Terrorism: August 26, 2005


Despite the widespread use of the term, "international terrorism," most of the terrorist acts since September 11, 2001, have been carried out for very local reasons. These terrorist groups find it advantageous to claim association with a mythical "international terrorist" movement. But, as with politics, all terrorism is local. With a few exceptions. The 911 attacks were obviously "international terrorism." It was nineteen men, mainly from Saudi Arabia, traveling to the United States to commit mass murder. But that attacks was a very rare event.

There have not been many similar international terrorist attacks since. Nearly all of the Islamic terrorist activity since then has been in support of decidedly local issues. For example, there have been more than a dozen Islamic terrorist attacks in the Philippines since 2001, but these are part of a war that has been going on for several centuries, between the Moslems of the southern Philippines, and the non-Moslems who comprise the majority of the Filipino population.

Nearby Indonesia reflects a similar situation, even though most of the people are Moslem. But there are Moslems and there are Moslems. Most Indonesians practice an Islam heavily influenced by pre-Islamic religions. Urban Indonesians have sought to use religion as a mobilizing force for political reform. Indonesia has some of the most corrupt politicians in the world, and the people have been unable to find a way to deal with it. Urban Indonesians have adopted Islamic conservatism as a solution. This puts them into conflict with most Indonesians, as well as the corrupt politicians they are after. This is not International Terrorism, but it is a reflection of Islamic radicalism being applied to local political problems in so many Moslem majority countries. 

Saudi Arabian Islamic radicals broke their unofficial truce with their government in 2003, in reaction to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Saudi radicals had long railed against the corrupt Saudi monarchy, but had refrained from doing anything about it so as not to offend many Saudis who did not back terrorism (especially in their own back yard), or threaten the source of many donations to Islamic terrorist organizations. When the Saudi terrorists struck, they found out that they were, indeed, outnumbered by the majority of Saudis who opposed their methods, if not their motivation. A similar situation is found in Egypt, with the latest bombings (in July) found to be the result largely of local men (in rural areas of the Sinai) upset at aggressive police action during the aftermath of an earlier terrorist attack. Islamic terrorists have been trying to overthrow corrupt Egyptian politicians for decades. The politicians have proved more formidable, and the frustration of the Islamic radicals led to al Qaeda and a shift of interest to foreign targets in the West. 

Islamic terrorism in most other nations remains directed at local grievances, and is usually defeated locally. This includes recent attacks in Spain and Britain. Moslems in these countries are a minority, usually an unhappy minority. Some of the British Islamic terrorists  were born in Britain. 

Iraq has been the scene of most of the world's terrorist acts over the past two years, but Iraq is not part of some international Islamic terrorist movement. Most of the terrorism in Iraq is carried out by Saddam supporters (Sunni Arabs) who refuse to give up their claim to rule the country. An al Qaeda affiliate has made common cause with these Sunni Arab diehards, even though the Islamic radicals and Sunni Arabs are political opposites. The Islamic radicals want to establish a religious dictatorship, while the Sunni Arab terrorists want a secular dictatorship. But both groups agree that first they have to get the Americans, and their dangerous ideas about democracy, out of the region. 

Terrorism in Israel has never been about international terrorism, but about local real estate disputes. Terrorism in Chechnya is mainly about self-rule and the right of criminal gangs to have a safe haven. Several terrorist attacks in Turkey are about Islamic radicals still, after 80 years, opposing secularism in Turkey and taking political power away from Islamic conservatives.

The publicity Islamic terrorism has gotten is both a goal, and an enabler. The terrorists need publicity, since you can't terrorize without people knowing what happened. That is why terrorism doesn't work very well in dictatorships. The Soviet Union was expert at hushing up terrorist attacks, and this greatly discouraged terrorists. But today, with many fewer police states, and much more international media (including the Internet), detailed information on how terrorist attacks are prepared and carried out gives the willing, the ways and means to do it. The publicity encourages locals to grab some of that fame, and strike a blow for some local grievance. 

The most international aspect of Islamic terrorism is the publicity, not the goals and grievances. 


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