This paper discusses factors that make democracies uniquely vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Starting with the definition of the scope of discussion, it is necessary to mention that the paper discusses how Western liberal democracies were often targets of terrorism throughout the 20th and early 21st century. Factors that contribute to this phenomenon do not have much to do with ‘democracy’ in the narrow sense of this word as a particular form of government centered on majority rule. Instead, certain characteristic features of modern Western liberal democracies indeed make them highly vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
For the purposes of this research, terrorism will be categorized into domestic and international. As for domestic terrorism, there were numerous examples during the 20th century when terrorists groups based inside the country committed attacks against their respective government or civilians. In many cases these attacks were related to political struggle or struggle for independence. The examples of this kind of terrorism include RAF in Germany during the 1970s-1980s, the Red Brigades in Italy during approximately the same period of time, ETA in Spain during the second half of the 20th century, IRA in Ireland throughout the past century etc.
Again, this kind of terrorism can be further classified into struggle for independence and left-wing guerilla terrorism. As for the struggle for independence, democracies are vulnerable to this kind of terrorism since they proclaim the right of all peoples to self-determination. However, this right often conflicts with the responsibility of governments to uphold territorial integrity of their countries. The conflict is deepened by the fact that democratic government tend to be meeker than authoritarian ones in terms of dealing with terrorists: negotiations instead of clampdowns might be less effective short-term solution to this problem.
Speaking about left-wing guerilla movements, their emergence and existence was made possible by the environment of political pluralism and freedom of thought. Such environment flourishes only in Western liberal democracies.
As for international terrorism, the analysis applied here is more philosophical. 9/11 was a landmark event that brought about a paradigm shift. The Americans didn’t feel comfortable in the new paradigm. The terrorists have achieved their ultimate goal — not to kill but terrorize. The U.S. was swallowed by the feelings of insecurity and impotence as the West had to face its weaknesses in front of the imminent threat of Islamic extremism. While the U.S. and Europe has given up to cultural ambivalence, the Muslim world seems to defend its values with more fervor than ever before. The tactic used by the terrorists was stunning and unacceptable by the rest of the world. Human life being the ultimate value, Western mindset implies that very few circumstances can justify taking a life away.
Suicide terrorism is a phenomenon the West cannot comprehend and tolerate, therefore it is one of strongest ideological weapons the Islamists have against Western liberal democracies. Western values — such as liberty, respect for human rights, rule of law, and pacifism — again provide a less effective short-term solution for the problem of terrorism than militant values of Muslim terrorist organizations or rogue states.