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The Goal of a Terrorist Attack Research Paper

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Updated: Apr 11th, 2022

Introduction/Thesis statement

One of the main discursive aspects of contemporary living is that, as of today, the threat of terrorism became the subject of global concern. Nevertheless, it still remains a commonplace practice among many people to misjudge the goals of every particular terrorist attack – all due to these individuals’ tendency to perceive the notion of terrorism, as such that is being synonymous with the notion of irrational wickedness. Such tendency, however, cannot be considered thoroughly justified. The reason for this is that there was a well-defined rationale for many incidents of terror that took place in the recent past. In its turn, this implies that terrorism can be simultaneously discussed as ‘syndrome’ and ‘tool’, and that it can be both: emotionally irrational and rationally unemotional. Therefore, when it comes to identifying what might have been the actual goal of a particular terrorist attack, it is important to be able to properly identify this attack’s qualitative essence. In my paper, I will explore the validity of this suggestion at length, while promoting the idea that, as time goes on, the acts of terror will be increasingly deployed as the tool of geopolitics.

Body of the paper

Because the very concept of terrorism is discursively negative, there is nothing odd about the fact that, regardless of what was the actual target of a particular terrorist attack, this attack’s ultimate purpose can always be defined as such that has been ultimately concerned with increasing the amount of social entropy. As Ditzler noted, “By disrupting the sense of trust in public security… the terrorist seeks to destroy the implicit and explicit social contract between the government and the governed – to destroy the collective confidence individuals invest in social institutions and the national leadership”. Another qualitative feature of terrorism is that it thrives on publicity. This is exactly the reason why, while choosing in favor of a particular target, terrorists are not being quite as concerned with trying to cause any de facto damage, as they happened to be preoccupied with prompting Media to increase the severity of this damage’s psychological effects. This objective is being accomplished by the mean of exposing people to the graphic accounts of terrorist acts-in-making, as was the case with the attacks of 9/11. Therefore, in the conceptual sense of this word, just about any terrorist attack is in essence a ‘bloody spectacle’. As Cowen pointed out, “Terrorist spectacles fit all the major criteria for focality. A focal place, person, or event must be highly visible, must possess some unique features, and must be associated with an easy-to-remember storyline. Media coverage of terrorist events will support all of these qualities”. In light of this suggestion, Media can be referred to as the closest collaborators of terrorists, because it is named on their account that information about the perpetrated acts of terror finds its way inside of people’s minds.

If we were to analyze the most infamous acts of terror that have taken place in the past, it would appear that they can be classified alongside what the definitions of the classical types of terrorism (‘rational’, ’emotional’ and ‘religious’) stand for.

‘Rational’ terrorists are being primarily driven by an ideological agenda. The terrorist organization RAF, which operated in Germany throughout the seventies and early eighties, exemplifies the validity of this statement. Having been composed out of left-wing radicals, this organization sought nothing short of bringing about the collapse of Capitalism in the country. This explains why most of the terrorist attacks, carried out by RAF, had a high symbolical significance to them – RAF used to target those public officials who were considered the ‘watchdogs’ of Capitalism in Germany: bankers, politicians and judges. In its turn, this was meant to serve the purpose of convincing ordinary citizens that the mechanism of governmental oppression (even when disguised as ‘democracy’) is not just as invulnerable as many people tend to assume. Thus, the actual aim of rationally motivated acts of terror can be deemed reflective of what happened to be the dynamics in the arena of international politics. Partially, this explains why rationally minded terrorists (most commonly funded by the secret services) do not think of the would-be carried out terrorist attacks, as such that represent the value of a ‘thing in itself’, in the sense of spreading fear. Rather, they refer to them in terms of the ‘tool’ of disrupting social order in the targeted country, for the purpose of making the would-be affected citizens grow ever more upset with the sheer ineffectiveness of their government. In its turn, the reaching of this specific objective will make it much easier for the ideologically committed terrorist group to legitimize its strategic agenda.

Many terrorist attacks can be typified, as such that have been psychologically/emotionally motivated. The best example, in this respect, can serve the Oklahoma City bombing, perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh in 1995. After all, even though this terrorist attack appears to have come as a result of McVeigh’s endowment with the extremist political convictions (which makes it formally ‘rational’), these convictions, on his part, have been brought about by the concerned individual’s lack of mental adequacy. That is, the main reason why McVeich decided to proceed with its murderous agenda is that, after having sustained a number of emotional traumas, throughout his life, he began to experience the unconscious desire to take revenge on this ‘cruel world’. The goal of a psychologically motivated terrorist attack is being usually concerned with the perpetrator’s intention for the planned act of terror to be perceived in terms of a public statement. This is the reason why there is the strong element of ‘theatricalness’ to how ‘emotional’ terrorists go about trying to come up with such a statement. For example, while in the middle of shooting people, the perpetrators of the infamous 1999 Columbine High School massacre made a deliberate point in wearing trench coats – solely for the sake of adding more cheap drama to the ‘action’. What is also notable about emotionally motivated terrorist attacks is that they are hardly preventable – something that can be confirmed not only in regards to the applicable statistical data, but also in relation to the fact that, as practice shows, ‘emotional’ terrorists are almost always suicidal.

There is also the so-called ‘religious’ type of terrorism, the threat of which is now being commonly believed to be particularly acute. The most typical representatives of this type of terrorism are the terrorist groups Al-Qaeda and ISIS, comprised out of Islamic fundamentalists, who aim for nothing less than the physical elimination of ‘infidels’ – that is, of those who do not agree with these people’s interpretation of the Quran. The main precondition, which contributes towards the proliferation of ‘religious’ terrorism in today’s world, is the low standards of living in the Third World countries – something that directly results in preventing the majority of young people in these countries from being able to obtain a good education. And, as we are well aware of, it is specifically the uneducated but strongly religious young individuals, who account for the bulk of suicide-bombers. This simply could not be otherwise, because one’s lack of education directly results in his or her tendency to think of the religious texts in literal terms – something that the notion of ‘fundamentalism’ stands for. In this respect, we can only agree with Sullivan, “In a world of absolute truth, in matters graver than life and death, there is no room for dissent and no room for theological doubt. Hence the reliance on literal interpretations of religious texts”. The problem of overpopulation, experienced in the Third World countries, contributes towards the rise of ‘religious’ terrorism, as well. The reason for this is that in the overpopulated and economically impoverished societies, the value of one’s life has always been utterly low – hence, the popularity of the notion of ‘religious martyrdom’ among people in the areas, traditionally considered to be the ‘breeding ground’ of religious terrorists, such as the Middle East.

In light of the above-stated, the main goal of just about any terrorist attack, carried out in the name of a particular religion (as perceived by its perpetrators), is to undermine the validity of the idea that there is nothing wrong about people leading secular (non-religious) lifestyles. As Ditzler pointed out, “Suicide bombers operating in Israel typically attack retail shopping areas, public transportation, fast food outlets, and other institutions emblematic of a stable and comfortable social existence”. In this respect, the ‘complimentary’ goal of a religiously motivated terrorist attack appears to be convincing people in the sheer potency of the perpetrators’ view of God.

Nevertheless, even though that out of the mentioned types of terrorism, only the ‘rational’ one deserves to be discussed in terms of a tool (with the rest of them appearing to be ‘syndromatic’), we can no longer believe that this continues to remain the actual case. The reason for this is that, as of today, ‘religious’ terrorism (most commonly associated with Islamic fundamentalists) seem to be solely concerned with spreading terror for the sake of spreading terror – something that hardly contributes towards the popularization of Islam. Yet, this type of terrorism helps rather substantially the process of people in Western countries being deprived of more and more of their constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms. If we subject the concerned phenomena to the classic inquiry cui bono? (to whose benefit?), it will appear that the rise of ‘international terrorism’ cannot be discussed as anything else, but as the tool of preventing citizens in Western countries from paying attention to the socio-economic issues that really do matter, such as the rapidly widening gap between the poor and rich. After all, while experiencing the sensation of irrational fear (because of the threat of ‘international terrorism’), one will hardly be willing to give much thought to the fact that, as of today, Western countries continue to be gradually turned from being democracies, into nothing short of the ideologically oppressive oligarchies, ruled by the bankers. What this means is that, despite appearing to be the highly irrational extrapolation of people’s deep-seated wickedness, ‘religious’ terrorism may also be referred to as one of the tools of pursuing a geopolitical agenda, deployed by the otherwise legitimate nation-states.

The validity of this idea can be illustrated, in regards to the creation of such notorious terrorist organizations as Al-Qaeda and ISIS. The first of them was created by the CIA through the eighties, in order for the organization’s members to fight Soviets in Afghanistan. The second organization consists of those Islamic radicals, who as recently as one year ago, used to be referred by the representatives of the U.S. State Department, as ‘fighters for freedom’ (in Syria). As Vladimir Putin stated, “President Obama spoke about the Islamic State (ISIS) as one of the threats. But who helped to arm the people who were fighting Assad in Syria? Who created a favorable political and informational climate for them? Who pushed for arms supplies?”. While keeping this in mind, we can suggest the following: the actual goal of just about every ‘religiously’ motivated terrorist attack that occurred since 9/11, was concerned with prompting citizens to experience the sensation of national solidarity (triggered by the threat of terrorism) – hence, making them less critical of their own governments. The fact that this indeed happened to be the case, can be illustrated, in relation to the recent (January 7, 2015) attack by Islamic terrorists on the office of French magazine Charlie Hebdo, which resulted in the killing of eleven people. The most notable aspect of this attack is the fact that, despite having acted as highly trained (mask-wearing) professionals throughout the attack’s entirety, two of the involved terrorists proved themselves forgetful enough to leave their IDs in the car, which they used to get to the would-be crime scene. In its turn, this eliminated any remaining doubts as to the Islamic identity of the attackers. Given the fact that, prior to the mentioned attack, the popularity-rate of the government of Francois Hollande has plummeted rather drastically and the fact that France does not appear very enthusiastic, while supporting economic sanctions against Russia, the act of terror in question did make a perfectly logical sense. Apparently, the ‘third party’ behind it, strived to use it as the mean of ensuring that France remains closely affiliated with the American-led ‘war or terror’ – one of the main preconditions for this country to continue being considered one of America’s foremost allies.


I believe that the earlier deployed line or argumentation, in regards to the discussed subject matter, is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, it is no longer possible to refer to the goals of terrorist attacks as being essentially irrational – even if these attacks appear to be emotionally charged. In the same manner with referring to a war as the ‘extension of politics’, we can refer to terrorism as the extension of the ongoing (although subtle) war between the world’s most powerful countries for territory and natural resources – pure and simple. This, of course, suggests that the mentioned earlier ‘war on terror’, conducted by the world’s self-proclaimed ‘democracies’, is nothing but a propaganda cliché. The fact that, as of today, more and more people throughout the world grow increasingly aware of it, creates many prerequisites for the discursive significance of the term ‘terrorism’ to be reassessed in the future.


Cowen, Tyler. “Terrorism as Theater: Analysis and Policy Implications.” Public Choice 128, no.1/2 (2006): 233-244.

Ditzler, Thomas. “Malevolent Minds: The Teleology of Terrorism.” In Understanding Terrorism: Psychosocial Roots, Consequences, and Interventions, edited by Fathali Moghaddam and Anthony Marsella, 187-206. Washington: American Psychological Association, 2004.

Kruglanski, Arie and Shira Fishman, “Terrorism between ‘Syndrome’ and ‘Tool’.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 15, no. 1 (2006): 45-48.

“Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club,” 2014, Web.

Nacos, Brigitte. Terrorism and Counterterrorism. London: Longman/Pearson, 2012.

Raizada, Munish. “Charlie Hebdo and Islamic Terrorism: Where’s the Muslim Outcry?” India – West, February 07, 2015. A8, A16.

Sullivan, Andrew. “Religious Fundamentalism Led to the Attack on America.” In The Terrorist Attack on America, edited by Mary Williams, 28-38, Farmington Hills: Grenhaven Press, 2003.

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