Firstly, what is terrorism? The term originated during the French revolution, and refers to the use of intentional violence on civilians to further a political agenda. This may take different forms, such as bombing; mass shooting and arson. Terrorist attacks naturally strike fear in ourselves, but taking a look at why they happen, especially in today’s modern age, may help us prepare and avoid further events.
The core goal of the terrorist group or individual is to steal the attention of the public to their cause and instil fear, in order to reach an objective. For example, the apparent purpose of the September 11th attacks by Al-Qaeda was to expel the United States from the Middle East, although this did not occur. Other than terror attacks to rise to power or monetary gain, another common reason behind attacks is the spread of ideas held by a terrorist organisation. This was what was done by Ted Kaczynski, commonly known as the Unabomber, who issued a manifesto with warnings against technology and the destruction of the environment. Such ideas may disrupt societies, and potentially lead to further attacks.
There are a number of precipitating factors which may lead to the use of such heinous tactics. Analysis of past terrorist attacks reveals that the societies or cohorts involved tend to have common features. These include poor societies, which are exposed to more civil disputes than wealthier areas; areas moving from democracies to dictatorships or vice versa, tending to generate terrorist events. Moreover, terrorism tends to arise in states which are weak and collapsed, where armed conflicts and the lack of a stable government are present, as well as those undergoing modernisation.
What can we do to prevent this? Although elimination of all terroristic intent is virtually impossible, it is possible to minimise the rise of terrorists. Intervention of governments via military operations into volatile states, as mentioned above, is frequently done when the need arises, albeit with varying degrees of success. Such examples include what was done in Afghanistan and in Libya. Furthermore, protection of the public via early detection, pre-emptive intervention and education on how to appropriately react are all done by governments, in order to ameliorate outcomes in such attacks. As citizens, we should report any suspicious activity we encounter. Additionally, one must be vigilant in large crowds, such as in festivals, train stations and airports. It is also good practice to avoid leaving one’s belongings unattended and to be aware of emergency exits when entering a building, as per the recommendations of several safety organisations.