Terrorism and the Low Numbers of Practicing Terrorists

Horrific acts of terror have plagued this planet for centuries. The contemporary prevalence of such acts has spawned the term ‘terrorism’ which has been precisely defined by Merriam Webster’s New English Dictionary as “the systematic use of terror (which is defined as a violent or destructive act in this context) especially as a means of coercion” (Merriam-Webster’s New English Dictionary 2011). Though despite the recent popularity of this term, its origins go back to the French Revolution. Surprisingly enough, this period of terror was actually perpetrated by the French Government . Eventually entitled “The Reign of Terror,” the infamousness of this historical era brought the horrors of violent oppression (in this case it was a government oppressing its population) to the world stage . Similarly to the atrocious deeds committed by the French Government during the Reign of Terror, activities that would now fall into this appalling classification are commonly a result of the premeditations and pre-considerations of various highly organized groups. Such assemblies have been active long before the terminology was created in 18th Century France. In fact, the first appearance of this type of rebellious group has been recorded as far back as the Roman Empire. During this time, underground groups of Jewish radicals plotted the assassinations of Roman occupiers and other Jewish conspirators . The concentration on assassinations is a terrorist theme that has remained common in the modern world. Many terrorist organizations have utilized this tactic in the 21st Century as a means of inflicting great damage with limited manpower. The limited resources of almost all terrorist organizations throughout history have made open combat a seemingly impossible task. Another terroristic maneuver that has certainly stood the test of time is the idea of suicide as a means of ultimate devotion. One of the first recognized groups of Jewish rebels (known to the Romans as the Sicari) committed mass suicide upon Roman besiegement . This act unquestionably illustrated this early group’s uncompromising dedication to their beliefs and sacred values. The same could also be said about the many modern-day suicide bombers.

In accordance with its antiquated roots, current terrorist activity is almost always motivated by religion and/or politics. A large majority of recent terrorist attacks have been carried out in the name of Islam. This reality has caused a great deal of scrutiny into the actual teachings within this worldwide religion and their potential for linkage to terrorism and violence. Though, many prominent individuals in the Western world refuse to explicitly associate such regrettable actions with one of the world’s great religions. Instead such influential parties mostly identify terroristic ideals with those originated in the radical Muslim offshoot known as Islamic Fundamentalism . This movement first emerged in India during a relatively oppressive period of British rule . Muslims in the country felt very strongly that they were the victims of rampant social injustice, rejection of traditional principles, and the forced acceptance of foreign domination and culture. The primary doctrine of Islamic Fundamentalism implies that many modern Muslim societies have strayed from the their ultimate divine paths (Choueiri 1997). The only applicable solution proposed in this movement is a unified return to the original mores of Islam. And while the problems facing these oppressed societies may in fact be religious, social and political, the Islamic Fundamentalist view heeds no separation between the political and the religious (Choueiri 1997). Therefore, in many regions Islam has become both religion and regime, and no area of human activity can fall outside of its remit. Be the nature of the problem as it may, in the minds of many Islamic Fundamentalists, “Islam is the solution” (Bar 2004, 1).

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While the aforementioned origins of Islamic terrorism certainly help to outline the belief systems of many terrorist groups, religion also plays an important role in the actual activities of such organizations. Most notably, the recruitment processes of many terrorist organizations involve a great deal of religious rhetoric and faithful promises (Enders and Sandler 2002). Many highly popularized terrorist organizations like Al-Qaida have customized their recruitment procedures in order to reach a larger global demographic of youths (Gerwehr and Daly 2003). By structuring their ploys in terms of their similarities to a military or paramilitary organization, they are easily able to convince young adults and their families that enlisting with them is certainly meaningful and legitimate. Using incessantly patriotic terminology and promises of social advancement and self-discovery, Al-Qaida (along with many other powerful terrorist groups) has been able to bolster its numbers and subsequently increase its global influence (Gerwehr and Daly 2003). It is also important to note the essentiality of the recruitment of youths by these organizations. This is principally because these shameless squads not only aim to reshape their followers’ physical and tactic capacities, but also their core values and ideologies . Consequently, ripe young minds are the ideal templates for this type of ideological and religious manipulation. By forcing recruits to strictly adhere to countless religiously fundamental protocols and values, terrorist higher-ups are more easily able to control their subordinates by placing their directives within a religious context . Accordingly, young newcomers are much more likely to blindly follow an order when they are made to believe it is not only the will of their mortal leader, but also the wish of a higher power. A perfect example of this type of manipulative tactic delicately framed within a religious context is the jihad methodology behind suicide bombs. In this case, the young man set to be sacrificed is assured by his superiors that the proposed mission has been chosen for him by Allah and that he will be rewarded for his deed in the afterlife with an array of beautiful young virgins . Once again, the feasibility of such a seemingly unbelievable ploy can only be universally effective if the potential recruit was conscripted at a young enough age that his mind could be thoroughly molded. For, to a developed mind, this type of pitch would presumably be highly unlikely and subsequently discarded, and the credibility of the organization as a whole would undoubtedly be called into question.

Knowing the important historic role religion has played and the important roles it continues to play in the workings of modern terrorist organizations, it is also helpful to consider the many crucial political motivators involved with Islamic terrorism. As was the case in the archaic settings where terrorism originated, such activities are usually fueled by a select population’s need for political and/or economic change. Whether this change is desired from the government (as was the case during the Roman Empire) or from its people (as was the case during the French Revolution), ongoing oppressive situations will inevitably erupt in violent outbursts (Gough 1998, and Laqueur 2001). With this in mind, Islamic terrorist groups have carried on the ancient traditions of violent upheaval and revolution. When considering the aforeposed fundamentalist origins of this type of terroristic activity, political oppression seems to be the root. And while much of the historical discrimination was focused on religious or quasi-religious aspects of Muslim life, the implementation of religious ideologies and themes into the inner workings of terrorist organizations has been a strategic tool for manipulating the resources necessary to achieve what are typically political or economic goals. Other non-Islamic terrorist groups, like the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland, fought against similar oppresive controllers, though they did not place as much importance on religion in their battles and recruitment processes (Horgan and Taylor 1997). Instead this notorious group focused the vast majority of its attention on ridding themselves of their oppressors (with little concern for religious subtexts). However, the ultimate lifeline and global influence of this organization was much shorter and smaller than that of their Islamic counterparts. Therefore, such facts certainly illustrate the tactical and strategic advantage of integrating religion into the framework of a terrorist organization’s masterplans. The history of Islamic terrorism has exemplified the importance of this inclusion as a tool for gaining manpower and achieving calculated goals.

As can be inferred from the data presented above, political motivations have been historically born within the minds of terrorist leadership bodies. Being that most of the strife that has caused such leaders to engage in terrorist activities has been the result of political and military encounters with Western powers, there is no reason to believe that political ambitions have vanished from their gaze. While leaders continue to use religion as a means of controlling their “pawns,” it is clear that the ultimate goal lies in a political revolution (Jackson 2008). Accordingly, many Islamic terrorist leaders forcefully stand against Western political ideas like democracy and capitalism. Such individuals advocate and fight to instill Islamic Law, giving no leniency to competing points-of-view. Many wealthy and influential nations (including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, The United Arab Emirates and Sudan) have recently adopted Islamic Law as their official legal structure (Vogel 2000). This reality has been the topic…


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