The Root Cause of Terrorism
It’s not the deprivation of rights; it’s totalitarianism.
Do not be fooled by the apologists of terror.
These apologists tell us that the root cause of terrorism is the deprivation of national and civic rights, and that the way to stop terror is to redress the supposed grievances that arise from this deprivation.
But the root cause of terrorism, the deliberate targeting of civilians, is not the deprivation of rights. If it were, then in the thousands of conflicts and struggles for national and civil rights in modern times we would see countless instances of terrorism. But we do not.
Mahatma Gandhi fought for the independence of India without resorting to terrorism. So too did the peoples of Eastern Europe in their struggle to bring down the Berlin Wall. And Martin Luther King’s campaign for equal rights for all Americans eschewed all violence, much less terrorism.
If the deprivation of rights is indeed the root cause of terrorism, why did all these people pursue their cause without resorting to terror? Put simply, because they were democrats, not terrorists. They believed in the sanctity of each human life, were committed to the ideals of liberty, and championed the values of democracy.
But those who practice terrorism do not believe in these things. In fact, they believe in the very opposite. For them, the cause they espouse is so all-encompassing, so total, that it justifies anything. It allows them to break any law, discard any moral code and trample all human rights in the dust. In their eyes, it permits them to indiscriminately murder and maim innocent men and women, and lets them blow up a bus full of children.
There is a name for the doctrine that produces this evil. It is called totalitarianism.
Indeed, the root cause of terrorism is totalitarianism. Only a totalitarian regime, by systemically brainwashing its subjects, can indoctrinate hordes of killers to suspend all moral constraints for the sake of a twisted cause.
That is why from its inception totalitarianism has always been wedded to terrorism — from Lenin to Stalin to Hitler to the ayatollahs to Saddam Hussein, right down to Osama bin Laden and Yasser Arafat.
Those who fight as terrorists rule as terrorists.
It is not merely that the goals of terrorists do not justify the means they choose, it is that the means they choose tell us what their true goals are. Osama bin Laden is not seeking to defend the rights of Muslims but to murder as many Americans as possible, and ultimately to destroy America. Saddam Hussein is not seeking to defend his people but to subjugate his neighbors. Arafat is not seeking to build a state but to destroy a state; the many massacres of Jews he sponsors tells us what he would do to all the Jews of Israel if he had enough power.
Those who fight as terrorists rule as terrorists. People who deliberately target the innocent never become leaders who protect freedom and human rights. When terrorists seize power, they invariably set up the darkest of dictatorships — whether in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan or Arafatistan.
In short, the reason why some resort to terror and others do not is not any absence of rights, but the presence of a tyrannical mindset. The totalitarian mind knows no limits. The democratic mind sets them everywhere.
The essential steps to defeat international terrorism are being courageously undertaken by President Bush. By declaring that terrorism is never justified, and by deterring or destroying those regimes that support terror, President Bush has bravely charted a course that will lead the free world to victory.
But to assure that this evil does not re-emerge a decade or two from now, we must not merely uproot terror but also plant the seeds of freedom. Only under tyranny can a terrorist mindset be widely cultivated. It cannot breed in a climate of democracy and freedom.
The open debate of ideas and the respect for human life that are the foundation of all free societies are a permanent antidote to the poison that the terrorists seek to inject into the minds of their recruits.
That is why it is imperative that once the terrorist regimes in the Middle East are swept away, the free world, led by America, must begin to build the institutions of pluralism and democracy in their place. This will not happen overnight, and it is not likely to result in liberal, Western-style democracies. But given an option between Turkish-style freedom and Iranian-style tyranny, the choice is clear.
We simply can no longer allow parts of the world to remain cloistered by fanatic militancies. Such militancies, once armed with nuclear weapons, could destroy our civilization. We must begin immediately to encourage the peoples of the Arab and Islamic world to embrace the idea of pluralism and the ideals of freedom — for their sake, as well as ours.