Washington Monument

The Roots of Terrorism

WARNING: The purpose of this article is to provide some clarity to the tragedies of the current day through examining historical events that have some bearing. I use some comparisons that may offend some people, particularly those that have emotional ties to events of 9/11 or other recent historical events mentioned. It is not my intent to do so. Read it with an open mind.

I've heard a lot of discussion on the subject of terrorism, why is exists, what fuels it and if we are doing anything to help/hurt our cause by the war in Iraq. If you look at our current situation in a historical context, it think you might find your answers. It may seem like we are living in a world of evil beyond compare, however today's events have been repeated throughout the ages.

First, let's define terrorism. Under current norms, it would be the application of destruction and chaos for the purpose of military or political gain. The bigger, the better and the event should be as public as possible. It is for all purposes a psychological assault intended to change one's actions through the use of fear. The definition is accurate, but to some extents vague. And that is part of the problem. How do we know terrorism? It's pretty obvious to the parties on the receiving end. To the perpetrators, it is regarded as an act of war. It's a matter of perspective.

Some of you are now screaming, "How can 9/11 be seen as anything other than a terrorist attack?". Before you blow your top, let me make one thing perfectly clear. I don't condone terrorism or dismiss it. However, to know your enemy is to defeat him and thus you should be able to see things from his perspective to achieve that goal. The word "Perspective" implies that the event isn't black and white, rather it can be open to interpretation. Unfortunately, it usually is.

The bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima are prime examples. Both were military targets, but the massive destruction caused by the atomic weapons used was far more than what was needed to render the industrial complexes inoperable. The civilian casualties that resulted would be considered barbaric compared to the "surgical" strikes of our military today. We in effect, used terror to force a Japanese surrender. Militarily, we justified the act by saying more lives were saved through use of the Bomb, but the fact remains our actions inflicted terror to force the the Japanese to capitulate.

In January of 1998, Eric Rudolph bombed an abortion clinic in Atlanta, Georgia. He spent the next five years on the run in the mountains of North Carolina. It is charged that he was aided by elements of a fundamentalist pro-life movement centered in that area. He shared a common cause with these people. Thus, even though he killed and maimed innocent people, he was protected by individuals that looked upon his actions as justified.

I point out these two actions as they show how different interpretations can exist for the same event. Whether or not they are true "terrorist actions" would be subject your perspective. Typically, we regard the former as an act of war and the latter as an act of terror. However, if you don't happen to share the same ideals or socialization, they can be open to interpretation. My point is this; don't demonize terrorists. They are not pure evil as is the government presents. A better word would be "warped". They have drives and motivations that are distorted like many other people that have been through adverse life experiences. A terrorist believes he is right and all others are wrong. He believes his viewpoint must be imposed on the other party at all costs. This brings us back to "what is terrorism?". The best answer is, "you will know it when you see it."

Next, the question is why a terrorist acts. Many things drive a person to violence; personal tragedy, poverty, helplessness and even religion. In the middle east you have all these. The middle east has been immersed in tribal warfare for as long as history itself. The reasons are long, complex and not fully understood the author. Suffice to say there are very few in the region that have not been touched and altered by violence in their life. This in itself is not a reason or justification for terror, but it sets the stage.

Next we have poverty. For all the oil wealth in the middle east, there is an astoundingly low quality of life. Most of the wealth is kept by the sheiks and the ruling classes with little shared among the general population. Additionally, there is corruption among the ruling elite that tends to prevent the lower classes from increasing their standard of living. This breeds resentment toward the priviledged. Many of the governments in the region understand that they are dangerously close to revolution with the current conditions. Rather than enact governmental reforms to ease the situation (and which might further weaken their positions or power), they have put money into some social programs, in particular religious education.

The religious environment of the middle east is a study in the supply and demand of types of faith. Islam is the dominant faith in the region. Mainstream Islam is not far removed from Christianity and Judaism in it's practices and morals. This is is not surprising since all three share a common origin. All three have extreme versions espoused by religious fundamentalists as well. Because of the poor conditions experienced by the population, the brand of Islam that became popular with the disenfranchised is that based around revolution, Wahhabism. It is commonly held that the governments fed this religious doctrine to the people. The reality is that their circumstances drove them to it. You could compare this to the troubled teenager that rebels because of personal angst. They gravitate toward more extreme outlets for their emotions.

Just to add fuel to fire, understand that this region was the center of the planet 1400 years ago. You may think that's a long time in the past, but realize just how much of civilization is owed to the middle east. When you count, you use Arabic numerals, which were a massive advance from Roman arithmetic. This region, with all its history intact, understands that it was once a world leader and is now for all purposes a pawn in the global stage. It's difficult to stomach for a proud people.

So now you have people that are poor with no foreseeable future, raised in a culture with a violent rivalries and immersed in a extremist faith. This is a powder keg ready to blow. The surprising thing is that the populace didn't topple their respective governments. Actually they did in Iran and installed a repressive theocracy that was based on their movement. But in the other cases, a page from history was used by the other governments to stabilize their unsteady regimes.

During World War II, Germany was going through massive economic strife. The situation among the citizens was building to the point of civil unrest. Adolph Hitler, in an effort to redirect the minds and emotions of the people, began a campaign to place the blame for the ills of the society squarely on the back of the Jewish population. This movement connected with the current prejudices of the time and gave the German people a common enemy to place blame on. Thus by fueling their emotions, Hitler solidified his power base with the people and prevented a possible revolution directed at him.

The middle eastern rulers use the same tactic. By politicizing the conflicts with the US and its involvement with Israel and the Shah of Iran, they focused the anger of the people on a common enemy. Thus the government appears to be the lesser of two evils. Because of our economic success (Envy), freedom (Hedonism), and misguided policies in the middle east (General anger), particularly Iran, we became the perfect object of fundamentalist hatred. Now we have the ingredients, we need the facilitator.

Enter Osama bin Laden, the worlds greatest salesperson.

Salesperson? Yep. Religion is his sales pitch. How do we know? We are guilty of it too. If you have studied the crusades, you know all about the various Popes' expanding the Holy Roman Empire in the name of God. The concept is ridiculous. God didn't want more land, the Pope did. He wanted to expand his power base. He wanted to increase the wealth for the church and gain personal glory. And he would kill to get it. This isn't a knock on religion, its a statement of human nature. People desire personal gain. Being a religious figure does not exempt you from that desire. And religion is a powerful motivator. So powerful, that the framers of our constitution felt it of utmost importance to separate the powers of church and state.

So now we have a charismatic leader, cloaked in religion with the resources to enact his own personal power grab. And we have legions of angry, impoverished individuals with no hope. Osama shows them a future where the middle east will again be the center of the universe and Islam will be the central religion. He tells them death will be followed by wonderful rewards. It's a better deal than they are getting now and they want desperately to believe. Thus, you have Al-Qaeda in a nutshell.

Is it about religion? Sorta. Religion is a component, but that is not Islam's fault. It's been twisted to achieve the desired effect. For the people on the front lines, it has to be about religion. They are the ones dying for the cause. However, for the leaders, particularly bin Laden, it's about personal and political gain. General George S. Patton once said. "It's not important that I believe, it's important that they believe that I believe."

I think the media focuses too much on the "Islamic Fundamentalist" aspect of the conflict. It's irrelevant from our point of view and clouds the issue. It also serves to create fear as religious zealotry of this magnitude is hard to understand. As ridiculous as it may sound, the best comparison is the old James Bond nemesis SPECTRE, (The Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism , Revolution and Extortion). They created chaos to take over the world. And that is exactly what we face.

Are our actions in Afghanistan helping or hurting the war on terrorism? Helping massively. Al-Qaeda had a strong power base in Afghanistan and we have for all purposes destroyed it. Yes the network still exists, but the communication is not as free as it was, money flow is restricted and the training areas are pretty much nonexistent. As a by product, we liberated a people under an extremely repressive government that gained power as a direct result of our earlier meddling.

Killing bin Laden would be a huge mistake. It would elevate him to martyrdom and make him larger than he was in real life. If he spent the rest of his life cut off and wasting away in jail, he would be shown to be only human. It would also be important to have him tried and convicted by a world court. Yes, there probably would be attempts to free him through the use of terror and hostage taking, but the number of those events would be small compared to the recruitment and reprisals that would follow his death.

Are our actions in Iraq helping or hurting? Probably a washout. Our reasons for going in have been shown to be bogus. The world stage saw our evidence and didn't buy it and now they have been shown to be right. Thus we appear to be deceptive and dangerous. Unless Iraq stabilizes quickly and becomes autonomous enough to not resemble a U.S. puppet state, we are looking for a long period of bad feelings in the region.

However, one thing has been made perfectly clear. The U.S. will impose it's will against governments that it feels are dangerous. In the author's opinion, this was the real reason for going to war. If you are suffering from a deluge of small attacks, pick the biggest bully and soundly whip him. It makes a strong example for those that think that can attack us without reprisal. This, of course, cannot be the stated reason because is it not politically correct and doesn't follow with the spirit of our constitutional due process. I will not debate the morality and legality of this approach here, as it is complex enough of issue to warrant its own discussion. Suffice to say that this approach is effective.

It should be obvious at this point that history repeats itself, either through ignorance or observance. Hopefully from the comparisons, I have provided enough information for you to get a handle on what is a terribly tragic and complex subject. And with this information you can weed through a lot of the mess that that the media throws at you to truly have an understanding of the conflict at hand.

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