T Nation

What Makes a Terrorist?

A lot of people seem to think poverty causes terrorism, but that attribution of causation has never been satisfactory.

Some numbers compiled by academics highlight the problem:

  • Backgrounds of 148 Palestinian suicide bombers show they were less likely to come from families living in poverty and were more likely to have finished high school than the general population. Biographies of 129 Hezbollah shahids (martyrs) reveal they, too, are less likely to be from poor families than the Lebanese population from which they come. The same goes for available data about an Israeli terrorist organization, Gush Emunim, active in the 1980s.

  • Terrorism doesn’t increase in the Middle East when economic conditions worsen; indeed, there seems no link. One study finds the number of terrorist incidents is actually higher in countries that spend more on social-welfare programs. Slicing and dicing data finds no discernible pattern that countries that are poorer or more illiterate produce more terrorists. Examining 781 terrorist events classified by the U.S. State Department as “significant” reveals terrorists tend to come from countries distinguished by political oppression, not poverty or inequality.

  • Public-opinion polls from Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey find people with more education are more likely to say suicide attacks against Westerners in Iraq are justified. Polls of Palestinians find no clear difference in support for terrorism as a means to achieve political ends between the most and least educated.

The data aren’t perfect – no terrorists are answering questionnaires on their motives. But still, quite interesting.

However, Princeton economist Alan Krueger has a new hypothesis, and I’ll be interested to read the study when I can find it.

From an interview:

[i] “The evidence is nearly unanimous in rejecting either material deprivation or inadequate education as an important cause of support for terrorism or of participation in terrorist activities,” Mr. Krueger asserts. The 9/11 Commission stated flatly: Terrorism is not caused by poverty.

So what is the cause? Suppression of civil liberties and political rights, Mr. Krueger hypothesizes. “When nonviolent means of protest are curtailed,” he says, “malcontents appear to be more likely to turn to terrorist tactics.”[/i]

Very interesting – anyone have any thoughts on whether his hypothesis makes sense?

I note an imperfect comparison. abortion-clinic bombings have been explained in a somewhat similar fashion: a contentious political question was taken out of the political arena, and a small group of disturbed individuals decided the only way to demonstrate their discontent was through violence.

Where does the IRA fall into this category?

Are terrorist only the “religious” type?

A terrorist is merely a person or group of persons who use fear to attain a specific goal. That goal is usually political in nature.

Is the person wearing the explosive vest, for example, the terrorist or is it the person behind the scenes pulling the string the terrorist? In my opinion the people being manipulated to wear explosive devices are also victims of terrorism.

Fear. Hatred. Fundamentalism.

Fear and hatred allow dehumanization while fundamentalism provides a higher cause to overrule the wrongness of it.

Poverty will certainly breed ignorance which may allow or make it easier to maintain a large amount of general fear and hatred within the population.

The propaganda and prevailing viewpoint in society will certainly cause some of the more affluent to adopt the same opinions and outlook.

Of course, the more affluent will be much more able to fit in while in a target society and perhaps be much more effective in their activities.

Obviously, terrorist groups would look to identify and exploit this resource preferentially.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
A lot of people seem to think poverty causes terrorism, but that attribution of causation has never been satisfactory.
[/quote]
Any person capable of thought could tell you this is a very obtuse generalization. Most “terrorists” have the means to buy weapons–poor people would not be in this category.

here are some of the reasons that could contribute to terroristic acts:

Colonialism – see the effects of British colonialism in Ireland

Social Injustice – what happens when sovereign nations are invaded by other sovereign nations and are allowed to exploit the people of the invaded nation for their natural resources to take back to their country, meanwhile leaving the invaded nation in squalor.

Hatred – see the acts of Timothy McVeigh, KKK, et al

To think there is only one underlying cause of terrorism is naive.

Point of view.

The opposite question being : What makes a freedom fighter?

I would agree with the view expressed by Mr.Krueger.I would be very interested to read the
study too.

A terrorist is just us not having the balls to address what the problem is. Terroism is a tactic of war not a group of people. It is not P.C. to say we are fighting muslims.

We are at war with the Middle east (Islam) Terrorism is their tactic, a large organized military is ours as well as the rest of the Western world.

Terrorism is the only way to beat a large organized foe. See the Huns vs the Romans, Us vs UK, Russia vs Afgans, etc.

[quote]Neuromancer wrote:
The opposite question being : What makes a freedom fighter?
[/quote]
Point of view.

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Neuromancer wrote:
The opposite question being : What makes a freedom fighter?

Point of view.
[/quote]

Exactly.

[quote]Neuromancer wrote:
LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Neuromancer wrote:
The opposite question being : What makes a freedom fighter?

Point of view.

Exactly.[/quote]

Wrong.

A legit “Freedom Fighter” uses guerrilla tactics to fight an occupying military. They attempt to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties while attacking a military.

“Terrorists” use guerrilla tactics to attack innocent civilians in order to scare the civilians into supporting their agenda. They try to maximize civilian casualties to create total chaos.

There’s a world of difference besides point-of-view, and it’s not hard to distinguish which fighters are legitimate resistance and which are scumbag terrorists.

[quote]Neuromancer wrote:
The opposite question being : What makes a freedom fighter? [/quote]

If a firefighter fights fire, a freedom fighter fights…

Those studies are crammed full of shit.

Terrorism and other crimes are caused by poverty and poor economic conditions, which have also historically led to the rise of radical ideologies (Democracy, Nazism and Communism). Every revolution is preceded by a famine. This idiot and anyone who makes similar claims knows nothing about history.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
So what is the cause? Suppression of civil liberties and political rights, Mr. Krueger hypothesizes. “When nonviolent means of protest are curtailed,” he says, “malcontents appear to be more likely to turn to terrorist tactics.”

Very interesting – anyone have any thoughts on whether his hypothesis makes sense?[/quote]

What’s so interesting about it? He’s stating what is patently obvious - that if all forms of dissent are made illegal, then all subsequent dissent will come in the form of illegal activities. This is pseudo-intellectual claptrap.

Terrorism is a military tactic. It is so-called “4th generation warfare”. Plenty of insightful and informative things have been written on the subject. This is not one of them. This is elitist trash from an establishment lackey, a “court intellectual” (I hope you understand the meaning of that).

Anyone who is interested in learning about terrorism is advised to follow these links:

Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism

Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror

Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire

[quote]tGunslinger wrote:
Neuromancer wrote:
LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Neuromancer wrote:
The opposite question being : What makes a freedom fighter?

Point of view.

Exactly.

Wrong.

A legit “Freedom Fighter” uses guerrilla tactics to fight an occupying military. They attempt to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties while attacking a military.

“Terrorists” use guerrilla tactics to attack innocent civilians in order to scare the civilians into supporting their agenda. They try to maximize civilian casualties to create total chaos.

There’s a world of difference besides point-of-view, and it’s not hard to distinguish which fighters are legitimate resistance and which are scumbag terrorists.[/quote]

Now that is an interesting point of view.

Freedom fighters never use terror, terrorism never works to free a country…

Really ?

What if I bomb collaboraters?

A terrorist is someone throwing bombs for political reasons while not wearing a uniform.

That is about it.

The rest is BS.

You call them “terrorists”, they call you “Big Satan”, you call them “savages”, they call you “infidels”…

Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto!
Let’s call the whole thing off!

Well there you go. Don’t worry about labels, who is right or wrong, or who uses non-combatants as shields. Just defeat the enemy, all tactics on the table. Maybe the US should use that argument?

And for any terrorists the US, or it’s citizens, may have supported, they could be freedom fighters. Just depends on your point of view.

I’m comfortable with just using the word “enemy.”

[quote]Nominal Prospect wrote:
Terrorism and other crimes are caused by poverty and poor economic conditions[/quote]

Duh!

If Al-Qaeda had F-16s, they wouldn’t resort to strapping bombs around their waists. If the ETA had tanks, they wouldn’t be blowing up cars.

“Poor” is a very relative term. As Vroom rightly pointed out, ignorance is a catalyst for terrorism. And economic conditions most certainly influence one’s access to education.

[quote]tGunslinger wrote:
There’s a world of difference besides point-of-view, and it’s not hard to distinguish which fighters are legitimate resistance and which are scumbag terrorists.[/quote]

Not that hard? If history taught us anything, it’s that the occupying forces always called the legit’ resistance terrorists. Pick any country and flip thru a history book.

Weren’t some of your forefathers considered terrorists by the Brits?

[quote]orion wrote:
A terrorist is someone throwing bombs for political reasons while not wearing a uniform.

That is about it.

The rest is BS.

You call them “terrorists”, they call you “Big Satan”, you call them “savages”, they call you “infidels”…

[/quote]

Exactly.

What makes a sucide bomber? Being a fucking retard. The IRA pulled off plenty of attacks over the years where they didn’t blow themselves up… hell, sometimes they’d even call up the bars and tell’em to get out first.

Point of view is what makes a terrorist. Technically, if you want to get into semantics, any Mafioso is a terrorist, anyone who uses violence as a means of obtaining something- they’re terrorists.

All the old political machines would be full of terrorists if you looked at it like that… but we just called them “Ward bosses” and “sluggers”.

[quote]tGunslinger wrote:
Neuromancer wrote:
LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Neuromancer wrote:
The opposite question being : What makes a freedom fighter?

Point of view.

Exactly.

Wrong.

A legit “Freedom Fighter” uses guerrilla tactics to fight an occupying military. They attempt to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties while attacking a military.

“Terrorists” use guerrilla tactics to attack innocent civilians in order to scare the civilians into supporting their agenda. They try to maximize civilian casualties to create total chaos.

There’s a world of difference besides point-of-view, and it’s not hard to distinguish which fighters are legitimate resistance and which are scumbag terrorists.[/quote]

So the ANC were not freedom fighters?

South Africa was an ‘occupied’ country?

Did they only attack military targets?

Were they terrorists?

Waiting with baited breath for the answer.

[quote]Neuromancer wrote:
So the ANC were not freedom fighters? [/quote]

Here’s the deal. By US standards, a terrorist is anyone that any liberation movement that
takes up arms against a repressive regime that is friendly with America. A direct consequence of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act.

The main supporter of the Apartheid regime was none other than a very close ally of the US. Do you remember Reagan’s shameful veto of the Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986? Moreover, I had people call me terrorist-sympathizer on this very board for calling Mandela a hero.

[quote]orion wrote:
Freedom fighters never use terror, terrorism never works to free a country…
[/quote]
eh hem…Ireland.