U.S. foreign policy and terminology manipulation
Why do so many Americans fear terrorism? Many political experts argue it typically derives from fear of the unknown.
The root of the word terrorism is taken from a Latin term that means, “fear.” However, the term achieved its claim to fame later, when it was widely used to describe the bloody reign of French revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre as part of the French government. It is from these roots that we find today’s use of “terrorism” — to describe violent acts against non-combatants with the explicit purpose of instilling fear.
The exact motivations are hard to pin down. Professor Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University, an expert on terrorism, said he typically prescribes to the idea that terrorists perform acts in the pursuit of power.
“Terrorism, in the most widely accepted contemporary usage of the term, is fundamentally and inherently political,” Hoffman said in his book Inside Terrorism. “It is also ineluctably about power: the pursuit of power, the acquisition of power, and the use of power to achieve political change.”
Hoffman also said terrorism, “is a word with intrinsically negative connotations that is generally applied to one’s enemies and opponents, or to those with whom one disagrees and would otherwise prefer to ignore.”
Massachusetts University Professor John Horgan, with expertise in terrorism and terrorist behavior, supports a different view on the stimuli of potential terrorists. “We don’t know, with evidence, why people become involved in terrorism and we are programmed to thinking there’s one specific reason or one main reason people become involved,” Horgan said. “There isn’t.”
In the article “What Terrorists Want” in The New Yorker, Nicholas Lemann said that terrorists are not purely motivated by what they believe is their religious duty, but instead an aspiration to rid their homeland of U.S. military forces. He said the militant groups see U.S. forces as an invasive presence. Order is no longer established through the ideas of locals, but influenced by the hand of western civilization.
Terror groups like al-Qaida came as a response to American presence in the Middle East during the Soviet War in Afghanistan. With the conclusion of World War II, the U.S. policy makers were determined to keep American interests at the forefront of global relations.
John Cooley, a former reporter for ABC, concluded in his novel, Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism, that one of the greatest driving factors for U.S. foreign policy was, and is, a reliable source of petroleum. The United States’ supply of oil before World War II was reliant on fostering new influence in Europe. Eisenhower saw that U.S. hunger for oil would only continue to grow, and, should there be another war in the future, control of the world’s oil supply could guarantee victory.
Cooley claims analysts came to the conclusion that the greatest supply of oil could be found in the Middle East, or more specifically, the country currently known as Saudi Arabia. In order to implement control in the area, the U.S. needed to position supporting leaders in power. According to Michael Klare’s article “The Geopolitics of War” published by The Nation, with this end in mind, the U.S. launched covert support for militant groups in the area. Klare writes that the U.S. military agreed to arm and train these militants with their promise of access to oilfields.
However, access to oil was not enough for the U.S., which understood that unrest in the Middle East represented a threat to the new partnership between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. The CIA chose to fight fire with fire. Money, troops and more arms were provided to the Saudis as a means of internal security. External security was achieved through further armament of Islamic extremist groups who fought surrounding moderate states.
Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado, in his Wall Street Journal article “Undressing the Terror Threat,” discusses the idea that current U.S. policy on terrorism is draining resources in an attempt to prevent inevitable failure. Campos compares U.S. policy toward terrorism to a hypothetical game of basketball with LeBron James. Campos writes: “The world’s greatest nation seems bent on subjecting itself to a similarly humiliating defeat, by playing a game that could be called Terrorball.”
According to Campos, “The first two rules of Terrorball are: one, the game lasts as long as there are terrorists who want to harm Americans; and two, if terrorists should manage to kill or injure or seriously frighten any of us, they win.”
Society’s incomplete understanding of the complexities of terrorism can be credited to a variety of domestic and international framing tactics. In Klare’s article, he writes that perceptions of terrorisms have been largely shaped by political framing, including, “a contest between Western liberalism and Eastern fanaticism, as suggested by many pundits in the United States; as a struggle between the defenders and the enemies of authentic Islam, as suggested by many in the Muslim world; and as a predictable backlash against American villainy abroad, as suggested by some on the left.” However, as Klare goes on to explain, terrorism cannot be limited by political theory. In all aspects, terrorism is a product of contention and conflict. “These cultural and political analyses obscure a fundamental reality: that this war, like most of the wars that preceded it, is firmly rooted in geopolitical competition,” Klare said.
Jake Ryan is a junior history major who dabbles in political theory. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.