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Dr. John McTague


Dr. McTague is an author & professor of Middle East History at Saint Leo College.


Terrorism in Context

Edited by Martha Crenshaw,

Pennsylvania State University, Press, 1995, 633 pages


This interesting volume analyses terrorism by the method of comparing specific terrorist groups or states over a wide range of time and place. Separate chapters look at Russia in the years preceding the revolution, Germany and Italy in the 1960s, Argentina during the dirty war of the 1970's and groups such as the Irish Republican Army, the Basque ETA and Peru's Shining Path. For the purpose of this review, the chapters on Palestine/Israel and Iran will be discussed.

In her introductory chapter, editor Martha Crenshaw proposes several general themes; the historical context of terrorism, the causal relationship between terrorism and its environment, and terrorism's effect on that environment. She wrestles with a definition of the world and finally can only conclude that such violence must be systematic, deliberate, and sustained over periods of time.

Ian Lustick, a well known Middle East scholar, has written a fascinating chapter on Terrorism in the Arab-Israeli conflict: Targets and Audiences. His major argument is that terrorist groups on both sides-- the Irgun and Lehi (Stern Gang) for the Zionists and the PLO for the Arabs--committed their violent acts more for their own constituencies than to scare the enemy.

In discussing the Irgun and Lehi, Lustick posits that the image of Jews around the world before and during WWII was of passive, helpless people who were constantly victimized. Zionists like Menachem Begin (leader of the Irgun) were determined to change that image, not so much in the minds of others, but in the Jewish psyche. To do so , he wanted to create a vision of the fighting Jew, one who refused to be mistreated and who was willing to use violence to strike back. Lustick quotes Begin from his memoir The Revolt: we fight, therefore we are. Consequently, the Irgun's policy was to retaliate against either the Arabs or the British any time Jews in mandatory Palestine were harmed. Lehi went a step further, targeting British and U.N. officials for assassination, but this policy was directed more at the enemy, with the intention of driving them out of the country. Lustick accepts the idea that terrorism can be both iner-directed (for your own community) and outer-directed (aimed at demoralizing your opponent) at the same time.

Similarly, he believes that after the six-Day War (1967), when the PLO began committing acts of terrorism, Palestinian morale was at its lowest point. It was now the Palestinians who felt weak and helpless, and needed their confidence restored. The Battle of Karameh (1968), when Palestinian guerrillas inflicted heavy casualties on a far superior Israeli army, did wonders for PLO recruiting efforts, just for that reason. The hijack, assassinations and raids that followed in the next decade were primarily inner directed in Lustick's view.

He regards the Intifada as being aimed at both audiences, building Palestinian self-confidence and convincing the Israelis that holding the West Bank and Gaza was no longer feasible. But he feels that Intifada would not have succeeded as it did without the improved self-esteem that earlier terrorist actions developed.

In both cases we can conclude that terrorism was largely successful. The Irgun and Lehi not only helped reverse the Jewish image but clearly played a role in driving the British out of Palestine, paving the way for the creation of Israel. Similarly, PLO terrorist tactics eventually helped convince Israeli leaders that territorial compromise could not be avoided, leading to the Rabin-Arafat handshake in 1993. Lustick does not say this in so many words but is an inevitable conclusion of his chapter.

Jerrold Green's essay Terrorism and Politics in Iran is less imaginative and more of a straightforward narration of the country's history in the Pahlavi and Islamic Republic eras. His most interesting observation is that in Iran, terrorism has been practiced more by the state than by its enemies. This was true both under the Shah, Muhammed Reza (1941-79) and Ayatollah Khomeini. He credits the Ayatollah with being a wily politician, who knew when peaceful tactics were called for (the campaign against the Shah in the late 1970s) and when to use violence (suppressing his opponents once in power).


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