The causes of terrorism summary

Martha Crenshaw, in her article “The Causes of Terrorism,” as the title suggests, identifies the causes of terrorism. She specified that there are preconditions or “factors that set the stage for terrorism over the long run,” and precipitants or “specific events that immediately precede the occurrence of terrorism.” Moreover, preconditions for terrorism may derive from “permissive factors, which provide opportunities for terrorism, and situations that directly inspire and motivate terrorist campaigns” (381). However, there is a thin line that separates precipitants and direct causes of terrorism.

Modernization is an example of permissive cause of terrorism as it opens vulnerabilities from the increased complexities of society and economy and creates opportunities for terrorist attacks. Crenshaw specified different examples, notably that the invention of dynamites in 1867 paved the way for terrorists to adopt bombings for their attacks. Revolutionary ideologies could also be easily transmitted across borders, paving the way for international terrorism or inciting different nations to develop similar revolutionary ideologies which in turn develop into terrorism. Urbanization also allowed the rise of terrorism as “urban guerilla warfare.”

Cities also provide multitude of targets, mobility, communications and a recruiting ground. Social facilitation is another permissive factor in that it uses social habits and traditions to justify violent acts, permitting “the development of terrorism as an established political custom” (382). However, Crenshaw wrote that the most disturbing cause and example of permissive factor of terrorism stems from the inability or unwillingness of government to prevent it.

Among the direct cause of terrorism, Crenshaw cites the inability of governments to address concrete grievances such as the discrimination of an ethnic minority by the majority. Terrorism is therefore an act to redress these grievances by extremist factions. The lack of opportunity for political participation is also another direct cause of terrorism which may also stem from social discrimination.


  • Crenshaw, M. (1981). The causes of terrorism. Comparative Politics, Vol. 13, No. 4, 379-399.

Summary of “Conflict Resolution: The Human Dimension”

John Burton, in his article “Conflict Resolution: The Human Dimension,” suggests that there are social problems that need to be addressed and from which should be the focus of conflict resolution. Burton initiates his thesis by asking whether the cause of conflicts is due to the inherent human aggressiveness or due to the emergence of inappropriate social institutions and norms. He suggests that there is no need for conflict resolution if conflicts arise from an inherent human behavior which could not be altered.

All the society could do is to introduce corrections and adjustments to personal behavior to minimize conflicts through coercive means of social control. The need for conflict resolution, therefore, implies that “conflicts are the direct result of some institutions and social norms being incompatible with inherent human needs” (Burton).

Burton specified that “aggressions and anti-social behaviors are stimulated by social circumstances.” There are inherent human needs that require satisfaction and the denial of the society to recognize these needs would lead to alternative behaviors that would lead to the individual or a particular group being able to satisfy such needs. Burton goes on to explain the evolution of society and how conflicts arise. He explained that “competitive territorial and property acquisition and conflicts of interests inevitably conditioned social relationships” as the population increases (Burton).

It must be noted that inherent human needs go beyond the need for food and shelter, or for any material acquisition. Material acquisition is rarely the primary source of conflict. There are needs such as personal recognition and identity. Burton stated that “if conflict resolution is to be taken seriously, if it is to be more than just introducing altered perceptions and good will into some specific situations, it has to be assumed that societies must adjust to the needs of the people, and not the other way around.”


  • Burton, J. W. Conflict resolution: The human dimension.

Summary of “A Generic Theory of Conflict Resolution: A Critique”

The article “A Generic Theory of Conflict Resolution: A Critique” by Kevin Avruch and Peter W. Black is a response to a previous article by John W. Burton and Dennis J. D. Sandole entitled “Generic Theory: The Basis of Conflict Resolution” and a critique of Burton’s work entitled Deviance, Terrorism and War. Burton and Sandole presented in their article that conflicts arise from a set of human needs held to be universal.

Burton presented in his work that a “society that places the interests of institutions or of the total society before those of its individual members must fail—unless, as rarely is the case, institutional values happen to coincide with human needs” (Avruch and Black, 1987, p. 90). Avruch and Black held that the generic theory must be based more than placing the primacy of the individual over the interests of institutions and the society as a whole. The generic theory is then based on the primacy of human needs.

Burton explained that the denial of these needs inevitably lead to conflict. Avruch and Black re-enumerated specific needs that require satisfaction in order to avoid conflict but question the bases of such needs. Avruch and Black disagree with Burton’s deductive reasoning for proving these needs and held that one can only deduce from a general theory, of which Burton fails to specify. Given the circumstance, they present the danger of Burton’s claim, stating that it would hardly matter how many basic needs there are and what they consist of.

There would always be a need to protect these needs, something which is called the role defense need. In addition, Burton specified that the use or exchange of social goods that are derived from specific human needs increases their availability to all. However, positional goods, which are examples of the social goods, are frequently short in supply. Avruch and Black therefore held that Burton’s claims are contrary to each other. Avruch and Black, therefore concludes that Burton theoretical formulations fail to convince.


  • Avruch, K and Black, P. W. (1987). A Generic Theory of Conflict Resolution: A Critique. Negotiation Journal, January 1987.