TERRORISM Why Does It Happen? When Will It End?

Mar 10, 2012, 2:46 PM |

“All I Wanted Was to Get My Mail”

A suspicious bag left inside a post office

“I WILL never forget that Monday morning at the post office,” reflected Andre, a white South African-born man living in Namibia. “The place was jam-packed with people. I saw a suspicious bag left unattended nearby. I asked for my mail and left. After driving for only about three minutes, I heard a tremendous blast. I later learned that a bomb had exploded a few feet from where I had been standing.”

“All I wanted was to get my mail,” explained Andre. “But to realize later that innocent people, a number of whom I knew, were blown to pieces was a great shock. I still shudder, even though this occurred over 25 years ago. At times, I have recollections of the carnage I later saw and realize how close to death I came.”

A Global Problem

While you may never come that close to such an attack, you have likely heard that similar incidents are occurring often around the world. More and more people are resorting to violence, commonly called terrorist acts, to achieve their aims.—See the box “Who Are Terrorists?

An investigative journalist found that in 1997 there were “only four countries where a sustained campaign of suicide attacks had taken place.” But in 2008 this same researcher wrote that “more than thirty countries located on every continent save for Australia and Antarctica have experienced the devastating consequences of suicide attacks.” He concluded that such attacks are “executed by more and more organizations, which kill a greater number of people every year.”—The Globalization of Martyrdom.

Consider the attack referred to at the outset. The group that took responsibility for planting the bomb considered themselves freedom fighters. They were striving to gain independence from the government that then ruled their country. But what motivates people to do such things to achieve their goals? Consider the experience of Hafeni.

Hafeni was born in Zambia and grew up in refugee camps in neighboring countries. “I was furious,” he said, “at the brutal and unfair way my family and others had been treated.” So he became part of the militant group to which his parents belonged.

Looking back on those times, Hafeni continued: “The saddest part of the story was the emotional impact of living as a refugee. Children were torn from their mothers, fathers, and siblings. The older ones were off fighting. Many of these older ones never returned. I never saw my father, not even in a photo. All I knew was that he had died in the fighting. The emotional scars remain with me to this day.”

Clearly, the issues are complex. Having a better understanding of them will help you realize what has to be achieved if mankind is ever to see an end to such violence.

A masked man with a gun


Researcher Mark Juergensmeyer explains: “Whether or not one uses ‘terrorist’ to describe violent acts depends on whether one thinks that the acts are warranted. To a large extent the use of the term depends on one’s world view: if the world is perceived as peaceful, violent acts appear as terrorism. If the world is thought to be at war, violent acts may be regarded as legitimate.”

So, there are often political implications when the term “terrorist” is used. Many groups consider themselves to be freedom fighters, not terrorists. According to one writer, terrorism involves (1) acts aimed at noncombatants and (2) the use of violence for dramatic purpose, namely to instill fear. Therefore, militants—regardless of whether they are a group of insurgents or a civil government—may often use terrorist tactics or methods.