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Theories for the Causes of Terrorism

4218 words (17 pages) Essay

12th Apr 2019 International Relations Reference this

The search for the causes of terrorism is futile


One of the side effects of globalization is terrorism. It created new threats, a sense of everyday risk and the globalization of local misfortunes. It complicated communications, created suspicion and pushed the problem of identity to the far corner as not so timely against the background of constant fear, emphasizing the quasi-naturalness of society and the inability of a person to influence the situation. As an American professor said: “There is nothing to talk about terrorism, to look for definitions and to build theories. Terrorists are criminals, and they must be destroyed. Terrorism is a crime, and we must fight it.” A similar mood is clear to our citizens and our scientists. Nevertheless, it is also impossible to fight terrorism without the analysis of the causes and essence of terrorism, its new features, its connection with the complex of the ongoing changes in the world.

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Terrorism is often characterized as an attempt to press on the government of a foreign or own country, using the ability of television to visually demonstrate to the whole world the horrors of violence against civilians. Without television, especially terrorist attacks in the live broadcast, terrorists could not rely on the ability of their victims, their relatives and part of the population to put forward demands that coincide with their own. In fact, terrorism is violence that carried out by a group of people towards the state as a political entity through violence and threats of violence against civilians. This is a form of political message, an ultimatum. Another definition given at the conference “The Euro-Atlantic community – community of values” in Soloniki (December 2002): terrorism is the activity of a non-state actor that damages non-state organizations to harm the state. Terrorists are at war with the state through a war with the population without a chance to become a state actor.

I think it’s worth outlining a few approaches that conceptualize the problem of terrorism, find out their compatibility, offer their interpretation and describe the conditions under which terrorism, which today is an essential factor of the 21st century, can be weakened. Reflections on terrorism can be divided primarily into sociological, civilizational and socio-psychological. All private explanations fit into these three types.

Influence of Globalisation

The sociological approach is based on the identification of such sources of aggression as backwardness and poverty. These eternal satellites of uneven development are not only not eliminated, but are aggravated by globalization. Globalization, having a positive impact on the economic development of Western countries, negatively affects the state of peripheral zones. (Anon., 1999)

Why is such a gap attributed to the effects of globalization, although the UN report shows that it was growing even in the period preceding globalization? First, the figures indicate the acceleration of the gap between developed and undeveloped, rich and poor countries with the onset of globalization. Secondly, information, economically and technologically developed countries have undeniable advantages in the course of globalization. Thirdly, the changes in the West are so great that today one cannot count on a catching-up model of modernization. It is now impossible to overcome backwardness, it is impossible to catch up with the West. The idea of ​​modernization is changing. The explanation of terrorism by poverty and inequality is often challenged. The proof of the opposite is that many leaders of terrorism are educated and wealthy bourgeois. Does this topic of poverty make irrelevant the topic of terrorism? Poverty is not always associated with terrorism, but in the ideology of terrorism poverty plays a central role, along with humiliation, ignorance, alienation, marginalization, and the absence of a global identity in the destruction of the local. In conditions of high technological equipment and destroyed identity, its acquisition is often in ugly forms, including those that lead to terrorism. In particular, new technologies break off the usual connections, form new life styles. This happens not only in the West with its technological revolution, in post-communist countries with their social revolution, but also in the East. Thus, M. Castells as an example of such an artificial identity leads the Japanese terrorist organization “Aum Shinrikyo”, especially among a young, highly educated generation, can be considered as a symptom of the crisis of established patterns of identity, coupled with a desperate need to build a new, collective I, Spirituality, advanced technology (chemistry, biology, lasers), global business ties and the culture of the millenarian end of history. ” (M., 2000)

Globalization involves the exchange of goods, capital and people. Since the world has split into countries that have a high standard of living, high value of life and high value of labor, on the one hand, and those that have a low standard of living, low value of life, low value of labor, legal exchange of people is small, otherwise disadvantaged of the whole world would have rushed to the West. But traffic has grown – this is how illegal trade in people, especially women and children, often used for sexual purposes, from poor and undeveloped countries to rich and developed ones, is called. Social contrasts turn terrorism into a tool of protest. And, of course, the impossibility of legal political resolution of the problem can be a source of terrorism. The reaction to this may be different, up to the opposites: from the requirements of development, today largely blocked by the West’s globalization policy for backward countries, to the traditionalist rebellion against modernization that does not bring visible results.

The civilizational approach

The confrontation “diversity – split” is even more suitable for characterizing the civilizational contradictions of the North and the South. There is no need to repeat the polemic regarding the concept of S. Huntington, who, ignoring political correctness, defined the lines of the civilizational split as a feature of the new conflict that is coming after the end of the Cold War. Terrorism has signs of civilizational opposition.

“Why do they hate us?” – asked George W. Bush and himself answered: “Because they hate our freedom.” This is reminiscent of the speech of Lord Lytton mentioned above, spoken in India in 1878, in which he informed the Indians about the high mission of Britain, which brings to India the idea of ​​freedom of dignity for every person through freedom of the press. No less mysterious is the “formula” of Bush for terrorists. Political correctness, as already noted, does not allow in the US to discuss this issue. Only two “theoreticians” – G. Vidal and N. Chomsky – attempted to answer Bush’s question, not sparing America, but this did not arouse public sympathy and under the circumstances could not cause it.

In Vidal’s book, published in Russia earlier than in America, the author shows that the arrogance of the United States towards other nations, hegemony, triumphalism, the easy use of military and police operations, the conviction of one’s political and moral superiority makes people like Timothy the American McVeigh, who blew up a house in Oklahoma City, decide on a terrorist act, hoping that in this way he will be able to explain through the media the reasons for his discontent with America, and the Islamic terrorists go To struggle by means available to them. (Vidal, 2003)

Many in America and beyond consider the question of the essence of terrorism as Manichaean, splitting into the poles a pluralistic country where “we” and “they” coexist. Huntington is opposed not only by the ideas of cosmopolitanism, globalization, but also by the understanding of terrorism as barbarism, fighting with civilization. Barbarism certainly takes place, but it parasitizes cultures that admit terrorism.

Socio-psychological approach

Classical socio-psychological work on the problem of terrorism is the book of the German scientist E. Hoffer under the heading “The True Believer”., published in 1961. Long history of this book was a deep analysis of mass psychology, those of its features that form the type of “true believer”, that is, a deeply convinced and destructive person. Among these features are the “appeals of the mass movement” – the desire for change, the desire for substitutes, the internal variability of the masses. A great role is played by misfortune and poverty, excessive egoism and ambition, doctrines, fanaticism, striving for leadership, etc. Evolution of such person or groups: from words to deeds, to “useful mass movements”. (Hoffer, 1951)

Laqueur in his books sees the cause of terrorism in fanaticism, in response to state terrorism, in human nature, which does not change even with the fastest changes in technology. Laqueur also talks a lot about the so-called state terrorism, which, it seems to me, only confuses the issue. (Laqueur, 1999) Rather, I agree with Budnitsky, who considers the term “terrorism” not applicable to the activities of the state even when the state carries out terror. Through this methodological approach, it will be possible to avoid confusion in explaining these two different phenomena.

Another author draws a slightly simplified chain of “radicalism – extremism – fanaticism – terrorism” as the evolution of a subject inclined to escalate violence and respond violently to violence. (Olshansky, 202)

In the formation of the psychology of a terrorist, unjustified expectations play a role, a sharp change of identity that does not make it clear when the Ukrainians so changed to Russians, and the Bosnians began to interpret their identity as Islamic. And yet, the prevailing interpretation of terrorism as an activity of fanatical people blinded by rage can hardly be fully accepted. A. Utkin quotes in his work the contents of a letter written by a suicide pilot written long before the attack on the World Trade Center. Calm in tone, it contains an appeal to the Muslims with an explanation of the causes of the act by the search for justice, a religious duty. The same author also mentions the diary of a Japanese kamikaze pilot who attacked an American aircraft, but fell into the sea and did not explode. He rejoices that the flight has been postponed for a day, that he will once again see the sky, and then will fulfil his duty. (Utkin, n.d.)

In the already mentioned Vidal’s book, correspondence with McVeigh is given, which produces a stunning impression. This correspondence reveals in McVeigh not a fanatic, not an evil man and not a mental patient. His sanity is confirmed by a psychiatrist who was formally appointed when considering his case, which gives the conclusion that McVeigh is simply a person who aspires to devote himself entirely to his work. In his letters, he looks more like M. Luther, how the Israeli student Agal Amir, who killed the Israeli Prime Minister Isaac Rabin, looked like him. McVeigh avenges the horrors carried over by the Arab population during the Gulf War, wanting to show Americans what these horrors are, so that US citizens work on their government. McVeigh’s explanations were not presented to the public through the media, and his death became a message of the opposite property – it indicated the dangers posed by terrorist animals. A more accurate description of the psychology of a terrorist is in many cases not fanaticism, but monism: “They (extremists, terrorists,) ignore or suppress the complexity (phenomena) and do not recognize or tolerate any ambiguity, reducing Evaluation of social institutions to “single fixed standards” … such as black – white, true – false. Their romantic appeal to outsiders or surrounding participants is typically due to their apparent adherence to the consciousness of their proponents, one of the features of which is the elimination of differences between private and public interests … ” Perhaps the most adequate psychological assessment of terrorism should be based on the understanding that they are representatives of traditional societies or traditional consciousness, which, even when living in other societies, measure rationality not by the ability to achieve the goal, but by unswerving attachment to values. (A. Breton, 2002)

Terrorism is a crime, followed by punishment. But only if we want to evade the problem, then we should simplify the situation in order to turn terrorists into notorious villains, possessed by extremely low motives.

It is difficult to determine the motivation of a terrorist. It can be both political, religious, and psychological. The attackers of America hated her for triumphalism, for imposing the status quo, despite the fact that radical Islamists are unhappy with their position and their place in the global economy, for not understanding that they are others, for alienation, for soft power (“soft power”), State. This hatred mixed truth and fiction, from which the solidarity of the Islamic world and its marginals was forged. Hatred was combined with rational actions – long-term planning, preparation, calculation. It is unlikely that all these psychological considerations are convincing in some ways and make it possible to understand terrorism as a phenomenon, although they are necessary for the neutralization of terrorists.

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The political approach

It is not difficult to see that the above descriptions of terrorism contain a characteristic of many of its features and prerequisites, which certainly take place. The poverty of entire regions and the unevenness of globalization, the weakness of the general civilization, the common humanity and the psychology of fanatics cannot be discounted. But why was terrorism the response to all this? Why is terrorism, as stated in a variety of works, marks the 21st century, although there were many examples of it in the 19th and 20th centuries as well? Is there an integral characteristic of terrorism that would separate the conditions for its implementation from its essence, would indicate not only general but also specific signs and prerequisites for a terrorist attack? There is some parallel with the definitions of the conditions of the revolution and its essence. The split of classes, like the civilizational split, accompanies their economic inequality and contributes to the revolution and, accordingly, to terrorism. But in the presence of economic inequality and civilizational differences of the revolution (as well as terrorism) may or may not be. Poverty is also the cause of the revolution. But even in the presence of poverty, a revolution can take place, or it may not take place. Terrorism is similar to the social-protest or revolutionary movement, carried out in the conditions of class death and depoliticization. In this capacity, it is fuelled by social causes. But these are “revolutions”, as a rule, not claiming to seize power. Their goal is to disturb the hated enemy, immerse him in a state of vulnerability, fear, create conditions for him that push him to understand the problems of those who are capable of this desperate struggle. (Toffler & Toffler, 1993)

At the same time, terrorism is like a new type of war, which does not always continue the policy of the state. This is a war of non-political authors, carried out without declaration and with far-reaching, not as a result of this war, feasible political goals. Among its sources are social and civilizational reasons.

At the same time, terrorism is an international criminal, technologically equipped and having political goals, acting as a political actor, although its activities are directed not directly against one’s own or another’s state, but through an attack on civilians. His prevailing source is psychological: hatred, envy, greed, desire for profit. This is the kind of crime that accompanies the destruction of traditional society, not accompanied by successful modernization.

In these characteristics of terrorism, the previously presented sociological, civilizational and psychological approaches interact, but the integral characteristic of terrorism remains unidentified. Concluded in one phenomenon social protest, cultural conflict and psychological rage increases the number of threats in the world, makes them unpredictable, like natural disasters, and society turns into a quasi-natural reality.

Those who define terrorism as revenge and the last battle of traditionalism consider that terrorism is not a political act, since the whole life of traditional societies does not know politics in the modern sense of the word. However, there is another opinion.

First of all, terrorism acts as a way to combat the weak with the political power of the state, with which they cannot enter into a direct battle. In the book on extremism cited above, it is noted that extremism is a reaction to asymmetry in the distribution of political rent.

I believe that the integral characteristic of terrorism can be precisely political. As Pakistani President Musharraf notes, “Bin Laden gave his students a project that justified terrorism and gave them financial resources. The main motivation of Islamists is not religion, but politics.” (Olshansky, 202) This view is primarily due to the fact that terrorists have political goals. For Bin Laden, this is the construction of an Islamic caliphate, for others – the creation of a state of its own, autonomy, the attainment of a certain status in the international system, access to the international arena in the context of globalization, when the most developed countries firmly defined their leadership. The Sri Lankan terrorists, the Basques, the Irish and other terrorist organizations are different from the Islamic radical organizations, they can be more local in their actions and more tangible and feasible goals, they are less archaic (the call to give their lives in exchange for eternal bliss after death and help the family is understandable to the Ummah , But in other cases it appears in a weaker form).

In addition, the political nature of the terrorist attacks of the 21st century can be justified through a political interpretation that does not link politics exclusively to the specialized activities of the state. Methodology of this kind was presented by the German political scientist K. Schmitt. He believed that the specifics of this kind of activity can be determined by identifying the main problem that the politician decides. This problem is characterized by Schmitt in the same way as an aesthetic, ethical, economic one is considered. The aesthetic solves the question of the relationship between beauty and ugliness, ethical – good and evil, economic – fit and unfit, profitable and unprofitable. “Specific political discrimination, to which political actions and motives can be reduced, is the distinction between a friend and an enemy.” Despite the fact that Schmitt’s work was written in 1927, he, like no one else, managed not only to formulate the essence of the political in such an unusual way, but also was able to comment on the events that are taking place today. So, as confirming from the past, he described the political nature of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center: “The real division into groups of friends and enemies is so strongly and so decisively important that the non-political opposite at the very moment it causes such grouping, puts aside its previous criteria and motives: “purely” religious, “purely” economic, “purely” cultural, and is subordinated to completely new … conditions and conclusions are now poly Tical situation “. (Schmitt, n.d.)

Having given the above definition of the political, Schmitt did not reject the importance of the state as the main agent of politics and did not reject the connection between politics and state activity. He simply explained the reasons for this state of affairs: the political does not automatically follow from the relationship to power, to the state, but, on the contrary, the state takes on weight and primacy because of its political nature – the ability to maintain unity among friends, including, first and foremost, internal unity and opposition to enemies. The state is the main political actor, but the above definition of the political implies the possibility of others. (Schmitt, n.d.)


The end of the twentieth century brought a sharp understanding that all its tragedies and tensions, revolutions and wars are the result of the rule of politics, the endless polarization of both the international system and the internal life of states against enemies and friends. The prospects for a less confrontational future were seen in openness, dialogue, in democratization. No one has ever thought that a clash of civilizations or life styles can become an equally painful process. The hatred of politics as such or the attempt to find the perfect political order prevailed. Neoliberalism came out with this claim. Appealing to the free market, he took part in depoliticization, providing under its slogans its policy and its ideology.

Undoubtedly, the root of the problem lies in the underlying causes: injustice of globalization, uneven development, in civilizational contradictions, in psychological traumas. And here the recipe is not: just need to feel it, understand justice as honesty, in the words of the recently deceased classic American political scientist J. Rawls. In terms of the same cognitive task, it is necessary to change the requirements of political correctness, remove moral and political prohibitions and not shy away from studying the most painful issues. Considering the conflicts connected with the depoliticization of the main political actor-the state and the system of states, science must be depoliticized in order to obtain true knowledge to the maximum extent that it can do it.

Accordingly, analysing the above, one can conclude that scientists identify not only many causes of terrorism, but also many theories. Every concrete terrorist act cannot be characterized solely based on one theory. Therefore, it is impossible to single out any clear description of the causes of terrorism and to characterize each case exclusively by these criteria. Moreover, our world does not stand still, and every day, every month, there are new social relations, laws, living conditions … that all together and separately, generates new causes of terrorism, or situations that can contribute to its development. Every scientist has his own point of view regarding the causes of terrorism, but is it possible to say that one of them is right, but someone is not? Very evaluation situation. In addition, every terrorist act has its own unique nature, and therefore, in general, it is very difficult to say that they are of the same type. Each of them is individual, and each has its own, unique reasons.


  • A. Breton, G. G. G. P. S. R. W., 2002. Political Extremism and Rationality. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Anon., 1999. Globalization with a Human Face//UNDP Report, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Hoffer, E., 1951. The True Believer. 1st ed. Manhattan: Harper & Brothers.
  • Laqueur, W., 1999. The New Terrorism: Fanaticism and the Arms of Mass Destruction. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • M., C., 2000. Information age. Economy, society and culture. 1st ed. Moscow: “Publishing house of the Higher School of Economics”.
  • Olshansky, D., 202. Psychology of Terror. 1st ed. Saint-Peterburg: Piter.
  • Schmitt, C., n.d. The concept of political, 1992: s.n.
  • Toffler, A. & Toffler, H., 1993. War and Anti-War: Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century. 1st ed. Boston,Toronto,New York: s.n.
  • Utkin, A., n.d. The only superpower. s.l.:s.n.
  • Vidal, G., 2003. Why do they hate us? Eternal war for the sake of eternal peace. s.l.:s.n.


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