Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Next Step: Theories of Terrorism

In an effort to try to better understand what we call "terrorism," as a preliminary to thinking through what we might better do about it, I've been trying to identify stages of progressively more violent passion.

Here's an example involving abortion.

1. "I could never have an abortion, but I wouldn't presume to tell others what they should do."
2. "I could never have an abortion, and I'd advise others against doing so as well."
3. "Not only do I think no one should have an abortion, I think we should have legislation forbidding it, and that Roe v. Wade should be overturned by the Supreme Court."
4. "I feel strongly enough about outlawing abortion that I've started going to the state capitol to lobby my legislators, participating in marches, and demonstrating with picket signs along the roads at rush hour."
5. "It's not enough to protest; I'm now getting as close to abortion clinics as I can, taking pictures, writing down license plate numbers, and shouting at the employees, and potential clients, trying to discourage them from going in."
6. "The only effective way to stop abortions is to stop the doctors who perform them. Sometimes you have to take a life to save lives."

It seems to me that a similar progression, or continuum, could be described for any number of issues. Opposition to U.S. Government policies takes the form of casual conversation, letters to the editor, protest marches -- and killing, whether Timothy McVeigh killing 168 individuals in the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing, April 19, 1995, or the attack now simply referred to as "9/11." The anti-Viet Nam War movement in the 1960s and 1970s moved along a similar continuum, up to and including the Weather Underground's tactics of bombing buildings. The civil rights movement included lots of speaking and writing, legislation, Dr. King's strategies of "non-violence" -- and the urban rioting of the 1960s.

Animal welfare advocates range from the World Wildlife Fund and those who volunteer at animal shelters to the Animal Liberation Front's willingness to destroy animal research laboratories. Similarly, the environmental movement includes, for example, Sierra Club members at one end of the continuum and Earth First and Earth Liberation Front violent action at the other.

Prejudice can have similar outlets, from "I want to preserve my heritage" (e.g., culure, language) -- national, religious, ethnic, racial, sexual preference -- at one end of the continuum to a desire to kill the "other" (e.g., Jews (Holocaust), African Americans (lynching), homosexuals (taunting, bullying, beating/killing)).

Another way of visualizing the continuum is to go from:
1. apathy to
2. interest
3. obtaining information and opinion
4. formulating one's own opinion
5. expressing that opinion
6. developing a passion about the issue, and giving it a priority with one's time
7. joining, or starting, organizations with others
8. taking non-violent actions (e.g.,lobbying, demonstrating)
9. engaging in civil disobedience (i.e., deliberatly violating the law to attract attention to the issue, accompanied with a willingness to be prosecuted, convicted and receive the punishment for doing so), to, finally,
10. engaging in violent action deliberately designed to destroy property, or otherwise cause financial loss to others, or their physical injury or death

What interests me is "what correlates with what?" That is, what causes individuals to land on one or another of these positions? What, if anything, do those individuals have in common? And, of course, most especially, for those who adopt "the next step," the use of violence, what is it that causes them to do so?

As a subset of that stage, what additional factors are involved when the individual is not only willing to cause harm to others but is willing to, not just risk their own life, but to deliberately engage in a suicide mission in which they know they will lose their own life in pursuit of their cause?

My instinct is that what is going on here is distinguished from either a premeditated, or "heat of passion," murder of a single individual, or group (e.g., workplace or school). It usually involves an ideology, cause, goal or strategy -- however ill-defined, analyzed and articulated it may be. But I'm prepared to find out I'm wrong about that; that these end up being distinctions without a difference.

And, of course, the reason for my curiosity and inquiry is to see if, as a result of whatever understanding may emerge, there may be something that we could be doing with regard to the threat posed by the jihadists -- other than bombing or otherwise contributing to the killing and wounding of innocent civilians in Iraq -- that might be a more effective strategy.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting "we need to be more understanding;" "maybe if we'd be nicer to them they'd be nicer to us," or similar sentiments. We need to do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves, up to and including the killing of those who are hell bent on killing us (regardless of what we do) before they can kill us.

I'm not interested in writing (or reading, for that matter) a doctoral dissertation about this subject. But if anyone knows of individual articles of modest length, or has interests and insights of their own, I'd be interested in hearing about them. I suspect there is probably an enormous body of literature out there from a variety of fields (with virtually all of which I'm unfamiliar).

I just think the more we can know about the personality types, motives, causes and influences upon those who take these "next steps" the better able we will be to prevent that process and, when we fail to prevent it, at least be better able to predict what's coming -- and to protect ourselves.

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