Where Do Little Terrorists Come From #3 - Profit?

Terrorism can make a lot of money.

The first article in this series attempted to kill off the false notion that terrorism is caused by poverty.  Unfortunately, the mere fact that most terrorists have more education and more wealth than their average compatriots won't stop liberals from claiming that spending our money fighting poverty will also fight terrorism.

The second article in the series pointed out that terrorism, like so much human activity, is a path to gain power, wealth, or both.  Those who argue that terrorism has such dreadful consequences that no sane person would contemplate using it must remember that many if not most people can persuade themselves not to worry about harmful consequences of their actions.

TSA and the FAA don't worry at all when their regulations make flying so unpleasant that more people take to the highways and more people die; the FDA doesn't worry at all when bureaucratic delays keep dying people from getting unproven, but possibly life-saving, medicines; and how many people smoke, use drugs, or drink to excess?  The human capacity for self-delusion is infinite.

The American revolution is proof positive that terrorism and guerrilla warfare can lead to regime change which sometimes works in favor of those who initiated the movements; there should be no difficulty in accepting the concept of terrorism as a means of self-aggrandizement.


Terrorism is difficult to define because one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.  King George III and George Washington would have described the Continental Army which ultimately defeated the British armies in somewhat different terms, for example.

Many people use "terrorism" as a synonym for "evil", but doing that muddies the waters without conveying any information.  In order to determine whether a group of fighters is in fact evil or not, you have to at least explore their goals which is beyond the scope of this particular series.

There are plenty of examples in history of armies which followed all the rules of war prevailing at the time yet had an evil purpose, and also examples of forces that behaved in terroristic ways at times yet, overall, were on the side of good and freedom.  Right now, let's restrict ourselves to considering the activities that today are known as terrorism, and its close cousin, guerrilla warfare.

Terrorism meets the Supreme Court definition of pornography - "I know it when I see it," which is why we discussed a number of examples in an earlier article.  On page vii of his book Terrorism in the 20th Century, M. Evans and Company, 1998, Jay Nash quotes the official FBI definition of terrorism:

Unlawful use of force or violence, committed by group(s) of two or more individuals, against persons or property to coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

The FBI definition excludes acts by individuals working alone; by their definition, the Unabomber and the Son of Sam who worked alone were not terrorists.  Here is an "academic consensus" definition of terrorism which is found on page 34 of the book Thinking Like A Terrorist, by Mike German, published by Potomac Books.

Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individuals, groups, or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal, or political reasons, whereby - in contrast to assassination - the direct targets of violence are not the main targets.  The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators.  Threat- and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organization), (imperiled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought. [emphasis added]

The same page offers a shorter definition:

[an] act of terrorism = the peacetime equivalent of a war crime

A war crime without a war is simply a crime, of course, and police response is far more appropriate than military response.

The definition of terrorism includes making demands of the target audience.  The Irgun terrorists demanded that the British leave Palestine; the IRA demanded that the British leave Ireland.

"Extortion" means "to wrest or wring (money, information, etc.) from a person by violence, intimidation, or abuse of authority; obtain by force, torture, threat, or the like."  Thus, when terrorists make demands under threat of further violence, they practice extortion.  Demand-based terrorism could also be described as "protection" or "a protection racket" which means "money paid to racketeers for a guarantee against threatened violence."

Terrorism Worked Against Europe

"Danegeld," or "Dane gold," was tribute paid to Viking raiders to save someone from being ravaged.  Like contemporary terrorists, Viking raiders could attack at a time and place of their choosing and overwhelm local forces.  Unlike modern terrorists who have to rely on public transportation, Viking ships gave the attackers superior mobility.  They could sail off with whatever booty they could find, which made terrorism profitable.

The first formal Danegeld payment came in 845 AD when a Viking army was paid nearly six tons of gold and silver not to attack Paris.  Historians estimate that the Scandinavian raiders eventually brought home more than 100 tons of silver as Danegeld in addition to whatever else they seized in raids.

Based on the definitions given above, collecting Danegeld could be regarded as either an act of terrorism, an act of extortion, or a protection racket depending on your taste in words.  "Danegeld" has come to be used as a general criticism of making any payment under coercion.  People who argue against paying off terrorists often quote Rudyard Kipling's poem Dane Geld,

That if once you have paid him the Danegeld,
You never get rid of the Dane.

Terrorism Doesn't Work Well Against Israel

Partly because of their terrorist antecedents previously discussed, the members of the first Israeli government understood Mr. Kipling's Danegeld principle.  They initiated an unvarying government policy based on another part of his poem:

So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say:
"We never pay anyone Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that pays it is lost!"

Israelis are told, in effect,

"If you're ever taken hostage, make your peace with God because you're most likely dead.  We will never pay ransom, not ever.  We may try to rescue you, we may not.  But you can count on this - if you are killed, we will track down whomever killed you and kill them no matter how long it takes.  You will never be ransomed, but you will be avenged, no matter what it costs."

That same sentiment inspired the slogan, "Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute" in our country's early years while our founders, who were fresh from conducting a successful guerrilla war against England, were still around to give advice.

The United States Navy was funded to stop Mediterranean piracy being conducted by Islamic governments in Northern Africa.  The pirates would attack shipping of nations that had not paid protection money, selling the ships and cargoes, and keeping or selling the crew as slaves.  The resulting military action inspired the phrase "to the shores of Tripoli" which is part of the theme song of the United States Marines.

Under an extortionate threat of bombardment from the USS Constitution, the Bey of Algiers agreed not to attack any more American ships, but piracy continued in the Mediterranean until the French conquest of Algeria in 1830.

In more modern terms, the New York Times reported on June 9, 2008 that vigorous police action can reduce terrorist activity:

Asian Gains Seen in Terror Fight

Policing, improved intelligence and eroded public support have weakened Southeast Asian terrorist networks.

Lessons to be Learned

Extorting Danegeld worked so well for the Scandinavians that some Danish archaeological sites turn up more Saxon coins than contemporary English sites.  Danegeld ended only when the various victim governments were able to set up coastal defenses which were strong enough to make raiding unprofitable, a lesson which our "War on Drugs" authorities should take to heart.

Paying the Danegeld had necessitated setting up a special bureaucracy to collect the money, of course.  Parenthetically, Wikipedia points out that William the Conqueror kept the Danegeld collection system in place long after the Danes were no longer a threat; he raised the tax rate and spent the money on other things.  "Once a tax, always a tax."

By meeting terror with terror, American attacks against Algeria ended Mediterranean piracy against American ships, but piracy as a whole didn't end until the French military imposed regime change in Algeria.

Israeli policy of never yielding to terrorist demands has resulted in there being relatively few attacks against Israeli installations outside the immediate Palestinian area; it remains to be seen whether they will be able to prevail against terrorist attacks which originate in the Palestinian territories.

The next article further explores the terrorism that is so endemic in the Middle East as to be a stereotype.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments
You say that terrorism is a peacetime crime - an act done outside of war - which is correct.

If you think that the American Revolution meets that definition, you're seriously off your rocker. Two homogeneous bodies of people fought - each side banded together under a national flag, song and scribe. And each acknowledged and made declarations of war to the other. There were *years* of diplomatic prelude to the war. Dignitaries went back and forth, negotiating for various rights and privileges until that trade could no longer happen peacefully. There were no secret bombings. There were no sudden executions.

Modern day terrorism in the middle east is a far cry from that. A lone Arab sets off a bomb in some European train tunnel and that's the same to you as two military groups meeting on an open battlefield to settle their issues, man to man? The acts are so hidden, sudden and pre-obfuscated, that it takes days or week to even FIGURE OUT which group was responsible. Women and children are specifically targeted to make the terror that much more terrifying.

You need to go back and research what the differences between peacetime and wartime are so we can discuss which acts fall into which. If you're going to acknowledge that terrorism must be viewed in that context (which is correct) you have to establish which fall acts into which periods and what defines those periods.
June 20, 2008 9:32 AM
The Israaelis have decided to release terrorists they've captured in return for the bodies of some of their soldiers.


Given that they are making it profitable to kidnap their people, we should see an increase in such kidnapping.
July 16, 2008 2:35 PM
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