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Books: The Possessed and Dispossessed

5 minute read
R.Z. Sheppard

GUERRILLA by WALTER LAQUEUR 462 pages. Little, Brown. $17.50.



To Historian Walter Laqueur, the terror elite works like a multinational corporation. “An operation,” he writes, “would be planned in West Germany by Palestine Arabs, executed in Israel by terrorists recruited in Japan with weapons acquired in Italy but manufactured in Russia, supplied by an Algerian diplomat, and financed with Libyan money.”

On the evidence of Albert Parry’s passionately indignant survey of atrocities from Robespierre’s Reign of Terror to the mayhem of today’s Middle East, terrorism has always been an equal-opportunity employer: outrages were—and still are—performed by people of every race, ideology and class.

In this century, machine guns and grenades are the international credit cards allowing the carrier to publicize his grievance or renovate his ego. Terrorism is now an upward path to social status. Third World terrorists belong to a jet set that is more likely to hide out in luxury hotels than in village hovels. When he runs short of cash, for example, Yasser Arafat simply calls Libya’s oil-rich Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi.

The economics of terrorism tells more about its limited effectiveness than its causes. The bloody activities of the Irgun and the Stern Gang had much less to do with establishing Israel in 1948 than the financial support of American Jews and the backing of the U.S. Government. Likewise, if there ever is a Palestinian state in the Middle East, it will owe its existence to the fabulous wealth and political leverage of OPEC Arabs, not to the murderous acts of Al-Fatah. As Laqueur, Parry and Psychiatrist Frederick J. Hacker demonstrate in their books, guerrilla tactics (as differentiated from partisan action or government terror) have usually been an attention-getting device: if war is diplomacy by other means, then terrorism is a gruesome arm of public relations.

Laqueur, a member of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., compares modern terrorism with bygone atrocities. He coolly concludes that urban guerrilla movements, such as the extinct Tupamaros of Uruguay, may have seen their day. The reason, as Laqueur dryly notes, is that the decline of liberal democracy in many parts of the world makes it harder to be a terrorist. The Tupamaros, for example, began not under the heel of a dictator but in one of Latin America’s most democratic nations. The membership, much of it privileged youth, successfully undermined the authority of Uruguay. The effect was to usher in a restrictive military regime that smashed the guerrillas with surprising ease.

Macabre Pleasure. The present and future danger is what Parry calls “international terror.” To the author, a former lecturer on Soviet affairs at Colgate University, this usually means organizations supported or cheered on by the Soviet Union and anti-Zionist Arabs. Parry, who escaped both the Red and White terrors of his native Russia, sadly agrees with Laqueur. Both believe that Western democracies may, by their nature, be too lenient to deal with a new generation of terrorists who could be armed with backpack missiles, lethal chemicals, virulent bacteria and nuclear “Saturday night specials.” In such a world, whole cities could be held hostage.

What kind of people would use such means? Hacker, who teaches psychiatry at the University of Southern California and heads the Hacker Clinics, classifies terrorists as crusaders, criminals and crazies. A consultant in the Patty Hearst case and an adviser to the West German government after the Munich Olympic Games massacre, Hacker further divides his categories into “terrorists from above”—dictators, repressive bureaucracies, etc.—and “terrorists from below”—political guerrillas, religious fanatics and lone madmen. Rarely does a terrorist fit neatly into a single category. Among the author’s exceptions is Uganda’s Idi Amin (a “crazy from above”), who fulfills Hacker’s key clinical requirements: highly personal, often irrational thought processes, delusional, bizarre conduct, frequently imitative and amateurish.

Hacker’s candidate for a “criminal from above” is the late Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic, a former pimp, thief and forger who set himself up as the savior of his nation.

Such archetypes, says Hacker, are realistic, outwardly conventional and, above all, highly professional.

Crusading terrorists exhibit both crazy and criminal characteristics, making them much harder to define and deal with. The one trait that crusaders share with other terrorists, however, is the need to justify their violence elaborately.

The result, as history takes macabre pleasure in repeating, is that violence in stantly becomes its own justification, whether it is labeled self-defense or preventive aggression.

Century Tricks. As a clinician, Hacker advises the potential victims of terrorism to re-examine their own biases — particularly those that support injustices. As a social critic, the doctor is less indulgent. He views the terror ists, the terrorized and the millions who watch gory spectacles on television as victims trapped in a circus of carnage.

Like Laqueur and Parry, Hacker can only go so far in analysis before he runs into the classic dilemma: how to preserve freedom by limiting it. The century ticks away like a bomb, and the answer remains as intractable as the terrorists themselves. R. Z. Sheppard

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