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What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat Hardcover – September 5, 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Richardson, executive dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, set out to write a single-volume, nonpartisan explanation of "terrorism in all its complexity." Her reach, however, exceeds her grasp in an evaluation that leans more on theory than practice and is unrelenting in its attack on current policy. In fact, she's certain that the war on terrorism cannot be won and advises that we limit ourselves to "containing the threat." Richardson (When Allies Differ) follows two converging threads: Part I seeks to demystify terrorism; Part II outlines a proper response to the terrorist threat. There is much valuable information, but Richardson is too quick to dismiss or oversimplify issues: "there is no single cause of terrorism"; "efforts to produce a terrorist profile have invariably failed"; and trying to isolate economic causes is "complicated." The author insists that "terrorists are human beings who think like we do," but then dismisses Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh as "a deranged extremist." In Part II, Richardson dissects U.S. policy since 9/11 and judges it a disaster. The litany of failures is familiar if one-sided: the terrorist threat has been exaggerated, allies alienated, "liberal democratic values" abandoned. Still, Richardson's policy prescriptions, which mirror her criticisms of current policy, deserve a hearing. (Sept. 12)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Richardson grew up immersed in the troubles of Northern Ireland, and her academic research in "terrorism studies" has been fueled in part by proximity to her research subjects and independence from governmental counterterrorism efforts. With this book, she joins the chorus of commentators criticizing the current administration's "war on terror." Eradicating each terrorist movement, she argues, cannot defeat terrorism; however, it can be contained by measures that appreciate the factors driving terrorists and aim to deprive them of what they want. What terrorists want, according to Richardson, is the "three Rs"--revenge (for perceived injustices), renown (the attention of the world), and reaction (disproportionate enough to perpetuate a sense of moral outrage). Although her policy prescriptions are essentially similar to those of many commentators critical of current efforts, her arguments for such methods are studded with historical examples, including many that may be new to readers new to the topic. This book may lead readers to The Roots of Terrorism, a forthcoming three-volume opus edited by Richardson. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400064813
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400064816
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #907,198 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Without passion, Louise Richardson presents a factual and in-depth study of what makes terrorists and terrorism exist. Unlike a great many pundits who think they know what terrorism is, this author speaks with authority.

First of all, she contends that you cannot have a war on terror. To her, it is a war on a tactic, a fear that is a war on an emotion. She insists that you cannot wage a war on either. As long as anyone can commit a terrorist act, it debunks any contention that such a war is being won.

The author declares that terrorists seek three essential elements to their acts: revenge, renown, and reaction. In the destruction of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA, they achieved all three. Richardson explains that all terrorists and their organizations seek revenge for a humiliation or defeats real, imagined, and unknown to us. By declaring a "War on Terrorism and al-Qaeda we provided them with renown. By pursuing a war in Afghanistan and Iraq and by giving them Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo we gave them a reaction beyond their wildest dreams. "by using the extreme language of conviction that bin Laden uses, by declaring war, even a crusade, against him in response to his war against us, we are mirroring his actions. We are playing into his hands...elevating his stature...permitting him to set the terms of our interactions."

For terrorism to succeed, terrorists require personal dissatisfaction, an enabling society and legitimizing ideology. Their personal dissatisfaction comes from our support of Israel beating them time and again with US built weapons, killing of their civilians, and occupation of their lands. According to Richardson, being the only superpower and having the most influence in the world, also incurs their enmity.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is without question one of a handful of books that must be read by anyone who is serious about neutralizing terrorism as a tactic, avoiding the incitement of more terrorism, and acting professionally and morally around the globe. Sadly, that does not include the neo-conservatives who substitute dogma for reality, and war profiteering for peacemaking.

Unlike Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism by Professor Robert Pape, which I highly recommend as a complement to this book, the author here has written a definitive history, a rational appreciation, and ends with six specific recommendations, each of which has been gleefully and ignorantly violated by the current Administration, which now declares Bin Laden to be "irrelevant" and continues to cover up the fact that Rumsfeld authorized the Pakistanis to fly 3000 Al Qaeda out of Tora Bora, and Rumsfeld refused to order a Ranger battalion in to capture Bin Laden during the four days that CIA has "eyes on" and tracked him to the border (see my reviews of Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander and First In: An Insider's Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan).
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An excellent book by someone who has studied terrorism since long before 9/11.

Starting with a deep understanding of how terrorist groups form and why people join them, she works her way to advice on crafting policy (For example, rather than determining whether a given policy is hard on terrorism or soft on terrorism, she recommends asking "Is it effective? And at what cost?") culminating with a list of six "rules for combatting terrorism".

A must read for anyone who wants to advocate for change!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An informed view on extremism, especially among ordinary citizens like you and me, is key to make this world a safer and better place for us and our future generations.
Louise Richardson, now an expert in terrorism, grew up in rural Ireland in the 1960s “with a passionate hatred of England”.
In “What Terrorists Want”, a primer on the subject, Dr. Richardson started the discussion with a reminiscence about her adolescence when many of her friends joined the IRA. She herself also attended meetings and discussions, but didn’t join the terrorist group at the end, as she “had concluded that killing people was not the right way to advance the cause of reuniting Ireland.”
“Those who did join were like me in almost every respect. They were young idealists wanting to do their part for their country as their forebears had (or as they thought their forebears had). They were motivated by a desire to right wrongs and to do their best for a noble cause. They knew that they were likely to suffer personally from their decisions. They justified the use of force on the grounds that it was the only way to make progress toward the legitimate goals they sought,” she wrote.
Throughout years of research at Trinity College and Harvard, she dug out documents and other evidence about terrorist groups and their activities. She also interviewed people who were and ARE from those groups.
Dr. Richardson’s background and painstaking research render this book a very compelling read. She said our “complicit society”, where economic and political inequality is pervasive, could be a fertile recruiting ground for terrorists. That was when I felt this book is a must-read for all of us. Also, interaction with a subject is the first step toward dispelling the fear of it.
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