In Walter Laqueur’s book, No End to War, he discusses several “roots of terrorism”. What he means by “roots of terrorism” is the reasons or motivations for terrorism or what underlying causes drive people to commit terrorist acts. Where do these actions stem from? If we can “pick a terrorist’s brain” or understand there reasoning behind their actions, we can ultimately put an end to or at least be better prepared to “deal” with acts of terrorism. In Laqueur’s words, “[…] the only way to remove or at least reduce terrorism is to tackle its sources, to deal with the grievances or frustrations of the terrorists rather than simply trying to repress terrorism by brute force” (11). In my opinion, the three most important roots that Lacquer discusses are economic reasons, religion and ideology, and “clash of civilizations” (19). With the British Broadcasting Company’s miniseries, The Power of Nightmares and Lacquer’s, No End to War, we can examine what specifically drives terrorists to violence and groups that have displayed these motivations in the past.
A nation’s economy is a topic that is and has always been a foundation for many other concerns in politics. Although the Middle East is known for their oil rich societies, their economy is not one of wealth and satisfaction. In fact, Laqueur describes them as “third world” with “economic stagnation.” According to dictionary.com stagnation is present when the economic growth is less than 1% per year. Laqueur also states “[…] the misery of the third world is the fault of imperialism and the third world’s exploitation by the developed countries” which in essence means the Westerners are blamed for the fault in underdeveloped nations depressed economies (18). There are several reasons for the Islamic nation’s economic problems. One of them being the there are not enough jobs for the graduates of schools. This is because of “uncontrolled demographic growth” which means that there are so many people and so few jobs (18). In my opinion, it is the frustration of hard work with no pay off that drives these educated people to result to terrorism. They pursue degrees and formal education with no hope for a future in a financially successful career, which in America is not a problem. Our problem is too few people purse education after high school, but with plenty of lucrative jobs to be filled. Laqueur blames the Islamic governments for this problem because they “have failed to make any real effort to find jobs for the younger generation” (17). He says this is the reason for radicalization among the younger generation, more so than poverty (17).
Another reason the economy has staggered in the Middle East can be attributed to after the events of September 2001. Because of the terrorists acts then, “international countries ceased to invest in the Middle East, the tourism industry collapsed, exports for the Arab countries sharply declined, and unemployment increased (18). If this is not a breeding ground for more terrorist activity, I don’t know what is. But I wonder can the problem easily be solved by helping these countries economic system by “the redivision of wealth” and “providing employment” (18). It is not possible for the United States, singly, to take it upon ourselves to provide for the underdeveloped, third world nations in order to prevent any future terrorism. Even with the help of other industrialized nations it is still a very long, hard process with a high potential for failure. Also how does it become our responsibility to provide for the nations whose actions have been so detrimental to our own economy? This “taking a nation under our wing” can be seen today while under the leadership of Bush. He has spent billions of dollars and many lives in order to rebuild Iraq so that they may be a free nation which he claims is “an ally in the war on terror.” His plan is for the rest of the Middle East to become inspired by the “new Iraq” “and when the Middle East grows in democracy and prosperity and hope, the terrorists will lose their sponsors, lose their recruits and lose their hopes for turning that region into a base for attacks on America and our allies around the world” (Speech June 28, 2005). Not only has this been, just as I described, a long, hard process, it has also caused suffrage for America’s economy especially in regards to social security.
Another reason or motivation for terrorism is through religion. There may be some kind of connection between attachment to the idea of God and an inclination toward violence. The most common resort to violence occurs when a religious group feels threatened and thinks of itself as a chosen people. In regards to Islam and Muslims, there are known to have no separation of church and state and there is no such thing as secular religion. This could be a reason for terrorism because religion is too involved in the political system which can cause major turmoil for those holding opposing views. From the three schools of Muslim belief, “the majority believes it is the sacred mission of Islam rule by use of the sword or violence if necessary” (http://faculty.ncwc.edu/TOConnor/429/429lect01.htm). The current conflict centers on two Israeli-controlled territories; the West Bank, with the largest percentage of Arab Muslims and the Gaza Strip, where the grassroots uprising began. The religious backdrop to the situation is heavily mixed with anti-U.S. sentiment, where the U.S. is seen as supporting Israel only because of American oil interests (The Power of Nightmares). Also the U.S. is seen as being responsible for militarizing the region and also as being racist towards the Arabs. In respect to the racism, Laqueur states that they have suffered enough and should not be branded as potential terrorists (18). Some believe Islam doesn’t mean peace, but submission – to the will of Allah to “fight and slay the unbelievers wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war” (The Koran, Surah IX:5). If these viewpoints are true, then there really is such a thing as Islamic terrorism. Another great example of religion as motivation for terrorism is suicide bombers. Some Muslims have been improperly taught that the Koran is the very words of Allah (God) and he requires them to commit acts of terrorism; this is called Jihad (a holy war). The idea is to overcome all people who do not accept Islam. For doing these things, Allah will grant the Muslims immediate entrance into Paradise (their name for Heaven), but not doing it is a sin and will Allah will send them to Hell. Unfortunately this way of thinking is a distorted view of the Islamic religion (http://www.mb-soft.com) because even the Koran states that committing suicide in any form is a sin. The extremists of this religion are usually the ones who actually follow through with the terrorists attacks. These extremists oppose Arab nationalism, which they view as something adopted from the Westerners. This was brought to the Arabs attention through Sayed Qutb in what he called “selfish individualism” (ThePower of Nightmares). He believed that the Western liberalism was “infecting” the minds of Muslims who adopted the Westerners selfish and materialistic attitudes. Qutb was afraid the Islamic religion and way of life would be lost in the sea of “selfish individualism” (The Power of Nightmares). Even though religion this basis for the root of terrorism, ideology/politics can be incorporated into this equation. A good example of this was Ayman Zawahiri, whose is known as “the most influential ideologist of the Islamist movement” (The Power of Nightmares). He tried to lead mass revolutions in the Arab nation to overthrow the rulers in an attempt to save them from corruption but did not succeed. Zawahiri was a follower of Qutb’s beliefs and began another attempt to revolutionize the Arabs after the first failed attempt, but this time he included Bin Laden in his plan (The Power of Nightmares). This eventually brings us to our present position with the after effects of 9/11 and our own War on Terror.
The third root of terrorism that Laequer discusses is the clash of civilizations. He makes an excellent point when he wrote, “people who practice terrorism are extremists[…]and the demands of extremists can hardly ever be satisfied without impairing the rights of other ethnic groups” (19). What he means by this is not everyone is going to be in favor of someone’s ideas or beliefs which can cause terrible tension between two different ethnic groups especially if they live in the same country. Laequer uses the example of the war between Iran and Iraq during 1945 which resulted in the loss of many lives. It officially began on Sept. 22, 1980, with an Iraqi land and air invasion of western Iran. Saddam Hussein claimed the reason for his attack on Iran was a territorial dispute over the Shatt al Arab, a waterway that empties into the Persian Gulf and forms the boundary between Iran and Iraq. The United States and other Western European nations became involved in the war in 1987 in response to Iranian attacks on Kuwaiti oil tankers traveling in the Persian Gulf. It ended without much progress on either side also with a large number of lives lost on both sides.
Not only does Laequer name the clash of civilizations as a root of terrorism, but also Bin Laden has said something similar. He stated that September 11th, the bombing of the embassies, and the War on Terror is a clash between Islam and the West; “This battle is not between al-Qaeda and the U.S. This is a battle of Muslims against the global crusaders.” A good interpretation of the clash is in Bernard Lewis’ article in the New Yorker, “Clash of Civilizations”. He describes the conflict between Islam and the Westerners as two houses: the House of Islam, in which a Muslim government ruled and Muslim law prevailed, and the House of War, the rest of the world, ruled by “infidels”. There will remain a continuous war between the two houses until the entire world either embraces Islam or submits to the rule of the Muslim state. Among all the different “infidels” ruling the House of War, Lewis wrote, “Christianity was singled out as “their primary rival in the struggle for world domination.” (http://www.larouchepub.com/other/2001/2846b_lewis_profile.html). Although Lewis refers to more to America versus Islam, the clash of civilizations can be referenced to a much broader range of cultures. In Samuel Hunnington’s, “A Clash of Civilizations” from Foreign Affairs 1993, he says in his hypothesis that “the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics” (http://www.foreignaffairs.org/19930601FAESSAY5188//.html).
I feel like through the examples and explanations Laqueur provide in his book, religion seems to be the starting point or root of terrorism. Political motivation can be traced back to Islamic terrorism because they have not separation between church and state and since religion is usually the primary difference between civilizations, it is only fair to say that it is the original root of terrorism in regards to conflicts between civilizations. I cannot offer any kind of guide or idea on how to end Islamic terrorism but the more we understand the roots of the terrorism then we can get closer to resolving the conflicts once and for all.
1. British Broadcasting Company. The Power of Nightmares. Miniseries episodes 1-3.
2. Laqueur, Walter. No End to War. 2003. New York, New York. 11-29.