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In Mideast, a new generation of antagonists

Terrorism, an ageless phenomenon, has begun to exhibit a new energy and a new dimension. The new energy is the emergence of a second generation of antagonists in protracted conflicts. This group's unusual psychological experience and lifelong rage has altered the focus and caliber of political violence in the Middle East.

The new dimension is religious extremism, which has moved into a second and more ominous phase in the region since the 1979 Iranian revolution. It is no longer exclusively Islamic.

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These new trends are most visible in Lebanon, where the ongoing 11-year civil strife is increasingly being played out in car bombings, kidnappings, and other indiscriminate violence among rival sects.

Muhammad Sarhan is a classic case of this second generation. When he was 15, Mr. Sarhan survived the massacres at Sabra and Shatila (Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon) in which an estimated 800 men, women, and children were killed by a right-wing Christian militia. His father, a taxi driver, did not.

Sarhan also survived the massacre at Rome airport last December, the only one of four Palestinians who hurled grenades and shot at men, women, and children setting off for the holidays. Fifteen were killed, 74 wounded. Sarhan was then only 19.

One massacre was not exclusively responsible for another 3 years later. But the environment in which Sarhan grew up, climaxed by the 1982 camp massacre, played a major role in politicizing him into extremism and propelling him to undertake indiscriminate violence.

``There is a high probability that young people who have been socialized in a climate of intergroup violence, and who have identified with their anger ... will be attracted to membership in organizations that advocate violent action in pursuit of their `just cause','' says Rona Fields, a psychologist who has researched the impact of violence on children in Lebanon, Israel, Northern Ireland, and South Africa.

Sarhan is not an isolated example. A Pakistani official recently revealed that the hijackers of a Pan Am jumbo jet in Karachi were ``a product of refugee camps in Lebanon, born and brought up in conditions of great misery.'' More than 20 people were killed in the Pan Am attack in September.

And US terrorism experts say that the spate of recent knifings and other attacks on Israeli troops and settlers on the West Bank are the work, not of trained Palestine Liberation Organization cadres, but of local youth who have grown up under 19 years of Israeli occupation and who are acting on their own initiative.

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``Individuals who allow themselves immoral actions of many kinds are justified because they feel they have suffered an unjust punishment in childhood, and have therefore, ahead of time, expiated their latest misdeeds,'' wrote psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut.

At least four factors come together to produce terrorists among a generation that has known nothing but bloodshed and enmity, psychologists say. They call this the ``rejuvenation'' of violence. The four factors are:

An environment of conflict makes it difficult for normal educational, familial, and environmental exposure to suppress instincts of aggression in children, these psychologists say. Instead those instincts go unchecked or are further encouraged by the violence.

Those who grow up in conflict consider violence to be a justifiable means of expression, not the court of last resort as their parents view it. They also define justice and power differently than their parents - often by the caliber of a gun.

The sense of being a victim is conditioned, since the second generation feels it is blameless for the conflict's outbreak. And a victim has special rights in the fight for physical or political survival.

Finally, the normal dynamic of adolescence or the molding of an independent identity through rebellion against authority, comes together with the world of politics. Carrying a gun or being inducted into a militia is often a rite of manhood.

Lebanon also exemplifies the new religious extremism.

The conflict originally pitted Muslims and Christians against each other over the issue of power divisions in a secular government. But now, Islamic extremists are demanding an Islamic theocracy, which no longer seems an impossible goal.

Young Shiite Muslim fanatics of Hizbullah (the ``Party of God'') have expanded their influence through terrorism to more than one-third of the country, including the capital, Beirut, and the strategic south, over the past three years. Their victims have included Christians, other Muslims, and Israelis.

The Muslim militants are also responsible for a recent terrorist campaign against the United Nations' French contingent in Lebanon, in which four soldiers were killed and 34 injured.

The attacks were aimed at forcing the UN to abandon the buffer zone that Hizbullah charges protects an Israeli enclave in southern Lebanon.

The Shiites' role in Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon last year marked a new phase for Islamic extremism. The focal point began to shift away from Tehran and it gained greater legitimacy among Arabs, who have traditionally been suspicious of Persians. The Arabs were also disenchanted with Iran's often brutal domestic policies.

Islamic fanaticism has now become a genuinely Arab phenomenon and its appeal is growing again, notably in Jordan and on the West Bank.

With the collapse of US Mideast peace efforts and the Jordanian-PLO dialogue, Islam is showing signs of becoming an alternative or supplementary banner for action - because it cuts across the wide Palestinian political divide.

``If the peace process fails,'' predicts West Bank editor Hana Siniora, ``we will see the Lebanization of the occupied territories by all the radicals, religious and others.''

``If there is no solution [soon] to the Palestinian problem,'' a key aide to Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat adds, ``then this area will become so radical under the influence of Islamic fundamentalism that you won't believe it. Then you wait and see how welcome the US is as a mediator.''

But terrorism is not limited to Muslims. At least six Jewish extremist groups have also emerged on the West Bank. Settlers trying to terrorize Arabs into abandoning the disputed land have been linked to assassinations, bombings, and attacks on mosques.

Religious militancy on both sides, channeled into indiscriminate violence, could even eventually alter the tenor of the 38-year Arab-Israeli conflict into a Muslim-Jewish ``holy war,'' as some Muslim fanatics in the Middle East have already begun to call it.

Robin Wright, a former Monitor correspondent, is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She is author of ``Sacred Rage: the wrath of militant Islam.'' Last of three articles. Previous stories appeared Nov. 5 and 6.

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