Terrorism: What Everyone Needs to Know

By Kazi, Reshmi | Journal of International and Global Studies, May 2019 | Go to article overview

Terrorism: What Everyone Needs to Know


Kazi, Reshmi, Journal of International and Global Studies


Sandler, Todd. Terrorism: What Everyone Needs to Know. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

The Global Terrorism Index 2019 indicates that the impact of terrorism continues to remain widespread. This is an important indicator because the consistent trend in terrorism heightens the threat of its potential spread to vulnerable areas in the near future. Noted terrorism expert Todd Sandler, in his seminal volume Terrorism: What Everyone Needs to Know draws attention to the ongoing threat of terrorism as a significant geopolitical trend of the twenty-first century.

Terrorism: What Everyone Needs to Know is an influential volume consisting of seven chapters, each of which discusses comprehensive details on the vital issue of terrorism. A noteworthy aspect of the volume is its emphasis and reference to numerous recent terrorist incidents in explaining the trends of terrorism, about which the author has taken painstaking details into account. The chapters are preceded by a preface that includes an account of the personal experience of the author and details his close brush with terrorism, which undoubtedly left an indelible mark on him.

The volume begins with a comprehensive definition of terrorism, which Sandler describes as "the pre-meditated use or threat to use violence by individuals or subnational groups against noncombatants to obtain a political objective through the intimidation of a large audience beyond that of the immediate victims" (p.1). In this definition, Sandler highlights two key factors--violence and pursuit of a political goal, which, combined, serve to distinguish terrorism from crime. This definition also specifies that both the individuals who perform acts of terror--also known as lone wolf terrorists--and subnational groups or terrorist organizations target victims with certain pre-meditated goals in mind.

Terrorist violence is a costly form of signaling. Subnational groups face severe difficulties in their attempt to impose their will by the direct use of force. As such, they may resort of use of violence and acts of terror as a means of imposing their will. Sometimes such terrorist groups are successful in persuading their targets to do as they wish by convincing their adversaries of the danger of not acquiescing to violent demands. (1) However, given the conflict of interest between terrorists and their targets, ordinary communication or "cheap talk" is insufficient to change minds or influence behavior. (2) Given the high costs associated with combating terrorism, Sandler reasons that it is important to be concerned about the growth of terrorism because of its profound impact particularly upon liberal democracies. Such impacts may include compromising or "circumventing democratic processes" and assuming the financial drain on the economy of implementing counterterrorism measures in order to keep the population safe and the violence.

Terrorism and its consequences are not a new phenomenon, yet new waves of terrorism have been surfacing and have culminated in a new wave of religious fundamentalism in recent times. Irrespective of recent trends, the author questions whether terrorism is successful. He rightly asserts that "success" can be measured by the degree to which terrorists are successful in securing their objectives, whether in combat or strategic terms. In this context, religious fundamentalist terrorist attacks appear to achieve a high degree of "success" for a number of reasons. These attacks seek high casualty levels (through suicide bombers without any forewarning), blurring the line between combatants and noncombatants. This inevitably raises body counts and is crucial in conveying the essential "signals" of the terrorists to the designated targets. Terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS have expressed their interest in engaging in "chemical biological, radiological and nuclear terrorist attack" (p. 34).

An important aspect in the discourse on terrorism includes an examination of the causes of terrorism. …

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