¶ … Targeting Innocents
There are numerous reasons as to why terrorists deliberately target those who are considered innocent people, such as civilians and non-combatants. One can argue that the very definition of a terrorist organization is one which challenges "the peace of mind of everyday people" (Augustus & Martin, 2010), which is done effectively by targeting them. In many instances, terrorist organizations lack the resources to scale a full-fledged military assault -- such as that which typifies wars -- due to a paucity of numbers, dearth of finances, and lack of requisite hardware (weapons). In these instances, one of the most viable options for these organizations and their objectives (which are almost always political) is to make figurative 'statements' in the form of targeting innocents. There are fewer ways of expressing one's political ambitions and extremism for such causes than by destroying the lives of innocents who happen to represent the interest of the political regime that a terrorist organization is attempting to subvert. Subsequently, targeting innocents is a way of demonstrating one's political convictions and the lengths a terrorist group is willing to go to in order to achieve them by showing people with action-based, figurative 'statements' of calculated violence.
The aforementioned thesis is readily buttressed in any number of ways; one of the most notable of these is that targeting innocents is a means by which a terrorist organization can help to ensure "operational success" (Nemeth, 2010). In this regard, terrorist organizations are only as credible as they are able to both be perceived as and to carry out threats. Again, in situations in which such organizations are readily outmanned, out-financed, and outdone with technology and weapons by any particular sovereign state, one of the most readily accessible and available means of creating a threat to that state is by attacking innocents. Quite simply there is a randomness associated with such attacks that helps to increase the nature of the threat that they provide and which provisions a swiftly attainable degree of operational success that is not had as easily as attacking military-based targets. Considered from this viewpoint, attacking innocents functions as a means of terrorists to metaphorically pick the proverbial 'low hanging' fruit. Civilians are not nearly as fortified and prepared for an attack as non-innocents are, which makes them more readily victimized. Again, the entire point of a terrorist operation is to create fear -- attacking innocents who are unprepared and lack the means of counteracting such an attack is one of the most viable means of getting the sort of operational success terrorists need to produce fear.
The notion of engendering operational success is intrinsically related to another reason that terrorists attack innocents as a means of creating political statements: to shape public perception. Public perception is perhaps the very basis by which terrorist organizations exist. Ideally, such organizations are attempting to create a public persona in which they are feared. Thus, attacking non-combatants and civilians creates a means of making the general population fear them. However, it is worth nothing that there are other types of public perception that are just as vital and advantageous to terrorist organizations. In some perverse ways, attacking innocents is a means of fostering "public support" (Nemeth, 2010) for a terrorist organization. Terrorist organizations are able to propagate their existence partly due to the support of the public. The relationship between the notion of public support and attacking innocents is both causal and inverse. Research (Nemeth) indicates that when terrorist organizations have public support "as proxied by economic performance and repression," there is a "statistically significant effect in increasing the likelihood of terrorist violence against civilian targets." Additionally, attacking innocents is also a means of generating such support because it helps to make political statements, garner "mass media coverage of events" (Toft et al., 2010), and bring a substantial amount of awareness to the causes of terrorist organizations. Still, it is necessary to remember that public support is just one facet of the...
Killing innocents helps achieve both of those ends.
Additionally, the just war doctrine figures into why terrorists attack innocents as a means of making a political statement representative of their cause and which helps to shape public perception of such a group. There is a small degree of irony associated with this reason since the whole point of this doctrine is to both justify the need and the means of engaging in acts of warfare; both of these subsets should be in alignment with what is termed just. However, it is not inconceivable that terrorists can believe that due to the disparity in manpower, weapons, and financial prowess that oftentimes exists between themselves and their targets, that there is a degree of justice involved in attacking civilians and non-combatants. This viewpoint is demonstrated in the subsequent quotation.
In the modern era, both dissidents and states have adapted the just war tradition to their political environments. Antistate conflicts and reprisals by states are commonplace. Dissidents always consider their cause just and their methods proportional to the force the agents of their oppressors use (Augustus & Martin, 2010).
The point of this quotation and of the notion of the just war doctrine is that because terrorists lack the means of engaging in conventional warfare with an oppressive state, they are justified in utilizing acts of terror which strike at the most vulnerable members of that states' population. Those members, of course, include citizens and non-combatants who serve as the sacrifice to facilitate political statements.
Perhaps one of the most cogent reasons to explicate the targeting of innocents on the part of terrorists as a means to make a political statement pertains to the very conviction and ideology of terrorists. Such conviction is frequently linked to the particular goals of a terrorist organization, which necessarily vary in accordance to organizations. The best way of contextualizing this reason is to compare it to acts of genocide which are typically considered part of warfare. In genocidal acts, the ultimate goal is the extermination of a group of people based on ethnicity or in some cases religious beliefs. This same goal of eradication can extend to beyond these parameters to facets of nationalization and members of particular countries -- regardless of their particular ethnic origin. In such cases, innocent people are targeted as much as those who are involved in governmental or police affairs (Jasper, 2009), because the goal of the terrorist organization is to eliminate all people of those organizations. Perhaps one of the most recent examples of this reason to target innocents by terrorists is evinced in the attacks on the World Trade Center by so-called Muslim radicals who participated in the hijackings not because they were forced to do so through sudden economic or social deprivation, but because they chose to deal with the problems of their community -- for religious/ideological reasons -- by killing as many Americans as they could" (Habeck, 2006).
The parallel between genocide and its nationalist counterpart in this example is clear. There are some instances in which terrorists merely want to exterminate their foes, and therefore do not discriminate between those that are directly involved with the government or upper hierarchy of its society and those who merely happen to be living in the country. Regardless of such a distinction, these terrorists want to kill those in the nation to simply bring about the destruction of that nation itself.
Finally, it is worth noting that targeting non-combatants and civilians can also be directly linked to achieving the political objectives of a terrorist group. Even though such people may not directly be involved with politics, the mere timing of attacks launched on them can have the sort of political ramifications that organizations of terrorists find desirable. For instance, there were attacks on a series of civilians by Palestinian terrorists in Israel during the time directly preceding that country's national elections in 1996 (Braithwaite et al., 2010). Even though the individuals targeted were technically innocents, their destruction was wrought by the terrorists as a way of making that all important political statement that has connected all of the reasons indicated in this paper for the targeting of innocent people.
In summary, terrorist organizations frequently find it advantageous to attack innocent people to make political statements about their causes and about their conviction in their causes. The timing of attacks on innocents and the need to spread fear can all help them to make such statements all the more pronounced. In almost all of the examples referenced in this paper, the goal is to achieve organizational success and to influence the perception of the public about the organization. Even concepts such as the just war doctrine are regularly manipulated for this reason, which relates to the others in that it is merely the means…
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