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Saturday, July 31, 2004

Battle Causes of Terrorism - Iron Blogger Democrat - Closing Statement

Once again, let me extend my sincerest thanks to the whole community here, including the readers, the judges, and the Chairman. This week certainly stands in stark contrast to last, and I appreciate how you've all stuck with us. I would also like to thank the Challenger for providing me with by far my most challenging Battle--I learned much from this and actually had a lot of fun, even without the snark.

I think this is because the Challenger and I have been playing an excellent variation on that old chicken/ egg game. As I said in my Second Rebuttal, "An ideology without recruits is just so much hot air." His position all along has been something like (and I'm paraphrasing here), "Recruits without ideology are just so many mannequins."

So the Challenger spent a lot of time talking about the specific ideology of jihad, and, eventually, terrorist ideologies in general. He defends his narrow focus by saying, "To my mind, the terrorism of the sort propagated by al Qaeda is the reason we are even having this discussion. The very real fact that al Qaeda is such a threat to the US and the world has brought the issue of terrorism to the front." Not surprisingly, I will agree with what he says. I have been married too long now to still run around trying to argue with the truth. But in doing so--in focusing solely on systems of belief, no matter how terrible--the Challenger ignores the most fundamental element in this complex system: The terrorists themselves.

The Challenger, in his Opening Statement, tried to avoid even considering the issue of the individual terrorists, asking, "Can we really know another's motivation [. . .]? The answer of course is no, we cannot." And, later, in his Second Rebuttal, the Challenger tried to offer some alternate motivations that do not hold up to scrutiny, while insisting that the ideas, beliefs, and values of the groups these people join are the dangerous elements, and not the terrorists themselves. Merely explaining the ideological foundations behind a particular terror group (as in the Challenger's Opening Statement) or a generic terror group (as he did in his Second Rebuttal) just doesn't do a thing to explain why there terrorists are even there in the first place.

On the other hand, from the very start of this Battle, I have maintained that there is an unquenchable desperation motivating those who become terrorists (or join hate groups or gangs). This makes them susceptible to the terrorists' ideology, makes them willing to kill and die. This is especially true since, as the SPLC link from my Opening Statement noted, these groups specifically tailor their messages to attract the desperate. The world-view that these groups espouse, full of in-group/ out-group conditioning, neatly provides a framework that fits their recruits' desperation, explains perfectly who they are, why they feel so desperate, and how to get back a feeling of power.

Remember that, according to the 2004 Rand Study (.pdf link), ideology is just a tool; there must be something about the terrorists themselves that has made them want to use that tool, receptive to it, able to override their cognitive dissonance and violate fundamental laws of nature and humanity. As I wrote in my opening, it's not religion, oppression, or poverty that causes people to buy into the terrorist ideology. In response to the Challenger, I made it clear that mere desire for power, status, wealth, companionship, or revenge is not enough to do it, either.

There must be something else, something more deeply rooted in the psyche that shows up in common among those destined for terror. Again, I aver that it is desperation that does it. Despite the unique and varying circumstances that spawn terror, all terrorists from all terrorist groups share this trait. I've tried to demonstrate that by writing, not just about the theory, but about individual terrorists, from the Lackawanna Six to John Walker Lindh. I've tried to draw the parallel between the way hate groups and gangs in this country recruit and maintain members--by offering alternatives to the desperation and exploiting the in-group/ out-group dichotomy--and the methods of the terrorists.

And when you add it up (or, at least, as I add it up from my biased perspective, natch), all signs point to a near-universal trait that these terrorists share that makes them easy prey for those with a dangerous ideology to sell. The Challenger's argument, that it's all about the ideology, just doesn't add up.

In the end, I imagine the best solution to terrorism will be somewhere in the middle. (As a post-modernist literary critic by training, I've always been a both-and, not an either-or, kind of guy.) We have to do something about the "charismatic leaders" of these terrorist organizations that I spoke of in my Rebuttals, though without letting them become martyrs. We must try to stop the spread of violent ideology, though without suppressing civil liberties. And we must, somehow, alleviate the conditions that lead to desperation, though without finding ourselves in some untenable neo-colonialist situation.

I bet that both the Challenger and I will likely accept this to be true, as he has admitted that desperation is a part of the puzzle as much as I have admitted that ideology is also important. This is a complex and multi-faceted topic, and, like the chicken/ egg question not one with black-and-white answers or two opposing sides.

The roots of terrorism, both ideological and tactical, are thousands of years old, although our awareness of it seems new. The goal of terrorism, too, has remained the same--to use fear as a weapon of social or political change. But we must not fear ideas: We should not fear religion, even fundamentalism. We should not fear communism, even if it is anathema to our own way of life. That seems to be the Challenger's position in this Battle. Instead, I say, look at the people; look at those who are actually willing to kill and die for those ideas.

Those poor, desperate bastards.

Respectfully submitted,
Jay Bullock, Iron Blogger Democrat
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