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Understanding terrorism

By Merle Rubin / May 2, 1986

Terrorism: How the West Can Win, edited by Benjamin Netanyahu. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. 254 pp. $18.95. PERHAPS the single aspect of terrorism even more terrifying than the kidnapping, maiming, and murder of innocent civilians by a network of people who consider themselves above the claims of custom, law, or morality has been the unwillingness of most liberal democracies to respond to so blatant a threat. For, whether we think of terrorists as criminals hiding behind the mask of politics or as political operators seeking to impose their aims by violent, unlawful means, there can be little doubt that terrorists and the states that sponsor them are among the most unambiguous enemies that free, civilized societies have faced in many years. Yet, for a variety of reasons, many of the Western democracies who are the prime targets of terrorism have failed to meet the challenge; indeed, they have often acted in such a way as to invite further blackmail. Even when the US has taken the lead, most of its European allies have been unwilling to aid, let alone follow. One cannot help thinking of Winston Churchill's observation about British appeasers in the time of Munich, offered the choice between war and dishonor: ``They have chosen dishonor. They shall have war.''

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The contributors to this volume -- diplomats, politicians, journalists, academics, writers, law-enforcement officials -- share a common dismay at the continuing attitude of ambivalence toward an issue where the moral, and pragmatic, choices are so unambiguous. In this collection of brief, lucid, timely, and highly readable articles, averaging five to six pages in length, they examine the moral, political, legal, historical, military, and journalistic aspects of the problem. We hear from Secretary of State George Shultz; Sens. Alan Cranston, Paul Laxalt, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan; FBI Director William Webster; Attorney General Edwin Meese; Middle East specialists Elie Kedourie and Bernard Lewis; Prof. Eugene Rostow; foreign correspondent Claire Sterling; Rep. Jack Kemp; newsman Daniel Schorr; and others from Great Britain, Israel, France, West Germany, and Japan. The contributors were participants at a 1984 conference in Washington, D. C., chaired by Britain's Lord Chalfont, under the auspices of the Jonathan Institute. The institute, a private research foundation, was named in honor of Israeli Lt. Col. Jonathan Netanyahu, who was killed leading the rescue party at Entebbe and whose brother, Ambassador Benjamin Netanyahu, has edited and substantially contributed to this book.

On the assumption that reluctance to deal with terrorism may be attributed to widespread confusion and ambivalence, the contributors to this volume have sought to clarify this confusion. Some offer penetrating critiques of the theory of ``root causes.''