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Two cases: Possible causes and solutions of terrorism in the Middle East.

For my International Terrorism final exam, I had to write an essay that required me to answer two cases of terrorism. I had to explain the possible causal factors that explained violence in that area, followed by potential ways to solve or at least mitigate the issues. This is my rough answer.

What are the causes of terrorism in Radical Islam vs. the West, and what are the possible ways to solve or mitigate it? What are the causes of terrorism in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and what are the possible ways to solve or mitigate it?

Terrorism occurs throughout much of the populated world. Due to the difficulties of defining terrorism followed by different research methodologies within the given parameters, the causes of terrorism within each individual case remain disputed amongst scholars, governments, and terrorists themselves. Ways to mitigate or solve each conflict are just as contested. The cases of Radical Islam vs. the West (specifically al-Qaeda versus the United States) and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict prove to be no exception. Many authors give their own conclusions as to the possible causes of terrorism within those cases, while other authors present their own solutions to mitigate or regulate the violence.

In the two aforementioned cases, I argue that terrorism happens due to the radical interpretations of the terrorists’ religious beliefs which have been manipulated by religious individuals or influential members of that in-group. Specifically in the al-Qaeda versus the United States case, my claim will also be largely supported at the system level. In contrast, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict will be largely supported at the level of politics within the group. Both cases will be supported at the level of the terrorist organization, which latently shifts to the level of the individual.  This model will first separately discuss the causes of terrorism within the two cases, followed by analyses that give possible solutions or regulations to each separate case.

The causes of al-Qaeda’s activities are based off its members’ radical interpretations of Islam. Several authors believe that al-Qaeda persists due to factors operating at the system level, permeating down to the level of the organization itself and finally to the individual. Authors included in this discussion will involve Lewis, Rubin, and Euben, Waterbury, and Juergensmeyer.

 Lewis argues that Islam, like other religions, goes through periods where it inspires hatred and violence amongst some of its followers. He contends that the roots of Muslim rage is due to losing world power to the West and Russia, having undermined authority in their own country (such as an intrusion of foreign ideas and laws, cultures and norms, and non-Muslim ideas), and being challenged in their own homes (such as emancipated women and rebellious children). Religious leaders then exploit this notion and expand the hatred for the entire population to mobilize against the West. Although he makes interesting points, Lewis’ article is based off assumptions and hold no empirical evidence to support his claim. He mistakenly stereotypes all Islamic households as the same and proposes that their anger is based off those assumptions. He fails to connect the individual to the level of the organization and finally to the system level.

Rubin similarly discusses the causes of al-Qaeda’s activities at the system level. He proposes that anti-American feelings are not from the country’s foreign policy, but that various religious groups in the Arab society use self-interest to manipulate the population to be anti-American. He presents the United States in a positive light by listing many events in which they’ve helped Arab countries (including when they maintained a pro-Arab policy during the Cold War or when they saved Muslims in Afghanistan from the Soviets). Despite helping them, Rubin claims that Arab radicals continue to discredit the United States. However, he doesn’t indicate the US policies that have been anti-Arab. Moreover, His reasons are based off assumptions of religious leader’s mindsets. Rubin presents no evidence of why the US has been disregarded in the Middle East; like Lewis, Rubin also fails to connect the individual to the level of the organization or system.

In her article, Euben claims that Fundamental Islamism is a worldview that is radically different and contrasts the Rational Actor Theory. Once the individual joins, the al-Qaeda member is eternally bound to the community. He believes that religion is combined with politics, that there exists divine sovereignty, that secular states are corrupt, and that it is his duty to cure the corruption via any means necessary (which involves violence). The flaw in Euben’s article is different than the two aforementioned authors, but nonetheless fatal. Although she connects the individual to the terrorist organization and to the system level, there isn’t enough evidence to support her claim. Her description of the fundamentalist is also stereotypical of a true religious warrior. Very few people will think along these extreme lines before joining terrorist organizations.

Waterbury presents the strongest argument for the causes of terrorism in the al-Qaeda versus United States case. He makes the claims that the Middle East has overcrowded and underproductive schools. Many intellects and professionals are left unemployed, leading those individuals to experience relative deprivation. In order to survive, political leaders used religious movements to gain momentum and parts of the educational infrastructure were handed to religious groups. Waterbury states that the privatization of these schools are dangerous because public authorities cannot control the curriculum or monitor its activities. This notion is supported by the Lebanon case, where Hezbollah spends $3.5 million/year to educate 23,000 students at all levels. Individuals are in turn exposed to Fundamental Islamism, are manipulated, and become susceptible to religious fanaticism.

In expanding Waterbury’s claim, I argue that schools are just one medium to instill radical beliefs towards an individual into joining a terrorist organization. Other forms of influence include churches, communities, families, and friends, all having the potential to educate the individual. Juergensmeyer supports this notion with his interview on Mahmud the Red. As a child, Mahmud attended Muslim youth camp. He took courses at Alexandria University and became active in Islamic politics. He moved to Brooklyn and was placed in a large Muslim community that reinforced his religious beliefs (became exposed to Omar Rahman). His subsequent volunteering at the Afghan Refuge Center (funded by bin Laden) exposed him to groupthink, which led him to visit Afghanistan and be involved in a military struggle. According to Juergensmeyer, Mahmud says that the United States does not understand the soul of religion. As this case study notes, Mahmud was socialized into a religious lifestyle since an early age, which was then manipulated by religious individuals and leaders into a radical interpretation of Islam. This process inevitably led to his 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Not only is this phenomenon similar for other individuals in al-Qaeda, it is often times the case for those in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

While the level of the organization and the individual holds true in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, there is one key difference in terrorism that occurs in this case. I argue that the two ethnic groups within the group oppose peace and continue violence due to religious ideologies which are socially constructed either at an early age in a religious setting, or acquired through early adulthood. Religious leaders or members of their in-group constantly reinforce their beliefs, which identifies the significance of the level of politics that occur within the group. The many incidents and case studies that Lustick and Juergensmeyer provide will support my claim.

Lustick gives a historical briefing of the case which introduces the cause of terrorism from both perspectives, followed by his analysis of the politics that occur within the group. From the perspective of Israelis and Zionism, he explains how poems and literature were written to mobilize Jews to fight for the sake of fighting. The psychological target of Zionist violence were the Jews (the in-group). After the 1921 Arab riots against the Jews, however, the Jews formed the Haganah which became the Israel Defense Forces. The group projected an image of a Jewish fighter defending his family and nation while it depicted the Arabs as an irrational and barbaric group. In the late 1940s, this solipsistic violence (violence for the purpose of manipulating the in-group) transitioned towards other-directed violence (violence for the purpose of manipulating the opponent’s behaviors); Jews started preemptive strikes against the Arabs. These attacks, according to Lustick, served as symbols of self-worth for the Jews and also served as propaganda to encourage potential members to join the movement.

Juergensmeyer presents case studies of the Zionists Baruch Goldstein and Meir Kahane that reinforce my argument. After growing tired of arrogant Palestinians chanting “slaughter the Jews” in his own settlement, Goldstein went into the shrine of worship and killed over 30 people and injured more. I argue that the cause of his actions is due to his religious involvement and manipulation by groups and leaders. According to Juergensmeyer, Goldstein grew up in a religious household and attended religious school. He was also part of the Jewish Defense League. Prolonged exposure to religion followed by the manipulation of the JDL caused him to commit the act of terrorism. Similarly, Kahane (the founder of JDL) attended religious school and was influenced by Revisionist Zionists. He had a view called “catastrophic messianic” where the Messiah comes after a great conflict in which Jews triumph and praise god through their successes. In turn, anything that humiliates the Jews is retrograde for the world (which explains why Goldstein massacred the Arabs). The causes of terrorist acts from the Israeli’s perspective is due to religious ideologies that are socially constructed into individual’s minds in their adolescence and/or early adulthood.

The Palestinians and the PLO enacted similar strategies. Lustick explains that poems and literature depicted Arabs as falling in rank and being humiliated. They were once portrayed as being “masters, leaders, and scholars” to becoming “most despicable.” The violence towards the Jews until the early 1970s were aimed for the Arab in-group, which promoted dying as martyr’s for the Arab-Muslim population. The movement then shifted towards other-directed violence, yet the goals of mobilizing Arabs remained. Attacks made by Fatah were meant to gain popular support, and the PLO went from having 2,000 men to 15,000 men just three months later, and finally to 30,000 in two years.

Juergensmeyer provides one more case study of Dr. Rantisi, one of the founders of the Hamas movement. Instead of labeling suicide bombings as such, he refers to it as “self-chosen martyrdom.” He explains that bombers are “given permission” to carry out their duty of martyrdom, an act in which all Muslims seek. He tells Juergensmeyer that the teachings of Islam stress nonviolence except on occasion: if aggressed against, Arabs must end aggression by retaliating against the attacker. He asserts that violence is required for the purposes of defending the faith and proving one’s existence. Chima reinforces this social constructivist belief with his interview on Sikh militants. According to the militants, fighting back was a method of proving they were men; violence was a way to form a positive group identity. As noted earlier, the causes of terrorism in the Palestinian case is the same as the Israelis: individuals are exposed to religious ideologies which are manipulated by the level of politics that occur within the group.

Terrorism has been regulated or mitigated in the past, and both the al-Qaeda/United States case and Israeli-Palestinian Conflict are no exception. In my opinion, strategies and tactics only hack at the branches of terrorism; it is the grand strategy that will mitigate the phenomenon from its roots. Therefore, I argue that the grand strategy of mitigating terrorism in both cases is to change the ideology of the religious group. The objective of the changing ideology is to either have moderate leaders rally support from the masses to change their ideology, or have the masses agree with the ideology on their own. First off, proponents of the “primacist” and “neoisolationist” grand strategy of solving terrorism will be largely criticized and discredited (Walt, Juergensmeyer, Ginges, and Mason provides some examples). The grand strategy will be manifested through my combination and expansion of Posen’s “selective engagement” and “liberal internationalist” grand strategies, with parts of Juergensmeyer, Walt, and McGarry & O’Leary’s excerpts to provide supporting details. I will then differentiate how this modified grand strategy applies differently to the two cases.

Walt introduces a hawkish strategy by presenting the idea of eradicating al-Qaeda by attacking every cell possible, as well as replacing the Taliban government to remove sanctuary for terrorist groups. This latently shows the rest of the world that they cannot support a group who threatens the US. Juergensmeyer also presents a similar idea in having the secular government wage total war on the group, including scaring them to the point where they will not act. This primacist approach does not work and has shown to be ineffective. Because al-Qaeda is made up of cells, it is very hard to locate and get rid of all of them. Moreover, the US appears to act unilaterally and has lost much world support. Lastly, religious warriors already feel the world is at war and expects the enemy (the US) to act harshly.

Similarly, Ginges proposes the Denial Strategy which refuses negotiations with terrorists, hardens targets, and retaliates against the terrorists.  She also proposes an alternative Reintegrative Punishment Strategy in which negotiations favor the government: terrorists denounce terrorism and show a willingness to re-enter society. This does not work in the case of al-Qaeda. They are religious warriors who cannot perceive failure without failing God. Religious warriors also show no regret; their acts, as stated by Chima and other interviewers shows that the warriors carry out violent acts to validate their existence.

The neoisolationist grand strategy also proves ineffective. The bombings of Pearl Harbor in World War II show that the US cannot merely isolate itself from the rest of the world. Globalization makes this even more impossible today, as the US needs some sort of diplomacy with every country it deals with. Therefore, the strategy of passive defense by Mason does not mitigate or regulate terrorism – it is only an reactive force that responds to terrorist acts.

Whereas the primacist and neoisolationist strategies do not work, valid points of liberal internationalism and selective engagement can be combined to produce a successful grand strategy that regulates terrorism. I argued earlier that the causes of terrorism in both cases is due to radical interpretations of religion influenced by religious leaders and the in-group. Instead of denouncing the religion, Juergensmeyer proposes a revitalized Islam where it deflects violence through ritual enactment. Instead of physical violence, he argues that the image of a cosmic war can be redirected towards a battlefield of ideas. He provides evidence to support this moderate stance on religion: In the late 90s, Iranian students supported a moderate theologian who argued that interpretations of religion are relative and change over time. He made a distinction between ideology and religion and claimed that religious activists had no business in politics. The battle is between moral positions, he argued, rather than between armed groups.

In order for this ideological shift to occur, liberal internationalism must first be established to oversee this transaction. Before I go into further details, however, I must make the assumption that all affiliates of al-Qaeda are homogenous and are moderate (willing to change) in their thoughts. I will address the weakness of my assumption later. In the al-Qaeda/United States case, both sides have clear cultural and religious differences; it is not just al-Qaeda who needs to change it’s ideologies. Walt argues that the US must first make its worldwide presence more acceptable to the rest of the world, thereby lowering its presence in world affairs and diminishing the perception of a unilateral state. Juergensmeyer adds to the point by stating that the end goal of religious violence is peace. Therefore, the US should immediately project an aura of peace, thereby setting the ground for a “battlefield of ideas.” In addition, multilateral institutions such as the UN should be used more often to maintain nonviolence. In other words, these institutions oversee selective engagement rather than the US alone. Walt is correct in the notion that terrorists must be seen as criminals, not just merely the enemy. An international court should be established with an international armed force comprised of every country (including the Middle Eastern states) to conduct necessary actions. After these sanctions have been imposed, religious ideologies will gradually shift towards nonviolence, and terrorism will be regulated if not eliminated.

Concepts of liberal internationalism and selective engagement apply to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict as well, but with different applications. McGarry and O’Leary provide four possibilities of stopping ethnic conflict and possibilities of managing differences. With the exception of integration/assimilation, I highly disagree with the other three ways to eliminate differences (genocide, forced mass population transfers, and partitioning) because they are oversimplified, permanent solutions to a highly complex problem. Instead, I feel as though the same international sanctions that oversee al-Qaeda should utilize arbitration to establish conditions for an eventual conflict resolution. Like the other case, violence will be denounced and be replaced by “a battlefield of ideas.” In the meantime, they will utilize hegemonic control when necessary over small, deviant groups within the communities and slowly integrate the two ethnic groups peacefully. My argument concludes optimistically with two Hamas individuals described in Juergensmeyer’s reading. When asked about the future of Israelis and Palestinians, one Hamas member imagined his child to be friends and classmates with the son of his Israeli opponent. The other individual (a failed suicide bomber) said that although he hates the Jews, his love for soccer would prevent him from ever bombing the Jewish soccer team. Clearly, the radical interpretations of Islam is learned and can be easily unlearned through a shift in religious ideology.

Although the al-Qaeda/United States case and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict are different by nature, they possess similarities in the sense that terrorism in both cases arises from a radical interpretation of Islam that has been manipulated by religious leaders and their in-group. Because terrorists have been socially constructed to think in those terms, their ideologies could be shifted towards a more positive, nonviolence fashion. However, one flaw resides in my argument: I do not account for extremists who disregard any prospects of a peaceful resolution. Because this gives rise to a whole new set of problems, I will only discuss it momentarily. Juergensmeyer agrees with me that terrorist acts cannot go unaddressed, but the victimized state must not act irrationally when responding to the attack. Not overreacting to provocation makes it hard for religious activists to depict the target government as a satanic enemy. With persistent peace talks along with appropriate measures of counterterrorism, the extremists may hopefully be swayed into nonviolence and terrorist activities in that case will become mitigated, if not completely eliminated.


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