Why blow yourself up? As I argue in this article, their is – at least for some – an evident logic to do just that.
Terrorist attacks – including suicide attacks – serve certain purposes; not only from a political/strategic and military/tactical point of view, but also from a psychological perspective.
Terrorism is a method of fighting. Terrorist attacks (including suicide attacks) have a number of characteristics: The objective of terrorist attacks is – at least to a degree – ‘political’, to intimidate the population by creating chaos and causing fear. The fear is supposed to be instrumental in ensuring a ‘political’ effect; to manipulate the population’s loyalty and support.
Terrorism is often used by groups we qualify as ‘radical’, but in a number of cases, armies of states also use(d) terrorist tactics in efforts to manipulate the support and loyalty of the population; to avoid the population’s support for the insurgency these armed forces were fighting against.
The number of terrorist attacks (since about 2011) has increased significantly, but terrorism is as ‘old’ war(fare).
In previous article, I observed that is is possible to identify two categories of terrorist attacks, when their purpose is taken into consideration: (1) political/strategic and (2) military/tactical terrorist attacks.
Contrary to tactical terrorist attacks, political/strategic attacks serve political purposes (only), and are not directly involved to war fighting in a specific conflict. Terrorist attacks in Europe – for example – are political/strategic attacks, while terrorist attacks in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, are closely related to the conflicts – the wars – in these countries.
Both types of attacks aim to cause fear, chaos and to destabilise, but tactical attacks serve a more ‘local’ purpose. Terrorist attacks (often suicide attacks) by the Taliban in Afghanistan (or ISIS in Syria) aim to cause fear in the local population, and to show that the counter-insurgency (by NATO, the US, the ‘legitimate’ Afghan government) is not effective, and that a price must be paid by the local population if they give their support and loyalty to NATO, the US and/or Afghan government. By means of these terrorist attacks the insurgency (the Taliban, ISIS) tries to keep control over the population.
When you consider what NATO, the US and the Afghan government want to achieve in Afghanistan, and how, it is not so difficult to understand why after more than 15 years NATO and the US are still unsuccessful in achieving their objectives: Democracy cannot be imposed at gunpoint, and furthermore, the democratic ideology that the “West” tries to impose by brute force, contradicts with some (religious) core values and undermines Afghan’s tribal power structure.
From the Afghan point of view, their country is occupied by an oppressive force, that does not refrain from using its military – destruction – to impose its ideology. This also – at least to a degree – is the case in Iraq and Syria.
It should also not come as a surprise -given the fact that they are confronted with overwhelming military force – that these insurgents – and the terrorist organisations they breed – counter-attack with a similar strategy: Bring the fight to the occupying force, “let them feel what we feel”, and “let them pay the price”.
The West’s conviction, that they know what is best for the rest of the world, has blinded the West for criticism.
The fact that these terrorists do not attack China – also a very powerful and ambitious Great Power – shows that these assumptions are not far beside the point. China is (and was) not involved in these conflicts, and (wisely ?) keeps on the side-lines. China not only is not actively involved in these conflicts, but also not in their origins and history.
The states (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria Libya, etc.) – not only the wars – are to a (high) degree of the West’s making. State structures were imposed on these territories; borders were often ‘drawn’ to prevent that these states could become potential challengers in the future.
The West’s support for corrupt regimes in the Middle East and Africa also contribute(d) to the current issues: The populations of these countries were (and often still are) ignored, while their dictatorial rulers were actively sponsored. Instead of serving their citizens these rulers only used the state – often supported by the US – to enrich themselves, at the cost of the well-being of their citizens. For these countries, the state and democracy have nothing to offer; their history proves it.
It should then also not come as a surprise that religion is seen as a alternative for the state and democracy. The mix – and especially fear, as the history of Europe also shows – is a fertile ground for radicalisation. The mix produced ISIS, with the West as the obvious targets (and not China).
It is not so difficult to recruit ‘soldiers’ (including suicide attackers) for such a cause: Frustration and ‘religious’ convictions can be a powerful mix. Dying for such a cause guarantees at least a comfortable afterlife.
Fighting terrorist who are willing to die fighting for their cause is difficult. Fighting terrorists is fighting symptoms; the underlying causes must (also) be addressed. For the West that requires introspection. For states and governments that are under direct threat, it requires above all better governance, better service and support to its citizens.