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Terrorism in Today’s World, Term Paper Example

Pages: 11

Words: 3000

Term Paper

Abstract

Terrorism is, without question, an international concern in the modern world. No developed nation is unmindful of the threat, and it is a threat all the more disturbing by the diffuse nature of terrorist groups.  More exactly, these are not operations based in any single state; rather, they are organizations typically not allied to particular states, so understanding their agendas before they strike, as well as pursuing the agents themselves, becomes particularly difficult.  Further marking modern terrorism, moreover, is a foundation of motive impossible to overlook.  In plain terms, the greatest threats of terrorism exist in the form of Islamic extremist groups who target the U.S. and Western powers, and largely because these groups fiercely resent and abominate Western values and Western influence within Islamic states.  It is then necessary to examine this motivation and its consequences, and the following explores how the most overt potentials of terrorism are based on an extremist Islamic hostility to Western power, values, and influences.

Terrorism in Today’s World

In today’s climate of global terrorism, various and disturbing realities converge. On one level,  terrorist acts are often motivated chiefly by political agendas, and/or the perception within the terrorist organization that reprisal is mandated by the actions of the targeted nation.  As will be seen, this is exemplified by the execution of the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo in January of this year, wherein the policies of the French magazine in satirizing Muslim extremists triggered the terrorist strike, and generate international outrage. On another level, however, Islamic extremist terrorist agendas are also often based on a general antipathy towards the West, and are motivated by overt hostility to Western ideologies and the perception of undue Western influences as permeating – and corrupting – Islamic nations.  Such extremists view the Western powers, and particularly the U.S., as imperialist presences intent on lessening and/or disregarding the sanctity of Islam itself.  These views in place and commitments to take action motivating the extremists, virtually no terrorist response is unthinkable or unlikely.  The virtually unprecedented brutality of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as will also be explored, reflects this urgent ambition on the part of such terrorists to traumatize the U.S. and avenge Islam itself. In all of the following, then, the focus is on how extreme antipathy towards the West, as held by Islamic extremists, largely accounts for the threats of terrorism in today’s world.

Issues of Faith

While there can be no valid minimizing of the political factors going to Islamic extremist aggression and terrorism as directed toward the U.S. and other Western powers, it is nonetheless necessary to comprehend how religion itself plays a crucial role in these strained relations.  If the idea that, in the modern world, faith could be as potent a motivator for violence as it often was in centuries past, the reality remains that the nature of religious extremism is consistently and historically responsible for acts of the most extreme violence.  Progress notwithstanding, the sheer presence of faith-motivated terrorism today affirms this as a reality, in that extremists of a variety of faiths usually adopt extreme measures to counter what they perceive as blasphemous or damaging to the truth of their religion.

Interestingly, the similarities between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity also go to promoting hostility between nations espousing the various faiths.  The religions share the quality of emphasizing the sanctity of life and the need to follow God’s will in regard to treating others with consideration.  At least arguably, the core belief systems reflect the same concepts and ideas regarding human existence of all cultures, and it is then difficult to comprehend how such beliefs could be set aside to allow for the inevitable savagery of terrorist actions. At the same time, the actual texts of the New and Old Testaments, and the Quran, are uncompromising; extreme limits on behavior are set in each text, and the idea of violating any tenet of the faith goes to consequences so drastic, even pursuing peaceful relations with other nations may easily be discounted (Toft, 2007, p. 99). Ironically, the tenets of each faith are, in extremist minds, less important than the need to adhere to the rigid demands of the texts.

Then, both Christianity and Islam promote the belief that the physical is far less important than the eternal or spiritual.  This in turn encourages senses of the worth of physical sacrifice, and the actions of Islamic extremists reinforce the willingness to sacrifice even life for the cause of the faith (Toft, 2007, p. 100). All of this then goes to something of a conundrum. The primary religions in question place the highest degrees of import to respecting all life, yet the restrictions of each religion, as well as their insistence on minimizing the worth of the physical, combine to at least partially encourage extreme actions, and foster hostility between the faiths. In plain terms, to the radical Muslim, Christianity is both an abomination and a source of Western aggression and imperialism, but of chief import is how that faith, dominant in the U.S., is perceived by Islamic extremists as defying the truth of the real God.

Then, and interestingly, extremist faith is by no means restricted to the radical Muslim. Around 2000, several eminent psychiatrists analyzed the character of then-President George W. Bush, and were motivated to do so by the “war on terror” Bush insisted upon following the 9/11 attacks by Al Qaeda. The results were and remain alarming, as the experts found strong evidence of a dysfunctional childhood leading to a character that is bullying and unduly aggressive, with these traits as ingrained safety mechanisms. More to the point, the experts focused on Bush’s emphasis on being a born-again Christian as fueling his military agendas and contributing to his hostility to the Islamic nations.  Along these lines, journalist Ron Suskind reinforced the Bush administration as faith-based, which accounted for the extreme rigidity of Bush policy in regard to response to terrorism (Falk, 2008, p. 206). Such was the impact of this rigidity, in fact, many Americans made no distinctions between radical and moderate Islam, and instead chose to perceive all Islam as inherently destructive and essentially evil.  It is then seen that various forms of religious extremism, in the West as well as the Middle East, have been major factors in motivating both acts of extremist Islamic terrorism and U.S. responses which have been widely criticized as excessive.  Faith, then, as in eras long past, religion plays an immense role in international hostilities, just as it serves to anchor extremist Muslim hostility to the West and further bias in Westerners under the sway of a fiercely Christian President. The legacy of bias lives on today, and in regard to both forces, with the underlying reality that faith-based conflicts are significantly motivated by extremist convictions and beliefs.

Charlie Hebdo

 As noted earlier, the January executions of the editorial staff of France’s liberal Charlie Hebdo magazine provide a perfect illustration of how Western attitudes and behaviors promote violent response in radical Islam.  Essentially, brothers Cherif and Said  Kouachi, dressed all in black and carrying assault rifles, entered the Hebdo offices on January 7th after killing the caretaker, and by means of forcing a staff member to enter the access code for the editorial office meeting in place.  Ultimately, the brothers killed 12, mainly cartoonists and editorial staff, and the motive was by no means mysterious.  The magazine was notorious for lampooning the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, and in general mocking the nature of Islam itself.  This as motive is affirmed by the agenda expressed by the brothers themselves: “Witnesses said they had heard the gunmen shouting ‘We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad’” (BBC, 2015). The tragedy of the event notwithstanding, this episode then reinforces how extremist Muslims, believing themselves the victims of Western insult, will turn to brutal acts of terrorism to revenge the slights.  Consequently, the intense antipathy between radical Islam and the West is all the more emphasized.

While the Hebdo assassinations were of course a singular event and a case of cold-blooded murder, it is important to note the response to the tragedy as indicative of Western/Middle Eastern tensions. To begin with, and prior to the attacks, Hebdo was by no means regarded as an esteemed publication. It faced multiple lawsuits for defamation of character, as well as accusations of promoting religious bias through outright ridicule of certain faiths.  The magazine nonetheless consistently held and holds that it actually exists to offend, and that focusing mockery on Islam was and is deliberate, because Muslims tend to react more aggressively to ridicule (Iacobucci, Toope, 2015, p. 14).

While no justification for the murders may possibly exist, there remains the reality that the magazine, in standing upon its right of expression and free speech, deliberately furthered antagonism from the Middle East, and offended the moderate Muslim as well as the extremist.  Moreover, the magazine seems to have chosen to disregard a segment of France’s population, as was seen in the tragedy’s aftermath: “From the perspective of many Muslims, who constitute less than 10 percent of the population, to declare oneself ‘Charlie’ is to affirm a national identity of exclusion” (Sayere, 2015).  If the world united in abominating the actions of the Kouachi brothers, many French Muslims were divided in their feelings and likely sensitive to the degree of insult motivating the attacks.

Then, there is as well a disturbing element to the international response to the murders.  Sympathy was expressed globally, and the magazine was elevated into a symbol of the democratic right to express any opinion whatsoever.  At the same time, the Hebdo massacre has led to interesting measures on the part of the French government.  In short order it became common to refer to the event as “France’s 9/11,” and the nation was quick to follow the U.S. lead in adopting anti-terrorist security policies.  More tellingly, there has been an evident pressure exerted on French Muslims. The government has prosecuted large numbers of Muslims for associational or expressive crimes, such as evincing sympathy for any terrorist actions (Iacobucci, Toope, 2015, p. 35). If, then, the outpouring of international support and sympathy for the massacre is explicable, there nonetheless remains the reality that the French governmental response, much like the aggressive mockery of Hebdo, must fuel increased conflict between the West and foster Islamic ideas of the West as inherently antithetical to, and disrespectful of, Islam itself. It must be reiterated that such brutal murders may not be excused.  At the same time, there is reason to question how and why both a publication and a government would be so intent on denigrating Muslims, when it must be known how offensive and dangerous such expressions and policies are. Without question, they also support the stated premise that direct antagonism between the West and Islam promotes the motivations of radical Muslims in avenging themselves.

U.S./Middle Eastern Relations

If extremist Muslims tend to view U.S. interventions within Middle Eastern states as intrusive and imperialist, it must be acknowledged that, within this complex sphere of interaction, many American efforts have gone to nothing more than assistance. Certainly since the end of World War II, administrations in the U.S. made consistent and intense efforts to aid developing Middle Eastern nations: “U.S. involvement in the Middle East continued to include financial aid, health, infrastructure and agriculture projects, and support of democratization” (Pierce, 2014, p. 70). It is in fact argued that the conservative Muslim network is largely a Western creation, fueled by American purchases of oil (Archer et al, 2013, p. 70). For decades, American interventions in Islamic states have assumed the character of promoting development, resources, and infrastructure, with an undercurrent of an ambition to foster democratic ambitions within the populations.

At the same time, and dominating most discourse on U.S./Middle East relations, is the notice of a “clash of civilizations.”  This clash, however, is incorrectly identified as such.  The reality more goes to how over half a century of political interventions by the U.S. have generated political ramifications, and of an inherently conflicted kind.  Islam has in fact become the only major avenue of political articulation for the Muslim, and because American double-dealing in the past has reduced Muslim ability to respond in any other way.  The U.S. emphasizes its ambition to work with moderate governments in the region and ultimately promote the ideologies of democracy, in order to direct the states to adopt such governments.  At the same time, the nation’s policies, such as unconditional support for Israel and detention without trial, alienate the same moderates the U.S. claims to seek to cultivate (Archer et al, 2013, p. 70). In plain terms, American actions in the Middle East have led to states of intense tension and divisiveness.

In a sense, then, Islam is elevated in the minds of Muslims because it is isolated from American intentions and any U.S. presence. It is the cultural component rooted in Middle Eastern history and the core identity of the Muslim; this being the reality, the faith takes on greater force as the most significant aspect of the state, and it is not unexpected that extremists would employ it as their banner in defying U.S. intrusion.  Given the aggressive military policies pursued by the U.S. in these nations, it is then hardly surprising that backlash arise in the form of an organization apart from Al Qaeda: ISIS.

In operation since 2006, and known to have organized following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, this uncivil terrorist organization takes full advantage of the conflicts weakening stability in Syria, and uses that country’s lack of structure and coherence to establish a power base from which it may expand its military and territorial conquests (Khalaf et al, 2015). The widely acknowledged savagery of ISIS has of course drawn international concern.  Nonetheless, it very much seems that the organization’s most despised enemy is the U.S., and ISIS notoriously operates in ways even too extreme for Al-Qaeda, which has disavowed any connection to it.

Given the brutality proudly made accessible through video by ISS itself, including the decapitation of an American journalist, the U.S. has responded by establishing a coalition force of over 64 nations, intent on targeting the organization through air strikes.  Unfortunately, local activists assert that these reprisals have only the effect of validating the ISIS presence in Syria (Khalaf et al, 2015).  The logic seems clear; as the U.S. and other powers launch military assaults on sections of Syria and Iraq suspected of being ISIS compounds, even that savage organization is enabled to affirm the West as harmful to Islam and an obvious enemy to the true faith and the people.  Then, ISIS loses no opportunity in spreading its insistence on the need to obliterate the U.S., and has in fact successfully recruited Americans into its camp.  This is, in short, as violent and aggressive terrorist organization as has yet been identified, and its guiding ideology is based on the ambition to oppose the imperialist and blasphemous U.S.

It is as well important to note that ISIS, while known for violently coercing other activist groups or civilians to join with it, has engaged support in non-coercive fashion.  Initially unwilling to join with ISIS, for example, the Free Syrian Army fighters have since engaged with it, and chiefly because, its brutality notwithstanding, ISIS functions in a highly efficient way (Khalaf et al, 2015). More importantly, such support, as with the ambitions of Americans to enter into the organization, reinforces how such states harbor deep antipathy toward the U.S. Americans are certainly justified in seeking reprisals against this group so intent on murder and violence against U.S. citizens.  Unfortunately, military actions can only promote the already pronounced tensions between the U.S. and Islamic states. Each examination of a terrorist episode or threat, then, appears to be based on the inescapable reality that, for vast numbers of Muslims in the Middle East, the U.S. is perceived as a hostile and imperialist presence, and terrorism is then all the more encouraged among extremists.

Conclusion

That the U.S. and other Western powers are politically and economically linked to the Middle East is a reality long in place. A great deal of this interaction has existed to promote the well-being of those states.  At the same time, however, Western agendas to implant democratic ideals in the region have been both misguided and sources of conflict, just as a French magazine’s ridicule of the Islamic faith led to multiple murders.  Middle Eastern perceptions of Western intent are then wholly negative, which fuels terrorist thinking. It is difficult to propose measures which would eliminate terrorist threats such as ISIS, but military responses must go to furthering the tensions already in place.  It then seems, all things considered, that the West must accept that Islamic nations resist its influence; by lessening interventions as much as possible, it is in fact conceivable that the terrorist threat will be lessened as well.  This is logical, and based on the discussed reality that extreme hostility towards the West, as manifested by Islamic extremists, largely accounts for the threats of terrorism in today’s world.

References

Archer, K., Bosman, M. M., Amen, M. M., & Schmidt, E. (2013). Cultures of Globalization: Coherence, Hybridity, Contestation. New York: Routledge.

BBC News (14 Jan. 2015). Charlie Hebdo Attack: Three Days of Terror. Retrieved 25 Sept. 2015 from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30708237

Falk, A. (2008).  Islamic Terror: Conscious and Unconscious Motives. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Iacobucci, E.M., & Toope, S. J. (2015).  After the Paris Attacks: Responses in Canada, Europe, and Around the Globe. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Khalaf, R. J., Proctor, K., Cordner, C., Richmond, M., Mathieu, X., Saunders, R. A., … & Burns, R. M. (7 Jan. 2015). Beyond Arms and Beards: Local Governance of ISIS in Syria. E-international Relations.  Retrieved 25 Sept. 2015 from http://www.e-ir.info/2015/01/07/beyond-arms-and-beards-local-governance-of-isis-in-syria/

Pierce, A. R. (2014). US “Partnership” with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and its Effect on Civil Society and Human Rights. Society, 51(1), 68-86.

Sayare, S. (30 Jan. 2015). What Je Suis Charlie Has Become.  The Atlantic.  Retrieved 25 Sept. 2015 from http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/01/je-suis-charlie-france-patriotism/384990/

Toft, M. D. (2007). Getting religion? The puzzling case of Islam and civil war. International Security, 31(4), 97-131.

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