The recent terrorist attacks in London remind us that people are still willing to use the most extreme measures to make their voices heard. It seems now that more people condemn terrorism than ever before, and yet it continues even in one of the worldâ€™s safest nations. It is a difficult task to overcome terrorism, especially in suicide cases where a guilty person is rarely left alive to be held accountable. As a culture, we feel the need to prosecute the guilty, and there is a sense of ineptitude from not being able to hold terrorists accountable for their heinous crimes.
The reason I chose this particular topic was it can be (and likely is) being approached from a sociological perspective. For many people, the idea of killing dozens, hundreds, or thousands of innocent people is so out of their scope of experience that they simply cannot tackle the issue from an objective point of view. Sociology is one of the primary tools we will use to understand, and hopefully prevent, terrorism. Chapter one of our text briefly outlined the history of Sociology, and how it attempts to cure the diseases of society rather than treating to symptoms.
The particular social problem addressed here is the use of terrorism as well as the ever-present threat of terrorism. This phenomena is an attempt to create social disorganization in order to bring about change, but it does so in a way that creates more chaos than change. True, there have been times when change was necessary, but it does no good to have a merely destructive element existing in our world. Clearly, these acts of terror are motivated by a perceived injustice, created by an inequality that exists due to our increasingly globalized society. A follower of psychological reductionism might claim that these acts were simply committed by a few bad apples, but we should use (among other things) Sociology to understand why the apples went bad. What dysfunctions in our society could give birth to, foster, and unleash this highly-destructive mentality?
Terrorism is a way of bringing about social change, and it has proven to be successful for thousands of years. It is a useful method for whomever utilizes it. Generally we associate the use of it to the weak and the desperate, but we should not forget that it is also a powerful tool for those in control of a given society. The Nazi regime used terrorism to conquer other nations just as suicide bombers use it to instill fear in their enemies.
Unfortunately, terrorism often accomplishes its goals, and it is an uphill battle to fight it. As British Prime Minister Tony Blair said of the recent bombings, “It is by its savagery designed to cover all conventional politics in darkness, to overwhelm the dignity of democracy and proper process with the impact of bloodshed and of terror… So we offer today this contrast with the politics of terror (1).” In this particular quote he contrasts the destructive efforts of terrorism with the constructive efforts of the G8 summit.
Despite any success that terrorists tend to have, it is the terror itself that is the reason it must be addressed and eliminated. Buildings can be rebuilt, homes relocated, and people can even die. This is in no way meant as an insult to those who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001, but only about 3,000 people died that day. It was a tragedy beyond anything most humans have ever witnessed, but when you consider that there are almost 270million Americans, we are no way in danger of being eliminated. But it is the psychological damage that hurt us more than anything, and that is the crux of terrorism. Most of the time it is the threat of terror, as opposed to actual acts of terror, that truly affects us. Fear is a powerful motivator, though not a necessarily admirable one. Clearly, many social problems will emerge in a society where fear is the primary motivator of the people.
The majority of governments, societies, and people share a normative consensus that, because of its destructive nature and its tendency to destabilize otherwise acceptable situations, terrorism is an unacceptable element of any society. The United States government, along with so many others, holds the belief that we do not negotiate with terrorists. On a micro-level, it would seem that some individuals might suffer from a lack of negotiation. But if we consider the effects of giving into these same terrorists, the macro-level effects could potentially be disastrous. It would give credence to the practice of forced negotiations and set a deadly precedent for future terrorists.
For the most part, humanity has adhered to this no-nonsense approach towards terrorism. We share a collective conscience that has decided to stand vigilant in the face of terrorism, even if some of us do not approve of the methods. Hopefully it is self-evident that terrorism can only disrupt our lives and destabilize social equilibrium. An editorial in a recent Japanese magazine declared that the terrorists in London had failed, that they “have not broken or even bent the will of Londoners or the convened Group of Eight leaders, who, in a sense, were the targets of these attacks (2).”
The current administration has, for better or worse, thrived off the threat of terrorism. The threat of terror or terror-like danger has given this administration enough justification to convince enough of the American public that two large-scale military operations (and possibly a third) were necessary. Though its methods are still up for debate, the Bush administration has been very consistent concerning its stance on terrorism, at least in its language. Speaking about the bombing in London while at the G8 summit, President Bush declared, “We will not yield to terrorists (3).” I would like to believe that we will forever embrace the idea that terrorism is detrimental to our world.
Terrorism has undoubtedly changed our lives a great deal in the past five years, probably more than most Americans could ever have imagined. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in the early 1940’s, it was considered more of an act of war than an act of terrorism. Nothing has compared to the events of September 11th, and since then we have had our civil liberties reduced drastically, our economy is at an all-time low, we have committed lives and resources to the largest war in decades, and those are just the most glaringly obvious. A structural functionalist might argue that people are dividing themselves politically simply because we cannot internalize a normative consensus.
However, there was an significant and positive change in many people after that day in 2001. With no imminent threat to blame for the attacks, it immediately became evident to people all over the world that this was an act of terrorism. It set the stage for a unique time in our modern history when our collective conscience began to address our Eurocentric view of the world. Many of us started applying the method of verstehen, though I am sure a vast majority did this unconsciously. We tried to understand why someone would hate us so much, and in doing so became amateur sociologist of the Max Weber school.
On this particular issue the media has been surprisingly balanced. As always, there is an editorial bias that fits each news organization’s agenda. Some have played upon the idea that more terror could strike at any moment, such as one titled: “UK Fears More Attacks (4).” Others emphasize London’s resolve in defiance of the attacks, as with the article titled “Police: Show London is unbeaten (5).” With the popular media, though, it is not a matter of what the society finds important as much as what will keep people tuned in, so this may never be a fair representation of media coverage.
I would hope it would be difficult to find individuals who do not find terrorism to be a major social problem. If terrorism is not significantly curbed or eliminated, societies may never be able to thrive the way they potentially could. Should terrorism ever become a standard practice by nations, we could quickly find ourselves in a second, more sinister dark age. We must eliminate it before it destroys us.
The only way terrorism can truly be eliminated is by enlightenment through education. Not just education for a select few, but for as many people as possible, especially those environments that seem to breed terrorists. Whether terrorism is explained in terms of structural determinism or as the fault of misguided individuals, we must attempt to reduce terrorism across the globe. Maybe then we can write about it as a barbaric aspect of our past.
List of Works Consulted:
1. Financial Times – www.ft.com
2. GlobalSecurity.org – www.globalsecurity.org
3. Japan Times – www.japantimes.co.jp
4. FOX News – www.foxnews.com
5. CNN – www.cnn.com