Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives & Issues

Gus Martin

Sage Publications, London, 2003

ISBN 0-7619-2615-1

This work of over 400 pages is destined for a university student audience and attempts to define, structure, refine and capitalize on the English concept of terrorism. Beginning with philosophical inquiries, working towards an historical analysis that takes the reader from the French revolution to the jungles of Cambodia, Martin provides, pêle-mêle, an encyclopedic analysis of terrorism from Al-Qaeda to the Klu Klux Klan, the Irish Republican Army, the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul, several passenger jet hijackings, bank robberies, and conspiracy theorists’ Zionist Occupation Government. Martin also takes the reader through the trade practices and tools of terrorism, and provides an insightful perspective on the role of the media. He also considers responses: legal avenues and use of force and the role of state terrorism. Finally, the author questions the future terrorism and its recent manifestations in the United States. Divided into 14 chapters complete with rare photographs, definitions, quotes, case studies, maps, website homework and references, and at least a dozen footnotes per chapter, the work is ideal for anyone wanting to put 9 September 2001 in historical, political and philosophical perspective. Written in English with no reference to any other language text, the work suffers from near fatal ethno-centric myopia, evident in the rather superficial analysis of the North American experience with the use of force abroad. Gus Martin is a professor of public administration at California State University.

Excerpts from the book follow:

Terrorism would not, from a layperson’s perspective, seem to be a difficult concept to define. Most people likely hold an instinctive understanding that terrorism is politically motivated violence, usually directed against "soft targets" (i.e. civilian and administrative government targets) with an intention to affect (terrorize) a target audience. … However, defining terrorism is NOT such a simple process. p. 6

It is helpful to review two concepts that are used in the study of criminal justice. In criminal law, the terms "mala prohibita" and "mala in se" are applied to behaviors that society defines as deviant acts. They represent concepts that are very useful for the study of terrorism.

    • Mala prohibita acts are ‘crimes that are made illegal by legislation. These acts are illegal because society has declared them to be wrong; they are not inherently wicked or evil. Examples include laws prohibiting gambling and prostitution, which are considered to be moral prohibitions rather than prohibitions of fundamental evils.
    • Mala in se acts are crimes ‘that are immoral or wrong in themselves". These acts cannot be justified in civilized society, and have no acceptable qualities. For example, premeditated murder and forcible rape are male in se crimes. They will never be legalized.

Are terrorist methods inherently evil ? perhaps so, because terrorism commonly evokes images of maximum violence carried out in the name of a higher cause. However, is terrorist violence always such a bad thing ? Are not some causes worth fighting for ? Killing for ? Dying for ? Is not terrorism simply a matter of one’s point of view ? Most would agree that basic values such as freedom as indeed worth fighting for. If so, "where you stand depends on where you sit."… The following quotations help to address these difficult moral questions:

    • One’s person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter


    • One man willing to throw away his life is enough to terrorize a thousand (Chinese military philosopher Wu Chi)
    • Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice

(U.S. Senator Barry M. Goldwater, 1964 presidential campaign)

    • It became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it

(Peter Arnett quoting U.S. soldier at Tet offensive, South Vietnam, 1968)

An example of joint operations are when government personnel jointly carry out campaigns in cooperation with a c championed proxy. Close collaboration occurs, with the sponsor’ providing primary operational support for the campaign. Joint operations often occur during a large-scale and ongoing conflict. An example of joint operations is the Phoenix program, a campaign conducted during the Vietnamese war to disrupt and eliminate the administrative effectiveness of the communist Viet Cong, the community guerilla movement recruited from among South Vietnamese. (…) Estimates of casualties are that 20,585 Viet Cong were killed and 28,000 captured. It is likely that many of those killed were not Viet Cong members. (…)

Thus, terrorism and sponsorship for subversive movements are methods of statecraft that have been adopted by many types of governments, ranging from stable democracies to aggressive revolutionary regimes. It is certainly true that democracies are less likely to engage in this type of behavior than are aggressively authoritarian states. However, as suggested by the cases of the Phoenix program…democracies have been known to resort to terrorist methods when operating within certain security of political environments.

State terrorism as domestic policy refers to the states’ politically motivated application

Of force inside its own borders. The state’s military, law enforcement and other security institutions are used to suppress perceived threats; these institutions can also be supplemented with assistance from unofficial paramilitaries and death squads. The purpose of domestically focused terrorism is to demonstrate the supreme power of the government and to intimidate or eliminate the opposition. .. An example…occurred in South Africa during the final years of apartheid, the system of racial separation. p. 95

On 14 June 1985, three Lebanese Shi’ite terrorists hijacked TWA flight 847 as it flew from Athens to Rome. It was diverted to Beirut, Lebanon, and then to Algiers, Algeria. …During the odyssey, the terrorists released women, children and non-Americans, until 39 American men remained on board the aircraft. At the final stop in Beirut, the American hostages were off-loaded and dispersed throughout the city. As the hijacking unfolded, the media devoted an extraordinary amount of airtime to the incident. ABC, CBS and NBC broadcast almost 500 news reports, 28.8 a day, and devoted two thirds of their evening news programs to the crisis. During the 16 days of the hijacking, CBS devoted 68% of its nightly news broadcasts to the event while the corresponding figures at ABC and NBC were 62% and 63% respectively. The hijackers masterfully manipulated the world’s media. (…) it was reported that the terrorists had offered to arrange tours of the airliner for the network for a $1,000 fee, and an interview with the hostages for $12,500. (…) In effect the most pernicious effect of the crisis was its validation of terrorism as a tactic. The Reagan administration, driven by intense domestic pressure generated by the hostages’ plight, in turn compelled Israel to accede to the hijackers’ demands and release 756 Shi’a. p. 295

The best defense against terrorism is a government which has the broad popular support to control terrorist activities through normal channels of law enforcement without resorting to counter terror. Terrorists often correctly perceive that their greatest enemy is the moderate who attempts to remedy whatever perceived injustices from the basis for terrorist strength. It is often these moderates who are the targets of assassinations. p.411

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