The global terrorism as we know it today is based upon Islamic ideology. All of these international groups justify their actions based upon interpretations of concepts presented within the Koran. Many people may disagree concerning those interpretations, but the fact remains that all of the global terrorist groups that are currently active are groups that have Islam as their basic foundation.
The Munich Olympics in 1972 is the first example that I am aware of where Islamic terrorism left the immediate area that encompasses the Islamic world. This is mainly the Middle East, although many parts of Africa and Asia are also part of the Islamic world. The 1980’s saw more international attacks, from the aircraft that was destroyed over Scotland to the wheelchair bound American on the hijacked ship that was killed and thrown overboard to the bombing of the disco in Berlin. The government of Libya was active at that time and during the 1990’s backed off of its support of international terrorism. Despite this, the 1990’s saw even more international activity on the part of global Islamic terrorist groups. This activity lead directly to the events of 9/11. After 9/11, global terrorist activity has continued although the U.S. has not been hit directly, except our armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It is expensive to wage war. Even more so on an international scale. It is obvious that global terrorism has multiple sources of resources that are supplying the individual groups with the money, manpower and training needed to wage the ‘irregular’ warfare that helps define terrorism. Some states are active supporters of terrorist groups, such as Syria, Iran and Pakistan. These states can only be part of the source of terrorist resources.
Throughout history, guerrilla ("irregular") forces have been the products of local areas. The manpower, weapons and supplies needed to support these forces originate from those local areas where they operate. It is tempting to believe that global Islamic terrorism is only a few widely scattered groups operating independently. While the separation and compartmentalization of the various groups is an inherent part of ‘irregular’ warfare, the overall Islamic ideology is a common feature with all of these global terrorist groups. People who believe as the enemy does and are willing to support them are sending them money to fund their activities. Despite the fact that these groups operate individually, the resources they rely upon are supplied from the area of the world where Islam is at least a major shareholder in the culture. In other words, the different groups may be operating independently and being supplied separately; they are acting as allies and are being supported (Directly and indirectly) by the same overall population. This is why I see this war as being far larger than what is actually being fought.
I use the example of the good southerners that fought for the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil war. Many did not own slaves. Yet their lives would be profoundly affected by the abolition of slavery. So they risked and lost their lives fighting for that way of life that was based upon the evil of enslavement of other human beings. Other examples I use are the good Germans and Japanese who fought in World War II. They too fought for their way of life, even if the government that supplied that lifestyle was acting in evil ways. Nationalism played a part, but impact to way of life has provided the cause for more wars than any other that I can think of. This is what makes the current ‘war on terror’ so large.
Islam is at the root of the problems concerning the ‘war on terror’. Most wars only require one or two really good issues to make it worth the loss of life and destruction that all wars entail. Islam provides many more:
1) Separation of church and state. (Loyalty to Islam over any government)
2) Stoning ANYONE to death
3) The obligation to kill the ‘occupiers’ of Muslim land
4) The penalty for leaving Islam is death.
Getting rid of any of these issues by a 'liberal' interpretation will trigger organized violence as has been demonstrated time and again. All of the combined represent an undertaking that will take centuries. A large problem here is that time is not on our side. Sooner or later one of these groups will obtain and deploy a weapon of mass destruction. Then the active fighting in the war will closer approximate the actual size of the war in reference to the number of people whose lives will be impacted.