Theissue of terrorism is a complex issue, which has existed throughouthuman existence. It can be understood as a strategy and a tactic, acrime, a holy duty, a genuine response to oppression and as aninexcusable atrocity, depending on the perspective of the persondefining it. As defined by the United States Department of Defense,terrorism is the “Thecalculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence toinculcate fear intended to coerce or to intimidate governments orsocieties in the pursuit of goals that are generally political,religious, or ideological.”(Terrorism Research, n.d) Largely, terrorism has been largelyassociated with Islamic extremism, which is an anti-west advocacy.The ISIS group is one of the most powerful terrorist groups today,surpassing the dreaded Al-Qaeda. The impact of terrorism across theglobe has been worrying with the 9/11 attacks in the United Stateschanging the foreign terrorism policy in the country.
Terrorismis as a result of different factors in the society. One of the majorcauses of terror is political. In the history, terrorism wastheorized in the milieu of guerilla warfare and insurgency, a form ofplanned political violence by a militia group. People or groups nothappy with the way a society is organized use terror to show theirdiscontent with authorities, and their desire to make a change. Forexample, during the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong used terror againstthe government as a way to achieve change.
Terrorismis strategic in the manner that, it is organized and planned againsta given entity. Terrorists use a selective tactic to achieve acertain goal. The ISIS activities across Middle East are to achieveadvantage of the governments of the day in the region. They seeksupport by using violence against established government,intimidating the people to also support their course of action (Amble& Meleagrou-Hitchens, 2014).Currently, ISIS has made significant impact in Middle East regionincluding Iraq, Syria and recently Libya.
Terrorismalso has a psychological aspect. Terrorists use brain drain orradicalization to achieve support. The training of young childreninto terror uses leverages on their innocence and ability to beinfluenced by falsified information regarding a certain group, agovernment or a community as in the case of ISIS and other terrorgroups like Boko Haram.
Thesociological or group psychology aspect of terrorism explainsterrorism as an aspect of society and organizations as networks ofpeople. This is in line with what leads to authoritarianism like inthe early 20th century global conflicts of World War I and II as wellas cult behavior. The sociological aspect of terrorism thereforefocuses on how individuals identify vehemently with a given group toan extent of losing individual agency.
Socio-economicfactors can also be a breeding ground for terrorism. Different formsof oppression can push people into terrorism or make people morevulnerable to joining terrorist groups. For example, the Somali basedAl-Shabab terror group was able to recruit young youths from Kenyaand used them to rein terror in their soil due to what has beenattributed to poverty and youth unemployment (Amble& Meleagrou-Hitchens, 2014).
Religionhas also been cited as a cause for terrorism. Islamic jihadists andextremists have always cited religion. This notion came into playduring the 1990s when professional terrorism analysts argued that thenew form of violence was fueled by religious zeal. Groups like AumShinrikyo a cult in Japan, Al-Qaeda as well as Christian identitygroups were increasingly becoming a threat. These groups use ideassuch as martyrdom, Jihadist and Armageddon were considered extremelyrisky. Nevertheless, specialists have always pinpointed that, thesegroups exploit selective religious interprets, concepts and texts tosupport their acts of terrorism. It is has been openly cited that,religions in themselves do not support terrorism (Amble& Meleagrou-Hitchens, 2014).
Terrorismis a criminal activity that coerces an audience past the directvictim. Terrorists apply a strategy of perpetrating violent acts thatattracts the attention of the local people, the authority and theglobe to their cause. Terrorists plan their violent acts to achievethe greatest publicity possible, selecting targets that represent orsymbolize what they are against (Terrorism Research, n.d). As such,the effectiveness of terror attacks does not lie in the act itself,but to the way the government and the public reacts to the violence.For example, when ISIS terrorists beheaded an American journalist,billions of people across the world watching world over felt thefear, which is the ultimate objective of terrorism. The establishmentof this fear comes from the threat of actual harm, a terrible death,cyber terrorism such as interfering with the significanttechnological framework of a society, financial or economic terrorismand psychological terror meant to influence people’s behavior(Hoffman,2013).
U.SPolicy Response to Terrorism
Withthe United States being the most vulnerable target for terrorattacks, policy makers have devised different ways to deal withterrorism including diplomacy, constructive engagement, covertactions, military force as well as economic sanctions. The use ofsanctions has become the most used policy response in the fightagainst terrorism. The trend in global terrorism is worrying and theproliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) including nuclearweapons, sanctions have been an effective way of combating terror.Countries or governments that promote terrorist activities arenormally sanctioned from receiving military and economic aid from theUnited States government. In addition, restrictions are implied onexports, which maim the economy of the non-compliant country, pushingthem to drop their support for terrorism. North Korea for example wasstruck by economic sanctions for their support to terrorism and theproliferation of nuclear weapons. The economic sanctions used by theU.S are in line with the liberalism school of though. Liberalismplaces more importance on factors beyond the nation states. As notedby Smith,Hadfield, & Dunne (2012)power is an important aspect in liberalism, although unlike inrealism it is ‘indirect’ or ‘soft’ concentrating on issueslike economic sanctions, protection of human rights, energy andenvironmental security. The viewpoint puts much concern on variousforms of freedoms including individual, communal, market and economicfreedoms. The acts of organizations like the UN (United Nations),OPEC (Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries), NATO (NorthAtlantic Treaty Organization) and related groups can have significanteffect on international relations and not the states themselves(Smith,Hadfield & Dunne, 2012).
Inaddition, another policy response by the U.S against terror that wasfueled by the 9/11 attacks is the use of military force to curtailterrorism. This entails bringing the war to the enemy’s territory.This was seen in the 2003 Iraq War when the then president George W.Bush sent his troops to the Iraqi soils in response to the grizzly9/11 attacks that hit the U.S at home and in the East Africa region.It was necessary to cut shot the activities of the Al-Qaida bystepping into their soils. The operation which took almost a decadesaw a significant disablement of the group, especially after thedeath of its leader, Osama bin Laden. The recent attacks in Somali bythe Kenyan government forces with support of the U.S and NATO hasensured restoration of peace and order not only in Somali, but inKenya, where the group had declared terror.
Theuse of military power in combating terror has a realist point of viewof international relations. As put by Morgenthau (2009), theprinciple sign that helps political realism to dominate the landscapeof international politics is the element of interest defined in thecontext of power. It is the power expression or relationship of powerthat explain realism. Power in realism according to Nalbandov (2012),power in realism has a key place for imposing the influence of acountry abroad by the statement. A state can use four instruments ofpower (IOPs) to enhance its interests on foreign ground commonlyknown as DIME (diplomacy, information, military and economic).Realism is critical of human nature and is interested in defininginternational relations through truths as opposed to idealism.
TheU.S has used various forms of policy response in combating terrorism.Diplomacy which is a realistic view of international relations hasbeen effective in several instances and prevents the situation fromgoing out of hand. The use of military power, although effective inthe end is costly in terms of human, economic, and socialperspectives. Mostly, military action creates long term scars thatmay renew terrorist efforts and even have support from thecommunities around them. Therefore, economic sanctions and diplomacyappear to be the best ways to address terrorism without damagingrelations or impacting damage or loss of lives.
Inanother perspective, the governments world over need to improve theliving standards of its people through social and economicempowerment to ensure that its population especially the youth arenot lured into joining terrorist groups. Education can also be usedas a tool to help children understand from a tender age that noreligion supports terrorism, but it is certain groups that guise inreligion to achieve their political, social or economic goals.
Theissue of terrorism is real and has had significant damage on thesocial, economic aspects of the population world over. The recentrise of terror attacks by the ISIS is a clear reminder that the waron terror is far from over. The policy response by the United Statesagainst terrorism has been broad but has not been able to address theissue of terror. The combination of various tools is necessary tovictor this war. With president Obama’s recent comment on theatrocities committed against an American journalist shows that moreneed to be done to fight terrorism. Of most important is theinternational community to work together to fight this crime.
Amble,J. C., & Meleagrou-Hitchens, A. (2014). Jihadist Radicalizationin East Africa: Two Case Studies. Studiesin Conflict & Terrorism,37(6),523-540.
Hoffman,B. (2013). Insideterrorism.Columbia University Press.
Morgenthau,H.J. (2009). `Six Principles of Political Realism` inRobert J. Art and Robert Jervis (eds.). InternationalPolitics.Pearson Education Ltd.
Nalbandov,R. (2012). Instructional Narrative Three, SEC6302,Angelo State University. Retrieved http://ramport.angelo.edu(November 20, 2014).
Smith,S., Hadfield, A., & Dunne, T. (Eds.). (2012). Foreignpolicy: theories, actors, cases.Oxford University Press.
TerrorismResearch (n.d). Whatis Terrorism?Retrieved http://www.terrorism-research.com/ (November 20, 2014).