What Do Islamist Terrorists Want?

by | Aug 21, 2005

What do Islamist terrorists want? The answer should be obvious, but it is not. A generation ago, terrorists did make clear their wishes. Upon hijacking three airliners in September 1970, for example, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine demanded, with success, the release of Arab terrorists imprisoned in Britain, Switzerland, and West Germany. […]

What do Islamist terrorists want? The answer should be obvious, but it is not.

A generation ago, terrorists did make clear their wishes. Upon hijacking three airliners in September 1970, for example, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine demanded, with success, the release of Arab terrorists imprisoned in Britain, Switzerland, and West Germany. Upon attacking the B’nai B’rith headquarters and two other Washington, D.C. buildings in 1977, a Hanafi Muslim group demanded the canceling of a feature movie, Mohammad, Messenger of God,” $750 (as reimbursement for a fine), the turning over of the five men who had massacred the Hanafi leader’s family, plus the killer of Malcolm X.

Such “non-negotiable demands” led to wrenching hostage dramas and attendant policy dilemmas. “We will never negotiate with terrorists,” the policymakers declared “Give them Hawaii but get my husband back,” pleaded the hostages’ wives.

Those days are so remote and their terminology so forgotten that even President Bush now speaks of “non-negotiable demands” (in his case, concerning human dignity), forgetting the deadly origins of this phrase.

Most anti-Western terrorist attacks these days are perpetrated without demands being enunciated. Bombs go off, planes get hijacked and crashed into buildings, hotels collapse. The dead are counted. Detectives trace back the perpetrators’ identities. Shadowy websites make post-hoc unauthenticated claims.

But the reasons for the violence go unexplained. Analysts, including myself, are left speculating about motives. These can relate to terrorists’ personal grievances based in poverty, prejudice, or cultural alienation. Alternately, an intention to change international policy can be seen as a motive: pulling “a Madrid” and getting governments to withdraw their troops from Iraq; convincing Americans to leave Saudi Arabia; ending American support for Israel; pressuring New Delhi to cede control of all Kashmir.

Any of these motives could have contributed to the violence; as London’s Daily Telegraph puts it, problems in Iraq and Afghanistan each added “a new pebble to the mountain of grievances that militant fanatics have erected.” Yet neither is decisive to giving up one’s life for the sake of killing others.

In nearly all cases, the jihadi terrorists have a patently self-evident ambition: to establish a world dominated by Muslims, Islam, and Islamic law, the Shari’a. Or, again to cite the Daily Telegraph, their “real project is the extension of the Islamic territory across the globe, and the establishment of a worldwide

Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and a columnist for both the New York Post and The Jerusalem Post. His website, DanielPipes.org, offers an archive of his published writings and a si

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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