- All Best Essays, Term Papers and Book Report

What Is Terrorism and Why?

Essay by   •  April 9, 2012  •  Research Paper  •  2,410 Words (10 Pages)  •  1,316 Views

Essay Preview: What Is Terrorism and Why?

Report this essay
Page 1 of 10

What is Terrorism--and Why?

Terrorism is any violent act against civilians carried out for the purpose of political or ideological gain. The motivations for terrorism can differ, but the means by which terrorists accomplish their goals are always violent and brutal. The targets of terrorist violence are always civilians, usually in high urban concentrations. By instilling fear into a civilian populace a terrorist group can most effectively spread its message and pressure governments to concede to them. When one begins to research the individual ideologies and motivations of various terrorist groups as well as the psychological and cultural reasons for people to join them, a clearer picture of the nature of terrorism emerges. Further understanding and developing a clear definition of terrorism and its root causes is important if developed societies ever hope to curtail it in the future.

Violence is the calling card for a terrorist group and distinguished terrorism from other political movements. Without carrying out violent acts, a given group isn't a terrorist group, regardless of the extreme views it may promote. Terrorists may carry out targeted assassinations against political enemies, but more often they target large civilian groups or public areas where they can get the most publicity and cause the most fear. Military targets do no constitute terrorism, which is why IED attacks against our troops in Iraq and the bombing of the USS Cole are not, by this paper's definition, acts of terrorism. Whether it be crowded market places or subway stations, the more populated the target area the better for a terrorist. Terrorists do not often target civilians because they hate or despise them personally, but because the civilians were the unlucky innocents whose lives were deemed expendable for the sake of the terrorists' cause. Needless to say, the most effective means of targeting civilians while causing the most fear is bombing. Targeted and often simultaneous bombings are extremely effective and popular weapons employed by modern day terrorists because they kill or injure a lot of people and they get a lot of publicity.

The best way for a terrorist group to spread its message is through the media which gets the attention of the general public. Getting the public's attention is ultimately more important than the amount of damage a terrorist group does. This is why Peter Kropotkin referred to terrorism as "propaganda by deed, a means by which small groups can attract attention to a political cause, not matter what the cause may be" (Weinberg & Eubank, 2006, p. 3). Fear is the immediate goal of terrorism, and publicity helps. Anyone who watched the twin towers fall on September 11th on television, and then watched them fall over and over again in the weeks to follow, can understand the importance of media in terrorist attacks. Publicity can also be the long term goal of a terrorist attack, not only a strategy of it. Large and dramatically violent acts carried out by terrorists can "call attention to causes and issues with which not many people were familiar beforehand" (Weinberg & Eubank, 2006, p. 6). Without terrorist acts, how many Americans would be aware of separatist movements in places like Spain, Kashmir, and Sri Lanka? Terrorism can also be used to try to provoke national governments into overreaction. If a terrorist act can provoke a government into retaliating against the nation from which the terrorists came, terrorists can gain the support of the natives of their lands who may be antagonized by their invaders (Weinberg & Eubank, 2006, p. 6). Many believe Osama bin Laden orchestrated the 9/11 attacks in part to antagonize the west and gain popular support for himself in the Middle East as a result of America's reaction and resulting invasions.

Terrorist groups cite numerous beliefs and ideologies as the sources and sole motivators of their violent actions. Oftentimes, extreme religious views are at the heart of a terrorist cause. Most modern westerners have come to associate religious extremism such as radical Islam with terror today. But religious extremism is not the only ideology which can breed terrorism. Nationalist and separatist groups often use terrorism to spread their message and terrorize the ethnic populations from which they wish to separate. Separatists desire to overthrow the government which rules them or create a separate nation for the ethnic group they represent. Other political motives can be the base of terrorist groups too. Rarely does a terrorist operate solely for monetary or personal gain. Many South American terrorist groups, such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), are committed to starting a social revolution of peasants and farmers and overthrowing their governments so they may install their own socialist regime instead. All of these various terrorist groups are deeply committed to their cause.

Simply being committed to a cause might not be the only cause of terrorism. Many similar groups may promote things like nationalism or religious orthodoxy, but not all of those groups resort to violence to see their worldview achieved. Many scholars think devotion alone can lead to extremism, but others think it requires a certain level of disconnect from regular society, one which may be examined psychologically, to take that next step towards indiscriminate violence. The psychology of an individual terrorist, and the cultural and environmental contributors to that psychology, may be more important to examine than the ideological and political aspects of a terrorist group. What could cause a young man to seek out a terrorist group to join? It may be a predisposition to violence, a need to belong, or some other psychological reason.

Jerrold M. Post, in an excerpt from his article "Terrorist psycho-logic: Terrorist behavior as a product of psychological forces," explains how a terrorist's actions are often the result of a culmination of psychological factors. An "us versus them" mentality is very common in terrorists and an important theme in terrorism studies (Post, 1998, p. 25). Feelings of victimization and isolation are capitalized upon in order to cement cohesion and devotion in a terrorist group and provoke hatred toward whoever "them" represents. Post and others' studies have found certain personality traits (as opposed to psychological dispositions) are more common in terrorists than in the rest of society. According to Post (1998), many terrorists tend to be "action-oriented, aggressive people who are stimulus-hungry and seek excitement" (p. 27). The concept of "splitting" is an important psychological term used to explain terrorist



Download as:   txt (14.8 Kb)   pdf (166.2 Kb)   docx (14.9 Kb)  
Continue for 9 more pages »
Only available on
Citation Generator

(2012, 04). What Is Terrorism and Why?. Retrieved 04, 2012, from

"What Is Terrorism and Why?" 04 2012. 2012. 04 2012 <>.

"What Is Terrorism and Why?.", 04 2012. Web. 04 2012. <>.

"What Is Terrorism and Why?." 04, 2012. Accessed 04, 2012.