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Lecture 21

AS.190.209 Lecture Notes - Lecture 21: Arab Spring, Appeasement, Islamic Terrorism

AS Political Science
Course Code
David, Steven R

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Talk about the definition of terrorism, its historical background, motivations
of terrorism, and the events of 9/11 and Paris
Talk about the causes of terrorism, how one can combat terrorism, and the
relationship of realism to terrorism
Definition: terrorism is the deliberate violence against non-combatants to induce
fear for a political purpose. There are three key elements: 1) it’s premeditated –
doesn’t happen spontaneously; 2) it’s political; 3) it’s aimed at civilians. This
definition of terrorism holds even if you believe the cause is just, but if they target
civilians, they are engaging in terrorism. Seen in this light, terrorism is a tactic – a
means to an end. As such, when you talk about a war against terrorism, it is
misleading. The supposed war against terrorism is in fact a war against Islamic
extremists, not Islam itself – the tiny minority that invokes Islam as a motivating
force to commit terrorist acts. It’s also important to recognize that terrorism is not a
novel phenomenon in history. There are two broad types of terrorism, which can be
distinguished by motivation. First, there is nationalist terrorism (agenda has more
limited aims). Second, there is religiously motivated terrorism, which tends to have
endless aims (revisionist agenda aiming for the transformation of the world). This
latter group is more dangerous because their goals are virtually limitless. Terrorism
exists when two factors come together. First, there has to be some intense political
grievance. Second, there is a strong imbalance of power. If you are angry and there
is a balance of power, you engage in war. However, when you’re very angry and
can’t meet your adversary head on, terrorism is the result.
Terrorist incidents beginning with 9/11: the costs of the terrorist attacks were
enormous – almost 3,000 innocent people were killed (the most civilian deaths in
American history). The World Trade Center was destroyed, the Pentagon attacked,
and air travel was halted. There was also a delayed cost – roughly 2 million jobs
were lost and cost the American economy roughly 100 billion dollars and created
heightened anxiety that we still live with today. Al Qaeda was the perpetrator – a
religiously motivated Islamic organization led by Osama bin Laden. Why was the
attack carried out? It was designed to drive a wedge between the US and its
moderate Arab allies in the Middle East. The hope was that America would respond
to 9/11 by attacking the Muslim states in the Middle East, killing innocent Arabs and
inciting Arab protests, and thus resulting in a rupture in their alliances. It was hoped
that if America became disconnected from its Arab allies, it would make them ripe
for overthrow. America did attack Iraq, but no major Arab protests ensued or
rupture of alliance resulted, so in this sense, 9/11 was a strategic failure.
Nevertheless, al Qaeda established itself as the key terrorist organization. Recently,
ISIS has eclipsed it – Paris attacks. Eight gunmen attacked several sites in Paris; at
least 129 people were killed. ISIS very quickly claimed responsibility and argued
that it was in retaliation for French efforts against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and part of
its overall war against Christianity and the decadence of the West. ISIS began as an
Iraqi organization, and at first, it was aligned with al Qaeda. It grew out of the chaos,
following America’s intervention in Iraq. ISIS broke away from al Qaeda and it was
able to seize large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria because in Iraq, there was a Shiite
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government that long suppressed its Sunni population. The Sunnis did not fight ISIS
because they did not have any commitment to the Iraqi government. In Syria, it was
able to expand by taking advantage of a civil war that is ongoing there. There was no
determined military in either Iraq or Syria to try and counter ISIS. Instead, it
established a caliphate, an Islamic state, on land under its control and placed its
inhabitants under strict Islamic scriptures. At first, many believed, including most
realists, that ISIS posed only a limited threat since it was believed to be only
focusing on the Arab states in the Middle East. While there was some concern
inspiring lone wolf attacks, it was seen as just a threat to states in that region, but
not to countries far removed from the Middle East. There was a bombing in Beirut, a
downing of a Russian airliner, and the attacks on Paris. ISIS is now seen as the
primary threat against the West, not a group simply there to inspire attacks, but a
group that is organizing and mounting coordinated attacks. There is fear that there
will be additional attacks elsewhere.
Comparison between al Qaeda and ISIS: both share a hatred for America, the West,
and what they call moderate Arab governments. They also claim to be Islamic
organizations, deriving their goals from a literal interpretation of Islam. But they
have many differences. Most notably, al Qaeda holds no territory; instead, it is a
shadowy group with terrorist cells established in different countries. ISIS has
established a caliphate, a kind of proto-state. Both al Qaeda and ISIS use social
media to advance their goals, but ISIS is much more sophisticated – it is very good at
encrypting communications. Both are brutal, but ISIS is more, as it glorifies its
brutality by showcasing it. While both threaten the interest of America and the
West, ISIS is now seen as supplanting al Qaeda as the primary threat.
How do we respond to these threats in eliminating or at least reducing terrorism by
addressing its causes?
Six causes of terrorism: 1) change policies of America and the West, since terrorists
cite their policies in justifying terrorist acts. However, some say that the animosity
would be unlikely to go away with a change in policy. First, Islamic terrorist groups
are upset with a wide range of policies that go beyond those that directly affect the
Middle East. Secondly, it is argued that terrorists are angry not so much at what the
West does, but what the West is (need to attack Christianity and Western life and
convert everyone to Islam). If it is because of what the West is, not what the West
does, that animates terrorism, there is little it can do in order to change the
animosity that it generates. Moreover, some argue that you don’t want to send the
message to terrorists that if they kill innocent civilians Western policies will change
– giving in won’t end terrorism, but increase it. 2) Evidence that poverty drives
people to commit desperate acts; groups tend to recruit young poor men. But
addressing poverty won’t end terrorism itself, since there is no strong connection.
Moreover, even if poverty can be shown to cause terrorism, it is difficult to know
what America should do about that. 3) Occupation of foreign lands – much of
terrorism is done to remove outsiders from lands terrorists consider belonging to
themselves (Pape reading). Terrorism against America was certainly due in part to
its occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. But America has been a target of terrorism
even after it left those places because America does not want to limit what it
believes it must do, including intervening in foreign conflicts. However, it is foolish
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