Terrorism is not a new phenomenon, and while the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre has come to be the most and significant in this century, terrorism has been prevalent all around the world and some notable examples go back centuries or even a millennium or more. Terrorist attacks in many countries have occurred and are continuing to occur with an increasing regularity. Palestine and Israel have particularly suffered terrorist attacks which has been ongoing for a long time. Political violence and terrorism in some cases has taken thousands of lives. This essay will focus on what are the fundamental causes of terrorism and what is the most effective way for the state to tackle it.
The word terrorism is usually associated evil, indiscriminate violence or brutality and the best way to define terrorism would be to keep it neutral if possible. With such intricate definitions terrorism could involve groups, states; attacks can be selective or random and the goals can political or criminal. So a simple definition would be that terrorism is the illegitimate use of force to achieve political objectives (Lutz, 2004). Terrorism is a process, not a goal. It is a means of trying to achieve a goal and many terrorist groups have used political violence in attempts to achieve their goals.
Before looking at the causes of terrorism it is important to distinguish the goals because when a group is labelled as terrorists they are automatically seen to be immoral and use violence to achieve their objectives, however, some violence can be associated with a greater good, such as freedom fighters, resistance fighters, or national liberation soldiers. The title "freedom fighters" itself suggests a positive evaluation of the goals and even though innocent bystanders maybe killed or wounded, in the long run it avoids a greater and continuing loss of life. Terrorism is a complex topic and there is no one cause for such a widely occurring phenomenon. Initially it was thought that terrorists suffered psychological disabilities, but this was later ruled out as it was found that terrorists do not suffer psychological problems. In fact, terrorist groups avoid individuals with psychological problems because they can be unreliable and therefore are dangerous to the organisation. However, there have been several explanations as to the causes of terrorism and among them include; "government structures and exploitive systems; repression and discrimination; relative deprivation; imperialism and colonialism and disasters- natural or otherwise that overwhelm the political society" (Lutz, 2004). These theories have some validity is a few circumstances, but no one theory can be sufficient to explain the real cause of this phenomenon in all the occurrences. One factor which is predominant in terrorism is that violence is expected to occur when a subgroup in the population has a major grievance. These problems can be real or perceived and the foundation of the problems can be religious, ethnic or ideological. Grievances can occur with economic disparity. Marxist theories suggest that class differences and economic structures play a key role in appearances violence (Lutz, 2008). Another reason is a major loss of status or position in complete or relative terms can resort to various kinds of political violence to secure their position. It is evident that violence plays a key role in terrorist activity and they believe that violence is the solution to the problems. However, some terrorist groups result to using violence when they cannot achieve their objectives through political and legal paths. This is the case with the IRA; however, the same cannot be said about Al Qaeda as they seek to kill as many people as possible to achieve their objectives and also to generate fear in a target audience.
Economic depression is a further cause of terrorism. This can create disruption to society and can create economic concern and frustration which then can trigger terrorism. The groups that suffer feel let down by the government and they feel like government favouritism is responsible for their loss, so when government policies fail to reinstate them they resort to violence. Other factors are globalisation and modernisation which can generate stress on societies. Societies dealing with change are vulnerable to displacement and popular dissatisfaction. Changes in social interaction, economic and elites can set off violence by dissident groups. Wars from the past have played a part to later terrorism. This could be due to dissatisfaction of peace settlements, different government structures, and new ruling elites which can create problems for future governments. Dissident groups will resort to terrorism for changes that do not occur after the war is over and the government is held responsible. Conflict often breeds more conflict. The Napoleonic War led to the rise of modern nationalism, which in turn resulted in national insurrections and more conflicts; such as, war of 1812, wars of German and Italian unification and the Balkan Wars. Finally outbursts of terrorism can be related to the existence of weak states or governments. Weak states means unstable law enforcement and this makes it easier for terrorists to operate and they use this as a way to attack their government. This is present in sub-Saharan Africa as they have weak states and government. There are many causes behind terrorist activities, but nearly all terrorist groups target to attack a legitimate government which is acceptable by people. These groups are dissatisfied with the government and they seek to undermine and destroy the political system.
When dealing with the prevention of terrorism, there is no one solution to tackle all the various types of terrorist groups. There are different types of terrorist groups, such as left-wing groups who have political ideological goals, like the IRA and religious groups, such as Al-Qaeda. There is a clear difference in how they pursue terrorist activities and they cannot be tackled in the same way. Preventing terrorism nationally is one thing, but then fighting global terrorism is another thing and it can be and is proving to be difficult. However, one possible way for the state to combat terrorism would be to increase security. This can be by making improvements to airport security, as it will avoid hijackings, although this was not the case in the 9/11 attacks. Also metal detectors are a way of detecting weapons and in many cases bombs have been discovered as have armed terrorists, however, this does not mean that bombs will not go through; it will just be trickier to achieve. It is vital to have greater security to prevent terrorism and it can limit the damage of the attacks, but it will not eradicate all the danger of such attacks.
Another form of counterterrorism is through intelligence gathering. This is done by intelligence agencies such as the CIA and the MI5. National security services such as MI5 aim to protect the country from posed terrorist threats and provide advice and assistance against those threats (Security Service MI5, 2010). Intelligence agencies find out the potential targets of terrorist attacks before it happens. These agencies do not always succeed in their mission as it can be very difficult to gather information on future attacks due the multitude of potential targets. Intelligence services should be able to predict areas which will be trouble spots, but this is not always done with certainty. They cannot work alone and they have to collaborate with other organisations and the police, which can be difficult as it takes up a lot of time.
Furthermore, disrupting finances of terrorist organisations is an effective solution in the battle of terrorism. Financial support is very important for terrorist organisations and it can come from dummy corporations, charities, or other groups that are used for funding. Al-Qaeda has become as dangerous as it has because of support from other Muslim contributors. Governments can block the financial operations and if financial support can be stopped then it will reduce if not eliminate attacks and they will become less dangerous. There are laws that prohibit contributions to terrorists and there have been cases where people have been caught and sentenced. Government auditors can find connections between supporters of terrorist groups by following money trail. Unfortunately, this method is not always successful as many dissident organisations are being funded and have succeeded in not being interrupted.
Finally the attempt on the "War on Terror" is another way of stamping out terrorism. This was introduced President Bush which includes various military, political, and legal actions taken to curb the spread of terrorism, following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. It may have inflicted huge damage on Al-Qaeda, but they still seem as powerful as ever and capable of causing outrages as part of a global jihad. As part of anti-terrorism scheme, Britain has started an anti-extremism program called Prevent Violent Extremism (Prevent). 140 million pound has been put into this program in an attempt to cut off extremism at the source and keeping the public safe, while still safe guarding the rights of Muslims (Power, 2010). This program is designed to protect individuals who could be at risk of radicalisation and may well be successful. However, it is being criticised by Muslims and the civil liberties groups for using this to spy on innocent Muslims and gather general intelligence on Muslims. Even though these campaigns are intended to fight terrorism, it encourages stereotyping and prejudice, which leaves young Muslims feeling alienated.
In conclusion, the causes of terrorism can be due to many reasons and it usually involves violence or threatens violence. The basis for using violence is to generate power and fear in a target audience. However, almost all terrorist groups seek to undermine and damage governments which is acceptable by people because they are dissatisfied and they want to achieve a way of life that is desirable or good. The causes of terrorism can be religious, ethnic or ideological, but either way terrorism inflicts death and misery by violent groups who seek to achieve political goals. There is certainly no one solution to terrorism and the state can never completely protect their country completely from terrorists, but the things they can do is provide increased security and gather effective intelligence and then take appropriate course of action when needed. An effective strategy will involve dealing with both the causes and actions of terrorist groups, and then fight it tactfully.