Does Terrorism Have A “Root Cause”?

July 1, 2007

Well, I get back from vacation to see the news this week coming out of the UK, and I felt compelled to put a post up after spotting this thread on LGF:  UK Jihad Doctors

Many of the LGFers pointed out that this kinda shoots a hole in Edward’s plan to fight terrorism (from his website):

As president, Edwards will put America on an offensive footing against those who would harm us. First, Edwards will strengthen our military to better address the threat posed by terrorist groups to the United States. Second, he recognizes what our military commanders have made clear military action is only one of the tools we have to stop terrorism; we have to supplant the lure of violent extremism with the hope of education, opportunity, and prosperity.

After all, if the jihadis in the UK were well paid doctors, so what else would it take to “supplant the lure of violent extremism” in this case?  Many people will also point out that Mohamed Atta (the purported leader of the 9/11 hijackers) was well educated.  Bin Laden himself was prosperous.  What would it take?

Bush, on the other side of the aisle, has long used the talking point that our presence in Iraq is justified as a means for fighting terrorism because the spreading of freedom and liberty will defeat the “hateful ideology”.  It’s a line that actually isn’t too far divorced from Edwards’ (although his doesn’t involve invading countries), as long as you assume that ‘freedom’ provides hope of education, opportunity, and prosperity.

But if there is an emerging problem in the UK (as evidenced by the past weeks events and those of a year ago), and the main perpetrators were already living in a free nation, how can one assume that bringing democracy to Middle Eastern countries like Iraq will ‘defeat’ this ideology?

One thing seems to be certain.  We’ve received plenty of empty rhetoric from our politicians about terrorism.  I haven’t really stumbled across any that make much sense on this issue. 

So what is the root problem?  If you ask many of the LGFers, they’d say that most of the politicians and the media are ignoring the big elephant in the room: Islam.  Of course, the big monkey wrench in that theory has long been the incident involving Tim McVeigh, which still ranks as the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in the history of the US.  McVeigh was not Muslim.  In fact, many acts of terrorism over the years and all over the world have had nothing to do with Islam.

So what is it?  What causes it?  What or who should we be afraid of?  And how do you stop them?  Can you stop them?  Can the threat ever be eliminated? Could it be that the ‘root cause’ of terrorism is more complex? Or, is there a ‘root cause’ at all, beyond hate, anger, and a passion for vengeance?

Sorry if this post appears to be more of a rant than making any specific point.  I guess if this post does have a point, it is that everyone thinks they understand terrorism, while I think that the debate hasn’t really even begun on it even while we’re supposedly fighting a ‘war’ against it. The politics of the day are focused on who is ‘tough’ and ‘weak’ on terrorism, and I’m still not sure exactly what that means.


  1. Interesting post.
    Re:Tim McVeigh
    “Of course, the big monkey wrench in that theory has long been the incident involving Tim McVeigh, which still ranks as the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in the history of the US.”

    Only 168 killed. you might want to correct that.

    He seemed to be inspired by the Militias that were popular in the US 80’s and early 90’s. We infiltrated those militias, spied on them, and in general made life difficult for them. It was a fairly short lived and localized thing.
    The same thing can be said for abortion clinic bombings or the IRA.

    Islam is a different thing altogether, it’s a world wide ideology with a common cause. It’s really quite a different ball of wax.

  2. Only 168 killed. you might want to correct that.

    Domestic terrorism (as opposed to international).

    Islam is a different thing altogether, it’s a world wide ideology with a common cause. It’s really quite a different ball of wax.

    Are we talking about the same Islam that has 2 sects killing each other in Iraq? That doesn’t seem like much of a common cause to me. Also, how many acts of terrorism have been committed by US Muslims here at home?

  3. Ok, I think I’m starting to understand where you’re getting stuck on this.
    “Does Terrorism Have A Root Cause?”
    No. There are Christians who blow up abortion clinics, Environmentalists who burn SUV’s, Animal rights activists who burn down medical testing facilities, etc.
    They are all unrelated and don’t really have a common root cause. Some are fundamentalists and others are anarchists. But they are all local/regional phenomenon. The only common root cause of worldwide global terrorism is Islam.
    (If you try to reframe colonialism/capitalism/ general warfare as terrorism I won’t bother to respond)

  4. “Also, how many acts of terrorism have been committed by US Muslims here at home?”
    We Have Jose Padilla, The first World Trade center bombing, The D.C. Snipers, The LAX El Al attack, etc.
    I’d also throw in the SUV at Chapel Hill, and the shooting at the Jewish center in Seatle.
    ….But that’s just off the top of my head. I could google it for you if you’d like.

  5. Well, we know terrorism is a tactic, right? So, maybe it’s a tactic resorted to by groups who feel passionate about a cause but lack the resources to further said cause by more legitimate means.

  6. One can scarcely be surprised about the Middle East being the “nest of international terrorism”, given the region has been invaded, colonised and repressed for well over a century and half by the militarily dominant east. After the 1st world war it was the western superpowers that redrew the borders in the Middle East. It was the British who are directly culpable in so many regards for the way Israel came to be created. The US-UK overthrow of Mohamed Mosadq in the 1950s saw the end of the only democratically elected president of Iran. The invasion of Afghanistan by USSR is another example, as is the support the US offered (and continue to offer) to tyrants in the region, like Saddam Hussein and President Musharaf in Pakistan only worsen the problem. Last year’s dithering over the crisis between Israel and Lebanon didn’t help matters either (incidentally, it was the UK that sold Israel nuclear technology in the 1960s and 70s). Humanitarian sanctions over Iraq in the 1990s resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands – a completely under-reported fact. The continued western military presence in Saudi, Iraq and Afghanistan also does not help matters. Nor does supportive attitude towards Israel’s policy for Palestine. In all, you can see that people there have had a lot of turmoil to deal with for a very long time. In such conditions of oppression, disempowerment, tyranny and economic depression, the flames of extremism are easy to fan.
    The other complete misnoma here is “terrorism”. Pick up a book on law. Domestic, international, maybe even the army manual – it really doesn’t matter. Look up terrorism. And compare the behaviour of the western superpowers with the definition. The following definition is a verbatim quote from the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000:
    (1) In this Act “terrorism means the use or threat of action where –
    (a) the action falls within subsection (2),
    (b) the use or threat is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and
    (c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.”

    Obviously, whether it was to install democracy, depose Saddam Hussein, fight jihadis, disarm Iraq or whatever else, the 2003 invasion of Iraq amounted to first the threat and later the use of force for ideological and political purposes. Therefore: terrorism. International terrorism, since the action didn’t even benefit from any United Nations mandate (there was no resolution permitting the invasion of Iraq).

    Do you still wonder why the Middle East harbours so much resentment towards the West?

    If you’re interested in learning more about the perceptions of Arabs and Muslims in the west, check out this post of an interview with Edward Said, author of the famous book Orientalism. (better still, go and read the book):


    AN, http://religionandatheism.wordpress.com

  7. “So, maybe it’s a tactic resorted to by groups who feel passionate about a cause but lack the resources to further said cause by more legitimate means.”

    It has nothing really to do with passion or legitimate means. It has to do with people forcing their will on others regardless legitimacy. Why do muslims worldwide care what cartoons are drawn in Denmark? or who’s knighted by the queen?
    It has nothing to do with passion, it’s zealotry.
    It’s not about legitimacy, it’s about forced coercion.
    If you really want to boil it down to zealots enforcing their will, that’s fine by me. But the worldwide problem with terrorism still boils down to Islam.

  8. Chen, read religionandatheism’s post. Tell me why the left is not retarded.
    /I’m outta here

  9. Well Killgore, there is a point to be made there about the definition of terrorism. Some of the examples you cited earlier might not meet the definition.

  10. The ‘root causes of terror?’

    Right here:

    “Strike terror into the hearts of the enemies, of Allah” (Qur’an 8:60).

    ‘Terror made me victorious’- Muhammad

    plus another 154 jihad verses including 9:5

    ‘Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them…’

    Internment and Deportations, NOW!


  11. The argument that Islam may contain an inherently violent mentality or that its scriptures predispose followers towards violence more easily is a separate though related point to the politics of the Middle East. It may be true that Islamic dogma is more susceptible to taking up arms against enemies, but that does not alone explain the unique level of resentment towards the West. The simplistic western dogmatism “Islam is evil” does not account for all the available data. Any more than if you irritated a wasps nest and later complained that “wasps are evil” since they stung you. Wasps may be more prone to sting you than, say, hamsters, but there’s something in what you did to precipitate the consequence. Muslim offence at the Danish cartoons and the Salman Rushdie affair are ridiculous. Islam has no right to demand the curtailment of free speech. But the West does not have the moral high ground with our relationship to the Middle East, no matter how often the lie is repeated in the media. http://religionandatheism.wordpress.com

  12. To respond to Kilgore’s point: the simplistic analysis that Islam is at the root of all evil simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. George Bush and Tony Blair both professed to be of Christian faith before the bombing of Iraq began. It is simply untrue to pretend that Christianity is incapable of militancy. The real matter isn’t the religious creed, but the realpolitik surrounding the issue. Christians have been slaughtering each other for centuries in Northern Ireland, for example. Kilgore seems to neglect this. Religion is the just the all-too-easy scapegoat for the failure of rightist policies, particularly in the Middle East. Sweden is mostly atheist as a country and yet does not get bombed all the time by people who read the Koran’s “Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them” line. Why not? How many Middle East countries has Sweden recently demolished?

  13. “Terrorism” in and of itself has no universal root cause. Any individual with the means to do so can commit an act of terrorism at any time for any or no reason. However, the terrorism we know, as caused by Islamic extremism, is indeed caused by Islamic ideals. It is also surely by far the most deadly and large form of modern terrorism, and it seems unlikely to go away. The West does not have them moral highgound with the Middle east inherently, but Christian civilization, and most everyone in the West is part of it, has the moral highground over Islam.

  14. I still wonder what happened to the good ol’ fashioned terrorists. You know, the ones who took hostages and made demands instead of just blowing themselves up.

  15. That doesn’t work quite as well for Muslim terrorists, seeing as how they’re focused on Paradise and it would be easier to just kill themselves rater that demanding 72 virgins and a river of wine or they’d kill a few people.

  16. Maybe that’s the key. That thing about the 72 virgins isn’t in the Quran, is it? If we can dispel that silly myth, perhaps we would make some real progress against the Islamic extremists. What would it take? Could we get all those Imams and clerics out there to get together and say “I don’t know who told you that, but it ain’t true”? Something like that.

  17. Even if you could do that (I doubt you could, Imams and clerics interpret this: They will recline (with ease) on Thrones (of dignity) arranged in ranks; and We shall join them to Companions, with beautiful big and lustrous eyes. Sura 52:20 and another similar one as meaning that, I’ll have to look into it more) Paradise is still a pretty nice place, and anyway, there is a lot more stuff in the Qur’ran about jihad, etc. than that.

  18. There is a ‘root cause’ of extremism. Yes, in poor countries that root cause may be poverty. In the case of wealthy people in rich Western nations, the root cause is foreign policy. These people see innocent Iraqi civilians being blown up by US/UK bombs, and decide that it is therefore acceptable for them (at least one of the Glasgow bombers was Iraqi) to blow up US/UK civilians. I’m not suggesting that ANY attacks on civilians – whether by the West on Muslim civilians, or by Muslim terrorists on Western civilians – are acceptable, but that is the reason that wealthy, freedom-enjoying people turn to terroirsm.

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