The New Terrorism: Fanaticism and the Arms of Mass Destruction
Walter Laqueur, October 2000, 978-0195140644
To be equipped with the required knowledge in the struggle against terror is today much more crucial than any actor factor. To be able to understand the current developments, we must have the sense of what is going on in the real world. While thinking about these necessities, the author of these lines discovered that the book of Walter Laqueur “The New Terrorism” can satisfy the need of readers.
What makes this book special is its focus on the ideological developments of the terrorist movements. The book subsumes topics such as the “terror and its history”, “the weapons of mass destruction”, “terrorist motives” and “terror and the far right”. It also examines the relation between terror and religion. Afterwards, it tries to differentiate between the kinds of terrorism and defines two types of terrorism: state terrorism and exotic terrorism. In the end, it describes the current situation and gives hints about the future characteristics of terror.
In the first chapter, the author defines terrorism. He makes this definition by explaining what terrorism is not. To the author, terrorism is not kind of a violence that can be a synonym for “guerrilla warfare”. He makes distinction between “terrorism” and “guerrilla warfare”. The “guerrilla warfare” has a positive meaning while the word “terrorism” has a negative connotation. The “guerrilla warfare” is true when the actors try to liberate a territory which is sparsely inhabited such as mountains, jungles. He gives an example for this usage. The news agencies will call the actors of bomb attacks in London or Paris as “terrorists” while the actors of such events in the Middle East or any other peripheral places are defined as the “militants”, “Islamists” or “radicals”. Then, it traces the origins of terrorism. Even in the Bible or in Cicero’s notes, we can find such elements. For instance, the heroes in these stories are executed when they kill the tyrants, but for their honor, the remaining ones erect statues. He gives other religion-oriented groups such as the one founded by Ismaili Sabbah, and the Jewish faction against the Roman Occupation. Then, he asserts that despite these sects or groups which acted violently, there was not any sustained terrorist group in the Middle Ages.
Then, the author comes to the characteristics of the 19th and 20th centuries. He claims that the actors of the nineteenth century knew the fact that they were committing crime in the eyes of the state and any other authority. On the contrary, the terrorists of the twentieth century regarded their cause as a sacred one and acted accordingly. They saw no right to be punished by the state. They were much more radical in their deeds.
After emphasizing on these characteristics of the terrorist actions, the author mentions the weapons of mass destruction. He defines four types of weapons: Nuclear threat, biological weapons, chemical weapons and cyber terrorism. He describes the traits of these weapons and gives the reasons why terrorists prefer certain weapons of mass destruction. For instance, he says that terrorists used chemical weapons often in the past, yet they never utilized biological weapons on a large scale in a terrorist action. He claims that terrorists did not act with biological weapons since they would kill the whole people living there without any discrimination. These weapons would also incapacitate the plantation and fauna. Such kind of action would damage the prestige of the terrorists. This is not the aim of terrorists since their job depends on propaganda by the deed that is the influence of their action increases if the action is publicized. Otherwise, they would not have sympathizers or followers within the public. Lastly, the author mentions a new kind of weapon, which has gained popularity recently. That is Cyber terrorism. This definition regards the computer as the most important weapons of mass destruction since it enables communication among groups and thus provides information necessary to get information to prepare bombs or any other weapon.
The third chapter and the following ones search for the reasons why terrorists commit such crimes. What are the motives for their actions? The author tries to give any possible explanation. Firstly, he focuses on the personality of the terrorists and reaches the conclusion that any single personality can explain the behavior of terrorists since they act violently when they regard themselves pursuing a sacred cause. What ideological or religious elements may influence them to act accordingly?
Here, the author explains the issue of ideological formations on the terrorists. For instance, he challenges that the terrorist motives of 1970’s were left-wing oriented. Their motto was to eradicate injustice. If there were no injustice, then terrorism would disappear. This kind of inspiration changed after 1980’s. The terrorists of the time were right-wing oriented. They were nationalists. Their nationalistic character was resulting from the economic and social problems. Nationalists blamed the minorities within their population. The USA and Germany were ultimate example of such motives. Then, the author explains that the history is filled up with religion-oriented terrorist movements. He gives examples of various sects or cults that acted violently in the past. Then, he comes to the big issue of rising radical fundamentalism in Islam. Firstly, he explains the concept of Jihad in Islam. He says that Jihad means the holy war against enemies or one’s refining his soul against his own instinct. He claims that the concept Jihad is the missionary aggressive element in Islam despite the fact that Muslims claim that Islam is espousing love rather than hate. The author and other specialists in the West think that the concept Jihad constitutes the ideological basis. Then, he makes a distinction between PLO and HAMAS. He challenges that Islamic element of Jihad is much more clear in these groups. While PLO is a group which was established on the grounds that it would act to improve social conditions and economic problems, Hamas was a religion-oriented group. Lastly, he claims that the growing impact of the radical fundamentalism may be attributed to social problems and bad conditions in the Middle East. The movement itself contains anti-western feeling. People there regard the enemy as the ultimate enemy and accuse the West for their fate. Thus, terrorism there is not completely religion-oriented. We can not completely deny the role of unfortunate, innocent people whose fate was at the hands of imperialistic powers for a long time. Due to this fact, it is highly difficult to avoid such kind of extremism.
As mentioned above, the author also draws our attention to the types of terrorism. The state-sponsored terrorism is the first type he defines. What does the state-sponsored mean? That is, a state supports terrorist activities in a certain state rather than fighting war with that certain state. This was very popular in the past. The states used this method to maintain the balance of power. Yet, the popularity of this mean decreased as there was no need to sustain the system because there were not many actors in the international system as they did in the past. For instance, IMRO, the Macedonian Independence Organization was supported by the Bulgarian government. Other state-sponsored terrorist groups also existed in the last phase of the Ottoman Empire.
The other type of terrorism is the exotic terrorism. The word “exotic” means non-native, foreign, alien in English. Then, what does it mean this type of terrorism? It describes the specific types of terrorism that occur in faraway countries. He gives the Tamil Tigers in Peru, which blame the Indians for the bad conditions in the country. He says that drug smugglers may also be a kind of terrorists in other parts of the world.
In the last chapter, he gives hints about the future of terrorism, depending on the analysis throughout the book. He claims that weapons of mass destruction can easily be reached. This draws a threatening picture for the individuals since there is an increasing fanaticism. Terrorists do not consider their prestige important as they did in the past although they still depend on the propaganda by the deed technique. Thus, it is important to be calm and as rational as possible in such cases. To calculate the costs and benefits of the behaviors is more beneficial during emergency rather than act harshly and urgently.
To sum up, this book is very practical to read since it has subdivisions for the interested readers. This enables to focus on each part closely. Despite it is a little euro-centric and ignores the motivations of Islamists a little, it can help both common people and specialists working in this field.