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What is the cause(s) of terrorism?

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Does radicalisation cause terrorism? Has anyone identified the causes?
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Why is it standard procedure for the media to focus on the religiosity of the terrorist, rather than his political grievances, in any analysis of a terrorist attack?

Because it's both easy and reassuring. Characterising the perpetrators as one-dimensional, religious fanatics provides us with a comforting narrative - that their violence is rooted in extremism and does not have any broader political context that needs investigating or self-examination.

One of the great post-9/11 myths has it that radicalisation is rooted in a sudden religious awakening. "Clash of civilisations" warriors will point to cherry-picked passages from the Qur'an as evidence that terrorism is demanded in scripture. It isn't. The Qur'an justifies war in limited and specific contexts. But nevertheless the myth holds that Islam's holy texts stand alone as the fuel source for the radicalisation of those who sign on for violent jihad. This radicalisation myth has it that terrorists are somewhat randomly and suddenly awoken by a violent religious awakening as a result of being exposed to one too many recitations of Islam's holy book or via the influence of a radical Imam at their local mosque. If this were indeed true, it would be a neat and tidy way to externalise evil, while also allowing us to delude ourselves into believing terrorists are created in some kind of suspended vacuum - somehow ignorant of the violence carried out by our own governments.

The reality is terrorists are radicalised more by watching YouTube clips of US and Israeli military atrocities than they are by reading the Qur'an. The causes related to foreign policies of Western nations:

  • Professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago and author James Feldman surveyed terrorist attacks 2004-09 finding 87% were due to the stationing of foreign troops in the Middle East.
  • In 2014 at the Chilcott Inquiry, Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI-5, said that the Iraq invasion had "substantially increased the terrorism threat to the UK" by radicalising young people.
  • The commissioner of the Australian Federal Police in 2004, Mick Keelty, told the Channel Nine National Sunday program: "The reality is that if there turns out to be Islamic extremists responsible for the train bombing in Spain it is more likely to be linked to the position that Spain and all other allies took on issues such as Iraq."
  • When Russia escalated its military involvement in Syria in 2014, Western leaders warned that this risked fueling extremism. That is just what the West has been doing for many decades.
  • In 2016, Australian insurgency expert David Kilcullen said: "After 13 years, thousands of lives and billions of dollars, we are worse off today than before 9/11, with a strategic and more dangerous enemy than ever before."

This is not an exercise in blaming the victim, but rather an examination of the cause-and-effect links in the chain of terrorism and the dominant role politics plays in the radicalisation of terrorists.

Anna Speckhard in her book ‘Talking to terrorists’ states:

"I can empathetically state Islam is not the root cause of terrorism."

Whilst John Horgan, Director of the International Center for the Study of Terrorism at Pennsylvania State University, observes:

"The idea that radicalization causes terrorism is perhaps the greatest myth alive today in terrorism research ... [First], the overwhelming majority of people who hold radical beliefs do not engage in violence. And second, there is increasing evidence that people who engage in terrorism don't necessarily hold radical beliefs."

Since the middle of the 20th century, specifically since the creation of the state of Israel that unleashed intolerable injustices on Palestinian Arabs with its occupation, the West and Muslims have been locked in a never-ending circular cycle of violence. State violence begets a non-state violent response, then, in turn, state violence responds to that. Wash. Spin. Repeat.

Arun Kundnani, a New York University adjunct professor and counterterrorism analyst, in a recent interview noted:

"Liberals and conservatives are wrapped in that loop of this circle of violence. Liberals are typically bad on not acknowledging their part. Using these words like terrorism, extremism and radicalisation is a way of defining the other guy's violence as barbaric and fanatic. Thus, your own violence is rational, necessary and legitimate."


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