THE NATURE OF TERRORISM
There are six basic components to all terrorism. Terrorism is (1) an intentional and (2) rational (3) act of violence to (4) cause fear (5) in the target audience or society (6) for the purpose of changing behavior in that audience or society. Terrorism is a political act, the goal of which is to make a change. The terrorist is not driven by personal desires or ambitions.
Terrorism is about impact on society. There are three types of terrorist attacks: (1) attacks that involve weapons of mass destruction, (2) weapons of mass casualty and (3) weapons of mass disruption. These distinctions are made to focus on the intent of the terrorist act rather than the means per se.
A weapon of mass destruction is a weapon that causes damage to buildings, dams, bridges, computer systems or other structures of a society. A weapon of mass casualty is a weapon that causes massive sickness and/or death. Biological and chemical weapons are weapons of mass casualty. It is these types of weapons that are generally referred to as weapons of mass destruction. Weapons of mass disruption are weapons that cause social, political and/or economic damage to society. Magnetic pulse weapons (to disrupt computer operations), agro terrorism (disrupt food supply or manufacturing) or cyber terrorism (hacking into computers and destroying bank records or government records) are examples of weapons of mass disruption. The distinctions explain how terrorist goals can be achieved and that any act of violence is not terrorism. A terrorist act can involve a weapon that achieves all three goals, such as September 11th. The attack was one of mass destruction of infrastructure (the WTC and Pentagon), mass casualty (an estimated 3000 people killed) and mass disruption (airports shut down, new laws passed, heightened fear of future attack, loss of millions of dollars due to the loss of the WTC as an economic center).
While terrorism is goal centered in creating fear in a society to achieve a political goal, a terrorist act can be placed in one of two general groupings. The act is either objective driven or terror driven.
An objective driven act of terrorism is committed in order for the terrorist group to get certain demands met by a government. Hostage taking is an example. The taking of the U.S. Embassy in Iran in 1980 was committed to get the United States to change its behavior in regard to Iran and the Middle East in general. An objective driven act of terrorism is committed to give the government a chance to negotiate or change policy. Terror driven acts are committed as retaliation for a perceived wrong or as a warning of future acts of terror if the government does not change its policies. The acts of terrorism in the Gaza Strip and West Bank are examples of terror driven attacks. Israel kills a leader of Hamas and Hamas bombs the Hebrew University and kills settlers in the West Bank. Threats follow that for every one Hamas leader that is killed, one hundred Israelis will be killed.
The nature of terrorism is the indiscriminate and indirect targeting of individuals with a specific goal and purpose. Terrorism is indiscriminate and indirect in that the people killed are not targeted specifically and the people killed, per se, are of no account to the terrorist. Who gets killed is of no consequence but the fact that people are killed is of consequence. Terrorism is not an irrational act. The targets are chosen because they will cause a desired impact (either the destruction of infrastructure, the causing of massive death, or disruption of a society). The nature of modern terrorism is that anyone can be a victim, but terrorism is not random. The apparently random target is not random, buts its appearance as random causes public anxiety and fear and change in behavior, which is exactly what the terrorist wants to accomplish. Terrorism is also a public act. The act must be such that the greater society will see it and react to the attack. The terrorist will choose targets that have symbolic value and/or economic value (WTC for example) or targets that have public value (buses, restaurants, etc.) in order to get public attention and public behavior change.
Terrorism should not be confused with traditional warfare. In war, the target is selected for its military value. In war groups of people are selected for attack because the people themselves have some specific value and attacking the group will achieve a military objective. In terrorism, the group is of little account per se, but the fact that they are killed is the point. Terrorism should not be confused with war crimes. An example of a war crime is an army going into a town with the objective of purging the town of enemy forces, and while doing so they kill unarmed civilians and non-combatants. Although such action is illegal and a crime, it is not considered terrorism; the dead were killed because the army lost control of itself, not because the destruction was designed to intimidate other towns or the society as a whole. In distinguishing the difference between war and terrorism, the focus is on the reason for the attack and the impact of the attack, not the target of the attack itself.
In summary, terrorism should be understood as a political act to achieve a desired goal through the use of violence. Terrorism is not an irrational act committed by the insane. The terrorist does not act for personal gain or gratification, thus the terrorist is not a criminal in the traditional sense. A terrorist believes in what he, and now with female suicide bombers, she is doing. The objective is worth the life of the terrorist and the lives of the people he/she will take. The intent is not to kill those who die in an attack, but to affect the larger society as a whole. An attack can be committed to destroy the buildings and operations of a society, to kill or injure people or to disrupt the peaceful existence of the society. The attack can seek to achieve all three or a combination of the three. The objective can be to force a government to negotiate or to seek revenge for a government action. Terrorism does not seek specific victims but it does seek out specific targets for a specific outcome.