Modern states–Britain, France, Russia, the United States, Japan–are now facing a new phenomenon, the terrorist. But who is this terrorist, who may be supported by weaker states or have no state support at all? To begin with, a terrorist is not a guerrilla. Guerrillas almost always are revolutionary fighters within the borders of their own state, and have a specific program for social change should they succeed in capturing the state apparatus. In contrast, terrorism may be viewed as the fallout from the forced modernization, thwarted leadership and failed revolutionary activity throughout the Third World. (Indigenous terrorists in Western countries are usually opposing their government’s policies toward the Third World.)
Terrorist acts are often desperate efforts to strike back at megapolitan oppressors who are regarded as historically responsible for the destruction of the terrorists’ traditional culture. But terrorism is not blind desperation; it is a new form of “revolutionary” behavior. The cunning of this desperation lies in exploring a contradiction in contemporary industrial societies: as the machinery of transportation, communication and destruction becomes more centralized, it becomes more vulnerable to being seized and turned against the state. A Moslem from Iran whose parents are peasants, a Lebanese from the Bekaa Valley, the daughter of a Syrian shopkeeper, can maneuver themselves into a confrontation with the leadership of the feared and despised dominant secular power. By capturing a plane, they can gain the attention of the entire world, magnified by the media and by the wounded self-image of the power under attack. They can engage, if momentarily, in a dialogue with government figures whose power and prestige far outweigh their own. And even if they are killed, they have nonetheless made a statement in the global dialogue of power.
But the industrialized nations refuse to understand that terrorism is the result of their aggression against all forms of society that deviate from their standards and values. It cannot be stopped by the eradication of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi or by repeated bombings of Libya or any other Arab state.
The forms of terrorism are likely to ramify in the future and cause far greater damage than has already been inflicted. The contradictions of highly technology societies can be exploited almost endlessly. A suitcase containing a nuclear weapon can destroy any city in the West. Central water supplies can be poisoned. Suicide attacks on industrial or government installations can be made. Against this there is no protection, not even wider destruction of the traditional societies that harbor the terrorists.
Interestingly, after the attack on Tripoli, Qaddafi predicted that the anticipated wave of terrorist attacks in Western Europe would be the work of the C.I.A. or the F.B.I. Because this sort of conspirational, and provocative, behavior is not unknown in the recent history of intelligence cadres in the Western states, Qaddafi had a point–but one that he may never have intended. He helped confuse the boundaries between the good guys and the bad guys and reinforced the suspicion most people have that Western governments do engage in “illegitimate” acts of violence. Perhaps he was inadvertently saying that although some Arabs may be terrorists they are overshadowed by the states of terror that control the planet. And in this, unfortunately, there is a nuclear truth.