Over thirty years ago Graham Benton wrote a study sponsored by the National Institute for Security Affairs entitled, "The Character and Rationale of Modern Terrorism." He stated, "Terrorism is the weapon of the weak against the strong --- the terrorist cannot achieve military objectives directly, but must try to frighten or demoralize his opponent into giving way." Benton went on to explain that, "The terrorist is a person engaged in committing such acts of intimidation as the primary means of carrying out his struggle." This was true at that moment, but as time progressed terrorist operations and the groups behind them have grown far more sophisticated and technically advanced.
Armed with modern weapons provided by sponsoring nations, terrorists have become surrogates and even mercenaries in support of national interests of anti-Western countries. In addition is the sponsorship and assistance of socio-religious ambitions of various sects. However, the basic motivation of contemporary terrorist groups remains the same as before. Meanwhile, their abilities have been substantially increased through training and supply by nation-states and private political interests desirous of extending their own spheres of influence.
There should be no mistake in the objective of terrorism. As with other forms of warfare, terrorism seeks to psychologically influence an adversary by instilling fear. This is effectively the ambition of all forms of war-making. The difference in traditional war fighting and strictly terrorist operations is that in traditional war fighting, terror is a by-product. Terrorist operations tend to be structured in such a form as to result in creating terror and fear as the principal end product. These usually small-scale operations in the past were called "irregular warfare" by traditional military services using civilian combatants. Terrorism, however, in the contemporary environment is a key weapon in seeking to destabilize existing governmental instruments and structure.
It should be remembered that there are still areas of the world where regional groupings seek to intimidate the populace strictly for local political and/or economic gain. Religious beliefs often are exploited to justify these terrorist actions, but effectively there rarely is a true spiritual belief involved – no matter how strongly emphasized. This is not new. The Knights Templar have been said to have used religious justification to acquire property and wealth. They ravaged communities of non-believers while defeating anti-Christian armies aligned against them, and in the course of these Church-sanctified acts acquired vast treasure. They were terrorists in their actions in spite of their supposed religious fealty. Similarly, today Islam acts as a cover for terrorist domination of local and regional communities while exploiting a legitimate faith for personal and group power. In turn, major powers such as Russia, Iran, Pakistan and even China seek to manipulate the several competing Islamic terrorist groups to their own advantage.
In recent times the U.S. and the Taliban have come to oppose ISIS for different reasons. The Taliban see ISIS as a rival for recruits and at the same time is trying to prevent ISIS from gaining a foothold in Afghanistan. To add a further complication to this scene, both Russia and Iran – and to some extent China – share the American view of ISIS based primarily on their previous support of the Taliban. To complicate matters further, ISIS in Khorasan, Afghanistan (aka ISKP) is said to include a "breakaway faction" of the Pakistan Taliban. Furthermore, ISKP reportedly is reinforced by Taliban defectors from Iraq and Syria as well as volunteers from Sudan, Chechnya, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Funding is said to come from, among other sources, some Gulf States as well as local taxation.
While most observers focus on the Middle East when discussing terrorism, it should not be forgotten that this heinous activity exists in many other places. It's just not referred to in the same terms. Perhaps the most egregious practice of terroristic behavior exists in Central America where this phenomenon of exploitation has found a home in El Salvador and then migrated north to the United States. The despicable behavior of the best known of these groups, MS-13, has become known in the U.S. as a result of their barbaric killings and mutilations, all in the name of establishing and maintaining their criminal dominance.
It's valuable to assess MS-13 because it proves the important point that Islam is not the only breeding ground for the brutality and single-mindedness of terrorism in the world today. In the recent past there have been many examples of terror used as weapons. The Baader-Meinhof gang's use of car bombs against police and security facilities of the West German state; the linked forces of the Calabria Mafia and the Red Brigades were tied by commercial rather than political interests. The list unfortunately is near endless, though not as sustained as the decades of destruction in the Middle East.
There are many differences among the acts of terror and its perpetrators, but few have been as long lasting and destructive of civil life as has been the complex and bloody experience of the decades of Islamic-based terrorism of today. That nation-states have sought to exploit the mechanism of human destruction only adds to the horror. Unfortunately, this has not been the first occasion of the use of terrorism as a political instrument – and if history can be our guide, it most likely will not be the last.
While it is impossible to read the mind of the average follower of Islam, it is not beyond reason to note that "the man or woman in the street" rarely show any sign that they find the deadly actions against non-believers to be surprising. Though this may come as a shock to most Westerners, the acts themselves are not treated with alarm. This assessment does not mean that moderate Muslims do not condemn terrorist acts. That such acts are taken against people of a different sect, to say nothing of faith, sets the victims apart. More to the point is the fact that terrorism in its various forms has been a part of Middle Eastern life for so many centuries it is accepted as a dangerous and horrifying aspect of their existence
The truth is that even in less ancient cultures, and today's Chicago is a good example, acts that can be considered terroristic occur daily. Someone always comes up with a seemingly rational explanation, but that doesn't negate the fact that terrorism, in its many forms, is commonplace worldwide. Oppression and terrorism go hand-in-hand and no particular sector has exclusivity. Oppressed peoples have a terrifying understanding of this dual existence. It may not fit conveniently into one's world perception, but it is reality nonetheless.