally occur. Let’s face it, an organization too extreme for al Qaeda is too extreme for the world.


Does terrorism achieve anything?

It actually has worked in the past. During the late 1950s European colonial era (yes, France was still engaged in colonialism at this time), the Algerians used terrorist tactics to boot the French out.

So, what was going on?

The French had the city of Algeria divided into districts. Some were French, others were for the domestic population. Naturally the French were far wealthier because the point of colonialism is to extract resources from wherever you are. Oh ya, also to introduce the “heathens” to a Christian, western way of life.

So, what happened? Well, the locals got sick of this arrangement. An underground resistance formed, and they resorted to indiscriminate bombing to frighten the French. I believe a small club/cafe was bombed, some road bombs and small-arms fire occurred, and eventually the resistance got guns and so forth. But it worked, and the French left.

A movie was made a few years after the incident, and it’s wildly popular. It’s so good that resistance and terrorist organizations use it as a training guide. The Black Panthers, al Qaeda, and, I’m assuming, ISIS have all seen and used the movie for training purposes. The movie is called Battle of Algiers if you’re interested. It really is quite something; especially since it stars a lot of the real-life resistance fighters. Probably the best political movie ever made. … OK, so there’s my plug for the movie.

BUT, in general, the application of indiscriminate killing doesn’t have the desired effect. It worked in Algeria probably because it was within a city only. If it’s in a city, then either the opposite party can continue to endure these looming threats, or they just leave. But I would say it’s different when it comes to an international application, because, at some point in time, other people are going to get tired of it and do something.


WAIT! What’s happening right now with terrorism?

Well, that’s the million dollar question. Will ISIS be successful? I would say that once bin Laden was killed, al Qaeda lost its biggest figurehead and thus the charisma and momentum of the organization slowed down (the head of the snake was cut off). But with ISIS, there is no major figurehead (other than maybe the executioner). So, dismantling the organization is more complex than stopping information and idea flows.

Also, ISIS is well-funded. Partially because of international backers, but also because they are just stealing stuff and money from people. They’re becoming entrenched in the local areas and becoming the economy itself. So now if you remove ISIS, then the minimal service that ISIS gives will be gone, and people will have nothing. … So that’s bad.

What really needs to happen is the Iraqi government needs to separate church and state. In the end, they need to deliver public goods to EVERYONE, not just Sunnis or Shiites. They can’t make policies that prefer one group over another, they can’t ignore the Kurds, and, most importantly, they need to make credible and backed guarantees to the public.

The Iraqi military needs to step up as well. But to do that, you need a force that isn’t only well-trained, it needs to be professionalized. This means that the military needs to pay on a regular basis, there needs to be a creed instilled in troops, some kind of unifying rally, and they need to believe in what they do; because ISIS believes wholeheartedly in what they do.

Also, each separate terrorist group is now getting competition from other competing ideologies. So, there are terrorists against terrorists! If there isn’t one unifying ideology, then the whole thing may fall apart. The real losers in all this are the people involved or not involved on the ground. Realistically speaking, ordinary people have a lot to loose, and targeting extreme poverty should be the primary objective.


Now you know what terrorism is, how these movements could form, and what some of the tactics that terrorists use to get what they want are. The subject is obviously a complex one, and this is just a basic overview. Keep in mind that while terrorism is a contemporary threat to the international system, there is also conventional war to worry about. States still want stuff, and war is a real possibility.

All in all, I would say that the field of international security has its hands full. YA FEEL ME!?

Also, here is a good video on the subject:

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