Malaysia, extremism and terrorism (Part 2) – Kevin Fernandez and Greg Lopez

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DECEMBER 18 — Part 1 noted, with much simplification, that the number of religiously influenced terrorists has increased since 9/11. 

It also noted that key to the definition of terrorism is “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” 

Part 1 ended with the question, “But why do people resort to terrorism?” 

This is a complex question and one that continues to be discussed and debated, as conceptually, understanding and defining terrorism remains a fraught endeavour. 

Various factors influence the journey of an individual towards becoming terrorist. 

Three important areas of research are the: (i) individual behaviour/psychological aspects; (ii) social aspects (family, community, society), and (iii) national/regional/international context. 

How these areas (and the factors within) interact to create terrorists in Malaysia are the subject of research that we are interested in investigating, to complement the existing literature. 

Returning to the definition of terrorism, G. Martin’s (2014) review of terrorism definitions identified these common features: The use of illegal force; political motives; sub-national/non-state actors; attacks against soft civilian and passive military targets; unconventional methods; and acts aimed at purposefully affecting an audience. 

These characteristics enable us to have a comprehensive approach to classifying terrorism (acts, preparators and organisations).   

However, a more fundamental question — what is terrorism? — was addressed by M. Crenshaw (2011). In her review of terrorism concepts, Crenshaw found the following essential properties in defining terrorism conceptually: 

Terrorism is part of a revolutionary strategy — a method used by insurgents to seize political power from an existing government; 

Terrorism is manifested in acts of socially and politically unacceptable violence; 

  • There is a consistent pattern of symbolic or representative selection of the victims or objects of acts of terrorism; and 
  • The movement deliberately intends these actions to create a psychological effect on specific groups and thereby to change their political behaviour and attitudes. 

Putting Martin’s (2014) and Crenshaw’s (2011) work together, we come to the view that terrorists and terrorist organisations are organisations that purposefully and routinely use violence to achieve political ends. 

These organisations, in turn, are driven by leadership and organisational culture that justifies the use of violence to achieve its political objectives. 

The justification comes from the extreme view(s) that leaders of these terrorist organisations hold. With some exception, this is a commonly held view in the literature, i.e. that extremism (a deeply held belief system) is the precursor to terrorism. 

However, some extremists reject the use of violence to achieve their political objectives; and some extremists use violence to achieve its political ends. 

Just as there are many types of terrorism, there is a myriad of extremist views that drive terrorism. 

Martin (2017) has eight typologies that capture the types of terrorist acts while recognising that this is neither conclusive or exhaustive. It, however, provides a structure to discuss why individuals go down the path of extremism and terrorism. 

New terrorism is characterised by the threat of mass casualty attacks from a terrorist organisation, with new and creative organisational configurations, transnational religious solidarity, and redefined moral justifications for political violence.  

State terrorism is terrorism committed by governments against perceived enemies. It can be directed externally against adversaries in the international domain, or internally against domestic enemies. 

Dissident terrorism is terrorism committed by non-state/sub-national movements and groups against governments, ethno-national groups, religious groups, and other perceived enemies.  

Religious terrorism is terrorism motivated by an absolute belief that an otherworldly power has sanctioned — and commanded — the application of terrorist violence for the greater glory of the faith. Religious terrorism is usually conducted in defence of what believers consider to be the one true faith. 

Ideological terrorism is terrorism motivated by political systems of belief (ideologies) which champion the self-perceived inherent rights of a particular group or interest in opposition to another group or interest. The system of belief incorporates theoretical and philosophical justifications for violently asserting. 

International terrorism is terrorist activities undertaken because of their value symbols of international interests, either within the home country or across state boundaries. 

Criminal dissident terrorism is terrorism that is profit driven but also has a political objective. 

Gender-selective terrorism is directed against an enemy population’s men or women because of their gender. 

In Part 3, we explore a sample of terrorist organisations within each of this typology to get a better understanding of their motivations and justifications. This then provides us with the context to understand why and how individuals are said to become terrorists. 

Reference: 

Crenshaw, M. (2011), Explaining Terrorism – Causes, processes, and consequences, Routledge: London and New York. 

Martin, G. (2014), Essentials of terrorism – concepts and controversies, SAGE: Singapore. 

Martin, G. (2017), “Types of terrorism” in Developing Next-Generation Countermeasures for Homeland Security Threat Prevention, Dawson, M., Kisku, D., Gupta, P., and Li, W. (Eds). ISI Global: Hershey, Pa. 

* Kevin Fernandez (Universiti Malaysia Kelantan) and Greg Lopez (Murdoch University, Perth) are involved in a research project to understand extremism and violent extremism in Malaysia, with the objective of developing measures to prevent and counter them. 

**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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