Geopolitics and the psyche of terrorists

The opening act of the modern era of terrorism dates from 1972, when the Palestinian terrorist group Black September murdered 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team and a German police officer in Munich (Post, 2005). As the event played out, the enormous amplifying effect of international media coverage was recognized and serves as a legacy for today's terrorists. Three types of terror organizations have since been recognized: social-revolutionary groups, nationalist-separatist groups, and, more recently, religious fundamentalists. Social-revolutionary groups, as exemplified by the Red Brigades in Italy and the Red Army Faction in Germany, are leftist groups with strong ties to Communist parties seeking to overthrow the extant capitalist economic and social order. With the collapse of Communism in Europe and the end of the Cold War, their activity has dramatically declined.

Nationalist-separatist terrorism organizations are one of the two types seen commonly today. These groups are fighting to establish a new political order or state based on ethnic identity. They are influenced by the struggle of earlier generations to gain independence from a perceived oppressive regime, and their acts of terrorism are focused on this regime or its allies. Examples of such organizations include the Provisional Irish Republican Army of Northern Ireland (PIRA), the Basque separatist group Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA), the secular Palestinian organization al-Fatah, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka (Arena and Arrigo, 2005).

The most influential type of organization with regard to US foreign policy appears to be religious fundamentalist terrorists, illustrated by organizations such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad. The goal of these organizations is broader in scope, in that they want not only to change the local political situation but also to expel representatives of the secular world from their lands. In the case of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, their aim is to rid their society of Western influences. Islam is considered to be a comprehensive system that guides all aspects of life and gives meaning and direction to social, legal, and political systems (Wiechman, etal.1994). Western global influence, particularly the development of Western-style secularism in Islamic countries, is seen as an affront to the existence of Islamic societies.

Western colonization was responsible for the early development of Islamic fundamentalism. This movement is in large part traced to Hasan al-Banna, who came to believe that the nineteenth- and twentieth-century colonialism in the Middle East and the subsequent diffusion of secular ideas and Western values in the region had served to erode the fabric of Islam (Abu-Amr, 1993; Mitchell,

1993). As a response he formed the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, dedicated to re-establishing an Islamic state in which the tenets of the religion and the precepts of Islamic shariah (holy law) were both firmly established (Moussalli, 1998). As the movement evolved, the scope broadened to the establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic world-view (Davidson, 1998). In this way, a movement that began as predominantly Arab and anti-colonial has now become pan-Islamic, drawing from the entire, diverse, global Muslim population, in excess of 1 billion people. Al-Qaeda has emerged as the leading proponent of this new ideology, with its focus on both the local and worldwide struggle for influence.

Unique to these groups is the decision-making role of a pre-eminent leader who is generally thought to have insight to God's will. Actions sanctioned by the leader are thereby endowed with sacred significance, thus explaining the fervor with which group members kill innocent non-believers. Because their motivation is to expel Western secular values and create a pure Islamic state, they believe their actions are sanctioned by the Koran and not constrained by Western morals; they are willing to do the "unthinkable," including the use of biological agents as weapons (Post etal., 2003). Their enemies are anyone who is opposed to their worldview. While the primary goal is to attack symbolic targets that reflect the secular decadence of Western life and attract media attention, many attacks are conducted against smaller secondary targets, due to greater accessibility. A novel aspect of these terrorist's tactics is the focus on killing as many innocent people as possible. As illustrated by the 1998 US embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, an additional objective appears to be the influencing of geopolitics through the induction of widespread fear in communities throughout the world where Western interests are present (Borum and Gelles, 2005).

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