Can Terrorism Be Cured?

Terrorism is likely to define the year 2006 as much as it has ever year since 2001. Years from now, historians will likely label the opening years of the twenty-first century the “Age of Terrorism.” As with any new era, we do not yet fully understand what is happening and why. While most of the world recognizes the problem, there are very different views on its causes and cures.

This much we know: terrorism is fueled by anger and frustration. Radicals use the inability to attain political objectives peacefully to inspire fanatical action and to justify forms of violence normally considered unacceptable. Beyond this basic point, however, there is less agreement on why frustration and anger lead to terrorism in some cases but not in others. Moreover, there are two broad schools of thought as to the appropriate response when they do fuel extremist violence.

One school believes that modern terrorism cannot be eradicated, or that the costs of doing so are unacceptably high. For this group, the only logical policy is to “ride out the storm” by ending policies which increase anger and frustration, and improving intelligence and defenses.

The second school of thought contends that terrorism can be eradicated by addressing its root causes. Ironically, its adherents include both George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden. For bin Laden and those who share his ideas, anger and frustration in the Islamic world stem from outside repression and exploitation of Muslims. If the repression ends, so, too, will terrorism. Until then, all means are legitimate when fighting a powerful and wicked enemy. Terrorism, for bin Laden and his allies, is the only method available to strike at the West effectively. “It is permissible,” according to bin Laden’s ally in Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi, “to spill infidel blood.”