Seeking the holy grail – What causes terrrorism?

Figuring out the cause(s) of something as complex as terrorism is no easy feat and is therefore still a work in progress. But that does not stop individuals and organizations from making a case for religion, culture, geopolitics, etc. as the underlying causes for (the increase in) terrorism. The Islamic State is the terrorism scrounge du jour, but terrorism in this world has a longer history – going further back than the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center towers or other instances of radical Islamic terrorist acts from the decade before. It is much harder to nail down all the reasons for “What causes terrorism?” than many seem to think.

Oil and Gas industry veteran Luis Durani writes about his views on the cause of terrorism in Foreign Policy Journal

Oil and Gas industry veteran Luis Durani writes about his views on the cause of terrorism in Foreign Policy Journal

But the question remains, why do these terrorist organizations continue to be created even after they are destroyed or eliminated? How are they able to thrive and recruit?

In today’s media, many claim it is Islam and the religious doctrine while others claim it is Arabs or the political culture of the region that makes them more amicable with terrorism. The answer is not black or white. There are many motivations, circumstances and factors that take place to make someone take this road. But one of the main reasons were outlined by Congressman Ron Paul in a campaign stop once, “Intervention in the Middle East is the main motivation behind terrorist hostilities … Islam is not a threat to the nation.”1

But for those of us that lack any knowledge of history and continue to question why terrorism emanates from this region, we need to look at the region’s history for the past century. (Foreign Policy Journal)



A review of terrorist and unconventional threats

The evolving threat matrix from unconventional and terrorist actors has been a concern to many governments and their security apparatus. Even as the Al-Qaeda threat has been diminished with the sustained decade plus long War on Terrorism (WoT), the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), the spread of Islamic radicalization in new parts of Africa and Asia, and continued radicalization in non-Muslim countries now presents an additional challenge. The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington DC published a report by Peter Bergen, Emily Schneider, David Sterman, Bailey Cahall and Tim Maurer to outline these jihadi terrorism and other unconventional threats. Not surprisingly, the Bipartisan Policy Center goes by the view that the (West’s) struggle against terrorism is far from over and has in fact has entered a new and dangerous phase.

Bipartisan Policy Center recently published its 2014 report on terrorism and other unconventional attack risks

Bipartisan Policy Center recently published its 2014 report on terrorism and other unconventional attack risks

“While the core al-Qaeda group that struck the United States on 9/11 has been decimated in recent years, its affiliates and associated groups have diffused throughout the greater Middle East. They now have a presence in 16 countries, more countries than they did half a decade ago. Al-Shabaab’s 2013 attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, and the 2012 attack by local militants on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, demonstrate that even relatively weak terrorist organizations can pull off deadly attacks against local targets.

The civil wars in Syria and Iraq (in reality, a regional civil war) and increasing sectarianism across the region have reinvigorated jihadist movements, while the demise of democratic Islamism in Egypt risks creating an Islamist insurgency in a country important to U.S. interests. It is not clear, however, that the diffusion of al-Qaeda-like groups and roiling instability in the Arab world will translate into terrorist attacks against the United States itself, although attacks against American interests overseas will surely remain quite likely.”



Canada in terrorism crosshairs

For the second time in a span of just two days, Canadian soldiers have been targeted at home by terrorists. This latest incident from Ottawa is both sad and disconcerting when one considers the details. It is sad as the murdered soldier, Corporal Nathan Cirillo, was performing his duty as the ceremonial honour guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. The concerning aspect is that after murdering the Corporal, the gunman was able to walk right into the Centre Block of the Canadian Parliament unchallenged by police or security, where nearly all of the country’s Members of Parliament were preparing for meetings. He has been identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a Canadian born convert to Islam from Quebec who was known to Canadian authorities and possibly suffering from mental problems.

Terror attack on a war memorial and the Canadian Parliament

Terror attack on a war memorial and the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa as Canadian comes under the crosshairs of Islamic terrorism

The stone halls of Parliament Hill echoed with gunfire and were stained with blood Wednesday as a terrorist struck at the heart of the federal government after gunning down a sentry at the National War Memorial.

The gunman was shot and killed near the Library of Parliament, according to Ottawa police sources, by House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, a former RCMP officer and the man responsible for security on the Hill.

A witness said the gunman, carrying the rifle at his hip, walked deliberately up the west ramp of Centre Block and through the main doors of Parliament as bystanders cowered.

It would seem that he could have killed a lot of other people on his way to Parliament Hill but may have desired to go after higher profile targets. Thankfully he was killed before being able to completely fulfil his terror attack. Initial reports stated multiple shooters involved but the Canadian authorities have been trying to steer this to a “lone gunman” incident over the last 12 hours. Even though a lot of incorrect information could be released in the initial chaos, it is also possible that they are doing this to understate the problem while efforts continue behind the scenes to apprehend other accomplices of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.

Unlike most terrorist attacks that tend to be perpetrated against general citizens, this once again targeted Canadian military personnel and sought to harm lawmakers. The impact this has on the latter – the Members of Parliament, their staff and other bureaucrats who were in the Parliament and surrounding area – will be worth monitoring as it could play a significant role in how counter terrorism policy is crafted in Canada. Will their direct confrontation with terror lead to stricter security laws, a clampdown on religious radicalization, reduced freedoms for Canadian citizens or changes in immigration policy?


Fighting terrorism based on polling data

Focus groups, questionnaires, surveys, polls, public relations and data mining have been made into a science by marketers of products and services. Governments and politicians have not been far behind with incorporating these same tools to make their messages resonate with their target audience. This of course neglects the fact that making statistical assumptions and extrapolations based on small or compromised data sets adds the risk of skewed results. The damage could be compounded if these results were used for decisions affecting the whole country. The Aussie government has taken this approach of “governing by poll data” even to the realm of national security by incorporating polls, focus groups and active public relations (isn’t this the same as propaganda?) in their war on terrorism.

Australian government's terrorism market research comes under fire

Australian government’s terrorism market research comes under fire

The attorney general’s department spent more than $201,000 on interviews, workshops and online surveys to assess the “effectiveness of key messages” and “barriers to messages” about supporting and participating in overseas conflicts.

The research was conducted in the past financial year “to inform national approaches” to communications, a department spokesman said on Tuesday.

Is this better than making a unilateral decision on terrorism or any other national matters? Is this true representative democracy? Or is this just doing what’s often done with the help of statistics?



An old anti-terrorism doctrine – DON’T OVERREACT

Gwynne Dyer writes about the lessons learned from anti-terrorism and anti-insurgent campaigns from the 1960s-1980s; lessons that may well still be relevant today. His most poignant point being:

The key insight was this: terrorist movements always want you to over-react, SO DON’T DO IT. The terrorists usually lack the popular support to overpower their opponent by force, so they employ a kind of political ju-jitsu: they try to use the adversary’s own strength against him. Most domestic terrorism, and almost all international terrorism, is aimed at provoking a big, stupid, self-defeating response from the target government.

And so we wait and see how the world evolves to deal with this most recent terrorist threat. Whether they heed Gwynne‘s advice or not.

Gwynne Dyer looks at counter terrorism strategies that have worked in the past

Gwynne Dyer looks at counter terrorism strategies that have worked in the past