Louise Richardson Expert on Terrorism

Terrorism may well be the word that has dominated the final years of the tenure of President Bush Jr. I asked myself recently after listening to what is happening in Iran last week and the mounting actions taken by the extremists of the Islam: how do I define a terrorist?

Perhaps a better understanding of the terrorist and his motivation could help us curtail the rise of terrorist’s action. Have there been serious studies thereon?

For sure the actions taken by the Bush administration have not reduced terrorist growth. In the contrary, I am inclined to think that the radical actions taken have created more terrorist activities. Muslim extremists’ actions may be one of the terrorist’s actions in operation, but there are far more happenings in the world, like the Irish IRA, the Basque movements, the Tamil Tigers…. In fact each time an individual feels oppressed beyond a limit he cannot sustain, the seed of becoming a terrorist is germinating.

I came across a document and book written by an academic who has studied terrorism and worth listening to.

Louise Richardson is one of the relative handful of experts who have been studying the history and practice of terrorism since the cold war.

Born in Ireland to Catholic parents, she experienced the seductive nature of terrorist groups at an early age. From the society she grew up in, she learned a remembered history of Ireland’s long struggle with England that was full of heroes and villains, and was oversimplified to motivate the next generation. The facts didn’t seem to matter so much.

After the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1972, in which 26 Irish protesters were shot by British troops in Derry, Northern Ireland, Richardson would have joined the IRA “in a heartbeat,” she writes.

But she was only 14, and as she attended university and learned the real story behind some of her childhood myths, she became more interested in understanding terrorism than in joining it.

Eventually she received advanced degrees in government from Harvard University and began teaching international security classes. Today she is executive dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, among other academic posts.

She has interviewed all the terrorists she can contact, as well as pored over transcripts of captured terrorists and other source material. From this, she’s determined, she believes, this important point: They’re not nuts.

The popular picture of terrorists as insane radicals isn’t true, she insists. “Terrorists are human beings who think like we do. They have goals they are trying to achieve, and in a different set of circumstances they, and perhaps we, would lead very different lives,” she writes.

But they do have distinguishing, abnormal characteristics.

“Terrorists see the world in Manichean, black-and-white terms; they identify with others; and they desire revenge,” according to Richardson.

Lots of people are called “terrorists” by their enemies, of course. That doesn’t mean they all are. Terrorism’s true definition, Richardson writes, is “deliberately and violently targeting civilians for political purposes.”

Terrorists want change, but lack the strength to prevail in other political or military ways. Individual terrorists are generally disaffected people, from any level of society. They encounter an enabling group (such as radical Islamists at a local mosque) who spout an ideology that purports to justify violent actions.

Their motivations can be summed up in a three-word phrase, according to Richardson: “Revenge, Renown, Reaction.”

Louise may be viewed on youtube too!