Amir Taheri has an interesting thesis
on what motivates terrorists:
The terrorist kills because he cannot compete with his adversaries. Instead of responding to Salman Rushdie's ill-structured and unreadable novel with a novel that is well-plotted and properly written, the terrorist calls for his murder. The terrorist cannot challenge Theo van Gogh's controversial documentary with a better one and thus decides to stab him to death.
He draws a literary comparison:
Terrorists always remind me of a short story by Voltaire in which a bug is angered by the ticktack of a clock on the wall and decides to destroy " the monster". It has no time to find out how the clock is made, why it is there, and whether there might not be other ways of attenuating the sound of its ticktack. The bug is a terrorist; it wants instant result from a single effort. So it decides to rush headlong into the clock like one of our suicide-bombers these days.
The hands of the clock stop of a tiny fraction of a second but then continue their relentless counting of time, ticking and tacking as loud as ever. Our martyrdom-seeking bug, however, falls to the floor, crushed and lifeless. A few moments later the cleaning lady sweeps the corpse of the suicide-martyr bug into the dustbin.
Taheri focuses on the contrast between terrorists and competitors in the peaceful marketplace of ideas. But what of the contrast between terrorists and true revolutionaries? The latter have a long-term plan for replacing the existing order with a new one. The terrorist may wish for overthrow, but has no intention of doing that task himself; instead he simply looks to vent wrath for its own sake (and perhaps for 72 virgins). Terrorism has less in common with the American and Bolshevik revolutions (examples of just and unjust rebellion, respectively) and more in common with sports hooliganism and lynching.
Read the whole thing.
(Link via email from Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi)
Update: Khomeni illustrates that terrorists may graduate to revolutionary status. But his act of terror played no consequence to the 1979 overthrow of the Shah.
A small handful of terrorist can compete, in a sense. They are the elite organizers of terrorists, Yasser Arafat being the quintessential example. His success came in his ability to convince idiotarian appeaseniks into believing that Palestinian terror was the fault of Israel. (Try using that logic on attacks against abortion clinics and see what kind of response you get.) His rewards were international prestige, hefty bank accounts full of embezzled money, a surrender of land from Israel with nothing tangible given to Israel in return, and a peaceful death in Paris without ever having to face a court of law.
But success for Arafat (and his cronies) didn't translate into success for Palestinian Arabs (and certainly not for Israelis). The Palestinian leadership is not ushering in liberty-based representative government, and refuses to wage all-out war against Hezbollah, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, PFLP, and other terror organizations operating in Israel.
Taheri's theory deserves a caveat. Terrorists cannot overthrow their adversary - even Arafat could not defeat Israel - but they can exploit other terrorists for personal gain.