Factors affecting terrorism and the law’s ineffectiveness
Dr. Foqan Uddin Ahmed writes for DOT
Terrorism used as a strategy by groups out of power to attain their goals has a long history, as old as warfare itself. Thomas schelling in Arms and influence documents how the use of violence to terrorize and intimidate is an ancient tactic. He notes examples of violence used in this way in the wars between the Greeks and the Persians. Gurr argues that the success of the Bolsheviks in seizing power in Russia in 1971 was due in large part to decremented deprivation the enormous material and human sacrifices of the Russian people in World war I had created widespread discontent and the failure of the Kerensky government to terminate Russian involvement in the war led to a swing in popular sentiment to the one group that promised immediate peace, namely Lenin and his party. The vital factor is the impact of new technologies. Terrorist groups have skillfully exploited technological advances in the areas of transportation and communication. The world airways network has provided terrorism with a number of opportunities. Even a single individual can seize an airliner and have hundreds of hostages at his or her disposal. The existence of air travel makes possible the development of an international network of contacts among various terrorist groups. And the ability of news agencies to broadcast around the world scenes from a terrorist incident vita television and radio has given terrorists a means of attaining a vast amount of publicity.
Terrorism poses important political and diplomatic challenges. It is designed to call attention, through the use of violence, to the cause espoused by terrorists, and to bring about changes in policy favorable to those causes. One potential means for dealing with terrorism is law. Americans are particularly attracted to the law as means for repressing violence, and are committed domestically and internationally to using law to control criminal conduct and to resolve disputes. They invoke the law almost instinctively, and repeatedly, assuming that it regulates international conduct and, in particular, provides a system for bringing terrorists to justice. Recent terrorist incidents have led to many efforts to use the law, virtually all of which have failed. The law has a poor record in dealing with international terrorism. Some terrorists are killed or captured during the course of their crimes, but few of those who evade these consequences are afterward found and arrested. The terrorist who is prosecuted is likely to be released far earlier than his sentence should require, often in exchange hostages taken in a subsequent terrorist episode.
One reason for the law’s ineffectiveness is that terrorism, in essence, is criminal activity, In applying law domestically, governments seek to punish and deter crime as effectively as possible. But they recognize that law cannot eliminate crime. The world has no international police force or judicial system. The stock response to complaints about the law’s failure to deal effectively with terrorism is that more laws are needed. That is a misleading answer. The reasons for the law’s failure tolerably to control terrorism go much deeper than the absence of law enforcement authority or mechanisms. International law and cooperation in less controversial areas have often proved reasonably effective. In the area of terrorism, however, the law has failed to punish and deter those who use violence to advance their political goals. The law applicable to terrorism is not merely flawed, it is perverse. The rules and declarations seemingly designed to curb terrorism have regularly included provisions that demonstrate the absence of international agreement on the propriety of regulating terrorist activity. On some issues, the law leaves political violence unregulated. On other issues the law is ambivalent, providing a basis for conflicting arguments as to its purpose. At its worst the law has important ways actually served to legitimize international terror, and to protect terrorists from punishment as criminals. These deficiencies are not the product of negligence or mistake. They are intentional.
The law is a weapon on our side and it is up to us to use it to its maximum extent. A state which supports terrorist or subversive attacks against another state, or which supports or encourages terrorist planning and other activities within its own territory, is responsible for such attacks. Such conduct can amount to an ongoing armed aggression against the other state under international law. Meeting the challenges of terrorism is not an easy proposition. It will be unrealistic to hope for complete disappearance of terrorism from the face of the earth in near future but to deem it totally impossible is to turn pessimistic. Let us start removing the pricking nails of hatred, fear and distrust. Let us strive for peace. Let us move; what if the route is long, up and steep. Humanity will win as it has won many such paths.