Terrorism – a theory
A friend of mine who happens to be writing her doctoral thesis on terrorism at the University of Illinois is visiting this week. Given global events from Afghanistan and Iraq to today’s horrible events in London, we’ve had a lot to discuss.
The basic theory (this is a brief summary) that she is putting forward in her dissertation, one with which I agree, is that terrorism is a tactic. It is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. In other words, terrorism is tactic used to gain a larger victory and cannot be understood outside of the larger conflict in which it is being used.
She also contends that those who commit terrorist acts believe that they are engaged in a war. They have been brought up in a culture or influenced by a culture that holds a strongly felt resentment against another party for an event, either real or perceived. However, their ability to fight in "traditional ways" is not available. Thus, they turn to terror.
In such a theory, there can be no victory or cessation of hostilities until the factors underlying the terrorists’ grievances are solved. Unfortunately, the cycle of terrorism is often self-perpetuating. A country that is attacked often reacts with force against the terrorists giving them new grievances (perceived or real).
Unfortunately, I believe this theory is accurate. We are facing a long, sustained fight that will last until we address the reasons that people are attacking us rather than trying to eliminate those who are carrying out the attacks.