Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

The history of international terrorism and its lessons

On 12 March 2016, Professor Dr. Beatrice de Graaf gave an excellent Dutch public TV presentation about the history of international terrorism. Actually, I am glad that I watched this episode as it puts some terrorist events in perspective, including the recent ones in Istanbul.

Immediately after each terrorist act, the Turkish President and/or his PM tell their citizens who was responsible for these attacks. However, this knowledge is never adequate to prevent these terrorist attacks. Hence, the Turkish government probably just blames their enemies.

The purpose of an enemy is to unite people (eg, citizens) and directs an intense negative emotion to that entity (eg, government, politics, religion), people (eg, Jews, Kurds), or person (eg, your ex partner) – an excerpt of my 24 February 2016 blog.

The history of international terrorism learns that sometimes terrorism is orchestrated by governments to provoke anger amongst citizens which will then allow these governments to act even more harshly against their opponents. Another lesson from history is that a proportional government response after an attack is essential: the more brutal a government response, the more new recruits for terrorism. These historical examples may also apply to Turkey now.

To date there have been 4 global waves of terrorism: anarchism (1880-1940), anti-colonialism (1920-2000), radical left’s red armies (1945-2010), and radical islam (1980 – now). Despite the length of these 4 waves, the average lifecycle of terrorism is actually quite short as their human resources (ie, recruits) usually run out quickly (eg, arrest, death) (see graph in video > 31 min.). 

Hence, new recruits are the lifeline of terrorism. A disproportionate (‘shock and awe‘) government response is beneficiary to terrorists as anger is a perfect recruitment tool. Similar to any emotion, it usually lasts shorter than ideological beliefs or sympathies.

The business model of terrorism is based on 4 pillars: a Cause, finance/funding, public attention, and new recruits. The Cause for terrorism is always rooted in one of the 7 Belief systems, historically Politics (ie, anarchism, anti-colonialism, radical left) and now Religion (radical Islam). The link with the 7 Belief systems is actually quite simple as the essential characteristic of any Belief system is a willingness to sacrifice your own life for that Belief – or its Cause.

History teaches that a successful fight against terrorism is based on a combination of 8 tools: blunt force, chirurgical precision, counter intelligence, negotiations, counter Public Relations, community policing, court rulings, and (future) reintegration (see video > 49 min.)

Essentially, terrorism is like a fire: it starts with a spark but it needs a fertile soil to burn (ie, the Cause), and most of all it requires oxygen (ie, attention, funding, recruits) for continued combustion (ie, attacks). Take away the oxygen and the fire dies out quickly. Using the fire department (ie, the government) may take much longer because of the damping down (NL: “nablussen”) of the smouldering (NL: “smeulen”).

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Forest Fire (1984) – artistlyricsWiki-1Wiki-2

If she don’t calm down

She will burn herself out

Like a forest fire

Well doesn’t that make you smile

If you don’t slow down

I swear that I’ll come ’round

And mess up your place

Let’s go for a spin


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