Terrorism: Life Cycles


November 23, 2005: Let's take a look at the track record of terrorist movements. This can provide useful insights on where the current wave of Islamic terrorism is heading. First of all, terrorism is nothing new, nor are international terrorist movements. Regional terrorist movements go back over a thousand years, and showed up in the Middle East and the East Asia centuries ago. Terrorist movements can be international now because of mass media (especially satellite news operations) and cheap international communications (especially the Internet). But terrorist movements have a life cycle. Unless they are sustained by success, or state sponsorship, they tend to fade after a decade or so. The reason is simple, new recruits note that the movement is not making any progress and do not join. No volunteers, no terrorists.

Terrorist movements that do succeed, do so because they are able to go beyond terrorism, and into conventional military and political operations. This drill was refined and laid down in print by several communist terrorist leaders in the last century. You start with terrorism, and end up in charge. The current Islamic terrorist groups are having a hard time following the communist cookbook. The governments they are trying to overthrow have proved capable of beating the terrorists. Iraq has become such a playground for Islamic terrorists because it is actually a civil war between the minority Sunni Arabs and the three times as numerous Shia Arabs. This war has both political and religious angles, so it is particularly intense. Because the Shia have an American army to back them up, the Sunni Arabs have no chance of going to the next level, and taking over the government. But the violence has left many parts of Iraq, all Sunni Arab, or mainly Sunni Arab, free of government control. From these base areas, the terrorists are able to launch attacks. And they do. Every day. But most of the people they kill are Iraqis, and many are Sunni Arabs. You don't make much political progress when you are killing the people you want to support you. Worse, the Islamic terrorists are losing the opinion war. Surveys show support for al Qaeda (the flagship of the Islamic terrorists) sinking. The terrorists are losing the media war. While there are still plenty of recruits, that's not as important as the trends. So, like the last wave of Islamic terrorism (the Palestinians of the 60s and 70s), failure begets despair and dissolution. But, until Arabs get their political act together, new terrorist movements will appear. This happened with the Palestinians, because of the failure of Palestinian leaders to lead. Even all that oil wealth is no substitute for wise and prudent leadership. Without it you have economic and social failure, and some pretty nasty terrorism.


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