Defeating Terrorists: An Historical Overview

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I recently had an opportunity to see Christopher C. Harmon, Kim T. Anderson Chair of Insurgency and Terrorism at the Marine Corps University, on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” program. Professor Harmon was discussing “The Myth of the Invincible Terrorist,” an encouragng article he wrote for the April/May issue of Policy Review. Harmon believes that we are not only making significant progess against terrorist organizations but “we are winning this global war against terrorists.” He backs up this assertion with historical and contemporary examples of defeated terrorist organizations. He also moves the discussion away from an exclusive emphasis on Islamist terrorism to discuss anarchist, Marxist and nationalist groups that advocate(d) terrorist acts.

I found much to agree with in Harmon’s article besides his tangential comment that “anarchists do not want to organize!” This was not the case historically nor is it the case today. That aside, it was excellent. Especially his emphasis on changing “hearts and minds,” encouraging defectors and reminding non-Muslims that radical Islamic ideology:

[L]eaves out most Muslims. Our world is home to more than a billion Muslims, but only 100,000 to 200,000 may really believe that the murder, maiming, and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear and create a new political force will actually strengthen Islam. Still fewer count on a new caliphate. The willpower and current enthusiasm of the minuscule minority seem important to us, and they are; but they can wane, as surely as Baader-Meinhof/Red Army faction pretensions to popularity gave way over time to the sober views and desires of tens of millions of Germans. Isolating the terrorists may take years, but it can and must be done.

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