Monday, September 12, 2005

Terrorism For the Sake of Terrorism

In most discussions concerning our current day terrorism, much of the discussion concerns the political and ideological motivations. We also focus on the political and miltary weakness of such organizations as reasons to turn to terrorism in order to promote their causes. Terrorists understand their weaknesses and use their lone ability to cause mass civilian casualties in order to exploit the one tool that they have: information. Whether that is apparent in 24 hour news cycles, world wide web or simply the attention of an audience that seems unable to look away, like deer in the headlights.

One aspect that has not been fully explored is the concept that some, if not many, terrorists' personal motivations for perpetrating terrorist acts are not motivated by lofty ideas or causes, but by the acts themselves: terrorism for the sake of terrorism.

We have examples of this concept on the individual level. Serial killers and sexual predators have very similar motives for their pursuit of their idea of "pleasure". In fact, the study of serial killers and sexual predators in history may well lend to the ability to evaluate and predict certain actions on the part of terrorists. Serial killers and sexual predators always select the weakest to prey upon. This is usually because the predator personally feels weak, psychologically and sometimes physically. They choose the weak because they are the easiest to manipulate and control. They are the easiest to affect.

These predators derive a major portion of their pleasure from the fear they instill in their victims. The final act or killing is the penacle of the pleasure and power. Once that pleasure is gone, the predator usually begins seeking another victim until they are stopped.

Power is it's own drug and the power of instilling fear has long term resonating impact on both the victim and the perpetrator. The final power is the power of life and death over the victim. Some have reported feeling god-like in the control of the act.

For some terrorists, this is their motivation.

Historical discussions of the post Russian-Afghanistan war have pointed to the number of young Muslim men who basically "grew up" fighting and know no other way of life, returning to their homelands and finding that they no longer fit in or found an outlet. Thus, they returned to Afghanistan and Pakistan to rejoin these organizations and continue their activities.

There may be questions as to whether this kind of behavior is learned or already part of the perpetrators nature. Discussions concerning the effects of war in general on soldiers have brought up the myth that soldiers who have killed find it easier to kill again, particularly in civilian life. But, this myth has been debunked time and again. Largely because most militaries have "rules of engagement" that expressly define who the enemy is and whether action is taken as an immediate deffensive or offensive movement. In which case, this allows most combat seasoned warriors to identify and compartmentalize the act of killing, insuring that such actions are not considered part of "normal life" and that the soldier can return into society without seeking death and destruction as a common or acceptable act against non-combatants.

In terrorist organizations and individuals, the entire concept of terrorism works on the theory that no person is protected against military acts: regardless of sex, age, creed or identity, uniform or not, every person is a potential target. This substantially lowers the mental and moral barriers of the actors against killing. Further destruction of barriers may be directly related to absolution that the perpetrator feels is given by religion or some other justification.

In the end, these last motivations may only act as mitigation of morality. Once the barriers are down and there are no boundaries it is easier to expand the pool of eventual victims and turn them into objects that serve the individuals purpose. Serial killers and sexual predators also experience similar break down in normal cultural mores and objectivize the victims.

It is likely that a number of leaders in the current terrorist movement are similarly motivated.

Some give aways for this idea are the grievances or "causes" that the individuals or organizations state as their motivators for actions. Demands that are impossible to meet or not in control of the victims or their extorted governments allows the terrorist to continue to feel justified in their actions and acts as the trigger "permission" to act again and again while simultaneously garnering additional vicarious thrills from the helplessness of their victims and the attention their continued demands receive.

Some of these demands include the withdrawal of western countries from any interaction in the middle east and the complaint that western culture is degrading their own culture through the influence of music, movies, fashion, education and information. While it is possible for western forces to physically leave the area, in a global connected world, demands for the separation of cultures are impossible. Even in Afghanistan, no perfect utopia devoid of outside relations or influence could be achieved. Books, music and learning aides were smuggled into the country. NGOs operated, with some limitations, but surely with western personnel interacting with locals and psuedo-officials.

In which case, such demands for a withdrawal or rejection of western culture from these areas are impossible demands. Regardless of other demands that may seem to have a veneer of legitimacy (like issues of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict; or even forces leaving Saudi Arabia) this impossible demand for disengagement simply acts as the justification for continuing terrorist acts.

Similarly, the last goals for a caliphate or global conversion to Islam, demands that are impossible, not just due to western interests but because the individual states are bound to object if not their citizens, also acts as the last justification for continuing terrorist activities.

There are several ways to use this knowledge to combat terrorism.

The first is to deligitimize their claims. Do they speak for all the people they claim to speak for? Do their moral justifications meet the morality of those they claim to fight for?

Second, take away their followers. Similarly by working against their ideology, pointing out their fallacies. Part of this could be pointing out the fact that the three base demands are unattainable, not just militarily, but politically and objected to by the actual citizens.

Predictable patterns. Like serial killers and sexual predators, terrorists tend to follow certain patterns in selecting victims, preparing and perpetrating attacks. They operate in areas where they feel comfortable. Recent major terrorist attacks have focused on the intersecting of transportation, large crowds and impact on the financial health of the victimized countries.

There are other patterns to be found in their activities. Realizing the patterns will allow authorities to counter terrorist activities. It is also important for citizens of potential victim countries understand that terrorism, seemingly random and without counter, can be stopped. This will lend towards mitigation of fear which is not only a tool for terrorists in achieving their aims, but may very well be their sole purpose considering the probably psychological motivations of individual actors.

While it is difficult to stop a serial killer, it is not impossible. By countering or mitigating their motivation, or over confidence or by the simple need for the killer to achieve ever greater psychological thrills and satisfaction from their acts, they eventually make mistakes that lead to their capture or death. Part of the motivation is also the game; the need for the killer to feel superior to his (sometimes "her") pursuer which leads to taunting through letters, videos and other media.

Again, all of these activities are part of the killers over all psychological need and resemble quite closely the motivations and actions of terrorists. Ultimately, serial killers and sexual predators are imminently selfish and perform their acts for their own sake.

Without a doubt, terrorists will continue to perpetrate terrorism for the sake of terrorism.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Hi Kat

Good point that any extremist movement will attract sociopaths who are drawn to the violence. I can imagine some Gestapo agents would have been quite at home in the KGB and vice versa.