American Politics, Terrorism and Islam: Part 7: Dynamics of Terrorism

Habib Siddiqui

Posted Jun 25, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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American Politics, Terrorism and Islam: Part 7: Dynamics of Terrorism

By Habib Siddiqui

With the specter of violence all around us, the foremost question of our time seems to be: how can terrorism be defeated? This billion dollar question however cannot be answered without understanding the rather complex dynamics of terrorism, its meaning to various groups, peoples and state authorities, its modi operandi, means or tools and its contributing factors.

In our earlier discussion, we have established that, as a technique of warfare, terrorism is used by specific people, group or state generally for understandable political purposes. Thus behind almost every terrorist act lurks a political problem. Terrorism purposely relies on brutal strikes against its enemies - objects of hatred, which may include civilians, government officials, symbolic persons or physical objects - to achieve a political effect. Sometimes their ruthless activity starts the vicious cycle of violence and more violence (attacks and counter-attacks) that help them to gain increasing support and even legitimacy of their act.

To Maximilien Robespierre (1758-94), one of the best known Jacobin figures of the French Revolution who promoted the Reign of Terror, “Terror is only justice prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country. … The government in a revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny”[1]

To Mikhail Bakunin (1814-76) and Sergey Nechayev (1847-82), terrorism’s two of the earliest ideological proponents,[2] both nihilists - the purpose of revolutionary terror is not to gain a support of masses but, to the contrary, inflict misery and fear on the common population.[3] Karl Heinzen (1809–1880) claimed that not only the assassinations of leaders, but even the mass murders of innocent civilians, could be effective political tools and should be used without regret. To them, those committing such acts of terror were not terrorists but revolutionaries. To adapt Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), terrorism is the continuation of politics by other means.[4]

Terrorists, whether or not they are affiliated with state authorities, usually have a political strategy. And their vision stretches over years if not decades.[5] Accordingly, coping with terrorism requires a well thought-out plan not only to disarm terrorists but also to identify and then to address the political impulses that underlie their actions.

Modi Operandi of Terrorism

While state authorities routinely use their planes and drones to drop bombs and fire missiles (often touted as “precision guided weapons” – LGBs and PGMs) on civilian targets, in the name of exterminating terrorists, nowadays car bombing has become too common a tactic of warfare that is employed by most terrorists. This is now dubbed, with much justification, as poor man’s air force.[6] Interestingly, this tool has been used by many spy organizations - e.g., Israel’s Mossad, America’s CIA and Russia’s KGB/FSB - to hit at their enemies since at least the early 1950s. Sometimes this has been used as a tactic by government agencies to start gang warfare between rival groups. The Italian authorities used this tactic rather successfully to weaken the Mafia.

Car bombing was a common tool employed by anarchists and can be traced back to at least 1920 when Mario Buda exploded his parked horse-drawn wagon near the corner of Wall and Broad streets, directly across from J P Morgan Company. While the intended target Mr. J.P. Morgan was unhurt since he was nowhere close to the blast site, it killed 40 and injured nearly 200 people. It showed how a poor Italian immigrant with some stolen dynamite, a pile of scrap metal, and an old horse could manage to bring unprecedented terror to the inner sanctum of American capitalism.

Buda’s wagon, the prototype of today’s car bomb, was not imitated until January 12, 1947 when the Jewish terrorist group - Stern Gang - drove a truckload of explosives into a British police station in Haifa, Palestine, killing 4 and injuring 140. The Stern Gang (Lehi) would soon use truck and car bombs to kill Palestinians as well. As Mike Davis has shown vehicle bombs thereafter were used sporadically—producing notable massacres in Saigon (1952) by the CIA, Algiers (1962) by the French OAS against Algerian civilians and Palermo, Sicily (1963) as part of rivalry between Mafia gangs to continue until the mid-1990s. According to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, the CIA itself was involved in failed attempt to kill Lebanese Shiite leader Fadlallah in 1985 by car bombing.[7] Israeli Mossad has repeatedly used car bombs to kill Arab and Palestinian leaders.[8]

To coin Mike Davis, the “gates of hell” were only truly opened in 1972, when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) accidentally improvised the first ammonium nitrate-fuel oil (ANFO) car bomb. Since that improvisation car bomb suddenly became a semi-strategic weapon that, under certain circumstances, was comparable to airpower in its ability to knock out enemy positions. The technique was employed successfully using trucks in Lebanon in 1983 against the French and US Embassies and the US marine barracks; City of London in April 1993 by the IRA; Oklahoma City in 1995 by Tim McVeigh; Khobar Towers, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia in 1996; Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam against the US embassies in 1998; and unsuccessfully in 1993 to knockdown the WTC.[9] Both Ramzy Yousef, the plotter for the 1993 WTC attempt, and his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11, were reportedly trained by the CIA on the use of explosives against the Russians. Little did the CIA realize that yesterday’s comrade-in-arms could become today’s arch-enemy!

Then came September 11, 2001 when fully-loaded planes were used to knockdown the WTC.[10] This was like the ultimate of what Buda’s 1920 innovation could do.

Between 2004 and 2005 some 1293 car bombs exploded in Iraq, making it the most dangerous place on earth.[11] While Zarqawi’s terrorist group was responsible for most of those blasts, he was not the first one to try car bombing in Iraq. That credit goes to Dr. Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Accord, which planted bombs in the early 1990s under the CIA directives.[12]

The Iraq War also saw the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which were first used against the German forces during WW II, and more recently by the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. The IEDs have been responsible for at least 40% of coalition deaths in Iraq since 2003.

Outside the use of vehicles to transport and explode bombs, the old method of planting bombs and dynamites to blow off enemy’s target is also used whenever suitable. There are strong evidences that the Mossad and the CIA were behind the bomb blast on Feb. 22, 2006 in the Shiite “Golden Mosque” in Samarra that sparked off the sectarian violence in Iraq.[13]

While in recent years, radiological dispersal devices (RDDs), more commonly referred to as the dirty bombs, have been touted by the US government as the next lethal arsenal with the terrorists, so far we have not seen its use, and may not do so unless a blowback phenomenon happens.[14] It is believed by many analysts that the Attorney General’s office was stoking public fear to justify detainment of Jose Padilla without any criminal charges being formally made against him since March of 2002.

These days there is an unholy campaign to sanction, let alone overlook, barbarism of strategic or so-called precision bombing and shelling that kills civilians indiscriminately that are perpetrated by some states while crying foul about victims killed in car or truck bombings by others. Both activities are criminal and should be condemned.

Factors Contributing to Terrorism

Terrorism has been motivated by a plethora of factors from street and state gangsterism to social, economic, political, ethnic and religious. Of these, overt state terrorism is the worst kind since the state authority practicing it not only believes in its cause but also has the wherewithal at its disposal to continue the process. This form of terrorism, when practiced internally, is often tolerated by other states, who consider such violent activities as internal matters of the perpetrating state. Naturally, this form of terrorism is most difficult to eradicate. Suffice it to say that the theater of overt state terrorism is not necessarily limited to the territory of the state, and can be extra-territorial.

Some examples of overt state terrorism can be found in practices of: (1) repressive regimes against their own people (e.g., the Myanmar regime); (2) racist, bigoted and xenophobic regimes against the ‘other’ people – who could be either majority or minority group (e.g., Israeli regime against the Palestinian people, Apartheid South Africa against the indigenous Black majority, Myanmar regime against minority Rohingyas and Karens, Soviet/Russian regime against Chechen and Tatar Muslims, Yugoslav/Serbian regime against Muslims in Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo, and Chinese regime against Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists); (3) occupation forces (e.g., American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cambodia; Japanese occupation during WW II in China and Malaysia, Indian occupation of Kashmir, and many colonial governments); and (4) hegemonic powers, e.g., US Navy’s shooting down of an Iranian jetliner in the Persian Gulf that killed hundreds of civilian passengers during the Iran-Iraq war, and destruction of Sudan’s only pharmaceutical lab during the Clinton era.

Covert state terrorism can happen through spy organizations and surrogates or proxies (who are harbored, trained, financed and underwritten) to further the cause of the sponsor.  Examples include: CIA’s overthrow of Iran’s Musaddeq regime to bring the Shah to power; terrorism of the settler Jews in Israel against the Palestinian people; terrorism of Karen Buddhist Army against Karen Muslims and Christians in the Karen state of Burma; Rakhine terrorism against the Rohingyas of Arakan state of Burma; NATO-led Gladio “stay behind” network (a secret right wing effort to prevent left wing forces from taking power in Europe) that sometimes staged false-flag bombings and assassinations blamed on left-wing groups to discredit them;[15] Israeli sponsorship of now-abolished Southern Lebanese Army and the Phalange in Lebanon; and American underwriting of the 2008 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia—that terrorized the citizens.

Generally speaking, terrorism derived from social grievances, even if ideologically reinforced by a dogma such as radical Marxism, tends to fade if the societies in question fail to support the terrorists’ cause. This explains why in Latin America various “social revolutionaries” have miserably failed to bring about the desired changes that had hoped for. Violence becomes not just the means to an end but also their raison detre.

However, terrorism rooted in ethnic, national, or religious resentment is the most enduring and the least susceptible to simple eradication. Even when such factors contributing to terrorism are removed, past grievance, resentment, hatred and bitterness can become a rallying ground for committing violence against the other group(s). As has been noticed from the Armenian terrorism directed against the Turks in the 20th century, it takes decades, if not, generations to eradicate the group instinct for terrorism rooted in ethnic, national and religious factors.

The perpetrators of terrorism may or may not be affiliated with an established government. But when it does, it is the worst form of terrorism to cope with. State authority may use opportunities prevalent at the time to unleash its brand of terrorism against its victims. Thus, on September 12, 2001, taking advantage of the aftermath of 9/11 attacks, the Israeli military stormed a West Bank village in pursuit of three alleged Islamic Jihad activists, firing missiles and shells on the building where they had barricaded themselves. In the three-hour exchange of fire, five Palestinian civilians were killed—among them a 12-year-old girl—and 50 wounded. The next day, Israeli tanks roared into West Bank towns again, setting off gun battles that left three Palestinians dead and 21 wounded. The incursions, the Israeli military said, were intended to “root out terror.” But as Prof. Rashid Khalidi has shown Israel’s military strategy simply has not worked: Striking civilian centers in which guerrilla actions may be hatched only tightens the spiral of vengeance. Israel’s own military coordinator for the West Bank and Gaza, General Amos Gilad, said that Israel’s repression of Palestinians in the occupied territories produces “a fool’s cycle of violence in which Hamas grows stronger, we respond, and as a result the hardship in the territories grows and Hamas grows even stronger. If the situation continues, we are likely to be confronted with . . . five terror attacks a day.”[16]

Within days of 9/11, Sharon’s deputy said, “We are operating in the Jenin area and nobody’s complaining.” In addition to Jenin, the population centers of Jericho, Gaza, Ramallah, and Qalqiliya all came under sustained attack from Israeli forces.[17]

Israel was not alone in the wake of 9/11 to have exploited America’s war on terror to terrorize minorities. Russia, China, India, Philippines, Thailand and Burma seized the moment, as did many other governments to bring their brand of state terrorism which hitherto they did not dare to use for fear of international reaction.

The collective sense of hopelessness, discrimination, loss, persecution, harassment and dehumanization of a community by an offending state authority may contribute to terrorism that is directed not only against the sources of such deprivation, but also against the civilian population belonging to the powerful ruling group. Many of the rebel movements, e.g., the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and the various Palestinian resistance groups in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, against the established authorities have sometimes succumbed to group identification for victimizing civilians.

As is well known from the IRA experience, harsh torture tactics of interrogation usually backfire and help to recruit more terrorists.[18] The Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prison tortures have similarly recruited more terrorists in Iraq than ever before.

Regardless of the gravity of the crime, the perpetrators are fanatical about the very correctness of their cause. They are naturally willing to be hanged or shot dead for standing up to their cause.

In this regard, the example of Nathuram Vinayak Godse, the Hindu terrorist, affiliated with the Hindu Maha Sabha, who killed Mahatma Gandhi is quite revealing. He justified his action in his 150 points statement presented to the jury wherein he accused Gandhi as having “proved to be the Father of Pakistan” instead of the Father of the Hindu nation – an epithet of high reverence. “The Father of the nation” forgot his “paternal duty”, he said in his statement.[19] He further said, “If devotion to one’s country amounts to a sin, I admit I have committed that sin. If it is meritorious, I humbly claim the merit thereof. I fully and confidently believe that if there be any other court of justice beyond the one founded by the mortals, my act will not be taken as unjust. If after the death there be no such place to reach or to go, there is nothing to be said. I have resorted to the action I did purely for the benefit of the humanity. I do say that my shots were fired at the person whose policy and action had brought wreck and ruin and destruction to lakhs of Hindus.”

An interview of Ariel Sharon, who commanded the Israeli commando Unit 101 that targeted civilian Arabs, is equally informative to understand the mind of a terrorist leader. In the Qibya massacre of 1953, 69 Palestinian civilians, some of them children, were killed by Sharon’s troops. In the documentary Israel and the Arabs: 50 Year War, Sharon recalls what happened after the raid: “I was summoned to see Ben-Gurion. It was the first time I met him, and right from the start Ben-Gurion said to me: “Let me first tell you one thing: it doesn’t matter what the world says about Israel, it doesn’t matter what they say about us anywhere else. The only thing that matters is that we can exist here on the land of our forefathers. And unless we show the Arabs that there is a high price to pay for murdering Jews, we won’t survive.”“[20] If this be the attitude of dovish Ben-Gurion, just imagine those of the Jewish hawks that guided Israeli history ever since!

With such a twisted logic, Israel has been able to justify her immoral occupation and sadistic aggression against the Palestinian people. Her heavy handedness has resulted in a disproportionate amount of casualty figures on the Arab side: at least 25 killed for every Israeli killed by a Palestinian gunman or suicide bomber (since the birth of the Jewish state).

Unfathomed hatred and jealousy can also lead to terrorizing the ‘other’ people. In this regard, the statement of Rabbi David Batzri, head of the Magen David Yeshiva in Jerusalem, is quite revealing. He said, “The nation of Israel is pure and the Arabs are a nation of donkeys. They are an evil disaster, an evil devil, and a nasty affliction. The Arabs are donkeys and beasts. They want to take our girls. They are endowed with true filthiness. There is pure and there is impure and they are impure.” [Haaretz, March 21, 2006] With such a hateful mindset it becomes so kosher to practice the worst form of terrorism against the foe, something that we have also witnessed before in Hitler’s Germany. Not surprisingly, a case by case analysis would show that terrorism of Hamas and Hizballah pales in comparison to those practiced by the Jewish state.

As can be seen from the above brief discussion, the dynamics of terrorism can be rather complex, requiring detailed analysis on a case by case basis to understand its various modes of operations and factors contributing to this problem.

[To be concluded next]


[1] Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice and Peace to Rid the World of Evil by James Bovard, Palgrave Macmillan (2003),; for a brief account of his life see:
[2] The other proponent of terrorism is Edgar Bauer (1820-86). For a good review on the subject see: Eric v.d. Luft’s article: Terrorism, Philosophical and Ideological Origins,
[3] Stalin: The First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia’s Secret Archives by Edvard Radzinsky, Anchor (1997);
[4] Clausewitz actually meant war and not terrorism (“Der Krieg ist eine bloße Fortsetzung der Politik mit anderen Mitteln”). See, for details.
[5] Israel is a perfect example of state terrorism that has taken terrorism to a new height by not only brutal means and false promises but also by manipulation of world opinion—thanks to her support from within the corporate media moguls and Hollywood barons – to portray her as the victims, and long term strategic initiatives to depopulate the Occupied Territories of the indigenous Palestinians. She has learned rather well to be the “rampart” of the western powers.
[7] See Bob Woodward’s book – Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987, Simon & Schuster (2005)
[8] For details, see this author’s article: Allegations of Israeli Terrorism.
[10] There are many reputable scientists and engineers who believe that the WTC towers could not have been brought down by massive explosions that followed after the planes hit them. One theory is that they fell because of bombs planted before the incident in the building, as part of an insurance scam to draw billions of dollars against those fallen towers. See, e.g.,
[11] Information on car statistics was quoted by Mike Davis from Brookings Institution. See also:
[13]; The shrine is one of four major Shiite shrines in Iraq, and two of the 12 imams revered by mainstream Shiites are buried in it: Ali al-Hadi, who died in 868 A.D., and his son, the 11th imam, Hassan al-Askari.
[14] Brief information on dirty bomb can be found in
[15]’; see also: Terrorists ‘helped by CIA’ to stop rise of left in Italy, the Guardian, March 26, 2001:
[17] Ibid., as quoted from the Haaretz newspaper.
[18] Fresh Air, interview of Philippe Sands, NPR, June 19, 2008:; see also Philippe Sands’s book - Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and The Betrayal of American Values, Palgrave Macmillan (2008).
[19] For an interesting, somewhat revisionist and RSS apologetic account of Godse’s terrorism, see:
[20] In an interview on December 17, 1982 with the Israeli journalist and novelist Amos Oz, Sharon is reported to have said, “You can call me anything you like. Call me a monster or a murderer. … Call Israel by any name you like, call it a Judeo-Nazi state as does Leibowitz. Why not? Better a live Judeo-Nazi than a dead saint. I don’t care whether I am like Ghadafi. I am not after the admiration of the gentiles. I don’t need their love. I don’t need to be loved by Jews like you either… History teaches us that he who won’t kill will be killed by others. That is an iron law… Leibowitz is right, we are Judeo-Nazis, and why not? ... Even today I am willing to volunteer to do the dirty work for Israel, to kill as many Arabs as necessary to deport them, to expel and burn them, to have everyone hate us, to pull the rug from underneath the feet of the Diaspora Jews, so that they will be forced to run to us crying. Even if it means blowing up one or two synagogues here and there, I don’t care. And I don’t mind if after the job is done you put me in front of a Nuremberg Trial and then jail me for life. Hang me if you want, as a war criminal. Then you can spruce up your Jewish conscience and enter the respectable club of civilized nations, nations that are large and healthy. What you lot don’t understand is that the dirty work of Zionism is not finished yet, far from it.” [; There is however some controversy as to whether such an interview took place since Amos Oz in his book in Hebrew, 1982: Amos Oz: Poh va-sham be-Erets-Yisra’el bi-setav, 1982, republished by Am Oved, Tel-Aviv, 1986, on pages 70-82, does not mention the name of Sharon, but uses the abbreviation Z. See, for detailed discussion on this interview.]