United States

Drawing the Wrong Conclusions About Terrorism?

David Brooks had a good op-ed in The New York Times a couple of days ago (“The God that Fails“) in which he argued that the (largely Republican) outcry over the failure to catch the would-be Christmas bomber is symptomatic of a misguided belief in the idea that technology can prevent terrorism.

“After Sept. 11, we Americans indulged our faith in the god of technocracy. We expanded the country’s information-gathering capacities so that the National Security Agency alone now gathers four times more data each day than is contained in the Library of Congress.

We set up protocols to convert that information into a form that can be processed by computers and bureaucracies. We linked agencies and created new offices. We set up a centralized focal point, the National Counterterrorism Center.

All this money and technology seems to have reduced the risk of future attack. But, of course, the system is bound to fail sometimes. Reality is unpredictable, and no amount of computer technology is going to change that.”

I think that Brooks is right on the money: there’s no way to legislate omniscience, and the nature of this kind of warfare means that neutralizing every threat is impossible. Matthew Yglesias of the Center for American Progress makes this point succinctly on his blog:

“Out of the six billion people on the planet only a numerically insignificant fraction are actually dangerous terrorists. Even if you want to restrict your view to one billion Muslims, the math is the same. Consequently, tips, leads and the like are overwhelmingly going to be pointing to innocent people. You end up with a system that’s overwhelmed and paralyzed. If there were hundreds of thousands of al-Qaeda operatives trying to board planes every year, we’d catch lots of them. But we’re essentially looking for needles in haystacks.”

So far, so good. But in a series of posts over the past week, Yglesias and other commentators have pushed a different conclusion that strikes me as intellectually dishonest and a little hubristic. In a nutshell, the argument is that the failed attempt tells us something about al-Qaeda’s diminished capabilities to project terror beyond the remote enclaves in which it operates overseas.

Here’s Yglesias:

“Obviously, people shouldn’t be lighting anything on fire inside airplanes. That said, all the big Christmas airline incident really shows to me is how little punch our dread terrorist adversaries really pack. Once again, this seems like a pretty unserious plot. And even if you did manage to blow up an airplane in mid-air, that would be both a very serious crime and a great tragedy, but hardly a first-order national security threat.”

Here’s Spencer Ackerman:

“Abdulmutallab acted alone. There can be little doubt the operation was intended to go off on Christmas, for the obvious symbolism, so we would have seen evidence of a coordinated attack by now. The inescapable if preliminary conclusion: al-Qaeda can’t get enough dudes to join Abdulmutallab. And what does it give the guy to set off his big-boom? A device that’s “more incendiary than explosive,” in the words of some anonymous Department of Homeland Security official to the Times.”

Here’s Holman Jenkins in the Wall Street Journal:

“If 19 terrorists (the number who carried out the 9/11 attacks) each blew himself up at one- or two-week intervals in a shopping mall or a movie theater, America likely would become a seething nation of paranoid shut-ins. That it hasn’t happened tells you something: Al Qaeda doesn’t have a ready supply of competent suicide bombers, domestic or imported, to carry off serious attacks. That it continues to pour what little resources it can command into lame airliner attacks, like shoe bomber Richard Reid’s failed attempt to blow himself up in 2001 and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt on Christmas Day, tells you something else…”

I find this line of argumentation to be unconvincing, particularly when it is coupled with the constant reports we get in the press about how al-Qaeda franchises are operating healthily all over the Persian Gulf and East Africa.

Simply put, I don’t think one can draw conclusions about the strength of al-Qaeda or any other movements on the basis of this or that failed attempt. After all, had Abdulmutallab been successful, everybody would have been coming to the exact opposite conclusion: that al-Qaeda was still as strong as ever and that the Global War on Terror had not made a jot of difference in diminishing its abilities to execute spectacular acts of terrorism.

For eight years after the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, people would have been justified — according to this logic — in concluding that the terrorism threat was greatly diminished, and that America’s intelligence services had turned the corner on al-Qaeda. And then 9/11 happened.

All this is to say that I think that these very smart commentators have fallen into an inductive fallacy. There are many ways to explain the incident besides chalking it up to the miserable state of al-Qaeda. Maybe it was a dry run, meant to test airline security. Maybe he was a decoy for a larger operation elsewhere. (Indeed, there are reports today that the U.S. is closing its embassy in Yemen.)

Or maybe Yglesias and Ackerman and Jenkins are right, and al-Qaeda is drastically weaker than it was on September 11, 2001. But even if this is true, it still strikes me as oddly irrelevant. As everyone knows, all you need to create mass panic is some explosives, someone who is willing to blow himself up on an airliner, and a little bit of luck.  The only thing that the ordeal of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab proved is that al-Qaeda still has two of those three things, and it’s probably just a matter of time before it gets lucky.

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Discussion

43 thoughts on “Drawing the Wrong Conclusions About Terrorism?

  1. Can you spell false flag attacks, precisely tailored for additional scaremongering and additional intrusive legislation….wars for the militarization of energy resources and choke points worldwide.?
    9/11 was an inside job too. Good day

    Posted by Bamford | January 3, 2010, 12:21 pm
  2. QN,
    There is a difference between Al-Qaida’s ability to work in failed countries and their abilities to export terrorism to US soil. The latter requires setting up sleeper cells that attack at the right moment. It is clear that in this regard Jenkins is absolutely right: “Al Qaeda doesn’t have a ready supply of competent suicide bombers, domestic or imported, to carry off serious attacks.”

    You argue that the fact that attacks COULD happen in the future mitigates the evidence that attacks have not happened since 9/11. That is a strange way to weigh the evidence. Until a major attack does happen, it is clear that the probability of what Jenkins is saying is higher than what you are saying.

    In my eyes the Christmas day attack proves that Al-Qaida is weak. The person chosen to do it was on the no-fly list and the chances of him being strip searched were high. He was not well trained and could not get the bomb to explode. The bomb was technically deficient and had a bad activation mechanism. In order to get lucky you need to be competent, and Al-Qaida did not prove that with the recent attack. In fact it did get partially lucky in that the attacker got on the plane but still they could not pull off the attack.

    Posted by AIG | January 3, 2010, 12:30 pm
  3. AIG

    “Until a major attack does happen, it is clear that the probability of what Jenkins is saying is higher than what you are saying.”

    If the bomb had exploded and the airliner had gone down, would that have qualified as a major attack, in your opinion? There is no doubt in my mind that this is how it would have been characterized by the media, and people would be coming to very different conclusions.

    I actually do believe that Al-Qaeda is weaker today as a result of the billions that have been spent ramping up airport security, counter-terrorism, etc. But I don’t think that the success or failure of a bombing attempt is an accurate way to measure its strength or weakness.

    Furthermore, I don’t think that Al-Qaeda’s strength or weakness is really that salient. Claiming that we’ve got them on the run and that our amazing counterterrorism apparatus has rendered them incapable of doing anything except sending nincompoops with firecracker bombs is to create a false sense of security.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | January 3, 2010, 12:50 pm
  4. Several things:

    1. He wasn’t on the no-fly list.
    2. Al-Qaida has obviously changed in structure since 2002-03, from a more hierarchical organization to a more dispersed network. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula or Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb are not the same Al-Qaida that is probably based in Waziristan. Whether that makes Al-Qaida more or less dangerous is open to debate, but we should definitely distinguish between the various franchises.
    3. Yglesias is a perfect (and more flagrant) example of what I was talking about before, re: expertise and Afghanistan. Look for him to write pieces about Yemen soon, just like he was somehow qualified to be writing about Somalia when pirates were the topic du jour.

    Posted by sean | January 3, 2010, 1:54 pm
  5. QN,
    No, the attack that did not succeed was not a major attack. A major one would be a coordinated attack by several suicide bombers. The fact that the media would possibly have mis- characterized it is not relevant to the discussion.

    I think the facts why a bombing failed are relevant to the question how strong Al-Qaida is. The technical incompetence and the choosing of a person very likely to be stopped for the mission show that Al-Qaida is far from the position of being able to train pilots capable of flying planes into buildings.

    I agree that we shouldn’t create a false sense of security, but we do need to access realistically the capabilities of our enemies.

    Posted by AIG | January 3, 2010, 1:58 pm
  6. David Brooks had a good op-ed in The New York Times a couple of days ago (“The God that Fails“) in which he argued that the (largely Republican) outcry over the failure to catch the would-be Christmas bomber is symptomatic of a misguided belief in the idea that technology can prevent terrorism.

    Converselty, when Barack Obama states that he will no longer use the term “War on Terrorism” is an even more “misguided belief”.

    Pretending there is no enemy is a receipe for disaster.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 3, 2010, 3:29 pm
  7. AIG

    The fact that they’re not training pilots does not mean that they’re weaker. It simply means that they’ve recognized that taking over a plane in order to pilot it into a tall building is no longer a profitable modus operandi, for many reasons.

    (1) If your name is Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab and you try to enroll in flight school anywhere in the US or Europe, chances are that you’re going to be put on a watch list no matter who you are.

    (2) Cockpit doors on airliners post 9/11 are solid steel, bulletproof, and locked shut before takeoff. You can’t pull the old “Captain, I’ve got your plate of linguini barfiola, sir” trick anymore.

    (3) Many of these airliners have armed air marshals on them. (The NWA flight didn’t).

    Given these factors, it is much harder to pull off a hijack operation today than it was before 9/11. So, if you’re a terrorist who wants to use a plane to cause damage, it’s not worth your while to train to be a pilot. Your only real option is to blow it up over a populated area.

    My argument is that it does not make sense to draw conclusions based on the outcome of an operation like this. The guy got on the plane with enough PETN to blow a hole in the side of it! He started to detonate the thing! Something obviously went wrong, but let’s not get carried away with the back slapping.

    Again, had the thing detonated properly, we’d be drawing different conclusions, whether or not you would call a successful operation “a major attack”.

    Let’s imagine two scenarios.

    (a) Al-Qaeda is as powerful as ever. They send their James Bond onto the plane with the same explosive. He gets up to go to the bathroom to detonate it, trips over an old lady’s handbag and the syringe drops out of his pocket and into the lap of an air marshal. He is apprehended and put into custody. Everyone concludes that our dread terrorist adversaries pack little punch these days.

    (b) Al-Qaeda is weak. They send their bumbling Austin Powers onto the plane and he somehow manages, against all odds, to detonate the thing properly. Everyone concludes that our dread terrorist adversaries are as powerful as ever.

    Do you see my point?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | January 3, 2010, 4:51 pm
  8. QN,
    I don’t think I see your point. We know for a fact that the attacker had technical difficulties and that either he was not well trained or that the bomb was not made well. We know that the attacker’s dad gave a warning about him. All these facts point to an attack that was both not well planned and not well executed. When compared to 9/11, it sure looks like Al-Qaida are less organized and less meticulous and for some reason not able to generate coordinated attacks by several bombers.

    The argument is probabilistic. The probability that Al-Qaida is strong given what we know about the attack is much lower than than the probability that Al-Qaida has weakened given what we know about the attack. It is a fact that the attack did not succeed. It is a fact that it did not succeed either because of training or because of technical difficulties in preparing the bomb. Why would you not use this facts in reaching a conclusion about the state of Al-Qiada? You want to discount these facts completely but I think that is an epistemological mistake. The facts and outcomes are relevant to the case.

    Posted by AIG | January 3, 2010, 6:05 pm
  9. After the IRA attempt to kill maggie thatcher in 1984 they released a statement which i believe is probably the modus operandi of the cowardly al qaeda

    “Mrs. Thatcher will now realise that Britain cannot occupy our country and torture our prisoners and shoot our people in their own streets and get away with it. Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no more war.”

    Posted by DJT | January 3, 2010, 6:50 pm
  10. “All this money and technology seems to have reduced the risk of future attack. But, of course, the system is bound to fail sometimes. Reality is unpredictable, and no amount of computer technology is going to change that.””

    I do not know of anyone who expected technology to eliminate all future attacks. Technology is simply a tool and it does work. It has reduced the risk but not eliminated it. I think that David brooks’ statement just repeats the obvious and is clearly non controversial.

    What is frustrating about the intelligence “failure” is that with some better coordination and some more luck then the success run could have been extended even further. But no one believes that technology or any other reasonable measure will eliminate the risk of attack. All what one could target is the reduction of risk as long as the cost of that risk management is acceptable. There comes a point where additional reductions are so costly as to become counter productive.

    Posted by ghassan karam | January 3, 2010, 6:52 pm
  11. The point everybody here seems to be missing is that it does not matter whether the attack worked or not. The point of al Qaeda is spreading terror and disrupting the economy, not to mention making our ‘free’ world ever more of a police state, and this attack, however amateurish and failed, does both. Just think what this is gonna cause for airport security, including strip searches and full body scanners, additional security personnel etc. The shoe bomber tried an idiotic and desperate attack that couldn’t possibly have worked, but we’re still all taking our shoes off to get on a plane worldwide.
    And of course, it comes just in time for Obama to spread his war of terror to yet another country, ensuring thousands more civilian survivors of drone and jet strikes who have lost their homes and families and are ready to suicide bomb everything and everyone remotely US-linked… Read Mark Levine’s comment on al Jazeera (http://english.aljazeera.net/focus/2010/01/20101391534922682.html) for one of the few analysts who actually does get the point.

    Posted by zentor | January 3, 2010, 8:12 pm
  12. The fact that they’re not training pilots does not mean that they’re weaker.

    QN, AIG,

    Interesting discussion; you both make good points and you both are right to some extent.

    My point is this, al-Queda is certainly still very much active, and, whereas GWB made every country in the world ACCOUNTABLE for how they “deal” with terrorism, the Obama administration is not.
    GWB said “You’re either with us or without us”, BHO said, “The War on Terrorism” is a misnomer. The Obama administration is reactive; and should be proactive.

    Because of this, al-Queda is successfully regrouping and finding areas to train. The picture doesn’t look good for the US.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 3, 2010, 8:46 pm
  13. I think there is a much broader issue/question about all these suicide bombings. Is it religious based? If it is, then I fail to understand why the majority of these bombings have been perpetrated against other innocent muslims like in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan.

    Playing defense might partially work at great expense, but at a loss of liberties.

    I think more should be done to examine how this culture of death have developped and what can be done to change it. I say this because I strongly believe that killing civilians is just pure evil no matter what the cause is.

    Should islamic religious figures strongly preach against these acts? and to publicly reaffirm that these hideous acts are against islamic teachings?

    Some other non-conventional avenues need to be looked at to change this failed culture.

    Posted by Ras Beirut | January 3, 2010, 8:48 pm
  14. Zentor,

    Reading this persons article (Mark LeVine), it offers no strategy and only cheers on the jihadists while criticizing free coutries.

    Gee, another anti-American professor. What a surprise!?

    If the US interviewed passengers before flights like El Al does, it would be easier than undressing, taking one’s shoes off, and wasting time with old ladies with blue hair.

    Its not about technology, and we’ll get there before you can say Mohammad Atta;)

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 3, 2010, 8:55 pm
  15. Nothing can prevent a terror act if the terrorist is willing to die in his en diver , the only way to stop terrorism is to solve the Mideast problem and leave the people of he Mideast to live the way they like even if it is a way we do not agree with ,

    Posted by norman | January 3, 2010, 11:07 pm
  16. Nothing can prevent a terror act if the terrorist is willing to die in his en diver (sic)

    Norman,

    a.) There aren’t many suicide terror acts.

    b.) Most suicide terrorists are killing muslims. Many suffer psychologically.

    c.) It isn’t difficult finding them among air passengers if we bothered to interview passengers or, at least, have passenger info reviewed by federal security agencies prior to flying.

    d.) Not too many Israeli Arabs committing suicide these days. Does that tell you anything?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 3, 2010, 11:56 pm
  17. AP,

    The statement stands as correct ,

    Posted by norman | January 4, 2010, 8:40 am
  18. Norman,

    You may think “Nothing can prevent a terror attack if the terrorist is willing to die…”, but the facts shows hundreds of suicide attacks have been successfully twarted.

    Therefore your state is incorrect.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 4, 2010, 9:08 am
  19. A small point about David brooks’ point:
    he was not criticizing the faith in technology, but the faith in big government, which democrats, not republicans, are more guilty of.

    Republicans were yelling just because they want to exploit the political opportunity..

    Posted by Mustapha | January 4, 2010, 12:01 pm
  20. The general outlines of the Northwest bombing attempt and the 9/11 attacks are startlingly similar. One might even say that what is involved is a modus operandi. In both cases, those alleged to have carried out the actions had been the subject of US intelligence investigations and surveillance and had been allowed to enter the country and board flights under conditions that would normally have set off multiple security alarms.

    Both then and now, the government and the media expect the public to accept that all that was involved was mistakes… But why should anyone assume that the failure to act on the extensive intelligence leading to Abdulmutallab, involved merely “innocent” mistakes–and not something far more sinister?

    Posted by Bamford | January 4, 2010, 12:17 pm
  21. But why should anyone assume that the failure to act on the extensive intelligence leading to Abdulmutallab, involved merely “innocent” mistakes–and not something far more sinister?

    Bamford,

    Because a government as large as the US federal government, with millions of employees, billions of dollars in funding, scores of overlapping agencies, all run by politicians and appointees who are not qualified to run anything, is BASED on failure.

    Anything the US government touches has never made a profit and only loses money be it the US Postal Service, Medicaid, public education, AMTRAK, Homeland Security, you name it. Basically, the US government is too big and too stupid to be sinister…

    In the case of Abdulmutallab, apparently he was on one of many “lists”, but not on the “no fly list”. Sinister? Maybe. Or more likely, just another case of too many lists, too many names, and not enough personnel to check out leads. Perhaps there should be one list only: a “no fly list”, or no list at all and, instead, a personal interview at security.

    But with all the knowledge available in the cases you’ve mentioned, please tell us a more “believable” and “sinister” scenario to explain these attacks.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 4, 2010, 12:49 pm
  22. AP ,

    You can stop these attempts only from either faulty devices or hesitant perpetrators ,

    Posted by norman | January 4, 2010, 1:44 pm
  23. AIG said:

    “You want to discount these facts completely but I think that is an epistemological mistake.”

    It’s funny. I was thinking to myself as I wrote my last comment: “Why do my conversations with AIG always take a turn for the epistemological?”

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | January 4, 2010, 1:53 pm
  24. “Nothing can prevent a terror attack if the terrorist is willing to die…”

    Norman’s statement is not simply subjective neither superficial.
    On the contrary, it sounds to me very true.
    In Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, you can see how modern states were precisely built on people’s “continual fear of violent death” .
    Modern Western states are shaped by this need of preservation.

    But if someone feels they have nothing to preserve – not even their life – no police, no security system, no “no-fly” lists can any longer prevent him from dying.

    Now, let’s wonder why some people are willing to die in airports, supermarkets, etc. – among many other ugly places – while other would rather happily watch MTV reality shows in sofas – among many other ugly activities.

    Posted by quelqu'une | January 4, 2010, 2:33 pm
  25. But if someone feels they have nothing to preserve – not even their life – no police, no security system, no “no-fly” lists can any longer prevent him from dying.

    quelqu’une,

    Suicides happen everyday. Perhaps hundreds all around the world. Depression afflicts millions and suicides are very common.

    So, IMHO, the question isn’t why individuals “have nothing to preserve – not even their life”, it is why they would kill innocent people along with taking their own life.

    Along these lines, you haven’t explained how hundreds of suicide attacks that have been thwarted. Further, you haven’t investigated the demented jihadists who brainwash and encourage these depressed individuals to commit their acts of terror.

    In short, a LOT can be done to minimize the number of these attacks and the number of thwarted attacks is a testiment to the success we’ve seen.

    Modern Western states are shaped by this need of preservation.

    All states value life: Western and Eastern; please don’t post misinformation. Only the terror organizations do not, and only the states that support these terror organizations do not. Therefore, we’re only talking about a handful of rogue countries, a handful of terror organizations, and a few handfuls of depressed, vulnerable terrorists who fall for the murderous rantings of a coward cleric/agent and who would has emotionally disturbed individuals do his/her dirty work.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/3464411/Mother-of-all-suicide-bombers-warns-of-rise-in-attacks.html

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 4, 2010, 3:32 pm
  26. Mmm.. Alright, so according to you, terrorists simply are a bunch of crazy depressives.

    1- It’s very easy – and actually quite mean – to despise people’s actions that way. Reducing a political action (especially if you justly condemn it) to a psychological disorder won’t resolve anything and won’t help anyone to understand what terrorism really is.

    2- Please, don’t quote the Telegraph and ask me not posting misinformation in the same sentence: it’s ridiculous.

    3- All states value life. I agree with you on that, I was simply mentioning Thomas Hobbes’ arguments about the creation of the European modern state – donc, Western.

    4- Valuing life just in order to value life is meaningless – I mean, as far as you are not an animal or a plant..
    The point is what kind of life deserved to be valued. I’m not sure if Telegraph readers ever heard about the Spanish Communist leader Dolores Ibarruti. She’s the one who said to fascists: “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees”.

    5- For those who still consider that terrorism is a mental illness, let me tell you that there’s one and only antidepressant: social justice.

    Posted by quelqu'une | January 4, 2010, 4:09 pm
  27. I think the public, vis-a-vis the press, give way too much credit to this entity called Al Qaeda. There are a lot of nut jobs out there that are being brainwashed by uneducated clerics to believe in fallacies, and if one of these nut jobs goes out and does something world governments jump on the opportunity to link it to an evil organization. Scaring the masses into allowing more govt control of the public.

    I am not denying the existence of Al Qaeda, nor the possibility that Abdulmutallab is a member. But there are certainly a lot of acts that are blamed on them when it shouldn’t. And the way all world governments, including the US, utilize mass panic is repulsive.

    Posted by Innocent Criminal | January 4, 2010, 5:48 pm
  28. quelqu’une,
    A suicide attack against an enemy’s army is understandable. There is some dignity in that. But a suicide attack against civilians at a market, office, funeral, volleyball game, disco or hotel? Where is the dignity in that? And is that something that Ibarruti would endorse as an example of “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees”? I think not.

    Posted by AIG | January 4, 2010, 6:55 pm
  29. AP
    I do not intend to take part in the ongoing discussion but the statement of yours begs for a comment:

    “Anything the US government touches has never made a profit and only loses money be it the US Postal Service, Medicaid, public education, AMTRAK, Homeland Security, you name it. Basically, the US government is too big and too stupid to be sinister…”

    That must be one of the most sophomoric statements that I have seen in a long time. Public Education, Homeland Security and Medicaid are supposed to make profits. Get serious. If government activity is to be run on profit basis then why tax?

    Can you tell us who developed the internet and the photovoltaic panels just to name a few products? I am not fond of defending Uncle Sam but if you want to critique the US then do not resort to totally baseless subjective and statements.

    Posted by ghassan karam | January 4, 2010, 10:27 pm
  30. Some French Gitan smoking leftist “La Bohem” would like us to believe that the sick terrorists who strike at innocent travelers are victims of social injustice?! or maybe in the case of the recent rich Nigerian nutcase perhaps vanguards of social justice?

    Mazmozel jovoozoonpghy stick to twirling or knitting or something French!

    Posted by V | January 5, 2010, 2:18 am
  31. AP,

    ‘If the US interviewed passengers before flights like El Al does, it would be easier than undressing, taking one’s shoes off, and wasting time with old ladies with blue hair.’

    That would be EASIER? Yes, let’s turn the whole world into a police state just like Israel, and we would all be safe…

    That’s is exactly the point Levine is making – there is a reason why Israel is taking so many attacks, and it is the same reason why the US is taking them: it’s their foreign policy. Oppression breeds resistance, more oppression breeds more resistance. That is a simple observation, nothing to do with ‘cheering jihadists’ or being ‘another anti-American professor’…
    As bin Laden said once: ‘why do you think we do not attack Sweden?’

    Posted by zentor | January 5, 2010, 5:28 am
  32. @V.:

    Maybe I’ll stick to “something French” (?) when you’ll stick to something rational – ie: politeness.

    Unlike you, I don’t want anyone to believe anything. I’m already busy with the coherence of what I believe myself – “changing my own desires rather than the order of the world” as René Descartes (something French ; ) used to say.

    My point is simple though: it’s not by despising people’s actions – however extreme and insane they might appear to you – that you give yourself the chance to draw any right conclusions about these actions.

    I was supporting Norman’s statement about the fact that “Nothing can prevent a terror attack if the terrorist is willing to die…”
    This can be related to Thomas Hobbes’ arguments about the creation of modern states.
    I don’t think you need to smoke gitanes to understand that. You just need to find Hobbes’ book and read it – or you just need to simply ask yourself: why do some people feel like blowing themselves that way and not living the same life as mine, for example?

    I am not saying that among terrorists, there are no depressive no weak people. They are, exactly in the same proportion as in the rest of the population: I don’t think the prescription of anxiolytics is limited to potential terrorists…

    This way of reducing terrorist action to “rich nutcases” only shows arrogance and the unwillingness to understand.

    “And their hearts are sealed, so that they apprehend not.”

    Posted by quelqu'une | January 5, 2010, 7:27 am
  33. quelqu’une Says:

    Mmm.. Alright, so according to you, terrorists simply are a bunch of crazy depressives.

    quelqu’une,

    First of all, I would like to thank QN for creating this topic. It is not specific to Lebanon (although Lebanon has suffered greatly from both war and terrorism). However, I can say for sure that Arabs and muslims have died a great deal more at the hands of Arab and muslim terrorism than Israel, the US, and the West combined.

    As you can tell, the topic interests me, and I think solving or reducing the problem is vital, necessary, and not as difficult as most people think.

    You said:

    1- It’s very easy – and actually quite mean – to despise people’s actions that way. Reducing a political action (especially if you justly condemn it) to a psychological disorder won’t resolve anything and won’t help anyone to understand what terrorism really is.

    Many terrorists have psychological problems, but, of course, not all. Many are brainwashed easily, due to vulnerabilities such as poor upbringing, parental abuse, “dishonor”, poverty, depression, etc.

    The myth is that poverty cause terrorism. If that were true, Haitians would be terrorists. They aren’t.

    2- Please, don’t quote the Telegraph and ask me not posting misinformation in the same sentence: it’s ridiculous.

    How was the above article “misinformation”? The article I posted above is typical. Iraq was/is beset by suicide bombings of muslims on muslims. Many of the bombings thwarted, turn up young people who have been forced or brainwashed to carry out these attacks by cowardly clerics or gun toting thugs.

    3- All states value life. I agree with you on that, I was simply mentioning Thomas Hobbes’ arguments about the creation of the European modern state – donc, Western.

    “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees”.

    see AIG’s response.

    5- For those who still consider that terrorism is a mental illness, let me tell you that there’s one and only antidepressant: social justice.

    As I stated above, the reason why a person would commit a terrorist act is multi-faceted, where mental illness plays a significant role, that, as well as bad family upbringing, poor self-esteem, and being vulnerable to the brainwashing of a cowardly cleric. In the recent cases of the Fort Hood and Nigerian killers, poverty was NOT AT ALL an issue.

    I see “V” agrees with me. Thanks.

    That would be EASIER? Yes, let’s turn the whole world into a police state just like Israel, and we would all be safe…

    This is one of the goals of Al-Queda. Yet, there are ways to protect your society that aren’t as difficult as you lead us to believe. If you think Israel is a police state, then what do you call Lebanon, Kuwait, UAE, Egypt, Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

    Which brings me to another myth:

    Supporting terror organizations makes your own country vulnerable to terrorism. It’s hard to cage an 800 pound gorilla!;)

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 5, 2010, 9:36 am
  34. Indeed, I’m joining AP – at least ; ) – on his thanks to QN, even if interesting topics are not new on this blog.

    There are only three things I’d like to add:

    1 – To some extent, I shouldn’t have used the word “poverty” – if I did. It’s better to say “oppression” [as zentor said in #32 ]. Poverty is a common symptom and mean of oppression but it should be differentiated from oppression itself.

    2 – AP writes: “The myth is that poverty cause terrorism. If that were true, Haitians would be terrorists.”
    It is not a myth. Personally, I really wonder why Haitians are NOT terrorists.

    3 – According to the government of Vichy who supported the nazi occupation from July 1940 to August 1944, the antifascist Résistance was a “terrorist organization”. Sometimes, it’s right to support a “terrorist organization” even if “it makes your own country vulnerable”.
    As far as I am concerned, I don’t care about my country being vulnerable if my country is unjust. I value justice more than my country.

    Et pour finir sur une note moins sanglante, “something French” about non violent action ; )

    http://tmh.floonet.net/articles/laboetie.html

    Best regards to all.

    Posted by quelqu'une | January 5, 2010, 10:34 am
  35. I really wonder why Haitians are NOT terrorists.

    Because they are devoid of incitement.

    The clergy there doesn’t blame their predicament on others, doesn’t demonize anyone else, doesn’t indoctrinate them to kill or take arms against their hypothetical “oppressors”, and doesn’t justify killing innocent people.

    Sometimes, it’s right to support a “terrorist organization” even if “it makes your own country vulnerable”.

    It is NEVER right to support a terrorist organization. I don’t know the details of the pro-Nazi Vichy government. This includes support for Jewish terror organizations such as the Irgun or Kach parties.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 5, 2010, 10:45 am
  36. AP, I believe quelqu’une is referring to the old “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. When it comes to ethical principles, a more correct way of putting it would be that it is never right to kill innocent civilians.

    I agree with QN that one cannot assess the state of the whole organization based on a single attack. It is nonetheless part of the equation, as AIG might have suggested.

    Posted by mas | January 5, 2010, 12:49 pm
  37. QN,
    To wrap up the epistemological discussion, please note how Frenchie is surprised by the contrary evidence of Haiti,provided by AP, that poverty does not lead to terrorism but refuses to acknowledge that this is relevant evidence.

    The hundreds of millions of dirt poor in India and China are not terrorists either. Neither are the billions world wide living on less than $2 per day. Does oppression lead to terrorism? The Egyptians are oppressed by Mubarak. Why do only very few of them resort to terrorism? And tens of such examples can be given.

    It is radicalism be it religious or nationalistic that leads to terrorism. The facts about this are clear. Unfortunately, these do not fit the world view of some, causing them to retreat into dogmatism which is also a form of radicalism.

    Posted by AIG | January 5, 2010, 12:53 pm
  38. AP, I believe quelqu’une is referring to the old “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”.

    That statement, naturally (IMHO), is a sick “myth” promulgated by leftists and liberals as well as terror supporters.

    When it comes to ethical principles, a more correct way of putting it would be that it is never right to kill innocent civilians.

    Amen. However, there is a fine line. Innocent civilians, unfortunately, are killed in war all the time. This doesn’t make is a “war crime” if the appropriate measures are carried out. That is why I prefer to use the word “target” instead of “kill”.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 5, 2010, 12:55 pm
  39. AIG: India is a particularly poor example to have chosen, because terror attacks happen a lot over there, although we hear much less about it than in, say, neighboring Pakistan. Other places that have had loads of terror attacks include Sri Lanka, Corsica, Basque country, Northern Ireland, etc.

    The definition of a terror attack is also really fuzzy, because if we use the US military’s definition of non-state actors (a problematic distinction in and of itself) killing civilians for political ends, then why don’t we include Congolese militias massacring villagers who may have supported a rival force? Or last November’s killings in the Philippines? What about Salvadoran death squads? Why are these incidents not terrorist attacks? Are we making a distinction based on means or motive, or are we just being inconsistent?

    The west has a tendency of defining attacks on the west as terrorism while dismissing other attacks as “ethnic violence,” “religious strife” or “tribal hatred,” not to mention the blind spot of western killing of civilians for political ends. This is a way of looking at western motivations as primarily political, and thus rational, while those of the “third world” are seen as primitive.

    This is not to say that poverty is an important indicator for terrorism — I don’t think it is. But if you’ll take a look at the research of Robert Pape, you’ll see that the most consistent driver of terrorism (or at least suicide attacks) is regaining national territory that is seen as being occupied by someone else:

    The strategic logic of suicide terrorism is specifically designed to coerce modern democracies to make significant concessions to national self-determination. In general, suicide terrorist campaigns seek to achieve specific territorial goals, most often the withdrawal of the target state’s military forces from what the terrorists see as national homeland.

    Posted by sean | January 5, 2010, 4:12 pm
  40. sean,

    The fact of the matter is that poverty and terrorism is UNRELATED. Period. I think we agree, so there is no use trying to sell this point like other have.

    It is the incitement and the brainwashing that produces terrorism, from all walks of life, including the rich, including those who have never seen an Israeli or even a Jew.

    That’s the missing ingredient.

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/01/05/pakistan.taliban.children/index.html

    But if you’ll take a look at the research of Robert Pape, you’ll see that the most consistent driver of terrorism (or at least suicide attacks) is regaining national territory that is seen as being occupied by someone else:

    This doesn’t explain why Israel-Arabs do not commit suicide attacks. This doesn’t explain why the rich and the middle-class and the non-Palestinian are committing suicide attacks.

    Again, you and this person, Pape are ignoring the most important factor. It’s not that complicated.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 5, 2010, 4:42 pm
  41. Incidentally, since the purpose of this discussion was (originally) to assess the strength or weakness of al qaeda, I think the incident in Khost, where a supposedly ‘turned’ jihadi blew himself up in a CIA meeting, is far more telling…

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8442473.stm

    Posted by zentor | January 6, 2010, 2:44 pm

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