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

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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)
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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

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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: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #409,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Edwin C. Pauzer VINE VOICE on November 26, 2006
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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62 of 87 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 8, 2006
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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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By William E. Fraser on January 11, 2007
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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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By W. D. Slawson on January 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The author seems to know her subject very well and to have reached well-considered judgments on it, although the book is repititous and sometimes awkwardly written.
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Format: Paperback
As a contrasting definition of terrorism this book seems a sane approach compared to that of Noam Chomsky in his various books on terrorism. Not to confuse terrorism as an ism with terror as in fright. Chomsky targets all terror causing actions in his scope of the definition which automatically puts those who control the most power as the worst terrorists. Louise Richardson instead describes the causes of terror, the history of terrorist movements, the relationship of terror to things like religion and economics, politics and education, and shows the connections that may be most helpful in dealing with terrorism and what causes it. So compared to Noam I would go with Louise as being the most fruitful in her approach. Clearly being a linguistics professor and being a terrorism specialist results in different approaches. I have to note that Chomsky did not even rate a citation in this book. And for good reason.
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