FAQ Terrorism #3
3. How do the terrorists hope to accomplish their objectives?
Terrorism is, by definition, merely a tool and not a goal. It is the use of violence to spread fear and uncertainty to build popular demand for policy change within government. So while terrorists may set a tactical objective for themselves of bombing a transit system or assassinating a leader, their greater goals are always political. In the case of Islamist terrorists, their objectives are the creation of a multinational Islamic state in the Middle East, the removal of all Western influences from that region, the humiliation and punishment of Western governments, and the ultimate degradation of Western prestige to clear the way for their own ascendancy. The use of terrorism is a means through which they can accomplish some of these goals. They believe that continued terrorist attacks will eventually persuade Western governments to withdraw military forces from Iraq and to discontinue their support of Israel so that radical Islamists can take over the entire, oil-rich region and have an infinitely stronger base from which to pursue their goals. But because their objectives are essentially political, they will also use political means to achieve these goals. In countries such as the United States and Great Britain, with representative democratic governments and strong protections for free speech, it is easy to influence national policy through lobbying and civic action. While it is difficult to imagine any American lawmaker knowingly supporting Al Qaeda, some Islamist objectives, such as withdrawal from Iraq, are issues of legitimate debate within the United States upon which good-meaning people may disagree. It is essential that Americans understand that we are not only dealing with terrorists and their violent activities but that we are confronting an entire ideology with dedicated supporters who will achieve their goals in whatever method is most effective. Sometimes this may be violent, but many times it will be much more insidious, as ideas and individuals infiltrate our society to undermine it from within.