Thursday, July 28, 2005

Approaching the Issue of Globalized Terrorism

28 July 2005

No event in history can be comprehended apart from its context.

Though I have not devoted exhaustive study to this, my impression is that, in historical context, terrorism is at least as frequently a tool of those with growing or emerging power as of those who are marginalized or dispossessed.

In fact, I would argue that terrorism is primarily a tool of those with growing or emerging power, and that its selection as a mode of operation arises from a profound disconnect between a history of real or perceived relative disadvantage and an emerging reality of accumulating resources and possibilities.

Therefore, the primary cause of the use of terrorist tactics might in fact be the poverty of the imagination of a people in transition.

If terrorism is understood as a direct attack on the civilian population of a tribal, ethnic or national group with the intent of demoralizing and causing random injury to members of that group, then it has been practised throughout human history.

For consideration, I will offer two examples of the use of terrorism.

The first is the practise of early North and South American settlers to attack, disrupt and kill the aboriginal inhabitants of the Americas. In this case, the settlers were a relatively advantaged group with significant emerging power, but in many cases with a history of marginalization or even persecution.

In this instance, the early settlers of our continent appeared to be acting out a drama of invasion, conquest and submission that they had experienced within their own collective histories, and therefore transported with them to the new land.

Notions of cooperation and accommodation in many cases emerged much later, though there were welcome exceptions to this rule, in which certain settlers and authorities established peaceful and respectful accommodations with the aboriginal peoples whom they envcountered while establishing their settlements.

In today's case of Islamic extremism and terrorism, there are many conflicting crosscurrents which distort the broad picture of what may be developing.

However, I am most struck that Islamic extremism and terrorism have thrived in an environment in which a massive global rebalancing of power and resources has greatly increased the opportunities available to Islamic peoples, due of course primarily to the development of energy resources throughout the Muslim world, particularly in the Arabian Peninsula.

Neither in its historic roots nor through its current practice has Islamic extremism been primarily a philosophy of adherence of the marginalized or the dispossessed (including, I think, even the Palestinian example), but of those who are flush with fresh resources and facing new opportunities to exercise perhaps previously unfamiliar powers.

Therefore, the profile of the typical global terrorist is now one of an individual with a background of relative wealth, education and other advantages, who has chosen to forego the possibilities afforded by that newfound station, and instead to engage in the disruption of the civil society of the west.

Again, there is a history of negative role-modeling, as many of the leaders of the present terrorist movement received much of their training through Western nations, particularly from U.S. agents instructing and supplying Islamist rebels in the Afghan resistance to Soviet incursion.

There is much more that could be said on this topic, but I wish to approach it gradually, with the intent of grasping the present dynamics within their full historic context, and also with the intent of understanding terrorism as a psychological as well as a social or political dilemma.

In summary, terrorism may have been practised by the majority of the world's peoples, particularly at times of radical transition, associated in fact with the acquisition of increasing resources and power moreso than with a present state of unrelenting poverty, disadvantage or marginalization.

The practice of terrorism may therefore constitute a response of psychological impoverishment to the favourable redistribution of resources to the relative advantage of individuals who are psychologically unequipped to manage this transition.

The practice of terrorism is never justified. An element of its great tragedy is that it represents an incapacity of its adherents to respond constructively to circumstances of increasing opportunity and growing advantage.

Terrorism must certainly be resisted and combated at all times and in all circumstances, as it is a poisonous accommodation based on impoverished and death-making ideologies.

I am certain that terrorism can best be combated through grasping the dynamics of psychological impoverishment which motivate the behaviour of those who choose to direct their emerging power and accumulating resources to increase rather than reduce their alienation from their global neighbours by intentionally promoting human grief, suffering and loss of life.

We know that the inner world of the terrorist is characterized by attitudes of extreme prejudice, fixated hate, and inflexible and negative responding to expanding opportunities for relationship and cross-cultural cooperation.

The challenge of responding to terrorism will surely be to learn how to address the factors which cause this paradoxical narrowing of psychological coping capacity in response to circumstances which in fact offer new and promising, but negatively perceived, possibilities for enhanced relatedness and expanding choice.

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