Understanding, Responding to, and Preventing Terrorism

Article excerpt


ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, nineteen individuals hijacked and commandeered U.S. airplanes, turned them into guided missiles and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C., killing more than 3000 people. These crimes against humanity were condemned around the world. (1) Three weeks later, the United States and the United Kingdom began bombing Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration threatened a major invasion of Iraq.

Little of the outrage at the September 11 attacks has led to a comprehensive inquiry into the roots of the rage that fueled them. The following is an attempt to explain the genesis for the terrorism directed at the United States. It is inextricably bound up with the globalization of poverty, Washington's continued support for Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, U.S. bombing and sponsorship of the devastating economic sanctions against Iraq, and the alliance between the United States and Arab monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, where the U.S. maintains a significant military presence.

Distinctions will be drawn between individual terrorism (the September 11 attacks); International State terrorism (United States and United Kingdom bombing of Afghanistan); State regime or Government terror (Israel's occupation and massacre of the Palestinians); State-sponsored or State-supported terrorism (United States financial and military support for Israel); and a national liberation struggle (Palestine).

The following will analyze why both the United States bombing of Afghanistan and Israel's massacre of the Palestinians violate international law.

It will further explain why an invasion of Iraq would be unlawful as well as misguided.

Finally, it will offer suggestions, in the context of international law, for creating peaceful alternatives to respond to terrorism and to deter it in the future.


On September 12, Rahul Mahajan wrote: "The main practitioner of attacks that either deliberately target civilians or are so indiscriminate that it makes no difference, is no shadowy Middle Eastern terrorist, but our own government." Mahajan cited the bombings of Afghanistan, Iraq, Serbia and Sudan, as well as the crippling sanctions against Iraq. (2)

The political and economic policies and practices of the U.S. government and U.S.-based global corporations contribute to the conditions that create, according to Jerrold Post, a psychological profiler at the CIA for 21 years, "roiling hatred within the Arab world directed at the United States... America doesn't have the vaguest idea how much hatred." He maintains that terrorists exploit "feelings of despair over economic conditions ... and [over] totalitarian regimes." (3)

Although George W. Bush characterized the September 11 strikes as an attack on the global economy, that sentiment does not ring true in many of the developing countries. After meeting with Bush on October 20, 2001, Malaysian President Mahathir bin Mohamad mocked Bush's position, saying, "if I had a billion U.S. dollars, I suspect I too would be very committed to a fully globalized world without any barriers and without any constraints on what I can do with my money and how I can make even more money." (4) Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo also linked political discontent with poverty at the World Economic Forum, saying: "These resources could have gone into the fight against poverty ... Where there is great poverty," she observed, "you will also have the breeding ground for the recruits, for the evil ideologues who spread terror." (5)

Our European allies see the relationship between poverty and terrorism as well. European Union External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten told a forum on transatlantic affairs organized by the Washington-based German Marshall Fund: "I am not so naive as to think that if you drop 20 million EuroAid packages on Sudan or Somalia, or multiply that by 10 on Afghanistan, that terrorism is going to disappear tomorrow. …