No End to War

Walter Laqueur, a distinguished figure in the field of terrorism studies, laments the instant expert status of the many public intellectuals and scholars who before 9/11 had dismissed the subject as inconsequential or disappearing. Not only do these commentators lack background, but they cannot agree on a common definition of what a terrorist is.

While radical Islamic terrorism is the greatest present danger to the international community, there have been many other terrorist organizations motivated by very different goals; nineteenth century anarchists, for example, or the IRA, the Red Brigades, and anti-globalization and environmental activists. Moreover, theories as to why individuals become terrorists or some communities support terrorism are offset by similar individuals and groups who do not. Few terrorists come from the ranks of the impoverished and their targets are less often the West than local democratic governments; moreover, the battlefields of the future are most likely to be the states of southern and central Asia. Terrorists do not attack dictators or powerful states like China, because even the weakest state can round up virtually all potential enemies once its rulers decide to do so.

The study of terrorism would be advanced if scholars and news organizations did not exempt political favorites from the discussion, and if apologists would not argue that organized states were worse than terrorists or could understand the difference between terrorists and guerrillas. Terrorism will be very difficult to combat in the future because the groups are much smaller today, and they may acquire weapons of mass destruction.