Skip to main content.
Surely there are as many avenues for radicalization as there are terrorists. This page deals with the myths surrounding terrorism -- countering with what we now know.

The following List was developed from
"No End To War" by Walter Laqueur and other sources.

Myth / Fact

Poverty breeds terrorists. Terrorists are typically from the middle classes and relatively well educated. Poverty is used to justify their terrorist activities. Humiliation and Alienation breed terrorism.

Despair and lack of hope motivate terrorists. Only occasionally is this true; the opposite is more often true; Muhammed Atta and cohorts were full of hope.

Oppression breeds terrorism. Oppression in itself is terror. The question is what breeds oppression? Dictators are not bound by human rights issues; they freely use brutal means to suppress terrorism. Hitler, Stalin and Hussein are type examples. Each used terror against his own people. Terror in response to all three was minimal.

Terrorists are crazies of one ilk or another. Terrorists are typically well balanced psychologically and can blend perfectly with a democratic populace. A few are unbalanced, but no more so than the general population. Many are naive; willing to believe paradise and virgins await their suicidal actions.

Terrorists come from the poorest societies. Terrorist leaders typically come from neither the poorest nor the richest societies but from those in between. Economic inequality is often used as justification for their actions.

Terrorist are well defined demographically. Terrorists come from the extreme right or extreme left, from families of any level of wealth, from any religion except Buddhism or Confucianism and usually not from Hinduism. Islam and Judaism produce the vast majority in our times, but it was not always so. Christianity and less so Hinduism fostered terror in our age. And the Crusaders and Witch Hunters were several varieties of Christians. Atheists such as Stalin, Idi Amin, and Pol Pot, typically tend toward genocide, or political terror of the Lenin variety.

Terrorists are revolutionaries. Many are, but many are not; fundamentalists staunchly defend their views of the status quo, which may depart significantly from the mainstream.

Islamic terrorists target Westerners. Many do, but many more target rival religions or other sects of Islam they consider apostates; many attack people and regimes they believe to be infected with western ideas.

Terrorism can be easily suppressed. There is no evidence for that; massive repression works, halfhearted measures do not; this raises an acute problem for America and other nations that have regard for individual rights, freedom, democracy and due process of law. A high level of international cooperation and stiffer laws everywhere seem to be indicated in our times. Concerted police action works well as the British so ably demonstrated in suppressing the Thugs of India.

Terrorists are steeped in Islamic tradition during their formative years. Many are, but many of the most dangerous have been radicalized or converted after spending time in the West. Being bilingual, they move easily in Western societies.

Secular and religious terrorists differ. They share an extremist mindset in common, they each have political goals in common. Both are Authoritarians in personality. Religious terrorists may hit a broader range of victims in age, gender, and status in life.

Wiping out a hotbed will teach the remaining groups to back off. Not a chance. Terrorists are so diverse and so motivated that most will fight to the death. This is their hallmark. Remove the radicalizing hot beds by eliminating the conditions that create them will not only give peace efforts the high ground, but the effort will find allies in the places that count, like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. It will take time but would happen.

Most terrorism emanates from the radical far left. That was true at times, not at other times. The radical right has a very large presence, but they seem less coordinated and organized than their leftist counterparts. Right-wing terror can be quite bloody. The Oklahoma City example was an individual, not a group effort. Some terrorists groups are middle-ground politically.

Most terrorism originates at the grass roots. Such origins are most common in our day but the worst terrorism in history has been top down. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Habyarimana (Rwanda), and Hussein are type examples; their tolls far exceed those of the ground-up variety.

Terrorism is a sign of weakness. This is true only in the sense that it is the only practical alternative its practitioners have. The neofascists, for example, have zero chances to succeed via electoral processes or military means. To them terror is the most attractive alternative. If terrorism is so weak, why is it costing so much to contain? The elimination process has not yet really begun. There are many hundreds of terror groups worldwide. Only fifty or so are considered newsworthy. The threat is much larger. It was never centered in Iraq or Afghanistan; Pakistan is now the leading generator of terrorists.

Terrorists are tightly organized. Some groups are. But many incidents are carried out by individuals. Other groups are dispersed, like al Qa'ida, with a minimum of central control. Cells operate with no knowledge of what other cells are doing.

Terror groups cannot be infiltrated. Some, with fixed limited memberships, may be impossible to infiltrate. Most others are more vulnerable. Islamic groups appear more difficult to infiltrate than non-Islamic or right-wing European groups for example.

Terrorists are basically criminals. Many are. The Algerian GIA is an archetype. Other groups are more akin to guerillas opposing despotism or what they consider Zionist or Western invasions.

Terrorists invoke religion as their guiding faith. Many do. However, most religious people are in fact peaceful. Only the radical individuals and sects of the monotheisms practice Violence at levels multiples above the peaceful eastern religions and atheism.

Fortunately positive approaches are evident. For a beginning, see Social Research | Solutions | Hope.

The diffuse nature of terrorism leaves the grass roots as perhaps the only effective counter to terrorism. Such a movement must embrace all cultures equally and value human life above individual desire. Iraq is just one more era in the endless wars instigated by the Authoritarian Personalities of our time.


No comments yet

To be able to post comments, please register on the site.