What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat

What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat

by Louise Richardson


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What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Louise Richardson, Executive Dean of Harvard University¿s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, has been teaching courses on terrorism since the mid-1990s. In this comprehensive introduction, she firstly explains the nature of the terrorist threat and examines its context, causes and motivations. She then looks at how we can use this knowledge to counteract the threat. As she argues, to understand terrorism is not to sympathise with it indeed we must understand it to forge effective counter-terrorism policies. Terrorists, including suicide terrorists, seek revenge, renown and reaction. They are not insane, deranged or irrational. The decision to become a terrorist depends on a combination of factors, including personal disaffection, an enabling group, a supportive community and a legitimising ideology. Terrorists do not need a state sponsor. Since a state sponsor does not cause terrorism, attacking a state does not end terrorism. So the attack on Afghanistan destroyed the Taliban state, but not Al Qa¿ida. Similarly, the attack on Iraq is not destroying terrorism, nor would attacking Iran destroy it either. The US state¿s declaration of a global war on terrorism after 9/11 was a mistake and is bound to fail. It has made the situation worse, generating more terrorists. As Richardson shows, we cannot defeat terrorism just by trying to smash every terrorist movement. We should instead focus on the attainable goal of containing their recruitment and constraining the resort to terrorist tactics. Also, it is better tactics to underplay the threat rather than exaggerate it. So when Al Qa¿ida lies that it has WMD to make itself seem more important, Blair and Bush were wrong to back their lie. Terrorists cannot destroy democracy only we can do that, by self-defeating actions like ending habeas corpus by interning suspects for ever longer periods. Introducing internment was the biggest miscalculation of the Northern Ireland conflict, prolonging it for decades. Richardson notes that Marx, Engels and Lenin opposed terrorism. After the Clerkenwell bombing killed six people in 1867, Marx wrote, ¿One cannot expect London workers to allow themselves to be blown up in honour of Fenian emissaries.¿ For decades, the British and US states have been building up fundamentalists to defeat secular nationalism. We should build up Marxism to help to contain terrorism.
Narboink on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"What Terrorists Want" provides a valuable academic perspective on the history and anatomy of terrorism as a social, political and military phenomenon. Relatively free of ideological posturing, Louise Richardson's analysis cites examples of terrorists movements from the middle ages through the Iraq War, across a variety of religious (and secular) traditions, and draws thereby a host of salient conclusions about the prominent motivations behind terrorist action. Along the way, she handily refutes the most common (and durable) misconceptions about terrorism generally; i.e., that it is a symptom of psychological disfunction, religious indoctrination, or the verities of disaffection, poverty or naïveté.The latter part of the book tends to get sidetracked by the political issues and controversies of the Iraq War and the policies of George W. Bush. As the first edition was published in 2006, this is perhaps excusable to some degree, but it tends to diminish the timelessness of her central points. (It can be reasonably argued that U.S. foreign policy is subject to a cornucopia of non-counterterrorism-related influences, and any serious critique of same should at least make an attempt to acknowledge this.) The essential correctness, however, of her central thesis about terrorism is well able to withstand scrutiny. In the final analysis, Richardson gives a clear, focused and infuriating account of why terrorism is adopted as a tactic of psychological warfare and how the inability or unwillingness to acknowledge its underlying social mechanics threatens us all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago