Exactly What Is Terrorism And Why Does It Happen?
Like "child p 0 r n o g r a p h y", "gun control", and "drug trafficking", the phrase "international terrorism" is a hot-button phrase that makes people feel and react rather than think.
Most people are familiar with what they think Terrorism is, but few are able to elucidate a clear explanation for why it happens and (correspondingly) how to stop it.
However, this understanding is crucial if we are to minimize Terrorism and eradicate it from the world as we know it.
First, let's discuss exactly what terrorism is, and then we can see how it might be prevented.
Most people consider terrorism to be an act (or acts) of violence against unarmed and passive people by an underground group. This group is essentially waging an undeclared war which is not directly sponsored or initiated by any recognized government.
That is the mainstream view and it is essentially correct.
However, do most terrorists fitting the above definitions consider themselves to be terrorists? Generally, they define themselves to be at war and therefore warriors serving a higher cause. What they lack in numbers and weaponry and uniforms, they make up for with secrecy and surprise. Ask an IRA (Irish Republican Army) member if he's a terrorist and he's likely to reply that he's at war with the British government.
The British government, on the other hand, will counter that the IRA is an evil gang of subversive and cowardly criminals butchering innocent people, and not waging a war at all.
This gives us a clue to what causes terrorism. Terrorists fight for a cause, and it's always a political one. Even terrorists who fight on theological grounds still want to form their own government, and whether this political desire for self-rule is a good one or a bad one depends on which cause one supports and which side eventually wins.
A case in point: the ANC (African National Congress) was widely considered to be a terrorist organization by the apartheid government ruling South Africa not terribly long ago. Today the ANC is the government, and they're no longer considered terrorists at all.
Also consider that the British Empire around the time of 1776 regarded the breakaway Thirteen Colonies of the Americas to be harboring terrorists. Since the "terrorists" won their war, they went on to become the Founding Fathers of the United States and writers of the US Constitution, the greatest document defining freedom and limited government ever created.
Thus we see that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, and today's terrorists still fight for political causes.
What makes them greatly unpopular is their modern-day penchant for launching attacks on those individuals not directly affiliated with the government or regime the terrorists oppose.
Therefore terrorist campaigns tend to harm innocent people who aren't necessarily for or against the terrorists.
These people get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time during a terrorist attack, and if they survive the attack (or know someone who suffered somehow) they are most certainly against the terrorists from that point forward.
Therefore the more terror the terrorists' actions inspire turns more individuals against them. So why do terrorist groups persist in violent actions which recruit more and more opposition aligned against their cause? After all, violence breeds violence in a never-ending cycle of murder, maiming, and trauma.
Desperation appears to be the answer.
Violence is generally the last resort of desperate people who feel they have nothing left to try to win their cause. After all, violence has a very nasty habit of boomeranging on the instigator sooner or later.
This is in fact the way terrorism typically begins its ugly existence - it's a response to aggression by a powerful and undesirable oppressor (generally the government of the time).
The apparently unbearable violence of the government provokes a terrorist response, which begets more government violence, which begets more terrorism, ad nauseum, and the body counts on both sides (as well as the innocent bystanders) pile up in the process.
If violent government actions create desperation and ultimately counter-violence through terrorism, it would seem that the way to prevent terrorism is to curtail the government's use of violence in the first place.
How can this be done?
Probably the best way is to limit governments to defending the people and the property of the people within its domain. A government that is forbidden to be initiate aggression against foreign peoples or to initiate violence against its own citizens is a government that will make few enemies desperate enough to become terrorists.
The problem is convincing the people who control the government that this can and should be done. The government itself will not decide this option of its own free will. This is why the governments which are the least accountable to their citizens are the ones most prone to violent, aggressive actions.
In a democracy (or better yet, a republic as exists in America), the people who control the government are ultimately the people themselves. Through votes, protests, demonstrations, and similar actions, they are the ones who must pressure their government to constrain itself to a policy of non-aggression and the use of armed force purely for the sake of self-defense of the people.
The government must not be allowed to self-define its rules for the use of force, or government force will be used in a way which is beneficial to the government and not the people.
This is unfortunately the present situation in America, where the modern day government has unfortunately abandoned all pretexts of following its Constitutional ideals of limited power and non- interventionism and has instead embarked upon a decades-long, self-appointed mission to be the policeman of the world (wanted or not).
This has been a very good policy for the US government, in terms of its size, power, and prestige over the years. This has been a very bad policy for the US people, who must pay taxes to finance the war machine, accept the ongoing destruction of their Constitutional rights to freedom and privacy, and sacrifice their lives in both foreign wars and lately terrorist actions as well.
So why has the American people gone along with this grandiose con game?
The government has very cleverly convinced the people to identify the government's military power and prestige with the people's power and prestige. Following this "logic", the more powerful the government, the more powerful the people (even when this is clearly not the case in terms of individual taxes and rights and freedoms).
Also, the government has sold the public a bill of goods in that most American people still believe their government makes war only for feel-good "humanitarian" reasons and not political reasons to enhance the US government's influence. There has not been a major armed conflict in history fought for humanitarian rather than political reasons, but government public relations machines are remarkably well-funded and persuasive.
The upshot of all this violent, aggressive power accruing to the government at the expense of the people?
Very unfortunately, the government's actions have created desperate people who feel they have no other option but to finally use violence in acts of terrorism against the US.
And of course it is the US people who are paying the price for that desperate violent terrorism inspired against their government.
Will the American people wake up in time and realize that the government's military machine is the problem and not the solution? America does need to defend itself and certainly the government must not be made powerless to defend the people against foreign aggressors.
But regrettably, we suspect that propaganda and rampant emotions will win the day, and the US people will opt for more foreign violence, more of the US government as "policeman of the world", and more blood of the perceived enemies of the government. And reduced civil liberties and individual freedoms will go hand in hand with such a program, to the increased detriment of the people.
Terrible crimes have been committed against American people, and the perpetrators should be brought to justice as swiftly as possible. But more government-sanctioned violence abroad is not the answer, as it will create more desperate enemies even more willing to use violence as a last resort against a political oppressor they do not want.