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Monday, February 1, 2016

The Nature Of Terrorism and a Theoretical Approach to Countering It

The Nature Of Terrorism and a Theoretical Approach to Countering It

Terrorism can be defined by a specific combination of elements. First, it is an act committed for a political motive. Second, it is an act targeting noncombatants. Third, the intent of the act is to destroy an “enemy's” will to fight through horror, i.e, terror attacks. Finally, it must be an act of violence. This definition is based partly on Martin's “instinctive understanding” of what comprises terror (2012, p.11), and partly on the theory of “just war”.
This should be the universally accepted definition of terror; however, every sovereign entity must create it's own legal definition of terror. In theory, the legal definitions should be be the same.
A terrorist is a person that commits an act of terror, directly supports such an act (the terrorist periphery), and those that direct such activities. “Individuals who provide such support must be recognized as terrorists of the same caliber as those who use that support to execute attacks” (Levitt, 2004, p.33). Terror may be conducted on the behalf of a State or based upon the goals of an extremist group.
There is a wide variety of terror groups in operation around the world. Terrorism “is a varied class of violence, with multiple ideological motivations” (Magouirk, Atran, & Sageman, 2008, pp.1-2). This variety includes State sponsored terror against the “enemies” of a State, State sponsored terror conducted against it's own citizenry ( in a totalitarian system, citizens that seek any measure of liberty are “enemies”), Islamic terror, Leftist terror (under a dizzying array of deceptive marketing), Christian based terror, racist and ethnic terror on a terrifying scale (from the Klan to tribal genocide such as the Hutu/Tutsi “conflict”), narco-terror, right-wing terror (such as the mass murder of youth at a camp in Oslo), and groups that fall under various combinations of terror motive (such as the “ethnic cleansing” conducted by the Serbian government, a State sponsored and ethnic mix of motive). A complete list of terrorist groups would take several pages to complete. Even amongst the smallest “type” of terror group there are several different organizations; one example is the number of cartels that sponsor narco-terror in Mexico and the United States. A short listing of cartels includes the Sinaloa cartel, the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas, the Juarez cartel, the Jalisco New Generation cartel, and Los Cabelleros Templarios.
Counterterrorism should be seen not as an effort to rid the world of terrorism, but as an ongoing struggle to constrict the operating environment in which terrorists raise funds, procure documents, engage in support activities, and conduct attacks”(Levitt, 2004, p.33). This is a realistic way to see counter-terror efforts, but it does not deal with the terror threat with enough efficiency. The current approaches to fighting terrorism are wrong in their basic philosophy. The “law enforcement” approach must be followed in America while dealing with domestic terror, but the idea of trying to arrest suicide bombers after their acts of terror is idiotic prima facie. The next philosophy is preventive; “One reason for this preventive stance is the belief that some potential terrorists will not be deterred by the apprehension and punishment of other terrorists”(Abel, 2013, p.723). In general, deterrent or preventive measures simply do not counter the motives of terrorists. Grossman quotes Gen. Huba Wass de Czege; “The will to fight is at the nub of all defeat mechanisms ... One should always look for a way to break the enemy’s will and capacity to resist” (n.d., p.1). The way to defeat terror groups is to eliminate their leadership and support personnel as much as it is possible to do so. Terror groups, as extremist organizations, can afford to lose their “martyrs”, but not the people who put the “martyrs” into position to terrorize. One example is the terrorist who was too valuable to be allowed to be martyred; he “was valued for his inventive fundraising and procurement method” and “such a major player in the Hizballah organization that on five separate occasions his application to be a martyr was rejected” (Gartenstein-Ross & Frum, 2012, p.64). Another example of the type of target that counter-terror organizations should seek are the propagandists because “from the government's perspective, speech made in support of terrorists can be a valuable contribution to the nation's enemies.''(Abel, 2013, p.713). Zussman, Zussman, & Yisrael found that “assassinating members of Palestinian terrorist organizations was a major element in Israel’s counterterrorism effort” (2005, p.24); however, they qualified this assertion to exclude low level terrorists in that “It is reasonable to assume that an assassination would be most effective in reducing the capabilities of a terrorist organization if the target is a senior leader with specialized knowledge and skills”(2005, p.4). Finally, intelligence must be gathered to identify who the leaders, finaciers, facilitators, and propagandists are. The first priority for an anti-terror campaign is to capture terrorists for enhanced interrogation. After any actionable intelligence has been retrieved, but in a time frame in which that information hasn't been compromised, the terrorist can then be executed. Terrorists do not qualify for prisoner of war status under the Geneva Convention. By eliminating those who put together the plans, call to arms, and move the pieces into place, the ability of terrorists to commit future acts of terror can be minimized.


Abel, N. (2013). United States v. Mehanna, the first amendment, and material support in the war on terror. Boston College Law Review, 54(2), 711–750. Retrieved January 24, 2015 from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=87779086&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Gartenstein-Ross, D., & Frum, L. (Eds.). (2012). Terror in the peaceable kingdom: Understanding and addressing violent extremism in Canada. Washington, D.C.: FDD Press.

Grossman, D. (n.d). Defeating the enemy’s will: The psychological foundations of maneuver warfare. Retrieved January 24, 2015 from http://www.killology.com/defeating_the_enemys_will.pdf

Magouirk, J., Atran, S., & Sageman, M. (2008). Connecting terrorist networks. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 31(1), 1–16. doi:10.1080/10576100701759988

Levitt, M. (2004). Untangling the terror web: Identifying and counteracting the phenomenon of crossover between terrorist groups. The SAIS Review of International Affairs, 24(1), 33–48. Retrieved January 24, 2015 from http://search.proquest.com.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/docview/231348224?pq-origsite=summon

Martin, G. (2012). Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues, 4th Edition. [VitalSource Bookshelf version]. Retrieved January 15, 2015 from http://digitalbookshelf.southuniversity.edu/books/9781452255699/id/ch2

Zussman, A., Zussman, N., & Yisrael, B. (2005). Targeted killings: Evaluating the effectiveness of a counterterrorism policy. Banḳ Yiśraʼel, Maḥlaḳat ha-meḥḳar. Retrieved Retrieved January 24, 2015 from http://boi.gov.il/deptdata/mehkar/papers/dp0502e.pdf

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