Tag Archives: terrorism

What are the goals of terrorism?

Is anybody up to reading an essay? I wrote this last night (a little over 1,000 words) and I’m looking for a good critique. It’s all that is on my mind right now, geographically speaking, right now so somebody read it!

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What are the goals of terrorism?
In a post-9/11 world in which so much media attention is given to the various forms and acts of terrorism both at home and abroad, almost all Americans have been affected by terrorism either directly or psychologically. Many do not even know how to define terrorism, as its meaning has changed numerous times since the word originated in the French Revolution (White 2003:5). The best way to characterize terrorism may be to explain what it is not: it is not conventional warfare, in which both sides in the fight are comprised of standard militaries from a country or countries. It is not merely guerrilla warfare, in which smaller forces use surprise attacks on a larger military organization to achieve its goals. However, it is possible for a group to carry out terrorist attacks in the midst of these types of conflicts. Thus, in order to define terrorism as different from these forms of warfare, the question “What does terrorism have as its goal?” must be answered.

According to Glassner and Fahrer (2004:292), terrorism is the use of violence or threatened violence against anybody in society, including innocent civilians, in order to achieve a political goal. This definition, however, is broad and could arguably be considered a part of conventional or guerilla warfare, as those situations also involve the use of violence to achieve political goals, and civilians are frequently affected in addition to military personnel. Examining the goals of religious, ethnic, and nationalistic terrorists will help clarify the definition. This paper seeks to examine the goals of these types of terrorism using a selection of modern acts of terrorism as examples and the implications these have for the future of terrorism.

Goals of religious terrorism
Religious terrorism, according to Hoffman (1998:94), often becomes a holy act for the terrorist that is justified as a “necessary expedient for the attainment of their goals.” Those engaged in religious terrorism may attempt to push their religion or morality onto others and likely consider themselves to be at war with anyone not of the same mindset. Hoffman (1998:95) believes that this creates a much larger set of “enemies” for the religious terrorist.

Muslims, Jews, and Christians have all committed acts of terror to convert people to their God or [eliminate] opposition. Islamic terrorism is the most widely known variety of religious terrorism, coming from the desire of Islamic extremists to spread Islamic law (like that in Iran) to other Muslim States and the conversion of non-Muslim States to Islam. As Hoffman points out, the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini told his followers in 1980, “We must strive to export our Revolution throughout the world,” (1998:95). The declaration of jihad on Americans and Jews in 1998 by Osama bin Laden was made because he said Americans were occupying the Arabian Peninsula (Islamic holy land) and “plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people … and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim people” (Washington Post 1998: n.p.). This was the justification needed by al Qaeda to carry out the [attacks] on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001.

Jews and Christians have also been involved in terrorist acts, though not as widely publicized by Western media. Jews terrorists under Rabbi Meir Kahane have, since the 1980s, performed acts of violence and terrorism against Arab – largely Palestinian – groups in Israel (Hoffman 1998:100-101). Kahane’s doctrine promoted hatred of Arabs and claimed that no Arab liked Jews. This policy fueled an Israeli terrorist movement to remove or exterminate Arabs in the traditional holy lands promised to Israel in the Torah.

Goals of ethnic and nationalistic terrorism
Ethnic and nationalistic terrorism, also called secular terrorism, has become an ever-increasing problem since the end of World War II and the decline of European imperialism (Hoffman 1998:45-46). As nations relinquished control over colonies, they often left different ethnic groups at a disadvantage as a minority in the newly independent country, leaving the door open for terrorism in the future. These ethnic groups, under oppression or without representation in what used to be their land, attempt to terrorize the government and ethnic majority into giving them their own country or at least some representation. According to White (2003:187), “ethnic terrorists attempt to forge national identity. … When the inevitable government persecution follows terrorist actions, it draws attention to the group and allows the terrorists to present themselves as victims.” An ethnic terrorist attack may also turn into full blown war if the ultimate goal is to overthrow the government entirely.

One modern example of ethnic terrorism include the PKK’s (Kurdistan Workers Party) actions and attacks in southern Turkey to push for the creation of Kurdistan (Durham, Rogers 2007). The Kurdish ethnic group was made a minority in four nations after British and French imperialism in the Middle East ended. This fractioning has spun off terrorism as the PKK and other Kurds seek their own land and control of their own affairs. Other examples of ethnic terrorism include the Irish Republican Army using terrorism for the creation of an independent Ireland (White 2003:78-91).

The future of terrorism
According to Glassner and Fahrer (2004:292-3), fighting terrorism can take two forms: anti-terrorism and counter-terrorism. Anti-terrorism is defensive in nature in that it attempts to prevent terrorist attacks on people and places. Counter-terrorism is the use of military force against terrorists. Glassner and Fahrer argue that neither type is capable of effectively stopping terrorism, but that the only way to stop terrorism is to fix the situation that created the problem. This isn’t easy, particularly when dealing with religious terrorism that wants nothing more than to convert the world to a single religion. Other terrorist situations, however, may be capable of being solved without a full blown war against the terrorist organization. Terrorism is likely to continue in the near future as the preferred method of warfare by extremist organizations because of the difficulty of predicting and stopping terrorist attacks.


Durham, W. and J. Rogers. 2007. Lectures from Geography 462, University of Tennessee at Martin.
Glassner, M. and C. Fahrer. 2004. Political Geography. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Hoffman, B. 1998. Inside terrorism. New York: Columbia University Press.
White, J. 2003. Terrorism: an introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning.
Washington Post. 1998. English translation of “Jihad against Jews and Crusaders.” Available online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A4993-2001Sep21 (last accessed 14 November 2007).

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Comments and corrections are appreciated.
[Recent updates in brackets, thanks for pointing them out. 🙂 ]