Global Politics: International Terrorism Research Paper Starter

Global Politics: International Terrorism

What is terrorism, and who is a terrorist? While private American citizens may claim to have a clear definition in their minds, particularly after September 11, 2001, the answer to these questions is not necessarily as easily verbalized. This paper will take a look at some of the sociological and political forces that foster and stir up terrorist activity. In doing so, the reader may glean a more comprehensive understanding of the apparently amorphous practice of international terrorism in the post-industrial world.

Keywords Disenfranchisement; Jihad; Mujahideen; Nationalism; Terrorism

Sociology of Politics

Overview

It was a scene that could easily have been anywhere in the modern world: buildings on fire, government in disarray, and private citizens fearful of repeat incidents. In order to prevent further attacks, the government began a campaign of almost oppressive vigilance designed to weed out terrorist cells, but would in many incidents impinge on the constitutional rights of the people during such campaigns. The attackers were a loosely organized group of men without a country whose raison d'etre seemed to strike a painful, brazen blow to the world's only superpower.

The attack in question, however, was not carried out in the modern world, but more than 2,000 years ago, a time when pirates launched a terrorist attack on the Roman port of Ostia, destroyed much of the consular fleet and kidnapped a senator and his family. The attack on Ostia would have been considered by many to be a mere footnote in the history of mankind had it not largely repeated itself many times since. The terrorist attacks on the U.S. on 9/11, for example, provided a strong historical parallel between the Roman world and the world of post-industrial international society.

Indeed, international terrorism has long been in existence as a course of action employed by disenfranchised individuals and groups seeking to strike against incumbent, well-equipped entities (most often government institutions and countries). Those who have been charged with terrorism include Theodore Kacznyski (also known as "the Unabomber"), the Basque separatist group ETA, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and, most recently, al-Qaeda.

When the events of 9/11 occurred, the immediate response, not only by the U.S. but by the international community as a whole, was to seek the eradication of international terrorism in all of its forms. Certainly, the biggest offender was the amorphous al-Qaeda, which preaches radical Islam and seeks the destruction of the Westernized world. However, the "war on terror" would also encompass politically-motivated terrorism (such as Communist guerrillas in Latin America and anarchists in Europe). By declaring war not on a singular enemy but on a mode of attack, the international community has opened a Pandora's Box.

What is terrorism, and who is a terrorist? While private American citizens may claim to have a clear definition in their minds, particularly after September 11, 2001, the answer to these questions is not necessarily as easily verbalized. This paper will take a look at some of the sociological and political forces that foster and stir up terrorist activity. In doing so, the reader may glean a more comprehensive understanding of the apparently amorphous practice of international terrorism in the post-industrial world.

A Rose by Any Other Name

In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, was preparing for Jacobellis vs. Ohio, a case involving an adult theater and its assertion of a right to freedom of expression. He became stuck, however, in attempting to define it. A law clerk, Alan Novak, told him, "Mr. Justice, you will know it when you see it" (Lattman, 2007). Indeed, terrorism is arguably just as difficult to define in theoretical terms and yet so easily identified by those who witness it.

In 2006, for example, the United Nations introduced the "Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy," which was designed to help the international community combat the threat posed by terrorist organization "in all its forms and manifestations," yet shied away from a concrete definition of its target (United Nations, 2008). In truth, it is difficult to define terrorism in a clear manner. Title 22 of the United States Code paints a broad definition of such acts as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience." Interestingly, the U.S. government has used this definition since 1983 (U.S. Department of State, 2001).

Religious Extremism

In the post-9/11 era, the conventional Western view of terrorism focuses predominantly on religious extremism. The radical views and brutal tactics of Islamic groups such as al-Qaeda, the Taliban and others dedicated to the notion of a jihad ("holy war") against the U.S.-led West are embedded in the minds of most Americans as prototypical terrorism. Then again, for Turks, the standard-bearer might be the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, which have conducted attacks across the Iraqi border. Sri Lanka has been besieged by the Tamil Tigers, and Columbia has been fending off terrorist attacks from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC).

Further Insights

Indeed, terrorism, within the context of the definition above, is in many regards a mode of attack rather than an entity or institution. There is no culture or society of terrorists, distinctive in appearance or bound by geography. This fact is perhaps the most daunting aspect of combating terrorism. While religious extremism, nationalism and political repression are clearly heavy motivators for terrorism, even when the motives are not always clear. The Russian province of Chechnya has been struggling for independence since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and Chechen terrorists have launched a number of attacks inside Russia to that end. While the motive has largely been nationalism (the quest for independence), foreign fighters have joined the cause, invoking jihad and using religion as the motivator for international terrorists to help.

International Terrorism

The term "international" terrorism is somewhat paradoxical — many terrorist groups move across borders to stage their attacks or generate cells in target countries so that attacks can occur from within. A great many foreign mujahideen (Muslim holy warriors), for example, have left their home countries, received terrorist training in remote "camps" and traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere to wage jihad — borders do not seem to confine international terrorists, nor do international terrorists seem necessarily focused on national targets or agents thereof.

Still, there are some patterns to international terrorism that one may observe. This paper will next cast a light on a few of the general forms of international terrorism. Interestingly, as the reader will observe, many of these manifestations may have political agendas but generate from largely sociological underpinnings.

Radical Views of Peaceful Faith

Tenzin Gyatso, known around the world as the Dalai Lama (a man who, ironically, has been accused by China of inciting terrorism), once commented that his is a simple religion. "There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophy," he said. "Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness" (Lewis, 2006).

In Judaism, the same concept ideally takes center stage in every individual's life. The word "shalom," which in Hebrew means "peace," is used both as a greeting and farewell. The etymology of the word, however, paints an important illustration of the importance of diversity in Jewish teachings — "shalom" is derived from "shalem," which means "whole." In other words, the word for "peace" comes...

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