Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

The Technique of Terrorism

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

The Technique of Terrorism

Article excerpt

Abstract

We are living in a radically new age of global terrorism, and we must seek significantly new ways of comprehending its nature and ramifications. In an effort to overcome some of the traditional obstacles to defining and understanding terrorism in terms of its aims and motives, the author proposes a means-based conception that allows for a more comprehensive, holistic approach to the terrorist phenomenon. The term "technique" is used to denote the vast array of means, methods, weapons, and strategies commonly employed by contemporary terrorists, as well as to define the unique nature of the global terrorist presence. In this regard, the author argues that today's terrorism is best understood by the techniques it employs, rather than the goals it pursues, or the specific political context in which it operates. To further clarify the concept of the technique of terrorism, the author advances three interconnected propositions that characterize and define the terrorist phenomenon today: first, the technique of terrorism implies the totality of means employed or advocated by an individual, group, or organization in furtherance of express or implied political, ideological, social, cultural, economic, or religious objectives; second, the technique of terrorism incorporates the planned, calculated, and systematic acts or threats of violence that generally typify the modes of operation and selection of victims by terrorist groups; and third, the technique of terrorism involves the unique application of psychological and sociological instruments of propaganda with the intent to generate fear, anxiety, intimidation, and demoralization in a wider social audience, as well as to mobilize and indoctrinate its followers.

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The Technique Of Terrorism

Definitions

We are living in a radically new age of global terrorism, and we must seek substantially new ways of comprehending its nature, means, and manifestations. (1) When we speak of terrorism today, we are no longer dealing with the historically and relatively discrete, small-scale, sporadic, and marginalized individuals or groups that employed weapons of limited scope and consequence. The latter is what Walter Laqueur has referred to as "nuisance terrorism" in his discussion of The New Terrorism. (2) Today, neither historical precedent nor political prescription can guide us through our global struggle with terrorism. Today, we must ponder the implications of weapons of mass destruction (WMD)--chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear--as well as cyberterrorism, narcoterrorism, and transnational groups and networks using increasingly powerful and sophisticated means and methods of mass communication, information, and propaganda. Today, we must weigh the causes and consequences of frequent, horrific, and unpredictable terrorist events, such as hijackings, kidnappings, suicide bombings, 9/11, the recent bombing attacks in Madrid and London, and the continuous violence and mayhem in Iraq and elsewhere in the world. Today, we must confront the increasing lethality, destructiveness, lawlessness, and fanaticism displayed by contemporary terrorist organizations, whose means and methods collectively surpass anything we have witnessed historically. Likewise, we must carefully consider the possibility that many acts of terrorism emerge from the "clash of civilizations" that Samuel Huntington so eloquently outlined in the mid-1990s. (3) Indeed, we need to understand the nature and scope of this "clash"--especially in the present conflicts between the West and Islamist fundamentalism--because these conflicts have produced the most serious and substantial confrontations and threats to world peace at this time. In sum, any definition of terrorism that does not take all of these matters into consideration is destined to mislead and misinform its audience, among other serious consequences. We live in a unique historical context, and our comprehension of this fact must constitute the first major step we take towards understanding the prevalence and originality of contemporary terrorism. …

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