- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2007

Does understanding the factors and conditions that cause terrorism produce effective pol

icy responses? This is the driving question behind The Roots of Terrorism (Routledge, $24.95, 216 pages), edited by Louise Richardson.

To answer this question, the Club of Madrid brought together leading scholars from many disciplines at a conference in March 2005, to present their findings on the psychological, political, economic, cultural and religious roots of terrorism. (The Club of Madrid is an independent organization that seeks to strengthen democratic institutions around the world.) This is the first of three volumes to be published by the Club of Madrid.

Ms. Richardson, a Harvard academic, is the current volume’s editor and the author of its introductory chapter.

The volume begins with an essay by Jerrold Post, a political psychologist at George Washington University, who argues that loyalty or disloyalty to one’s family is an important determinant of whether a terrorist becomes nationalist-separatist (e.g., Palestinians who were loyal to their parents joined the PLO in the 1970s and 1980s to reclaim Palestine) or social revolutionary (e.g., Germans who rebelled against their parents joined the Marxist Red Army Faction in the 1970s to overthrow German society).

But an individual’s family disposition does not necessarily play a role in that person’s decision to become a terrorist to begin with — and empirical evidence contradicts Mr. Post’s thesis that terrorists’ political motivations (i.e., whether to become a nationalist-separatist or social revolutionary) are determined by attitudes toward one’s parents.

Today’s terrorists are driven more by community and societal forces (in the case of the Palestinians) or a need for social friendship, kinship bonds and the gratification that comes from belonging to the modern day successor to the community of the faithful, which the Prophet Muhammad had created in the 7th century (in the case of the extremist Islamists who are attracted to al Qaeda and its affiliates).

According to the essay by Ted Robert Gurr, one of America’s leading political scientists, terrorism arises in societies marked by inequality and lack of opportunities for advancement. Individuals and groups develop grievances and become involved in political violence when their expectations for advancement are blocked in the economic, social and political spheres.

This thesis has two problems. First, only a few individuals who feel so aggrieved will resort to political violence, and without the enabling role of leaders who are capable of organizing recruits, terrorism does not break out. Second, while it may be true that local conditions that breed terrorism, such as oppressive governments or foreign occupation, produce grievances directed against the “near enemy,” Mr. Gurr does not explain the factors that might motivate terrorists to target a “far enemy” such as the United States.

It is up to another contributor in the volume, John Esposito of Georgetown University, in his essay on “Terrorism and the Rise of Political Islam,” to explain the underlying factors causing the clash between radical Islam and the West. Osama bin Laden’s goal, according to Mr. Esposito, is to “unleash a clash of civilizations between Islam and the Zionist crusaders of the West to provoke an American backlash that would radicalize the Muslim world [in order to] topple pro-Western Muslim governments.”

Based on the contributors’ findings on terrorism’s root causes, what policies should be employed in response? Because the findings are not synthesized by the volume’s editor into an overall framework (one of the volume’s weaknesses), no systematic counterterrorism response is proposed.

In fact, the essay on counterterrorism, by Michael Stohl of the University of California, Santa Barbara, is placed in the middle, not toward the end of the volume. Moreover, his essay does not focus on the distinct measures required to address an insurgency’s root causes, but rather is a worn-out discussion of the interplay between counterterrorism and civil liberties, without offering new ideas about the measures that are necessary to resolve contemporary terrorist insurgencies.

One can only hope that the series’ remaining two volumes will synthesize the findings produced by the Club of Madrid’s conference to provide us with an actionable framework to help guide effective counterterrorism.

By coincidence, Louise Richardson has also co-edited a volume on counterterrorism. In Democracy and Counterterrorism: Lessons From the Past (United States Institute of Peace, $65, $35 paperback, 481 pages), co-edited with Robert J. Art, 13 cases of governmental counterterrorism campaigns against 16 terrorist groups are examined.

The effectiveness of governmental counterterrorism is discussed in the cases of Italy (the Red Brigades), Britain (the IRA), Spain (ETA), France (the GIA), Venezuela (the FALN-FLN), Peru (Tupamaro), Colombia (the FARC), Israel (Fatah and Hamas), Israel (the Lebanese Hizballah), Turkey (the Kurdish PKK), Russia (the Chechen insurgency), India (the Islamists in Kashmir and the Sikhs in Khalistan), Sri Lanka (the Tamil LTTE) and Japan (the Aum Shinrikyo cult).

Most of the volume’s cases are historical rather than contemporary, which is part of the book’s objective to derive lessons from the past that can enlighten current counterterrorism campaigns.

For example, the chapter by Jeremy Shapiro on France focuses on the country’s counterterrorism campaign against the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in the mid-1990s, as opposed to the more severe threat posed by today’s al Qaeda-affiliated radical Islamists. Leonard Weinberg’s chapter on Italy’s Red Brigades takes place in the 1970s and early 1980s. A more contemporary discussion is Boaz Ganor’s chapter on Israel’s counterterrorism campaign against Palestinian terrorism, which includes the contemporary period.

What are the historical lessons from these 40 years that can benefit today’s counterterrorism? The concluding chapter by Mr. Art and Ms. Richardson extracts four significant lessons.

First, governments’ counterterrorism campaigns improve with time, especially once they begin to understand the nature of their terrorist adversary and the context in which it operates. Second, there is no “silver bullet” for successfully countering terrorism.

Since “different terrorist movements pose different types of threats in different contexts,” multifaceted responses are required. Third, the most successful governmental responses consist of an effective blend of measures that are coercive (e.g., intelligence, law enforcement and military) and conciliatory (governmental and social reforms, mobilizing moderates and, when appropriate, engaging with the adversary).

Finally, international cooperation is necessary, whether in providing intelligence, helping to apprehend terrorists, or in serving as trusted intermediaries in helping the insurgents and governments to reach mutually acceptable accommodation.

There is much validity to these lessons, as demonstrated by the success of the British government in resolving the terrorist campaign waged by the IRA.

The editors apply these lessons to the contemporary terrorist threat posed by al Qaeda and its affiliates. They find that here, also, international cooperation is necessary to coordinate an effective response, that political measures, such as public diplomacy, are required to wean the supporting population away from the insurgents, and that good intelligence is necessary to target the insurgency’s center of gravity.

“Democracy and Counterterrorism” is an important resource for those seeking to understand how the lessons of past counterterrorism campaigns can be applied in response to current terrorist threats.

Joshua Sinai is a program manager of counterterrorism studies at The Analysis Corporation in McLean, Va.

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