Combating Terrorism


Dr. Ali S. Awadh Asseri

(Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon)

Terrorism in Practice



     In so far as the long-term goals of organizations employing terrorist tactics are concerned, writes Weinberg, these include revolutionary, ethno-nationalistic and separatist, religious and reactionary. Individuals and groups of people who do not possess the political power to change state policies they view as intolerable usually commit acts of terrorism. Terrorists often justify their acts on ideological or religious grounds arguing that they are responding to a greater wrong, or promoting a greater good. Before the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989 and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union itself  in 1991, the world abounded with groups willing to use terrorism to bring about revolutionary social, economic and political change in the name of Communism or Socialism. Latin America was most often their venue. Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, and Peru had substantial "urban guerrilla' groups that sought to bring an end to the economic exploitation of workers and peasants and replace the prevailing political order with one more compatible with their socialist principles. Japan and the highly industrialized Western democracies also had a substantial number of revolutionary terrorist organizations.[1]

     According to Weinberg, ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorists are motivated by the goal of national independence, the creation of independent states carved from territories that were previously under the control or part of some other country. The Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, the Basque Homeland and Liberty (ETA: Euskadi Ta Askatasuna) in Spain, and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) are examples of ethno-nationalist groups seeking independence from existing countries through committing acts of terrorism. Reactionary groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan in the United States, have also used terror tactics to preserve a status quo suiting the majority population.[2] Religiously motivated terrorism is quite an old phenomenon. However, in recent decades, it seems to have dominated the global terrorist scene.

     According to Louise Richardson,

Terrorists are sub-state actors who violently target non-combatants to communicate a political message to a third party. Terrorist are neither crazy nor amoral. They come from all parts of the world. They come from many walks of life. They fight for a range of different causes. Some have support from the communities from which they come while some do not. They range in size from a handful of Corsican nationalists to thousands of armed Tamils. Some are fighting for the same goals that have motivated wars for centuries, such as control over national territory. Some are trying to overthrow the state system itself. They come from all religious traditions and from none. One thing they do have in common: they are weaker than those they oppose.[3]

Whatever the immediate purpose and broader goals an organization may have, what history tells us is that terrorism has never been an effective political strategy. Whether terrorism is adopted as a tool for changing the status quo, or preserving it, it has never succeeded. Some organizations such as the African National Congress (ANC) may have adopted terrorism as part of their overall political strategy to end apartheid in South Africa, and may have eventually succeeded in their mission, but terrorism was only a tiny part of their long struggle spanning decades. Similarly, it was only after the Irish Republican Army (IRA) abandoned terrorism and agreed to de-militarize itself that the real path to a viable political accommodation in Northern Ireland was eventually paved. There is hardly any example in world history when an organized group exclusively practiced terrorism and succeeded in achieving its political goal. Al-Qaeda is one such organization. Be it the terrorist acts of 11 September 2001 in the United States, or the 1998 bombing of two US embassies in the East Africa, or the sequence of bombings in Saudi Arabia – almost all the instances implicating al-Qaeda make it crystal clear that the terrorist network, whenever it strikes, aims mostly at unarmed civilians. Thus, it engages in pure and simple terrorism whose casualties are both non-Muslims and fellow Muslims. The end result of such rampant terrorism can be foreseen in the sense that this will not only lead to a massive public reaction against al-Qaeda-led wave of global terrorism. For this, however, there is a precondition: that all the regional conflicts where Muslim people happen to be at the receiving end are resolved urgently and in a just and fair manner. Their continuing existence provided the political context for the deviant individuals and organizations in the world of Islam to engage in terrorist activities.

(To Be Continued)  


[1]  Ibid., pp. 6-8

[2] Ibid.

[3] Louise Richardson, Terrorists: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Thread (New York: Random House, 2006) p. 20.