I’m still working my way through Dr. Louise Richardson’s book What Terrorists Want, going quite slowly and thinking about how these principles manifest in the lives of the terrorists in my book. Here are some excerpts I want to collect in one place. The underlining for emphasis is my own.
The extraordinary brutality of the Sicarii/Zealots can be attributed in part to their religious conviction but also to the fact that there were several different groups of Zealots and Sicarii operating simultaneously in pursuit of the same ends. These groups competed with one another to demonstrate the superiority of their commitment and to claim leadership of the movement.
This is the first known instance of a pattern that was to become quite common a century later: members of diaspora communities, feeling out of place in their new homes, develop a powerful affinity for their homeland and finance movements for radical change back home. Simplicity of interpretation tends to increase with distance from the conflict. The Fenian campaign was unsuccessful not least due to a reluctance to cause civilian casualties, and without deaths they couldn’t garner attention.
Curiously enough, Vladimir Lenin, who was to prove such an inspiration for the social revolutionary terrorist movements of the late twentieth century, was critical of the Russian anarchists, whom he considered misguided zealots. […] He believed that he had a more efficacious way of overthrowing the system. Rather than throwing bombs at ministers, Lenin advocated the creation of a revolutionary elite dedicated to one simple goal, the seizure of power. Far from being isolated from those around them, Lenin’s cadre of revolutionaries exploited popular grievances as a means of consolidating their support. It did not matter to Lenin that the complaints might be from nationalists, aspiring landowners, or others unsympathetic to his cause. What did matter to the ultimate pragmatist was that animosity toward authorities made them potentially sympathetic to subversives, whose political powerlessness left them free to make empty promises. Lenin’s key contribution to terrorist strategy, therefore, was the importance of exploiting every fragment of local alienation for its own ends. It is very clear from reading bin Laden’s public statements that he has taken this lesson to heart. He criticizes the United States for everything from support for Israel to the deployment of troops in Saudi Arabia to its refusal to sign on to the international criminal court to profiteering by the Halliburton Company.
The emergence of terrorism requires a lethal cocktail with three ingredients: a disaffected individual, an enabling group, and a legitimizing ideology.
From the vast literature on psychology, three points stand out. Terrorists see the world in Manichean, black-and-white terms; they identify with others; and they desire revenge. They have a highly oversimplified view of the world in which good is pitted against evil and in which their adversaries are to blame for all their woes. They tend to act not out of desire for personal gratification but on behalf of a group with which they identify (though the two motives can coexist).
The leaders of terrorist movements tend to be older and more highly educated than their followers, no matter what part of the world they come from. […] Marc Sageman studied the biographies of 172 members of al-Qaeda and found that two thirds were middle or upper class and that 60 percent had gone to college, several had doctorates. Their average age was twenty-six.
The idea that democracy is the best antidote to terrorism has enjoyed widespread acceptance recently. This is too simplistic. Terrorism has occurred in democracies the world over. Terrorism is employed by minorities. (If they were not in the minority, they would not need to resort to terrorism.) To be a permanent minority within a democracy can be a frustrating position, and unless democracies can demonstrate that they provide not only a nonviolent means of expressing dissent but also a nonviolent means of redressing grievances of minorities, they are unlikely to be an acceptable substitute. […] Terrorist movements have often emerged in democracies when those trying to change the system realize they do not have the required numbers to prevail in a democracy. What’s more, many of the hallmarks of democracies, such as freedom of movement and freedom of association as well as protections of privacy and personal rights, have made them convenient operating grounds for terrorism.
These rates also raise another risk factor for terrorism, the existence of large numbers of unemployed young men.
Examining economic causes of terrorism leads one back to the same conclusion: it’s complicated. Terrorism has occurred in both rich and poor countries but most often in developing countries and in societies characterized by rapid modernization. Rapid socioeconomic changes are conducive to instability and tend to erode traditional forms of social control. These situations are then open to exploitation by militants offering to make sense of these changes, to blame others for the dislocations and humiliations involved, and to offer a means of redress. Only a tiny percentage of the population needs to be persuaded. Whether this small group remains small and isolated or grows will depend on a range of factors, from the response of the authorities to the extent of the social dislocation being experienced, as well as the success of the militant leadership in integrating their message with historical, cultural, or religious traditions.