How can the most powerful country in the world feel so threatened by an enemy infinitely weaker than we are? How can loving parents and otherwise responsible citizens join terrorist movements? How can anyone possibly believe that the cause of Islam can be advanced by murdering passengers on a bus or an airplane?
In her new book, groundbreaking scholar Louise Richardson attempts to answer these questions and more. Having grown up in rural Ireland and watched her friends join the Irish Republican Army, Richardson knows from firsthand experience how terrorism can both unite and destroy a community. As a professor at Harvard, she has devoted her career to explaining terrorist movements throughout history and around the globe. In What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat, Richardson offers a definition of terrorism, explores its origins and goals, and looks toward the future to ask both what we can expect from terrorists and how we can counter them.
The World Affairs Council was founded in 1947 out of the interest generated by the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945. With over 10,000 members, they are the largest international affairs organization on the west coast.
Charles L. Frankel
Charles L. Frankel is principal of Frankel International Development Organization. He earlier was senior consultant to CIVICUS, a global NGO, and president of the International Development Conference.
Prior to that, he was director of community support for the InterPacific Group (1987-94). He has had extensive experience as an entrepreneur and manager in private, public and non-profit enterprises, as well as significant involvement in community development in the United States and abroad.
A member of the Bretton Woods Committee, Mr. Frankel serves as Chair of the Board of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the World Affairs Council of Northern California and National Peace Corps Association and Board of Advisors of the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California. Mr. Frankel is the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Botswana.
Executive dean Louise Richardson is the senior administrative officer of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and is responsible for the coordination of academic and administrative activities and the strategic management of administrative operations. Richardson is also a senior lecturer in government at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard and a lecturer on law at Harvard Law School.
We are very pleased to welcome tonight Louise Richardson, Executive Dean. She is the SeniorAdministrative Officer of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and is responsible for thecoordination of academic and administrative activities and the strategic management of administrativeoperations. She is also a senior lecturer in government at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvardand a lecturer on law at Harvard Law School. Louise Richardson's academic focus has been oninternational security with an emphasis on terrorist movements. For several years, she taught Harvard'slarge undergraduate lecture course, Terrorist Movements in International Relations. For this she wonthe Leavenson Prize, awarded by the undergraduate student body to the best teachers in the university.This class, along with a number of graduate courses on terrorist movements and European terrorism,were for many years the only ones offered on the subject at Harvard.But her knowledge of terrorism is not only academic, she grew up in rural Ireland and went to school inDublin. Univeristy of Dublin. She was surrounded by the conflict between Catholics and Protestantsand knew terrorism firsthand. Her longtime interest in terrorism has resulted in research that includednot only numerous interviews over the years with terrorists, but involvement as disclosed in the book,The Secret Conferences with Groups of Diverse Terrorists. Dr. Richardson has authored When AlliesDiffer: Anglo-American Relations in the Suez and Falklands Crises, she's edited The Roots ofTerrorism and co-edited Counter-terrorism: Lessons from the Past. And she joins us this evening totalk about her most recent book: What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing theThreat. I hope you will join me in welcoming Louise Richardson.Thank you very much, Chuck, for that generous introduction, and thanks to each of you for coming outon a night when I know you have other things to do, and lots to distract all of us this evening. Let mepreface my remarks by saying what I mean when I use the term terrorism. One of the things I used todo when I used to teach a course on terrorism in the nineties was have my students collect usages of theterm terrorism. Because the term has always been used so loosely that it comes to lose all meaning. Sowe used to collect references in the New York Times to currency speculation as economic terrorism,domestic violence as domestic terrorism, prank telephone calls as telephone terrorism, and so on.And so I'd like to rein in this definition, and by terrorism I simply mean the deliberate targeting of noncombatants for a political purpose. In the book I go through a more complicated seven-pointarticulation of what I take to be the seven crucial characteristics of the term terrorism, but in theinterests of having as much time for questions as possible, I'll spare you that and simply say, "Thedeliberate targeting of civilians for political purpose." So it's the means that are used and not the endsthat are pursued and not the political context in which the act takes place that determines whether ornot, in my view, a group is a terrorist group.And I would say that unless and until we're willing to label a group whose goals we consider legitimatebut who deliberately target civilians in order to achieve those goals, a terrorist group, then we're notgoing to make progress in forging international collaboration against terrorism. I think the UnitedNations for the past thirty, forty years has been hamstrung on precisely this issue. Nobody's willing tolabel a group "terrorist group" if they approve of what the terrorists are trying to achieve. I think wehave to be prepared to do that.Terrorism is a tactic. It's a tactic employed by many different types of groups in many different partsof the world. In pursuit of many different types of objectives. And I have to say that in my view itmakes no more sense to declare war on the tactic of terrorism, much less the emotion of terror, than onany other tactic, be it precision-guided bombing or anything else. And I'm convinced that when thehistory of these five years comes to be written, it will be seen that the declaration of a war on terrorismwas a colossal mistake.And in this book I argue that in this past five years we have made two major mistakes, and we havemissed two important opportunities. The first mistake was to declare war on the tactic of terrorism.And the second mistake was to conflate our enmity with Osama bin Laden with our enmity withSaddam Hussein. The two missed opportunities were first the opportunity to mobilize the internationalcommunity, as it was willing and able to be mobilized in the aftermath of September 11th, bearing inmind that citizens of 80 countries were killed that day. And finally, the opportunity to educate theAmerican public about the nature of terrorism, about the deeply psychological nature of this threat, andalso about the implications of our pre-eminent power position in the world.So I'm going to continue my talk in this vein of simply boldly making these assertions, I'm no doubtprovoking you to disagree with me, which I hope you will, but so I should say, in the book I go to greatpains to defend these positions but in the interests of time I'm simply going to assert them. I'm happyto defend them. I believe that if you take a longer and a broader perspective, you find that many of theaccepted verities about terrorism today are in fact misplaced. And I would like to challenge four ofthese. First, the notion that terrorism is new. Second, that it is in some sense a peculiar perserve ofIslam, third that terrorists are irrational, and fourth that terrorists are amoral. I don't think any of these are true.First of all, terrorism is not new. Indeed, the recent emergence of terrorists with a religious andpolitical motive is not new either. These cases have been documented at least as far back as the firstcentury after Christ. We have the Sacari and the zealots in the first century after Christ. In theMedieval times there were the assassins, in the 19th century we had the Russian anarchists, and Irishnationalists, and in the 1970s of course we have the social revolution movements throughout Europe.Nor is terrorism the sole or even the primary preserve of Islam. There have been Christian terrorists,like the IRA in Ireland or the ETA in Spain, there have been Jewish terrorists, like the Stern Gang, orthe Sacari, there have been Hindu terrorists, like the Fugi, we know that there are Muslim terrorists.There have been atheist terrorists, like the 19th century anarchists, or the 1970s social revolutionaries,and there have been, most commonly, secular terrorists, like the Talmud Tigers or the PK in Turkey.The third point I would dispute is that terrorists are irrational. Psychologists who have interviewedterrorists and imprisoned terrorists and former terrorists are unanimous in this point, insofar as weunderstand the term normalcy, terrorists are as normal as the rest of us. It's possible undermining thispoint to point out that large numbers, disproportionate numbers, of the leaders of terrorist groups areacademics. I would even argue that suicide terrorists are not irrational, and I hope we have time to talkabout suicide terrorism. Certainly from an organizational point of view, this is a very rational tactic, interms of expending the minimum effort for maximum impact. And indeed when the leaders of thegroups who deploy what they call martyrdom operatives, not suicide terrorists, talk about the tactic,they talk in precisely these cost-benefit terms, though the volunteers themselves tend to be less calculating.And fourth, I do not think that terrorists are amoral. I have never met a terrorist who did not believepassionately in the morality of his cause and the immorality of his adversary. Indeed, the fact wassimply an effort to justify terrorist action. Al Quaeda pronouncements and those of bin Laden inparticular, regularly seek to justify their actions. We saw this perhaps most chillingly in the recent casein London, when you had the 30 year old Sadik Hand, who was the leader of the four men whoattacked the London Underground. This was a man who was a widely respected and much lovedteacher of socially and behaviorally challenged children. He was married to a university educated wife,he had one child and was expecting another. Anyway, a tape was issued on BBC 3 months after hisdeath in which he talked, he justified the attacks on the London Underground in terms of classic just war doctrine.A journalist, Alan Colluson, who is a journalist for the Wall Street Journal and a friend of mine, was inAfghanistan right after the American troops went in, and he was in a car accident, so his computer wasdestroyed. So he went to the market and bought some hot computers, and it turned out that two of thecomputers he bought had actually been owned by Al Quaeda, and he, at the insistence of his bosses,had to turn them over to the CIA, but not before seeing some of the documents. And one of them was adocument written by Ramsey Ben Al Sheep, who is now in our custody as he is a member of AlQuaeda. And it was a document written for internal consumption within Al Quaeda to justify theactions of September 11th to the converted, not to the rest of the world. And in this Ramseay Ben AlSheep spoke of the importance of not killing more than 4 million westerners, or not displacing morethan 10 million westerners, in order to keep the contest reciprocal. Now, I appreciate that it's hardlyencouraging that Al Quaeda is justified in killing 4 million of us, but it certainly does speak to the factthat they operate under self-imposed constraints.A few points on the causes of terrorism, because this really is a fundamental point. I think there aretwo reasons why it's very difficult to explain the causes of terrorism. And the first is because there areso many terrorists. How can you find a single explanation for the behavior of a Peruvian peasant, aTalmud teenager, a German professor, a radical Saudi, or a cricket player from Leeds. The secondreason why it's so difficult to explain the causes of terrorism is actually because there are so fewterrorists. You cannot convincingly use a meta explanation for what is a micro-phenomenon. So ifpoverty, for example, caused terrorism, there would be far more terrorism in the world today, and therewould be terrorism in many parts of the world where there is none, in the poorest countries in the world.As you may remember the 1970s saw social revolutionary movements all over Europe. This waswidely explained as the result of the alienation of young people, and yet there were far more alienatedyoung people in Europe, in Germany, in France, in Italy, in Belgium, than there were terrorists. Soterrorism, then, is a complicated phenomenon, and the search for simplistic explanations isunderstandable. I think often ideologically driven. And unlikely to be successful. One characteristicthat terrorists share is a highly over-simplified view of the world. A view that sees the world in blackand white terms. It seems to me that there's no reason that those of us trying to understand thisphenomenon need to adopt this very limited perspective. Even if I believe over the past five years ourleaders have tended to mirror our adversaries by responding in over-simplified terms.So rather than poverty and inequality in causes of terrorism, I prefer to see them as risk factors. Theyincrease the likelihood of terrorism. And once a terrorist group forms, they increase the likelihood thatthat group would garner adherence. And certainly terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezzbolah havebeen extraordinarily successful in exploiting the social conditions around them in order to gain adherence for their cause.So my own view is that what causes terrorism is a lethal cocktail with three ingredients. A disaffectedindividual, a complicit community, and a legitimizing ideology. Now this conflict is more likely to beintractable if the ideology is a religious one, but it certainly doesn't need to be a religious one. Many ofthe most long standing and the most brutal terrorist groups have indeed been secular. One of the thingsthat does keep me awake at night, one of the most sinister aspects of the current Jihadi movement, Ithink, is that through their exploitation of the high-tech aspects of the varied globalization of whichthey're so critical, they're able to create virtual communities to support their adherence. Whether theseadherents are in Leeds and Chechnya or in Detroit, so no longer do you have to operate within acomplicit community which until now one has had to, but increasingly through their use of the internet,they're able to create virtual communities of support for their young recruits. This I see as a verytroubling development that we're going to have to come to grips with.To get to the title of my talk, one of the disadvantages of giving a book a catchy title like WhatTerrorists Want is that people, not unreasonably, expect you to have an answer. And I think that quitea lot of hot air has been expended, not least in the university where I come from, and in debating thepoint whether or not terrorism works. But one cannot sensibly decide whether or not terrorism workswithout first establishing what it is terrorists want. And I find it helpful to think in terms of terroristshaving both primary and secondary motives or underlying and immediate motives.So primary motives differ across different types of groups. So nationalist groups like the TalmudTigers like the IRA, will want autonomy or secession or independence. Religious groups, whetherthey're Jihadi groups or...will want the replacement of secular law with religious law. Socialrevolutionary groups will want to overthrow capitalism and so on.But the secondary motives, on the other hand, are held across all types of groups. And it has to be saidthat in seeking these secondary motives, terrorists have been altogether more successful than in seekingthe fundamental political change that they also are trying to effect. So the key secondary motives arewhat, at the risk of over-simplification for the sake of alliteration, I call the three R's. Revenge,renown, and reaction. This is what I believe the terrorists want.First of all, revenge. By far the most common motive for their actions, asserted by current terrorists, byformer terrorists, terrorists of every ideological hue from every part of the world, is the desire to exactvengeance. Sometimes this is revenge for something that they personally have suffered, but more oftenit's the group with which they identify. Far from matching our description then of them as selfishlypursuing their own ends, they generally identify with others, and see themselves as sacrificing themselves for others.One of the most fascinating cases to me is the case of the Englishman, Homer Schafe, this is the manwho has been convicted of the brutal murder of Daniel Pearl. Homer Schafe is a well-educatedEnglishman who went to public schools, which is to say private schools in England and then went tothe London School of Economics. While he was a freshman at the London School of Economics oneday he was at a London Underground station with a number of other people, and an elderly man fell offthe platform onto the tracks as a train was coming in to the station. Alone of the people on theplatform, Homer Schafe jumped down onto the tracks, put himself between the train and the elderlyman he did not know, pulled him to safety, and saved his life, for which he won Accommodation forBravery from the London Underground. Later, when he was in India, he was actually in India scoutingout Western tourist kidnap. While he was there, his roommate moved out of his apartment. AndHomer Schafe thought it was quite unfair that he should have this big bedroom while there werehomeless people out on the street, so he went out into the market and invited a beggar that he hadpassed every night on his way home in to share his apartment with him. So this is the man whobrutally mur-- who has been convicted of the brutal murder of Daniel Pearl. He actually denies that hemurdered Daniel Pearl though he boasts of having committed many other terrorist atrocities.So while we see terrorists as aggressors and ourselves as defenders, they see us as the aggressors andthemselves as the defenders. They see themselves as altruistically fighting for a cause, they seethemselves as playing David to our Goliath. All other terrorist groups, whether for internal or externalconsumption, are suffused with the language of revenge. I think it is really difficult to overestimate thepower of the desire for vengeance as a motive for terrorists.And the second motive is renown. Now, publicity has always been a central objective of terrorism, itbrings attention to the cause, it spreads the fear that terrorism instills, but renown implies more thansimply publicity, it also implies glory. And terrorists seek both individual glory and glory for thecause, in an effort to redress the humiliation they believe themselves to have suffered at our hands. Forthe leaders this glory comes on a national or increasingly a global stage and it's precisely this desire forglory that I think is behind these repeated videotapes and audiotapes that the leadership of Al Quaedareleases. But for the followers, glory in their own community is enough. By joining a terrorist groupone's social status in one's community is often improved.The third point is reaction. Terrorists, no matter what their ultimate objectives, invariably are actionoriented people, operating in an action oriented in-group. It's through action that they communicatewith the world. This used to be called "propaganda by deed" when the Russian anarchists did it.Action demonstrates their existence and their strength, so in taking action then, they're trying to elicit areaction. It's how they demonstrate, or how we demonstrate, their importance, because action is allthey have. Now terrorists often have wildly optimistic notions of the reactions their action will elicit.American and Israeli withdraw from the Middle East, British withdraw from Northern Ireland I havethis chronic tendency to invoke Irish examples, I have no idea where it comes from the collapse ofcapitalism...It actually appears as though they rarely have a very coherent idea of what kind of reaction they will get.I mean, we actually don't know what bin Laden was anticipating when he planned the September 11thattacks. There's two schools of thought on this. One was that he believed as he constantly said that wewere a paper tiger. That we were so corrupt and so decadent we wouldn't retaliate, we would simplywithdraw from the Middle East. And the other school of thought is that he was deliberately trying toprovoke us into waging war on Islam. He was deliberately trying to provoke a war of Islam agaisnt theWest, or the West against Islam. I suspect that he probably concluded that one of these two reactionswould occur, and either one would suit him. So long as there was a reaction, the terrorist purpose is served.So I think when one understands, or if I can persuade you of the powerful appeal of revenge, renown,and reaction, then the ever escalating tactic of suicide terrorism I think becomes much more readilycomprehensible. Those who train the volunteers for martyrdom operations, as they prefer to call them,they understand this, and they use this training period to guarantee glory to their young recruits. In theWest Bank, in Gaza, this is glory in the forms of songs, posters, wedding type celebrations on theoccasion of their death. In Sri Lanka, it's more a case of getting orders to the martyrs and having anational day in which the martyrs are commemorated. So the trainers recognizeamongst the young recruits this appeal of renown.Being a martyr is a quick route to being a superstar. Adlai Sudaman is a young woman who accordingto her trainer said, She wanted the assurance that after she died, she would be famous all over the Arabworld. This was a young woman whose bedroom had been covered with posters of Western pop stars,but after the first woman, Wafa Idris, who was a 26 year old Red Crescent volunteer, had blown herselfup, Andlai ripped down the posters of Western superstars and replaced them with posters of Wafa Idris.So if you don't look like Britney Spears or you don't play soccer like Sidane, being a martyr is a quickroute to becoming a superstar. I think seen in these terms too we realize that the desire for glory, thebelief that one is fighting for a just cause and the intense loyalty to one's small band of brothers thatyou find amongst suicide terrorists, is not that unlike the motives that have animated soldiers forcenturies. Why did young men go out in the trenches? Why did young men go out in the foxholes inVietnam? Everything we read suggests that they did so out of an intense loyalty to their small band ofbrothers, out of a belief in a cause for which they were fightingand a willingness to sacrifice themselves for this cause.I would also argue that if I'm right, that terrorists are motivated by this desire to exact vengeance, attainrenown, and elicit a reaction, then declaring war on terrorism is playing directly into their hands. Bydeclaring war on terrorism, we're providing both more opportunities to exact vengeance by the fulldeployment of our troops, but also more issues to be avenged, or more actions to be avenged, as anatural consequence of the conduct of warfare. It's perhaps worth remembering that within 6 months ofour invasion of Afghanistan, an act which had widespread international support, but within 6 months ofour invasion, more civilians, more Afghans, have died than had died on September 11th. Now ofcourse there is a moral distinction between those who die as a result of a deliberate strategy and thosewho die as an unintended consequence of warfare, but I suspect this distinction is not that important tothe families of those who died.When the most powerful countries in the world declare war on what was, after all, a motley collectionof extremists, living under the protection of one of the poorest governments on the planet, they areelevating the stature of these terrorists to a height of which they could have only dreamt. The goal ofdefensive warfare, it seems to me, is to deny the adversary the objectives he seeks. I believe that indeclaring war on terrorism, we're conceding these very objectives. Now I think that the urge to declarewar in response to an atrocity on the scale of September 11th is very powerful, and the decision to do sois very understandable. I believe it's also unwise. I would say that I think any administration of anypolitical party or ideological persuasion would have been under considerable pressure to respond precisely in this way.I think we have responded in accords with a pattern that we've seen in other democracies. Where youhave an initial wave of horror, pressure on the government to react in a fairly draconian way,government invariably rushes through an emergency legislation which tends not to prove as effective ashoped, and people with misgivings about this legislation are swayed by being told that it's temporary. Ican assure you that one of the iron laws of temporary emergency legislation is that it is nevertemporary. This period is then followed by a period of polarization, and then finally, finally, then aperiod of learning, in which there is an effort to learn from the mistakes that have occurred. And Ithink I see us entering this third phase now.I believe we should adopt an alternative strategy. One that replaces the overly ambitious goals to ridthe world of evildoers, or to root terrorists out of the world, in the words of the president, with a muchmore modest, and I believe achievable goal, of containing the threat from terrorism. This strategywould be based on the following six principles that are derived from the experience of otherdemocracies in successfully countering terrorism. I think I'll simply list these terrorist rather-- theseprinciples, rather than defend them again, in order to give you the maximum time for discussion.The first principle is to have a defensible and achievable goal. The second is to live by your principles.The third is to know your enemy. Fourth is to separate the terrorists from the communities from whichthey derive support. Fifth is to engage others with you in the campaign against terrorists, and finally,have patience and retain your perspective. In fighting against terrorism, we have, I believe wrongly,assumed that our side had a monopoly on virtue. We have assumed that the purity of our motives wasself-evident. We have casually assumed that being tough on terrorism means being effective againstterrorism. And so political debate has been hamstrung by the fear of opposition parties, that they mightbe labeled soft on terrorism. Instead of worrying about what's tough on terrorism or what's soft onterrorism, I think we should focus exclusively on what is effective against terrorism. Every time weconsider a new counter terrorism law or policy, I think we should ask ourselves one question: Is iteffective? And only if the answer is yes, we should then ask ourselves the second question: At whatcost? Because I believe that ultimately our democracy cannot be derailed by people planting a bomb inour midst. It can only be derailed if we conclude that it is inadequate to defend us. Thank you.