What is terrorism all about?

Picture of a terrorist.

Some groups of people throughout the world are at present resorting to terrorism and political violence in pursuit of what they hope will be a better world.

Many may disagree about what to call them—freedom fighters or simply terrorists—but few will disagree that they are becoming increasingly difficult to overlook.

Media reports reveal that terrorist activity is on the rise.

For example, hardly a day goes by and the world community is not informed of a terrorist incident, such as political kidnappings and assassinations, hijackings, bombings and armed attacks.

And the people and governments who are trying to do something about it seem to be helpless to prevent them.

Despite strong anti-terrorism laws and counter terrorism measures there seems to be no end to the problem.

What is terrorism all about?

One dictionary defines “terrorism” as:

"unlawful acts of violence committed in an organized attempt to overthrow an authority or with an ideological objective.” 

But some people argue that “acts of violence” designed to overthrow an oppressive authority or government are justified and therefore not unlawful.

They may point out that many nations, including some of today’s most powerful, came into being because people rose up in revolt against a rule they considered restrictive or undesirable.

Thus it is, as one journalist admits, “it is difficult to define who is a terrorist and who is a member of a national liberation movement.”

But regardless of what they are called, and although their goals are varied, all these groups have something in common.

What is it?

 A British author holds that it is a “rejection of the society in which they live and the desire to destroy it,” as well as a belief “that violence is essential to make the world a better place.”

In a world that has bled its way through thousands of wars, including two global ones, it is not difficult for these groups to say:

"Why should it be wrong for us to resort to violence in pursuit of a better world, when powerful nations, both past and present, have seen no wrong in doing so on a larger scale in pursuit of the same thing?"

Who gets involved, and why?

Young people tend to be idealists. Generally they are quite sensitive to injustice.

At the same time they are on the lookout for a “cause,” something to give their life direction or purpose.

What, they ask, could be more worthwhile than fighting to wipe out injustice in pursuit of a better world?

Most terrorist have a remarkably good education and high intelligence.

A psychiatrist at Rome University investigating the terrorists discovered that the majority of those he interviewed were from well-to-do, religious families, university students or graduates who had majored in social sciences.

The book The Terrorists points out:

it would be wrong to think that all terrorists are intellectuals fighting for idealistic motives.” 

Some new converts are drawn by the promise of adventure, the tingling sensation of danger, the hope for easy money or the ready availability of drugs and unrestrained sex.

How do people get involved?

The above-mentioned book answers this question, saying:

"They do not simply march up and apply, but gradually become involved after meeting people who share their anxieties about the state of the modern world, but who already have opted for violent solutions to those problems.”

However, those who “have opted for violent solutions to those problems” did not necessarily start out with violence in mind.

An American journalist who has done much research on “terrorist groups" claims that they “all began as offshoots of relatively non-violent movements that expressed particular political, economic, religious or ethnic grievances.”

It is not difficult for young people to meet up with individuals who “share their anxieties” and their “political, economic, religious or ethnic grievances.”

They can easily be influenced by these individuals, particularly when they are living away from home, possibly under the influence of “mind-expanding” drugs, and are exposed to all the various kinds of protest movements for which many of today’s universities have become noted.

Once a person has been introduced into such a group and has been accepted, it is extremely difficult to backtrack.

According to one captured terrorist, a would-be escapee is faced with the same dilemma as that of the soldier on the battlefront who suddenly discovers he is fighting for the wrong cause.

Either he keeps on fighting to prevent his being killed by the enemy or he retreats and risks being killed by his own comrades as a traitor.

Fighting for a better world?

To create a world that is really better presupposes being able to set up a government that is really better.

It is true that some groups have very definite ideas as to what should replace the system they want to destroy.

Others have only the haziest of notions, if any.

But at least they hope their terrorism will draw public attention to their cause.

A group’s failure to achieve its idealistic goals or to gain widespread support, however, can lead to resignation.

Idealism falters, leaving a vacuum that is quickly filled by anger and frustration.

These may seek release in violence.

What may seems to be important to the members is simply violence itself, for its own ugly sake.

This sheer brutal violence has indeed characterized some parts of the world for many years.

Usually it is the instability of governments there that has contributed to the sense of drift and uncertainty that fosters “terrorist activity.”

However, no human government, past or present, has ever been viewed by all its citizens—sometimes not even by a majority—as ideal, totally just, completely satisfactory in every detail.

So, is this exactly the kind of government needed for a world that would be truly better?

Thus, in reality, freedom fighters and terrorists, regardless of what they claim and even sincerely believe, are not really fighting for a better world.

The most they can possibly achieve is to replace one imperfect government with another one likewise imperfect and, perhaps, in the long run, just as unsatisfactory as its forerunner.