Kill apocalyptic terrorists, says expert

By JENNI CHEW, for United Press International  |  July 2, 2002 at 2:08 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 2 (UPI) -- The nature of the terrorists that threaten the United States and the rest of the Western world has changed in a fundamental way, and we must recognize that change and understand its implications to successfully combat terrorism and protect ourselves from it, said an expert who spoke at a recent think tank symposium in Washington.

Ralph Peters, a retired United States Army intelligence officer and author of "Beyond Terror: Strategy in a Changing World," spoke on June 26 at the Hudson Institute about how the views, opinions and actions of terrorists have changed, both historically and recently. Peters has served in and traveled to more than 50 countries -- what he calls "the broken parts of the world" -- with the Army and Marine Corps.

Called "one of the best military minds of his generation" by Newsweek magazine, his work -- which includes more than 14 books -- has acquired a devoted international following.

Peters acknowledges that while his judgments -- which are not based on library research but on "first hand observation and long-term thinking ... and a lifelong fascination with theology" -- may be wrong, they reflect things he has witnessed. "What we have seen, especially across the past decade, is a transition in the nature of terrorism and those people that threaten us."

According to Peters, there are two kinds of terrorists: practical and apocalyptic, with a large gray area in between. For decades, we dealt with the first type, but now we are faced with the second.

"These remain the two most useful classifications in attempts to understand and defeat our enemies who employ terror," he has written.

"We were used to dealing with practical terrorists (prior to Sept. 11)," he said. Because of this experience, "there was an assumption the hijackers would want to land the planes, take hostages, and make demands."

The practical terrorist -- the Irish Republican Army, the Red Brigades and Timothy McVeigh -- has political goals, he said. "However twisted their views are to us, they want to improve the world," said Peters. They want to remold the world to their liking, he said. The practical terrorist wants rewards on Earth, not in the afterlife.

A practical terrorist "does not want to die: they want to change the world, not destroy it," he said. "His or her concerns are external, they have to do with the plight of his or her people, real or imagined."

The apocalyptic terrorist is different: he has internal rather than external discontents, Petes says. This terrorist is unhappy with himself and blames others for his misery.

" ... (N)o alteration in the external environment could sate his appetite for retribution against those he needs to believe are evil and guilty of causing his personal sufferings and disappointment," Peters writes. "For such men, suicidal acts have a fulfilling logic, since only their own destruction can bring them lasting peace. Above all, they need other humans to hate while they remain alive ... "

One of these internal discontents seems to influence the apocalyptic terrorist -- along with the practical terrorist -- more than any others. "I believe that the profoundest ... the most important, most irreconcilable difference between our society today -- the West and also the enlightened nations of the Far East, and the Arab Muslim world specifically, not the greater Muslim world -- has to do with the status of women," said Peters.

"Perhaps the most routine commonality between the practical and apocalyptic terrorist is the male terrorist's inability to develop and maintain healthy, enduring relationships with women ... The practical terrorist is more apt to idealize members of the opposite sex, who then disappoint him, and to imagine himself re-created as a storybook hero of the sort he believes would appeal to his fantasy woman," Peters writes. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, fit this model.

"...(T)he apocalyptic terrorist fears, despises and hates females," writes Peters, citing Mohammed Atta, the leader of the Sept. 11 hijackers, whose written testament, found during the investigation of the hijackings, "perfectly captured the Islamic fanatic's revulsion toward women."

The change in the role of women in modern times "is the greatest sociological change in all of known history, the transition of women from property to partner," said Peters. The entry of women into the education system, the work force and the military represented a change that "revolutionized the human efficiency of our society," Peters said. "This human efficiency of different races, religious groups, ages, and above all, different sexes ... is a phenomenal revolution."

"All this wed to two centuries of accelerating technological development involving everything from the electric toaster to biotechnology has created a society that transcends the notions of efficiency described by economists," Peters has written. "We are the transcendent society, the breaker of fixed systems and fixed rules. And that is the source of unprecedented strategic power," Peters wrote.

Human efficiency, he said, does not come from technological advances. Just because someone hijacks an airplane and uses a cell phone against you does not mean that they are part of an efficient or high tech society, he said. The use of a cell phone in such a case is a "parasitic use," Peters said.

"Technology is only an enabler, if an often impressive one. What matters are a nation's human resources," Peters has written.

"If women cannot fully participate in society, then that country or society is not going anywhere," Peters said. "The strategic implications (of women participating in society) are clear, they (apocalyptic terrorists) are going to continue to hate us more and more, for our success."

"Their failures are not our fault, " he added, and we are not able to change or fix their societies. We can help, but ultimately, he said, societies must change themselves.

"The world does not want rational explanations for its failures. Whether we think of individuals or entire cultures, they want someone to blame," he said.

Peters also pointed out the cynical manipulations of the leaders of apocalyptic terrorist groups. "If suicide bombing is so heroic and so important, why aren't the leaders of Hamas and other organizations strapping on bombs? Why aren't the middle aged guys strapping on bombs? They are very cynically ... identifying the most troubled young people, those who can be molded, and cynically turning them into rebels," Peters said.

The motivation for the Palestinian Authority and all the other terrorist groups is power, said Peters.

"When a man believes that God is whispering in his ear and telling him to kill, you are not going to be able to persuade him by whispering in the other ear," Peters said of apocalyptic terrorists.

Peters said that not all people can be reasoned with and this affects the way that they must be dealt with.

"Apocalyptic terrorists must be destroyed. There is no alternative to killing the hardcore believers, and it may be necessary to kill thousands of them, if we are to protect the lives of millions of our own citizens," Peters has written.

According to Peters, one of the most frustrating things about being a terrorist today is how hard it is to really hurt America.

"If on Sept. 11, the hijackers had hit only the Pentagon, much of the world would have cheered, and even our allies would have snickered," he said. However, when they attacked the World Trade Center, it was so graphic and visible that the whole world could picture it happening to them. And this, he said, is the how apocalyptic terrorists ultimately sow the seeds of their own destruction.

"The apocalyptic terrorist will always over-reach, they will always give the world a reason to react so forcefully that they will ultimately be destroyed," he said. They do this, he said, because they believe that they are God's messengers.

When apocalyptic terrorists speak about their goals, Peters said, do not listen to them. Many times, without even realizing it, they are being dishonest. Their real goal, no matter what they say their goal may be, is ultimately "to jumpstart Armageddon."

Obviously, they must be stopped, Peters believes. And the war on terrorist ignited by the Sept. 11 attacks must be pursued forcefully to accomplish that.

"What matters is that the world is getting an unexpected lesson in American resolve. It is the primary task of our present and future leaders not to let that resolve weaken," Peters has written. "The lesson must be lasting. And ferocity is the ultimate guarantor of peace."

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