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Thursday, July 29, 2004

Battle Causes of Terrorism - Challenger - Second Rebuttal

The Iron Blogger, when referring to the essays I have presented thus far, said:

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.


And while this is true, that something is not desperation. I am aware some like Minnesota based psychoanalyst and Arabist, Dr. Nancy Kobrin advances the idea that the proclivity of Muslims to embrace suicide attacks and mass murder is the result of "a culture in which shame and honor play decisive roles and in which the debasement of women is paramount", I am not willing to go so far. I am of the opinion that what attracts people to a terrorist group, in fact any group, is different for each member.

Some will be driven by a desire for power. Some will be driven because they will gain status they could not get anywhere else. Others because they gain comradeship afforded to them by no one else. Still others for revenge.

The reasons for any individual joining any group are too diverse to distill in such a way as to say "if we could just fix this social problem, or economic problem, or psychological condition, we could eliminate terrorists."

The psychological workings of group cohesion based upon theories of "in-groups" and "out-groups", as addressed by the Iron Blogger, while true, are relevant to this discussion only to the extent that it informs us about group behavior. I agree that such analysis does in many ways accurately model group dynamics, group boundary formations as well as group identity and cohesion issues, but there is nothing here which will help us answer the question as to why one group resorts to terrorist tactics while another doesn't.

The Iron Blogger also correctly notes

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.


But all this tells us is that we all belong to some group, likely many groups, and again fails to inform us of anything significant to this discussion.

We all have bought in to some world view it is quite true. And for most of us, the dominant group world view informs and colors our individual world view. Included in this are the rules we use to determine when killing is OK and when it is not. Your individual mileage may vary (I will kill any man who rapes my grand daughter) but generally we integrate these values and know when we have crossed the line. For many, if not most groups, the bar justifying killing is set pretty high. For groups employing terrorist tactics that bar is set much, much lower.

This is what makes the ideology of the terrorist group significant.

The Iron Blogger seems to come to a different conclusion:

Usually, even by the Challenger's own admission, that's an utter sense of confusion, hopelessness, oppression--in short, desperation.... these are people who are stuck asking the most fundamental of existential questions: "Who the hell am I?"


First, I don't remember admitting any such thing and second we seem to be back to the desperation motive which I had thought the Iron Blogger had abandoned when he said

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


Thirdly I would point out that everyone at one time or another confronts the existential question "Who the hell am I" to some degree, and it is not a crisis that is unique to members of terrorist organizations. And any group a person joins could be said to be answering that question for the individual to one degree or another.

I am afraid that the only way we can accurately discuss this is by talking about the group, and it's ideology because the ideology of the group feeds back to the individual in such way as to mold his or her definitions of right and wrong, friend or foe, and most especially, when it is permissible to kill.

The group ideology has included within it a social order and rules of conduct, if not a secret handshake.

And this is true of any group.

To ask why it is that an individual joins a terrorist group that is willing to fly planes into buildings is, in my opinion, the wrong question. To my mind the correct question is, why does a group resort to terrorist tactics.

It seems to me that the reasons for this are:

1) the political aspects of the ideology is so far removed from the mainstream of thought there is no hope for enough support to gain political power in any other way than through violent revolution.
2) they do not have the conventional resources to mount a military challenge in any other way.
3) they feel very strongly that their ideology needs to become the dominant ideology one way or another
4) the group collectively has decided to resort to violence to advance their goals


The ideology itself will suggest how far-reaching their militant activities will take them. For FARC, they are primarily concerned with Colombia only. With Hamas, Palestine. The RIRA is concerned with Catholic equality in Ireland. Al Qaeda on the other hand is global.

The Iron Blogger concludes with the observation:

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... 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.


With regards to this statement I would first point out that the US never directly supported bin Laden or any group in Afghanistan. We, in most cases, never knew the players in the resistance. It was all done through Pakistan. But I do not intend to argue this point and would instead refer you to George Crile's excellent book on the subject "Charlie Wilson's War".

I would next note that for all intents and purposes, Osama bin Laden did become a big wheel in Afghanistan when the Taliban won the civil war that broke out after the Soviets withdrew.

This is not to dispute the premise, however. Had Afghanistan had the natural wealth that Saudi Arabia, or Iraq, or Iran has, we would not be relating terrorism and al Qaeda. Bin Laden would have been another Saddam Hussein.

And since this history is not yet written, it may yet occur that al Qaeda takes the reigns of a nation-state with the resouces that allow for them to build an army and weild global political and economic pressure.

Finally, I will take a moment here at the end to defend the narrow scope of my opening statement since the issue was raised in this way:

I'm not saying the Challenger is completely wrong on everything; except for his insistence on keeping the narrow scope of Jihadists...


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. Even during the days when the SDS Weathermen were bombing buildings and blowing up police cars, terrorism didn't become a water-cooler discussion topic in anything but a law-enforcement context. I was living in San Francisco during the time of the food give-away mandated by the Symbionese Liberation Army in exchange for the life of Patty Hearst and people just went about their business, confident the cops and the FBI would deal.

This is no longer true.

Al Qaeda and the threat they pose is palpable everywhere, everyday to varying degrees.

So to my mind, it is this threat that precipitated the very subject as a topic of discussion.

And since I believe, as I have argued, that it is the ideology that is the threat, I used it as a focus knowing the discussion would expand and contract around this, my central theme. The ideology of al Qaeda allows for the killing of large masses of people in it's name. It gives permission for suicide attacks. And even though they are not unique in these Al Qaeda is both illustrative and exceptional in that not since the fall of the Soviet Union have we faced a military enemy that has global ambitions with a network every bit as sophisticated as that of the KGB.

And I believe it is important that we not lose sight of this fact.

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