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Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Battle Causes of Terrorism - Iron Blogger Democrat - First Rebuttal

After my first two Battles, I'm known for having heavy, powerful First Rebuttals. This one may be an exception, though, not because I'm going to pull my punches, but because on balance I think the Challenger and I are really working on the same jigsaw puzzle, just from different sides. Which makes this an interesting case for the judges, I grant you, but it's also a perfect example of what makes Iron Blog great.

The Challenger's Opening Statement is a powerful tour de force that, sadly, doesn't actually answer the Chairman's questions. While expansive in its elaboration of the ideology endemic to Islamic Jihad, fundamentalistic Islamic terror is just a small--if prominent and recent--part of the puzzle. In fact, he says that
A discussion such as this necessarily requires us to delve into the realm of motivation and psychology. But can we really know another's motivation behind their action without the benefit of asking and after being answered assess the truth of what we were told? And even after we have done all of this, can we really be sure we understand? The answer of course is no, we cannot. [. . .]

Humans are a complex of motivations and passions; reason and logic. But regardless, there are larger streams, and rivers, and oceans of history of which we are all apart one way or another, and ultimately the complexity of our actions dissolve and become a part of the current in which we ourselves are caught.
It's a nice metaphor (and I'm an English major, so I know from metaphors), but he seems in that post to actually try to avoid the question of cause entirely by saying we can never know it.

The Challenger's First Rebuttal, however, is much more to the point, and immediately takes me to task. "[W]hile desperation may be a motivator for a particular individual to join a terrorist group," he writes, "it can not be the complete answer." The Challenger rightly points out that not everyone who feels desperate chooses the path that lands them in a terrorist cell. He also notes, using Hamas as his example, that terrorist organizations do not rely exclusively on the dregs of society for recruits. Most importantly, he notes that "you cannot have an effective terrorist organization without a confluence of ideology. Desperation is simply not enough."

With all of this, I have little disagreement. In fact, as I tried to explain in my Opening Statement, the appeal of terrorist organizations to those with nothing left to lose is the world-view that they offer; I was pretty clear that desperate men or women without terror networks--that is, those who share their world-view--behind them are not very effective at inspiring terror. In fact, if the Challenger had quoted just a few words more from my opening, he would have gotten to my statement that "religion, like racial identity, merely provides a convenient metaphor for expressing desperation." It's classic in-group/ out-group conditioning:
The sense of group identity is felt more keenly for those who belong to small groups such as racial or cultural minorities. In addition, the stronger our group-based social identity, the more likely we are to conform to group norms, and the more prejudicially we react to outgroup members whom we perceive to threaten us. In addition, outgroup stereotypes are stronger in those who have stronger ingroup identities.
The cohesive ideologies that the Challenger cites from the Rand study (for Hamas, FARC, and al Qaeda) are ways of building in-groups, as are, for example, pep-rallies, boot camp, and even the infernal party conventions dirtying up my C-SPAN. The ideology we buy into, whether we're desperate or not, is that of the in-group we select, or that selects us.

Supremacist groups offer white kids an answer to their uncomfortable questions; gangs offer urban youth a family and, perhaps, prosperity they wouldn't find anywhere else. Fundamentalist Islam (for al Qaeda), communism (for the FARC), a determination for self rule (for Hamas, the IRA, ETA, Tamil Tigers, and more) have the same effect. The actions these hate groups, gangs, or terrorists engage in are illegal and immoral, even perhaps by their own standards on occasion. Anyone who commits illicit or immoral acts, terrorist or no, has to have some kind of ideological bent that overrides our natural cognitive dissonance.

The Challenger talks up this same point; he notes that terrorists must hold "some overriding ideology which not only attracts recruits, but gives them the commitment to carry out acts of terror, sacrifice themselves, and be indifferent to the lives they take in the process. This, in my view, can only be done by having bought into a world view that is larger than themselves and has a grand cosmic or historical struggle as a component."

My point here is that we've all bought into a world-view--the Challenger, the Chairman, John Kerry, George W. Bush, you, me--that includes a sense of our place in both the modern world and an historical context, and probably even a cosmological or spiritual sense; but for most of us that world-view does not require us to fly airplanes into buildings. Colin Powell who, as the Challenger notes, escaped a pretty desperate situation to become Secretary of State, bought into an in-group ideology which put him on a very different path than that of, say, Jose Padilla. But to say Colin Powell doesn't have an ideology, or an in-group, would be untrue--it's just that Powell's in-group, at least in this sense, is also our in-group. Padilla's is not. There must be something else about those, like Padialla, who do take up the terrorist world-view, something about them that makes them particularly vulnerable to the in-group/ out-group pitch that these organizations make.

Usually, even by the Challenger's own admission, that's an utter sense of confusion, hopelessness, oppression--in short, desperation. As Moses Galeb described them in the Lackawanna Six article I cited in my Opening Statement, these are people who are stuck asking the most fundamental of existential questions: "Who the hell am I?" Sometimes the desperate find the in-group, sometimes the in-group finds them, and sometimes, as the Challenger says about Hamas, the desperate are in the in-group without even knowing it, through Hamas-funded K-12 schools and universities. This is why I cited the madrassas in my Opening Statement; if the recruits come to a terrorist group already believing the ideology, there's just not much work the group needs to do to bring the recruits on board.

In my Opening Statement, I linked to, but didn't quote from, this FlashPoint article, but I think I should now, as the author says this clearer than I can:
In-groups always make the same observations and criticisms of out-groups. These prejudices lay the foundation for deeper future problems. [. . .] The underlying causes of political violence and terrorism begin long ago and faraway. [. . .]

Through association and education we learn and adopt the values and behaviors typical of our group--our in-group. Over time, people realize that there are other groups to which they do belong and with which they don't identify--out-groups. Invariably people recognize that there is an "us and a "them," that there are noticeable differences between groups, and develop loyalty to their in-group. People naturally take pride in their in-group and usually view their own group as superior. These basic group differences set the stage for competition and conflict.
The ideology, as the Challenger's Rand study says in a footnote, is just "an instrument"--it's a tool. If you (or your ideology) offer someone who has never been in-group the chance to be, whether it's through in a gang, as part of a Jihad, or through the wealth re-distribution that comes with communism, you can end up with a very loyal and deadly following.

Speaking of followings, I think it's important to note one important piece of the puzzle that the Challenger misses. An ideology is worthless, at least in the terrorist sense, without a charismatic leader to hold the group together--to give the orders and provide a figurehead. Osama bin Laden is the one who immediately comes to mind, but Manual "Sureshot" Marulanda (from FARC) and those freaky twins also fit the bill.

The Rand study notes on page 32 "that terrorist groups tend to coalesce around charismatic individuals who attract and inspire supporters." This is what makes it such a shame the we were never able to get bin Laden after 9/11, as he remains both a danger to us and an inspiration to (if not much in control of) al Qaeda anymore. The Challenger even turns over much of his Opening Statement to the man, quoting bin Laden's Letter to America while only adding " 'nuff said."

But bin Laden in his letter is not just leading (and making plain his ideological foundation), he's also exhibiting more classic in-group/ out-group behavior:
The rise of a reform movement inevitably raises expectations of the out-group. [. . .] Even if a state recognizes a demand as legitimate, specific interest groups that will oppose reform from fear that it will dilute their position of power and advantage. It's often said that no one has ever given up power or wealth voluntarily. Such interest groups are easily provoked into a strong reactionary response targeting either, or both, the reformers group, or the government. The emergence of these fear-driven reactionary forces is perhaps the most potent factor is a cascading plunge into violent political conflict. The state is placed in the position of choosing the lesser of two evils, confronting the weaker of two adversaries, and pursuing a course that ensures its own interests and immediate survival.

Not surprisingly, reform movements often meet with limited, if any, success. The greater the institutionalized discrimination, inequality and injustice, the lower the prospects for reform and the greater the chances for eventual violence. Rejection of reform demands heightens out-group frustration and strengthens the arguments of militants and their call for decisive action.
It should be obvious how that applies to, say the IRA or ETA (the Basque separatists), even the Kashmiri freedom fighters the Chairman asked about in declaring this Battle open. But it also applies to the Jihad that the Challenger is so focused on. See, bin Laden certainly wants to "reform" the U.S., even if that's quite the euphemism. That "Letter to America" is a clear list of demands, some of which--like U.S. withdrawal from Saudi Arabia--we have even acquiesced to.

Osama bin Laden is also a special case because of how he got to be where he is; bin Laden's Mujahadeen was our ally against the godless communists, the Soviets, in Afghanistan. If the cards had been dealt slightly differently, bin Laden may have even ended up king or mullah or grand potentate of Afghanistan himself, in which case we wouldn't be calling him a terrorist, according to the Challenger. Tossed off at the bottom of his First Rebuttal is this juicy nugget:
Terrorism is a tactic employed by people who do not have the resources to employ an army. This is the real cause of terrorism; lack of a military force. I guarantee you, If Osama and the boys had political and economic control of North Africa and the Persian Gulf, they would be raising an army and we would not be discussing "terrorism." But the ideology driving these folks would be the same. Only much more dangerous.
In fact, bin Laden may well have ended up like Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega, andAugusto Pinochet, once he stopped being useful and started being a bother. That's the key, I think: Of course "the Jihadists have broken down all barriers with regards to the rules of war," as the Challenger says--they are not really fighting a war. And there are ways to deal with States that do the sorts of things that terrorists do (or, for that matter, start a war); we've got millennia of precedent to follow.

Because State-on-State action is the sort of thing that we already have mechanisms in place to deal with, we should not fear Islamic states. The Challenger includes a vaguely panicky paragraph in his Rebuttal:
To that last bit I would add that in Islam, most especially as espoused by Wahabism, there is no difference between religious and political life ; they a part of a continuum that includes (but is not limited to) ones personal and business relationships as well.
There are, of course, plenty of secular Islamic states: Turkey, Syria, Indonesia, among others. And, no, those states are not necessarily models of stability, but they certainly pose no threat to us. Turkey is even a NATO ally.

In the end, I'm not saying the Challenger is completely wrong on everything; except for his insistence on keeping the narrow scope of Jihadists (in his Rebuttal, his "I have focused" paragraph ignores even the other terror organizations he seemed willing to bring in earlier), his words on ideology have been right on the mark. But you can't discount what I am saying, that before the ideology, there has to be something about terrorists that makes them receptive to that ideology.

Respectfully submitted,
Jay Bullock, Iron Blogger Democrat
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