That’s the question posed (and answered, tongue-in-cheek, Trudeau-style) in today’s Doonesbury strip. It’s actually a really good question, so I’ll offer my answer.
To answer this, one obviously needs to define “terrorist;” the best definition I’m aware of is, “One who uses attempts to use fear of death, injury, or other harm as a means to an end, with the intent or promise of inflicting such harm if the end is not acheived.” You’ll notice that this excludes empty threats; in order for the terrorist(s) to be recognized, they pretty much have to do something to inspire fear. It also excludes the kinds of rhetoric politicians and lobbyists use: “Elect my opponent or do such-and-so, and bad things will happen.” The terrorist must be the one threatening to inflict harm, or his/her words are not acts of terrorism.
Now, there are lots of ends to which one might employ fear; sex, money, power, and political change are the obvious motives for any kind of emotional manipulation. The most common, of course, are the ideological motives (power, political change, prisoner releases, etc.).
What kinds of ideology would prompt somebody to use threats to inflict harm as a primary tool? Answer: ideologies which conflict with the status quo. One does not use terrorism to assail the powerless or the weak minority classes (this is not terrorism, but simple thuggery or, perhaps, genocide); terrorism is aimed at effecting social change, not simply killing off or scaring off some disfavored group. One uses terrorism to assault the powerful, the elite, or the masses.
Threats that are limited to the powerful and the elite are really better termed class warfare, warlording, or extortion. Besides, these groups are, generally, the best able to defend themselves, thus least likely to be motivated by fear of the disgruntled few. In other words, true terrorism is an attack or threat of attack against the many, motivated by extreme dislike of their way of life or form of government. It is an attack on the choices of the masses, while not necessarily the choices of every individual or even of the powerful.
So, yes, terrorism really is the acting out or threatened acting out of a hatred of choice; it is the animated hatred of freedom. Whether it be the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, the democratic freedom to vote for one’s favorite candidate, or any other freedom present in a society, some freedom is always the true object of a terrorist’s actions. The terrorist must perceive that his targets/victims have the freedom to do otherwise: to change religion, espouse one point of view, or make some other change.
Yes, terrorists hate freedom. Yes, if you believe that America, or at least the ideals for which America stands, are in any way “good,” then those who attempt to change those ideals through fear are “evildoers.” America is not engaged in a struggle over skyscrapers, oil, land, money, or political power. The people who have attacked America, Britain, Spain, and countless other nations are fighting against the freedom to be non-Muslim, or non-Communist, or non-Basque, or non-something, in those countries.
We are fighting for our freedom. Our enemies are dedicated and capable, so our options are limited to two:
- Fight our enemies and ensure peace by their defeat (“peace through superior firepower”).
- Continue to claim our freedoms, without acting to stop those who would deny them (war, with nominal freedoms, through passivity).
In the book, The Lord of the Rings, the character Aragorn tells a king, “War is upon you, whether you would risk it or not.” Those words were true of the United States of America after Fort Sumter, after Pearl Harbor, and after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center complex (though it took an attack on the USS Cole, eight years, and the destruction of the WTC complex for more than a few people to realize this). After 9/11, the Madrid bombings, and the London 7/7 bombings, only the most daft could doubt that war is upon us, whether we would risk it or not.
The first shots of this war were not fired in Afghanistan or Iraq, or in Madrid or London. They were not fired by Americans. Whether we would choose war or not, it was chosen for us when men bombed one of our great buildings. We chose not to fight then, but the war did not end. It simmered on, and a few shots were fired, from time to time. Some (17) of our sailors died and a few threats were made.
One day, a shot was fired (4, actually) which took almost 3,000 lives, killing citizens of more than 100 nations. Many people still believe that this was not an act of war, that it was a desperate act by a handful of people who will realize, when they see us going on with our lives, that they cannot win and will abandon their means as hopeless. This is the belief of a fool. The people who perpetrate terrorist attacks, more often than not, choose to die for the cause. More importantly, most of these groups have a “you do or you die” attitude. Failure to comply with their demands means, to these terrorists, that one has chosen death, because that is the promised alternative.
Terrorist attacks – in New York, in London, in Madrid, in Baghdad, in Jerusalem – will not stop until the vast majority of those who would plan and carry out such attacks are dead or imprisoned on our terms, simply because they have vowed to see the battle through until they are dead or victorious. Because our enemies are motivated by religious or nationalistic fervor, often accompanied by a suicidal mindset, and because they have proven with their deaths their commitment to their cause, I, for one, do not doubt that nearly all of them will live out their vows.
We are in a war for our freedom, and we must fight it, whether we would risk it or not, because it will be fought by the enemies of our way of life.