Living with Terrorism: Everyday Life and the Effects of Terror
Living with Terrorism: Everyday Life and the Effects of Terror
Peace is a global ideal, but around the world people face violence—terrorism—on a regular basis. From Northern Ireland to Israel, Palestine, and other points on the globe, many individuals face the threat, uncertainty, and fear of terrorism every day. Newspaper headlines will report a bombing or a hijacking, quote official statements, and print pictures of the devastation, but the people who pick up their lives from the rubble around them must continue to carry on long after the media stories are written, the camera lights have faded, and the world's attention has turned. What is it like to live with terrorism as a regular presence in one's life and what are its effects?
• Social norms change for people living with a consistent presence of terrorism in their lives. Conversation, daily concerns, and living with the heightened risks of sudden, violent injury or death can change people's expectations, actions, outlooks, and interactions with one another.
• People living under conditions of regular violence must develop coping mechanisms in order to adapt to their situation. In an environment of prolonged violence, the unusual or unacceptable can become acceptable and "normal."
• Frequent acts of terrorism in a society create political problems as governments struggle to maintain a semblance of order and legitimacy amidst the chaos of terror.
When a terrorist attack occurs, newspaper headlines and television news stories relay the facts, show the pictures, and report government response. Survivors of an attack may be interviewed to relay their experiences, but what about life beyond that moment? In many parts of the world, violence—be it warfare or terrorism—is an all too familiar occurrence. For the people who live with the specter of sudden violence as a daily presence in their lives, the media headlines only highlight a larger part of their everyday experiences.
The impact that living with terrorism has on individual lives is great. From giving up personal privacies in favor of greater security from checkpoints, bag searches, and armed patrols to taking an alternate route to work to avoid traffic backup from the morning bomb blast, living with terrorism as a next-door neighbor is demanding. These are not the demands made by politicians or terrorist leaders as they speak about causes, negotiations, reprisals, and responsibility. These are the demands of doing the day's grocery shopping, visiting a relative across town, and getting to work and back without ending up a part of the week's tragic toll of lives lost in a car bombing, suicide attack, or other incident of terror.
There are many places in the world where terrorism is too common an event, where the horror of sudden, violent attack has become accepted as normal. Beyond the terrorists who wage war in the name of one cause or another and the governments who respond strongly in an attempt to quell the violence and maintain order, there are the people who just want to live their lives peacefully. As the perpetrators of terrorism change, however, from primarily politically motivated groups that dominated the 1980s such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) into the more ideologically and religiously-focused groups such as al-Qaeda emerging during the 1990s and early 2000s, the targets of terror have also changed. Walter Lacqueur, formerly of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted in "Postmodern Terrorism" (Foreign Affairs, September/October 1996) that "The trend now seems to be away from attacking specific targets like the other side's officials and toward more indiscriminate killing." What this means is that, wherever there is terrorism, there is a growing risk that anyone may be affected.
This stark reality was brought home on September 11, 2001, when terrorists hijacked four passenger airliners and crashed two of the planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and one into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, close to Washington, DC; the fourth plane crashed in a rural Pennsylvania field—apparently after a passenger revolt against the terrorists—before it could reach its intended target. More than three thousand people—American, Chinese, Egyptian, Kenyan, Mexican, and others from as many as eighty other countries around the world—were killed in this indiscriminate attack. The terrorists made no demands from governments and stated no purpose for the attack. It seems to have been motivated purely by the desire to inflict mass casualties and fear among the American public and, indeed, the world.
When a sudden, violent attack has no reasonable motivation, how do people cope? With the realization that such attackers could strike again, without warning, how does one continue to live beyond the specter of fear? Natural human resilience ensures that life will go on. Terror, however, always demands a toll.
Israel and the Occupied Territories
In 1947 the United Nations (UN) partitioned the land of Palestine to allow for the creation of a new state, Israel. The creation of Israel was a controversial act. Jews, many of whom had survived the Holocaust of World War II (1939-45) would be returning to their ancient, ancestral homeland. In the process, however, Christian and Muslim Palestinians were uprooted from their homes as they fled the newly designated Israeli lands for the adjusted borders of Palestine. Tensions between Israel and its new neighbors were high. A series of wars were fought in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973. In the process, Israel occupied land not originally granted to it by the United Nations, further heightening tensions in the region, as Palestinians living in these areas now felt under siege by the occupying force of Israel. Many left the country in a Palestinian Diaspora that reached into neighboring states and as far as Europe and North America.
Israel quickly established itself as a country with a strong military force and a readiness for action in order to preserve and protect its borders and people. The controversial nature of Israel's conception and its embattled early history as a nation, in addition to religious differences between Jewish Israel and its predominantly Muslim neighbors, meant that any peace in the region was tenuous at best. In 1987 the Palestinians living in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip rose up in protest of what they felt was Israel's unlawful occupation of their lands and oppression of Palestinians. This uprising, called the intifada, began with Palestinians, many of them children, throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers. The protest movement took hold and grew markedly over the ensuing years. Anti-Israel groups such as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), HAMAS, and Islamic Jihad, many of which were based in neighboring Arab countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, supported the intifada. Some considered these groups to be freedom fighters, though Israel and much of the Western world designated them terrorists.
As Israel responded harshly to the intifada's growing violence and its threat to Israeli security, the intensity of the conflict increased. Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, and PLO leader Yasser Arafat signed the landmark Oslo Accords in 1993, for which the men were honored with the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize. From that agreement, the Palestinian-run Palestinian National Authority (PA) was established to govern the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Despite these and other efforts for peace, however, the situation between Israel and the Palestinians worsened in early 2000 as the second intifada broke out. By early 2002 attacks against both Israeli soldiers and the Israeli public by Palestinian suicide bombers were occurring on an almost daily basis, as was Israeli military action in the occupied territories. As of April 2002 more than 1,140 Palestinians and over 400 Israelis had been killed since the second intifada began.
After a Palestinian suicide bombing on March 27, 2002, in which 25 Israelis were killed and more than 100 injured during the Jewish holiday of Passover, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared war against the terrorists. Shortly thereafter, the Israeli military surrounded Yasser Arafat's government compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Arafat's government was effectively made inactive as his isolation was enforced by Israeli troops for one month. Sharon declared his goal to be to "uproot the terrorists." Israeli military actions in the occupied territories, however, have been described by Palestinians as being not so much about rooting out terrorist fugitives as about instilling submission in all Palestinians.
According to the Economist's "Carnage in Israel, Conquest in Palestine," (April 6-12, 2002) for several days in Ramallah, the city's residents "endured a total curfew, often without electricity, food or water; … Offices were shelled, homes ransacked, ambulances shot at, hospitals raided, the dead left unburied, and roads, walls and cars crushed by the marauding, unassailable [Israeli] tanks." The same scenes were carried out in other Palestinian cities as well, including Beit Jala, Tulkarm, and Jenin.
Beyond the ever more intractable politics of the situation is the suffering of both the Israeli and Palestinian publics, who have struggled with the increasingly constant and unpredictable violence that personally impacts their lives and who have lived alongside the terror and fear for many years.
Israel—"How Long Will This Madness Go On?"
A few months ago, in Milan, Italy, (I went there to visit my brother-in-law) I opened my bag at the entrance of a grocery store—as I always do—to show the guard at the door that I was not carrying any bombs. But there was no guard, and nobody cared about my bag. Only then I realized how thoroughly I had been conditioned by the atmosphere of terror in which I had been living in Israel during the last 18 months.
Last night, a Palestinian "freedom fighter" fired shots at people sitting in a restaurant in the center of Tel Aviv. He killed three and wounded 40, all civilians, most of them women who gathered for a bridal shower.
Day before yesterday, a suicide bomber pulled the switch in front of a guest house in an orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem. He succeeded in wiping out a whole family, with friends and relatives, including two little infants (7-18 months of age) who gathered there to celebrate their son's Bar Mitzvah. Israel is a small country, everybody knows everybody. And the names of the victims are only too familiar. These people were distant relatives of my daughter-in-law. The son of a friend was killed in a terrorist attack a few months ago, and recently my granddaughter told me that the mother of a schoolmate had been killed too. So, the first thing you do as soon as you get word about a bombing or shooting, you look for the names, hoping that among the victims there is no one you know.
One of the worst effects of this situation is: we are getting unfeeling and numbed, the news of people killed, injured, and crippled does not upset us anymore, we get used to the daily terror. Except for some event that goes beyond imagination. It happened a few days ago: a husband was driving his pregnant wife to the hospital, as she was due to give birth to their first child. The car was ambushed, the husband killed, and the wife badly injured. They managed to get her to the hospital, and to deliver her child by Cesarean. By the way, the same thing happened to a Palestinian woman a few days before, when Israeli soldiers at a roadblock fired at a racing car, thinking it was a terrorist attack.
I keep asking myself: how long will this madness go on? Why can't they stop? Less than two years ago, thanks to the efforts of the American government, and especially to President Clinton's personal involvement, Israelis and Palestinians were just one inch away from a final peace treaty. But then, instead of taking the last step, the Palestinians unleashed terror. I know for sure that if they would give up bombing and firing only for a few days, the Israelis would be more than willing to restart negotiations for a settlement that both parties can live with and for peaceful coexistence. Can't they understand that they will not be able to drive away the Israelis by force? What happens is that each terrorist attack pushes the public opinion in Israel more and more towards a hard line.
Nowadays, we consider with great care an invitation to a party or to a family celebration, as one must weigh the risk of hurting the host's feelings against the risk of getting killed or injured. Every Saturday night, our children have heated arguments with their teenage children, who want to go out dancing, or to meet with friends. Usually, the parents give up, and stay awake for hours, praying that the kids come home safely. Our grandson (17) wanted to spend the weekend with a friend in Jerusalem. At first his parents—they live in Haifa—said no, then they begged him not to go, and as he went anyway, they called him every half hour on his cell phone, to make sure he was still alive. Fortunately, he came back unharmed, but the next morning a Palestinian shot several people at the very same bus station from which our grandson took the bus home.
We stopped going to the street-market, where you can get fresh fruits and vegetables at low prices. Nowadays, on market street you find more armed guards than shoppers.
When we go to work, or shopping, we look out for "suspicious objects," like a trash bag "left" on the sidewalk, or a "discarded" TV set at the street corner. Then we call the police, and they block the street, evacuate people, and start checking on the object, which might or might not be a bomb. All activity in the area is frozen, sometimes for an hour or more. An unfamiliar car parked in front of your house makes our blood pressure rise. When we ride on a bus, we look around, to make sure that nobody "forgets" a parcel when he gets off. Roadblocks are set up everywhere to prevent terrorists from getting into our cities, but they stop Israelis too, and driving the few miles from home to the office or plant has become a major part of the workday.
Our daughter (50, four children, one grandchild) lives in a small village on the hills overlooking the coastal area. She teaches first grade in a school in Jerusalem. When I asked her the other day how she feels about her work there, she said: "You know, Daddy, every morning, on my way to school, I can't help thinking that this might be the last day of my life. And I ask myself if I am ready to die."
Yesterday, the father of a Palestinian suicide bomber was interviewed on TV. He said he was proud of what his son had done, and added that he would be glad if the rest of his children would do the same. I thought that fathers were supposed to wish their children a long and happy life …
Arno Baehr. Written especially for this volume of History Behind the Headlines. March 2002.
Palestine—"What Do They Have To Hide?"
Palestinians are not a free people. They have been ruled for decades by a foreign occupier—Israel. The Israeli army occupies their towns and villages. For years they have been humiliated on a daily basis at roadblocks and checkpoints. They are not permitted to travel, not permitted to work freely, and their land has been slowly confiscated to build new settlements for Israelis. The much talked about peace process of the mid-nineties did not bring freedom to the people; instead it brought a more rapid expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, more roadblocks, and continued humiliation. The peace process was largely made ineffective as various Israeli leaders reneged on promises to grant nationhood to the Palestinians. In their arrogance of power, they opted to pick and choose which rights and freedoms the Palestinians were worthy of. They controlled work and travel permits, they controlled access to ports and airports, they split families apart, and denied millions of refugees the right of return to their lands.
The net effect is a system very similar to apartheid in the former South Africa. The elite Israeli population claims the resources of the land, lives in freedom, and accuses the majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza of being "terrorists" to justify denying them their basic rights and freedoms. Dehumanizing the Palestinians has become the norm and indeed a necessary strategy for Israeli leaders.
The Palestinian people are disillusioned and angry. In September 2000, this anger erupted in a massive and popular uprising against the occupying foreign army. During the next eighteen months, over 1,500 people were killed, most of them Palestinian civilians. More than 20,000 Palestinians were injured. The Israeli army continued to besiege towns and villages with troops and earth walls. The suffering was worse still for families falsely accused of supporting terrorism. Bulldozers demolished houses, forcing women and children to become homeless.
Just after midnight one night in late March 2002, the entire population of the city of Ramallah was awakened by the deafening sounds of grinding steel and gunfire. Hundreds of Israeli tanks and over 20,000 soldiers entered the city with plans to capture "wanted" Palestinians. When the tanks stopped, what you could hear were the cries of terrorized children in homes and apartments blocks, and of parents shouting at them to stop. The invasion of the Israeli army into Palestinian towns lasted almost a month, during which the entire population was under 24-hour curfew. There was no school, no work, no banking, no shopping, no ambulance or other emergency medical service; life was paralyzed for over one million people in the major cities and towns of the West Bank. The media was banned from much of the West Bank, and even Red Cross teams were shot at repeatedly and had to suspend operations. When respected human rights monitoring groups spoke out, they were simply dismissed as being anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.
Families called ambulance services for food, for water, for diapers, for medicine, for everything. When ambulances responded, they were shot at. When fires broke out, responding fire fighters were shot at by the Israeli army. Tanks drove over cars and ambulances and destroyed roads and buildings. The army took control of two local television stations, and began to broadcast pornographic films. Ambulance radios were confiscated and used to interfere with dispatch operations. Those who peeked outside their windows and balconies where shot at by Israeli snipers. Many were killed as their families watched. Soldiers broke into homes, looted money, vandalized furniture and cars, and, most seriously, dragged people from houses and marched them in front of tanks as "human shields." In short, a terror campaign was being waged by an organized Israeli army against the Palestinians.
Soldiers went house-to-house arresting grandfathers, fathers, and boys as young as fifteen by the thousands. No one was spared; doctors, nurses, professionals and students were rounded up, lined up, blindfolded, kicked and beaten in front of their families. The humiliation persisted later in large tent prison compounds. Their only crime was being Palestinian. Although many were released later, the scars they now carry from these experiences will last a lifetime.
By the time the invasion ended, over 250 Palestinians were dead, 1,000 injured, and more than 5,000 arrested and placed in newly created desert tent detention centers.
While it is true that Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians have caused many casualties and much suffering, it is equally true that Israeli attacks on Palestinians have caused many folds the casualties and deaths. The horrors that suicide bombings have inflicted on innocent Israeli civilians can not be justified. However, it has taken over 30 years of Israeli occupation and humiliation to produce the type of despair that makes a suicide bomber. The horrors of the Holocaust and the suffering of the Jewish people in Europe is being used to justify attacks on Palestinians, as if two wrongs make a right. Incredibly, many Israeli leaders still advocate expelling the Palestinians to "any other Arab state." This is analogous to someone advocating the expulsion of Texans to a neighboring state on the basis that "Americans have so many states, and do not really need Texas."
Over three million Palestinians remain refugees in the surrounding nations of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. These refugees are denied the right to return, or even any compensation for the lands now enjoyed by their occupiers. Legitimate resistance to this occupation is called "terrorism." While Israeli settlers in the West Bank enjoy large swimming pools and acres of land, Palestinian crops die because Palestinian farmers are prevented from digging wells for water on their own land.
Sadly, much of the Israeli public does not know about the abuses committed by their army against the Palestinian population. And unfortunately, many tend to "justify" these attacks as "necessary for Israeli security." Somehow, many Israelis and much of the world have come to accept that "Israel's need for security" must supersede "Palestinian human rights and freedoms."
Today, Palestinian suffering and pain is openly justified in much of the western media. Israel is presented as a nation that can do no wrong. Well, it has done wrong, terrible wrong. For over thirty years now, Israel has subjected the entire Palestinian population to the worst type of oppression and to systematic humiliation. This oppression and humiliation is causing an entire generation to rise up and fight back. Lies are powerful weapons of war, and the Israeli government uses them well. Consider this, why would Israel ban the world media, UN fact-finding teams, and humanitarian agencies from entering parts of the West Bank? It is worth noting that while Israel publicly proclaimed it had "nothing to hide" in the aftermath of the Israeli army's assault on the refugee camp of Jenin (in the northern West Bank), it quietly sought "immunity from prosecution" for its soldiers and officers. We all need to ask: what do they have to hide?
Peace in the Middle East will only come when justice is served; when the illegal and provocative settlements are emptied and abandoned; when refugees are allowed to return, or else are compensated for the loss of their homes; when Israel learns to share land and water with the people it occupied and forced into exile. Most Palestinians have accepted Israel as a fact. It is well past time for Israel to accept Palestine as a fact, as a nation, and as a people with a legitimate right to be here, too.
Hossam Sharkawi. Written especially for this volume of History Behind the Headlines, May 2002.
The conflict in Northern Ireland has centuries old roots. In 1171 English forces put down an Irish attempt to form an independent state on the island. Ireland became part of English-administered lands, but Irish rebellion against English rule was never stamped out completely. In the mid-to late nineteenth century, Irish nationalism arose, promoting Irish culture, language, and greater Irish involvement in government and relations with Britain. First led by Isaac Butt and Charles Stewart Parnell, of the Protestant faith, the nationalist movement soon became associated with Catholics and supporters were called republicans. At the same time, an increasing number of Protestants supported a continuation of the colonial arrangement with Britain and were called unionists.
The political efforts of both sides solidified in 1905. In that year, the republican group Sinn Féin was founded, supporting an independent Irish state. Also that year, the Ulster Unionist Council was established in support of remaining with Britain. Tensions between the two camps continued to rise, and in 1916 Irish republican groups launched a rebellion against the British over Easter weekend. Called the Easter Rebellion, it was firmly put down by British forces and its leaders were executed. The rebellion marked the start of Irish republican violence against the British presence in Northern Ireland.
By 1921 the island of Ireland was partitioned. The southern part of the island received autonomy, and the six northern provinces remained under British rule. Irish republicans persisted in their efforts for a united Ireland, completely independent from Britain. Having lost the bulk of the island of Ireland to independent statehood, the unionists were now, more than ever, determined to maintain ties with Britain. Both sides developed various political parties and militant splinter groups. Violence did transpire, but it was not until the mid-twentieth century that it became an inceasingly frequent occurrence.
A civil rights march in Northern Ireland on October 5, 1968, was banned by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, who stopped it and injured several marchers. In protest, two days of rioting ensued. The "Troubles," as they are called, had officially begun. More radical groups formed, violence increased, and politics between those supporting republicanism and unionism grew more protracted. Twenty-five people were killed in 1970, and 153 explosions occurred. The number of people killed jumped to 174 the next year, with 304 explosions in just the first six months of 1971. In 1972 the number of people killed grew to 467.
Early that year, on January 30, 1972, thirteen civilians were shot dead and several others injured when a civil rights march to protest the British government's practice of internment without trial turned into a clash between supporters and the British army. The violence again escalated when secret British negotiations with a republican group called the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) broke down. In response, the PIRA set off 26 car bombs in Belfast. Eleven people died as a result and 130 were injured. A unionist group quickly initiated retaliation.
Between 1970 and 1980 more than two thousand people were killed as a result of the violence in Northern Ireland. That violence escalated throughout the 1980s and continued into the 1990s, despite efforts at brokering peace. Catholic leader John Hume and Protestant leader David Trimble won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1998 for their efforts to bring peace to the region through the Good Friday Agreement. Peace, however, was not easily won, or kept. That same year, on August 15, a large car bomb exploded in the small town of Omagh in Northern Ireland, achieving the dubious status of causing the greatest number of deaths from a single event in the history of the Troubles. Twenty-nine people were killed and more than two hundred were injured. A hitherto unknown group, the Real IRA, claimed responsibility for the blast, which came in the midst of a cease-fire. Like all terrorist acts, the Omagh bombing was horrific and terrifying, but it did not derail efforts for peace. Unresolved issues, such as the Irish Republican Army's decommissioning of arms, were still to be overcome, but the process continued to move forward.
In March 1999 an Anglo-Irish agreement was formed that established cross-border institutions, beginning a new relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the six provinces of the north. Additionally, in early December power was devolved to Belfast from the central British government in London, allowing Northern Ireland's population to engage in its first direct local elections in over a generation. Responsibility for several key issues, including health and education, were now the responsibility of local leaders, who met in a new power-sharing executive to handle these duties. Unionists and republicans sat across the table from one another in a landmark cooperative effort to govern—peacefully.
While peace takes hold in Northern Ireland, its people rejoice as they move beyond the all-too-frequent violence that has marred their lives for decades. Unionists and republicans may continue to snipe at each other, but they may more likely do so now with words rather than with bullets and bombs. The memories and effects of the Troubles' harsh reality, however, will stay with people long after peace becomes commonplace.
Experiencing the 'Troubles'
Various militant factions—republican and unionist—established themselves over the course of Northern Ireland's Troubles. As one violent attack spawned another in what often became a series of tit-for-tat offenses, the number of those killed and injured increased. Despite the groups' alleged political aims, the violence itself was oftentimes indiscriminate. Belfast resident Thomas Gracey, a Catholic, remembers in "Personal Experience," in Laurel Holliday's Children of 'The Troubles,' (1997, pp. 205-206) that his brother Paddy once had an argument with an IRA bomber. His home was wrecked and he was constantly harassed until the day he was called to a meeting with the IRA to resolve the matter. Instead of a meeting, however, Paddy faced two IRA men with guns, who shot him in the knee. A jammed gun prevented his other knee, and spine, from receiving the same treatment. The men left Paddy to bleed to death, but he was
able to crawl for help. "Eventually," Gracey says, "the ambulance arrived and Paddy was rushed to hospital to begin a long and hard battle to try to regain full use of his leg. Today he walks with a permanent limp and is a totally changed person. Instead of the caring, fun-loving brother that he was, he is now a paranoid person who trusts no one—not even his family."
Protestant Mark Russell, also in Laurel Holliday's Children of 'The Troubles,' recalls that he "grew up in a province where murder and outrage came on a daily basis …" ("The Legacy of the Past and Hope of the Future: Reflections on Growing Up in Northern Ireland," pp. 339-341). While he made Catholic friends at university and broke down walls of distrust and misunderstanding built during his childhood, Russell did not forget the capricious nature of terrorist attacks. "I can remember lying in my bed in Belfast, too terrified to sleep. I shook whenever there was a knock on the door. I thought that our house must have been the 'Heads' on a gunman's coin. And then it would turn out to be only a neighbour."
Coping with Terrorism
Terrorism instills fear, anxiety, depression, anger, frustration, and a host of other feelings in its victims. Coping with the sudden, oftentimes violent attacks and their effects is difficult. Thomas Friedman, a journalist with the New York Times, was stationed in war-torn Lebanon in the 1980s. In From Beirut to Jersualem (1990) he explained that
[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]
Among the coping mechanisms employed by Beirutis, who lived among warring religious and political factions, were rationalizations for why one person was killed instead of another—it was bad luck, bad timing, or some other justification that could be reasoned out to ensure that, in the future, you did not fall into the same trap.
Taking a selective view of one's environment proved to be a highly effective coping mechanism. Friedman relayed the observation of psychologist Richard Day, who taught in Beirut in the early 1980s, on his students. "[T]hose … in the best physical and mental health were those who learned how to block out what was going on around them that was not under their own control and to focus instead only on their immediate environment and the things that they could control. This prevented them from suffering from 'system overload.'" It is impossible to consider all the risks and to worry about every action and every choice at every moment. By dealing with the immediate, controllable aspects of daily life, such as what time to get up in the morning and what to have for dinner, functioning in an uncontrollable environment is, if not easier, than at least more manageable than constantly trying to predict the unpredictable.
Recent History and the Future
The Personal Impacts of Terrorism
For the individual and the community, terrorism can quickly erode a sense of security and safety. Brian W. Flynn noted in a speech on the psychological aspects of terrorism (April 24-25, 1996) that "Nearly all terrorist attacks occur with no warning. Warning allows individuals to take psychological and physical protective action [and] allows the activation of psychological defense mechanisms …" Warning also allows one to perceive some level of control over the terror attack. If you know that it is coming, you can prepare yourself to face it. In regards to terrorism, however, one rarely knows when and where it will occur. An act of terror is sudden, shocking, and unpredictable. Once it occurs, one feels vulnerable, knowing it could happen again at any time.
On April 19, 1995, an explosion wracked the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The bombing was carried out by Timothy McVeigh and his co-conspirator Terry Nichols, who were both virulently anti-government in their views. The attack came without warning and with no demands made on the government. Mass casualty was the goal. A study by the University of Oklahoma, referred to by Flynn in his speech, reported that 168 people were killed and more than 800 injured in the bombing. The victims' toll from this terrorist act, however, reaches much farther. Thirty children were orphaned; seven thousand people were left at least temporarily without a work-place, as the explosion damaged not just the federal building but several other buildings nearby; and an estimated 387,000 people knew someone who was killed or injured in the blast. For an even larger scale terrorist incident such as the attacks of September 11, 2001, the number of those personally affected is even greater.
Whether one is surviving a large-scale, high-profile terrorist attack such as that of Oklahoma City and September 11, or the almost daily suicide bombings and uncertainties of life in Israel and the occupied territories, the effects of terrorism ripple out beyond those hurt in the attack to those who know the killed and injured. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, concern also arose for those exposed to repeated media coverage of one of the airliners crashing into the World Trade Center, of the two towers collapsing, and the aftermath of the tragedy. Television viewers watching at home, with no friends or relatives involved in either the World Trade Center or Pentagon attacks were also traumatized.
According to the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), "a consistent finding is that, while most individuals exhibit resilience over time, people most directly exposed to terrorist attacks are at a higher risk to develop PTSD." Additionally, those affected may experience anxiety, depression, problems with substance abuse, and psychosomatic symptoms such as stomach aches and fevers, when there is nothing physically wrong. Those exposed to the chemical agent sarin in a chemical terrorism attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995 have reported fear, nightmares, insomnia, depression, and anxiety since the event, which was planned and carried out by the Aum Shinrikyo apocalyptic cult in Japan. Susan Urbach, a survivor of the Oklahoma City bombing, notes in "Ground Rules—Surviving Terrorism" that a terrorist incident "will have ramifications on every aspect of your life and you will never be like you were before—not necessarily better or worse, just different."
In Northern Ireland the government in June 2000 established a Victims Unit to help those physically or psychologically affected by the Troubles. With a goal "to raise awareness of, and co-ordinate activity on, issues affecting victims across the devolved administration and society in general," Northern Ireland is taking steps beyond the signing of peace agreements and the setting down of arms. A greater, personal reconciliation may take place by recognizing and addressing victims' needs.
While there was a resolution to the conflict in Northern Ireland, terrorism rarely ends with a political solution. The attacks of September 11, 2001 made clear that mass casualty terrorism is an increasingly real threat. Terror for the sake of terror can not be reconciled. Terror in the name of a cause is no easier for people to deal with. Whatever its brand, terrorism's impacts are personal and long lasting, something those living with it as a familiar neighbor know all too well.
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Tull, Muhanned. "Do You Wonder Why We're Angry? Tales from the Road to Desperation," Washington Post National Weekly Edition, September 3-9, 2001, p. 22.
"Under the Rubble of the Refugee Camp," Economist, April20-26, 2002, pp. 41-43.
Urbach, Susan. "Ground Rules: Surviving Terrorism—A Victim's Journey to Healing and Justice." The National Center for Victims of Crime. Available online at http://www.ncvc.org/healing2.html (cited May 3, 2002).
Ventura, Raphael. "Terrorism and Public Opinion," International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, August 15, 1999. Available online at http://www.ict.org.il/documents/documentdet.cfm?docid'33 (cited April 26, 2002).
Westcott, Kathryn. "Children Bear Scars of Mid-East Conflict," BBC News, April 27, 2002. Available online at http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/middle_east/newsid_1951000/1951569.stm (cited May 11, 2002).
"What Are the Traumatic Stress Effects of Terrorism?" National Center for PTSD. Available online at http://www.ncptsd.org/facts/disasters/fs_terrorism.html (cited May 3, 2002).
February-August 2001 Israel assassinates 15 Palestinians, including members of Islamic Jihad, HAMAS, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority's National Security Forces. At least ten civilians are also killed, and two children are injured.
September 2001 Four people are killed and thirteen injured in two separate suicide bombings in Israel.
November 2001 At least five people are killed and two injured in suicide bombings in Hadera, Israel, and Baka al-Sharkieh, West Bank.
December 2001 Two suicide bombings result in the deaths of 27 people; one hundred are injured.
January 2002 Two people are killed in a suicide bombing.
February 2002 Bombs and suicide attacks kill seven people and injure thirty.
March 2002 In a series of suicide bombings, at least 79 men, women, and children—Israelis and Palestinians—are killed and more than one hundred are injured.
early to mid-April 2002 Fifteen people, including suicide bombers, are killed in Israel as a result of bombing attacks.
May 7, 2002 A Palestinian suicide attack kills at least sixteen people and injures more than fifty.
A terrorist attack impacts many people. The most common victim is the one killed or injured in an attack, or one who knows those killed or injured. For some, however, a far more personal relationship develops between terrorist and victim.
On August 23, 1973, three women and one man were taken hostage during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. Held captive in a bank vault for six days, the four bank employees were both threatened and treated with kindness by the two men that held them hostage. Surprisingly, the hostages resisted rescue efforts by the authorities. After they were rescued, they publicly defended their hostage takers, even raising money for the legal defense of the two men. Two of the women held hostage eventually became engaged to their captors.
After a number of similar incidents around the world during which hostages bonded with their captors, psychologists discovered that the Stockholm incident was not a lone occurrence. The emotional bonding between hostage and captor was such a common phenomenon among hostages, prisoners of war, victims of physical and emotional abuse, and cult members that scientists named the occurrence the "Stockholm Syndrome," after the 1973 incident.
In an effort to endure the violence they are subjected to by their captors, hostages and other victims bond to their abusers as a survival mechanism. One of the most famous cases of the Stockholm Syndrome occurred in February 1974, when the Symbionese Liberation Army, a revolutionary extremist group active in the United States, kidnapped 19-year old newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst. After a number of weeks of forced confinement, Hearst eventually joined the extremist group, actively participating in bank robberies and other domestic terror attacks perpetrated by the group.
Algeria 's Decade of Terror
Over the last ten years the Algerian people have endured the most prolonged and horrific terrorist assault against a civilian population in modern times. As many as 150,000 people have been killed, most of them innocent noncombatants.
In spite of token demonstrations of democracy, Algeria's political leadership has been firmly controlled by its own military ever since it won independence from France in 1962. In 1989 the government seemed ready to attempt a more genuine democracy and lifted its ban on new political parties. Among the new parties was the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). Tired of government corruption, Algerians were attracted to the party's religion and claims of populism. The FIS won the first round of parliamentary elections in December 1991 in a landslide vote. High-ranking generals declared a state of emergency, cancelled the elections, and banned the party. Although the president they subsequently appointed, Mohammed Boudiaf, was an extremely popular hero in the independence war against France, he was soon assassinated, accelerating the nation's descent into chaos.
The Armed Islamic Group (GIA) emerged as the main faction responsible for the incessant atrocities against civilians that followed. The GIA seeks to overthrow the secular government and replace it with a Taliban-like Islamic state. They have committed unspeakable acts, slaughtering entire villages with machetes, hunting down and beheading journalists, and stepping up their attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Although most of their terrorist activities have been directed against their fellow Muslim Algerians, members of the GIA also hijacked an Air France flight in 1994 and murdered the French Archbishop of Oran in 1996. The GIA is thought to be responsible for a series of subway bombs in Paris in the mid-1990s, and Algerian suspects in a U.S. bombing plot around the time of the Millennium celebrations were found to have links to the GIA (and to al-Qaeda).
In 1997 the FIS and its armed wing, the Islamic Liberation Army (AIS), announced a unilateral cease-fire in order to distance itself from the violence. The killing, however, continued unabated. Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the latest president to be installed by Algeria's senior generals, offered a limited six-month amnesty to armed groups beginning in July 1999. He vowed to strike ruthlessly against any extremists who did not accept his offer. Around 1,500 militants turned themselves in. Unfortunately, the GIA was unresponsive, and the government's promised counterattack was largely a failure.
Throughout the conflict, allegations have arisen that some of the atrocities blamed on Islamist terrorists were actually the work of government security forces. In his book The Dirty War former Algerian military officer Habib Souaidia claimed that Algerian troops disguised as rebels participated in civilian massacres and tortured Islamist radicals to death. The September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States have taken the heat of these accusations off of the Algerian government. The current political climate permits Algeria to fight terrorists as it chooses, without fearing the censure of human rights groups and democracy activists.
On February 8, 2002, security forces killed Antar Zouabri, the head of the GIA since 1996. Zouabri was notorious for his role in civilian massacres and for encouraging GIA soldiers to kidnap thousands of girls to use as sex slaves in Algeria's mountainous tunnels and caves. The GIA quickly appointed a new leader, Rachid Abou Tourab, who promised to keep fighting until Algeria is an Islamist state. Despite President Bouteflika's attempts to restore peace and end his country's diplomatic and economic isolation, new attacks are reported almost daily. More encouragingly, recent global antiterrorist efforts are dismantling some of the western European Islamist networks that support Algerian terrorist groups like the GIA.