Thinking About Suicide Bombers

Remember the 1996 movie Independence Day? One of the characters was a grizzled old fighter pilot who had been kidnapped and degraded by the alien invaders years before. He flew his plane into the alien spaceship when his air-to-air missile jammed, causing the spaceship to explode. Everybody in the movie, as well as the audience, considered this suicide bomber a hero.

What's the difference?

Partly it's which side you're rooting for, but mostly it's that the pilot defended his planet by attacking the invaders. Terrorism targets innocents, and no one is a hero for killing innocents. Killing people who are invading and occupying your planet -- or country -- can be heroic, as can sacrificing yourself in the process.

This is an interesting observation in light of the previous post, where a professor makes the observation that the motivation of suicide terrorism is to repel what is perceived to be an occupation force.

What are the lessons here for Iraq? I think there are three. One, the insurgents (or whatever we're calling them these days) would do best by attacking military targets and not civilian ones. Two, the coalition forces (or whatever we're calling them these days) need to do everything they can not to be perceived as invaders or occupiers. And three, the terrorists should try to advance a worldview where there are no innocents, only invaders and occupiers. To the extent that the bombing victims are perceived to be invaders and occupiers, those who kill them defending their country will be viewed as heroic by the people.

There are no lessons for London. There was no invasion. Every victim was an innocent. No one should consider the terrorists heroes.

Posted on July 18, 2005 at 2:47 PM • 101 Comments

Comments

a_nony_mouseJuly 18, 2005 3:07 PM

I don't think I can agree with your last point. It's too early to know why London was attacked, is it not? There is a great reversal of opinions, depending on what side of the barrel you're on. During the American revolution, an insurgency brought about independence. In Iraq, they're terrorists, and therefore subhuman, right?

People, even misguided youths, don't blow themselves up for no reason. What I don't understand is why most people I ask don't seem to have a clue what these "terrorists" want. Bin Laden wants our bases off of Saudi soil? He's made his point, several times, there comes a point when it's time to say "fine, let's give this guy what he wants and perhaps he'll stop flying airplanes into our buildings!" That's not to say I think it would be a good idea to give into anyone with an AK-47 and a homemade bomb, but we don't seem to be doing a very good job at "smoking them out of their holes" and still more people (on both sides, if you can call it that) are dying..

Some guyJuly 18, 2005 3:10 PM

"...the terrorists should try to advance a worldview where there are no innocents, only invaders and occupiers."

And this is exactly why terrorists and leftists are bedmates these days, for this is the exact worldview the left preaches. To them there is absolutely no moral difference between an intentional suicide bombing of a bus full of innocents and an accidental bombing of civilians by the US military.

Some guyJuly 18, 2005 3:27 PM

a_nony_mouse,

And if what the terrorists want is for the entire world to live under brutal repressive islamic law, what then? Giving in to terrorists just encourages them to demand something else. Eventually they'll want something you're not prepared to concede.

The US was caving in to terrorist demands for years: in Iran, in Beirut, in Somalia. They wanted us out, and we got out. Yet we still suffered from more terrorist attacks. Appeasement doesn't work, and is what led to 9/11.

NobodyJuly 18, 2005 3:43 PM

What about all the Shias that are getting slaughtered by the thousands by the mostly foreign terrorists in Iraq right now? Whose land are they supposedly occupying?

Kenneth BallardJuly 18, 2005 3:57 PM

@Some guy

You've got a point about the US falling back. Here's a secondary (ficticious) example: Star Trek: First Contact. Capt Picard says about the Borg: "They invade our space and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far, no further!"

9/11 was the last straw for the United States. No longer would we fall back and allow the terrorism to continue.

The USS Cole was bombed, and we did nothing. Officers and sailors were killed, and we did nothing. Families were torn apart, and we did nothing.

Then came September 11, 2001, when the terrorists brought the battle to us, like the Borg in First Contact bringing the battle to Earth. No longer would we fall back. Instead we fought back.

GuestJuly 18, 2005 3:57 PM

[T]here comes a point when it's time to say "fine, let's give this guy what he wants and perhaps he'll stop flying airplanes into our buildings!"

Isn't that approximately the attitude that the western world took for several years in dealing with Hitler's Germany? It didn't work then. What makes you think it would work now?

Kenneth BallardJuly 18, 2005 3:59 PM

Supplemental post:

Here's something else to bear in mind: Al-Zarqawi (I think that's spelled right) is Jordanian, not Iraqi. Bin Laden is Saudi, not Afghani or Pakistani. These terrorists are not from the countries they're occupying. They are not defending their country from anyone. Instead they're invaders as well. Two invading forces fighting for the same lands, both with different intentions for its future.

Bruce SchneierJuly 18, 2005 4:05 PM

"And this is exactly why terrorists and leftists are bedmates these days, for this is the exact worldview the left preaches. To them there is absolutely no moral difference between an intentional suicide bombing of a bus full of innocents and an accidental bombing of civilians by the US military."

I'm not sure who you mean by "leftists" in that sentence. I have never seen anything written, by anyone, that claims there is absolutely no moral difference between the two.

Gustavo BittencourtJuly 18, 2005 4:33 PM

@Kenneth Ballard

"Then came September 11, 2001, when the terrorists brought the battle to us, like the Borg in First Contact bringing the battle to Earth. No longer would we fall back. Instead we fought back."

Let´s see how US fought against terrorism. US invaded (or occupied or whatever we're calling these days) a dictatorial state to transform it in a terrorist state. I think this is not a good strategy.

ZJuly 18, 2005 4:33 PM

I think you missed that these radicals think that if you are not muslim (or rather, their kind of muslim), you ARE an invader/occupier no matter who/where you are.

Kenneth BallardJuly 18, 2005 4:41 PM

@Gustavo

"Let´s see how US fought against terrorism. US invaded (or occupied or whatever we're calling these days) a dictatorial state to transform it in a terrorist state. I think this is not a good strategy."

In 1861, the Confederate States of America openly attacked Fort Sumpter in South Carolina, a military target. The United States fought back with military force and occupation, ending years of oppression against the Negro slaves.

In 2001, terrorists flew a commercial airliner into the Pentagon in DC, also a military target. We fought back with military force and occupation, going after governments who we knew harbored terrorists and oppressed their peoples.

I think there's a little bit of parallelism here. But we did not transform Iraq into a terrorist state. You cannot transform a rose into a rose, as it already is one. Iraq was already a terrorist state before we even arrived.

TGJuly 18, 2005 5:05 PM

I am sorry, the problem is a lot worse than you can imagine. The muslim fundamentalists wants us to become dhimmis. They want Sharia law to rule. To leave Iraq and give Israel to the Palestinians is not the end, it is the beginning for the fundamentalists. To leave would confirm their view of us and promote more attacks.

Bruce SchneierJuly 18, 2005 5:12 PM

"I think you missed that these radicals think that if you are not muslim (or rather, their kind of muslim), you ARE an invader/occupier no matter who/where you are."

Agreed. The issue is not whether or not the US are invaders/occupiers, but whether or not they are percieved to be by the Iraqis.

Gustavo BittencourtJuly 18, 2005 5:19 PM

@Kenneth

"We fought back with military force and occupation, going after governments who we knew harbored terrorists and oppressed their peoples"

Saddam is a monster and his government oppressed (and tortured and killed) his people. But there isn't a single evidence that his government support Al Qa'ida or other terrorism group, there aren't any suicide terrorists from Iraq before the US occupation.

If Iraq's war was against dictatorial government that's OK, but if it was against terrorism it is the wrong target.

GreyhoundJuly 18, 2005 5:20 PM

The parallel might be more accurate if the grizzled old fighter pilot had blown up the civilian refuges instead of the alien spaceship.

Kenneth BallardJuly 18, 2005 5:21 PM

@Gustavo

Saddam Hussein promised $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers in Israel and elsewhere. How is that not evidence he was supporting terrorism?

BryanJuly 18, 2005 5:41 PM

Q. What's a terrorist?
A. A person who harms innocent people as a way of pressuring some central authority into doing something.

So it is not 'falling back' to do nothing when a terrorist strikes. If you're not doing what the terrorist wants, you're *not* falling back.

Q. If the terrorist pressures you into doing something stupid (like lying to your own people as a justification for war), has he won the battle?
A. The terrorist would probably say yes.

Am I saying 'turn the other cheek'? Hell no! What I'm saying is that we need to understand the battlefield and actually strike back against the people who hit us. Iraq had not hurts us, was no threat, yet we struck them anyway. We have created a whole new host of enemies with our actions there. A huge expenditure of resources, only to dig ourselves deeper into the terrorism hole. We terribly misjudged the situation.

I welcome more study of the terrorists as Robert Pape has done. It seems very clear to me that we're having a terrible time understanding what motivates them. We've seen hours and hours of coverage, but nobody I know has any solid clue of what these people hope to achieve.

Knowledge of their motivations will help us defeat them.

Kenneth BallardJuly 18, 2005 5:43 PM

@Bruce

That is referring to foreign insurgents we are currently fighting, individuals from outside Iraq crossing the Iraqi border to fight the US, having little or no counter to my statement.

Felix_the_MacJuly 18, 2005 5:55 PM


Lets see how the Americans responded to being attacked:

After the Lockerbie bomb, believed at the time to be the work of Syria (a dictatorship supported by the Americans) America blames Libya and carries out a rocket attack on Gadafi killing his baby son.

After the US embassy bombings in Africa, rocket attacks are launched against a baby-food factory which the US claims is making chemical weapons.

After the 9/11 attack (carried out by a previous CIA asset) the US goverment persuades the >50% of the American people that it was the work of Sadam Hussein (a dictator formerly supported by the US and who has welcomed Donald Rumsfeld to his country twice) and invades Iraq. The most scientific estimate of casualties in this war, carried out by Johns Hopkins suggest that up to 100,000 civilians died as a result.

BryanJuly 18, 2005 6:01 PM

Kenneth Ballard:

They are crossing into Iraq to kill Americans. Can you say the same about Saddam's alleged rewards to Palestine terrorists?

HarryJuly 18, 2005 6:14 PM

Kenneth:

I've had this debate many times, in many places, and the only evidence I ever hear that Iraq was a terrorist nation is that he gave $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers.

You know what? That's nonsense. I mean, it did happen, but it doesn't make Iraq a terrorist nation. Terrorist nations harbour terrorists. They arm terrorists. Sometimes, they help terrorists to attack things. A terrorist nation is not one that merely gives money to terrorists' dead relatives.

Gustavo BittencourtJuly 18, 2005 6:28 PM

"Saddam Hussein promised $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers in Israel and elsewhere. How is that not evidence he was supporting terrorism?"

Saudi Arabia and Qatar payed money to those families too and they are U.S. allies.

0101July 18, 2005 6:32 PM

An argument might be made that the US was founded by terrorists. I have a hard time believing no civilians were killed for the Boston Tea Party, for example. Certainly Sherman's march to the sea did not focus exclusively on military targets.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 18, 2005 6:51 PM

@Harry
I hate to be the one to say it but "arming terrorists" would make America a terrorist nation by your definition, since it has obviously armed a great number of individuals and groups to terrorize governments elsewhere. Osama bin Laden comes to mind as a good example of a terrorist that the US trained and armed (http://www.terrorismfiles.org/individuals/usama_bin_laden.html).

Perhaps McVeigh is another one.

*Sigh*

And this is the problem with trying to debate who is/isn't a terrorist, instead of what could/should be done to prevent terrorism.

BryanJuly 18, 2005 7:19 PM

Davi -

You had me nodding until that last sentence, but there I could not disagree more! We can't solve the problem until we define the problem. Thus, it is crucial that we have a clear definition of what terrorism is and who the terrorists are in order to have a clear understanding of how to go about preventing terrorism. Otherwise we're sure to end up with more Iraq problems: hitting back at the wrong people just creates more terrorism.

The real truth (and truth hurts) is that terrorism can be ameliorated, minimized - but never completely prevented or contained.

Jason RennieJuly 18, 2005 7:32 PM

You commented that

>And three, the terrorists should try to advance a worldview where there are no innocents, only invaders and occupiers. To the extent that the bombing victims are perceived to be invaders and occupiers, those who kill them defending their country will be viewed as heroic by the people.

This is exactly what they claim. They come from a collectivist culture that sees all of the enemy nation as the enemy. They make no distinction between civilian and soldier because in their mind none exist.

Don't forget, after 9/11 someone in the Arab world was quoted as saying (sorry for the imprescision there) "There where no innocents in the tower" and from the mindsit the terrorist works within, that is true. Not that I am a relativist or anything. Just trying to shed some light.

Jason

Felix_the_MacJuly 18, 2005 7:41 PM


@Jason

You are correct.
In 'The Power of Nightmares' it is described how the radical factions in Algeria grew steadily more extreme until finally after much senseless murder they finally turned on themselves.

The reason for this was that they defined the 'enemy' as anyone who did not epouse their views.

By the way this documentary is probably the best thing on TV in the UK for the past ten years. I urge you all to watch it.
(If you can't find it I can help)

Davi OttenheimerJuly 18, 2005 7:49 PM

@Bryan

Yes, I knew someone would point that out, but my browser crashed (in its own fit of terror) as I tried to clarify.

We would be wise to debate "what" is terrorism as opposed to starting with "who". This still allows us to get to the prevention part of the topic.

However, even the FBI suggests that "There is no single, universally accepted, definition of terrorism. Terrorism is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations as '...the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.' (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85)"

The problem with such a definition, of course, is the word "unlawful".

The US law enforcement sites only expand on the definition by suggesting more of the same language, none of which suggests that there might be moral/ethical circumstances that justify terrorism:

"International terrorism involves violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or any state, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or any state. These acts appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by assassination or kidnapping. International terrorist acts occur outside the United States or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to coerce or intimidate, or the locale in which the perpetrators operate or seek asylum."

Again, I'll stay away from the who, but I could not help but notice that "terrorism prevention is a documented instance in which a violent act by a
known or suspected terrorist group or individual with the means and a proven propensity for violence is successfully interdicted through investigative activity."

This suggests that the FBI believes you only need to perform "investigative activity" to prevent terrorism, which makes me feel rather uneasy about what they consider the end of an "investigation".

DanJuly 18, 2005 7:52 PM

I was going to post a comment as long as I was one of the first hundred or so, but I'm not going to now.

Fish headJuly 18, 2005 8:16 PM

@TG

"The muslim fundamentalists want us to become dhimmis. They want Sharia law to rule. To leave Iraq and give Israel to the Palestinians is not the end, it is the beginning for the fundamentalists."

There are crazies everywhere. The question is not what do the fundamentalists want. It's why do the normal people support them?

I've lived in three continents, and what I've found is that people are people. Most of them just want to have a decent life for themselves and their children. Most of them are appalled by the kinds of acts that we've seen the terrorists commit. Most of them recognize crazies as crazies.

What we should be worried about is why the normal population would have any level of support for the crazies. Giving in to the terrorists is not a good idea, but figuring out what the legitimate issues that mobilize general support for them is.

DMJuly 18, 2005 8:26 PM

Does anyone imagine that the citizens of the US wouldnt resort to terrorism in defense of their nation, if that were the only weapon available to them?

BryanJuly 18, 2005 8:57 PM

Davi -

It's good to know that our law enforcement people have this definition (thanks for posting it!). It agrees with my own - as posted previously here. And I'm not bothered by use of the word 'unlawful', otherwise we might see self-defense during an armed robbery classified as terrorism!

Additionally I'm not bothered by FBI classifying interdiction by investigation as a successful interdiction. We do still live in a land where one may harbor vile thoughts - our laws are prdicated on the idea that one must perform an overt act before criminal penalties apply. Besides which, there is a threshold above which planning and procuring material becomes enough of an overt act to merit criminal conviction.

Ultimately I do see terrorism as criminal activity. Even 9/11! Ugly - but lots of criminality is. If the FBI had turned up enough heat to prevent 9/11, I certainly would have called that a major success!

DM and Fish - I think a real answer here is to have an open and frank discussion of what these malcontents want. If what they want is impossible, unethical, or just plain unintelligible, lets give them the ridicule they deserve - and the criminal convictions they deserve, if they perform terrorist acts. If on the other hand they want something reasonable - perhaps showing them that we are at least willing to listen would keep them from becoming terrorists in the first place.

ChrisJuly 18, 2005 9:22 PM

"Two, the coalition forces (or whatever we're calling them these days) need to do everything they can not to be perceived as invaders or occupiers."

But what if they are? Then, from a tactical standpoint, it's even more important that the perception is one of liberation rather than one of invasion. From an ethical standpoint, just the opposite.

It's much more important, from my perspective, to impress upon the terrorists the idea that the US is not a single entity with one opinion, but a conglomerate with many points of view, many of which could easily be made to sympathize with them. Once that is accomplished, terrorism will be limited to lone nutjobs, anarchists, and the like; former terrorists will take their fight to the political and military magisteria rather than attacking civilians.

And Jason--the Arab world is also a conglomerate of many points of view. Al Jaziira hosts many talking heads shows, usually featuring political analysts on one side and extremist imams on the other. You probably got that quote from one of the more extreme supporters of terrorism.

Bruce SchneierJuly 18, 2005 10:38 PM

From Beyond Fear: "A terrorist is someone who employs physical or psychological violence against noncombatants in an attempt to coerce, control, or simply change a political situation by causing terror in the general populace."

I have been thinking that I should replace "someone" with "a non-state actor."

pedantJuly 19, 2005 1:28 AM

@Bruce,

What does that make a "state actor" who "employs physical or psychological violence against noncombatants ..."

What constitues a state?

Who authorizes a "state actor" (i.e. under what circumstances can the government (or head of the military) of a state be deemded to be illegitemate)?

I think the redefinition opens a few cans of worms best left tightly sealed.

DMJuly 19, 2005 1:53 AM

Soeone said something about there being a moral difference between regretting the collateral dammage caused by dropping 2000lb bombs on populated areas, and the mass killing by a suicide bomber.

I dont see it that way. And neither do the victims - in both cases, theyre dead - thats an absolute.

Bryan - its pretty clear what the insurgents want - they all want the US out of their country. Thats not to say there wont be a civil war without the US, but the article makes it pretty clear that the suicide bombings would likely stop.

In my mind the best way of dealing with this whole sitution is to employ a giant act of geopolitical ju-jitsu, and actually take steps to establish the Caliphate. Think of it as an Islamic equivalent to the EU, but steal the name "Caliphate" from bin Laden.

None of the countries in existance in te Arab world were created along natural
political boundaries - theres a constant seething tension of secession threatening to dissolve these countries. Better that the regionalism evident in Europe should come into play as part of an Islamic Union.


yitzJuly 19, 2005 2:18 AM

@Bruce (the original posting)

I think you should have discussed/thought about japanese kamakazi pilots as well. (being real-world examples of the ID4 character fused with suicide bombers)

Similarly, you could consider the grunt who throws himself on the grenade to spare his mates.

The major difference between your own example and suicide bombers is that the person who wants to achieve the goal by suiciding is the person who performs the suicide. In the case of suicide bomber 'handlers' they recruit impressionable or dissillusioned people to blow themselves up rather than the handler giving his/her own life for their beliefs. [This could be compared to military recruiting but I think there is a difference.]

DMJuly 19, 2005 2:27 AM

vitz: not too long after 9/11 there was an article on Slashdot about an old bomber group that was based in Turkey athe begining of the cold war. Apparently their role was to fly prop-driven fighter-bombers deep into southern Russia to bomb industrial and population centers. The back of the cockpit bubble was painted white to try and ward off the flash from the nuke they had just dropped, and it was noted that the pilots of these planes were pretty sure they wouldnt survive either the blast or the air defenses.

Some wag noted "oh, look, an american suicide bomber".

Davi OttenheimerJuly 19, 2005 2:29 AM

"I have been thinking that I should replace 'someone' with 'a non-state actor'."

No. Adding a "non-state" qualifier to your definition ultimately ends up only creating a layer of plausable deniability, or worse.

Consider the fact that operatives rarely appear as pure "state actors", given all the aliases and causes they can fight under. Although they are already somehow affiliated with a state, it is generally highly unethical and/or illegal to openly admit the relationship (we shall see what the fall-out is from Karl Rove's latest tap-dance around the facts).

On top of that you basically create a "get out of jail for free card" for people who claim that they have a state sponsor -- all you would need to do is say you are a state actor, and voila, you are a patriot, not a terrorist. How would we classify and ultimately try someone like Radovan Karadzic?

And then you have the problem of categorizing the odd mix of extra-state (multinational) soldiers who are recruited to fight without any (permanent) national affiliation at all. I mean what if a state hires a band of mercenaries to "employ physical or psychological violence against noncombatants in an attempt to coerce, control, or simply change a political situation by causing terror in the general populace"? The mercenaries become terrorists, right? But are they non-state actors if they are hired, gathered and trained by a state before they are set loose on their mission...? What about after they have completed their mission and they decide to declare/choose a new state and use their training to practice terrorist missions against their former state in the name of independence? The book "Dogs of War" (loosely based on the French relationship with a former colony) is an interesting look at this kind of situation.

Finally, if the International community needs to decry an entire "terrorist state" as opposed to any one individual, how would the definition work?

So it seems simpler just to go along with definition like "the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives".

Perhaps suggestions from the United Nations on the subject would help. Note that they actually use the phrase "state actors" in their definition:

http://www.unodc.org/unodc/terrorism_definitions.html

"Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby - in contrast to assassination - the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat- and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organization), (imperilled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought."

Hope that helps.

BryanJuly 19, 2005 2:30 AM

DM -

No, the law recognizes intent and planning as factors. Otherwise you'd spend as much time in jail for killing a pedestrian on a dark night and an icy road, as for lying in wait and carving that pedestrian up slowly with a dull knife.

As to them wanting us out of Iraq: perhaps. I'd like to see Pape's data. But even at face value there would be questions in my mind. How far out of the country? Where exactly do they think the borders are? What about ships offshore? What about trade relationships? Would they still want McDonalds hamburgers and/or Fender guitars? What would they do with Iraqis who are in the current (US-cooperating) police forces? Getting the insurgents to really outline specifics would, I suspect, probably make them look a little silly to us - and maybe to the people who fight and die for them as well. I think we both have a little jui-jitsu in mind, though not the same moves.

pedant -

"Terrorism" is the word we're having trouble with. "State" and "state actor" are pretty well defined among all listeners. I agree with Bruce here - when a state actor does it, it's war. Vile and despicable perhaps. But when it's not wrapped in the flag of state, it's just terrorism, a crime for which the individual is held liable (not the entire state).

PhilJuly 19, 2005 4:10 AM

The UN definition cited by Davi Ottenheimer is broad enough to encompass cyberstalking as an act of terrorism. Knowing one victim of such behaviour, I can confirm that terror is indeed the result. That's an interesting topic for future discussion.

DarkFireJuly 19, 2005 4:47 AM

Some excellent points have been made here. I have some of my own observations to add:

"Everybody in the movie, as well as the audience, considered this suicide bomber a hero"

This is an interesting notion. To set this in context, let’s view this from a psychological point of view. The film is designed to enable the viewer to evaluate the actions of the human characters from the point of view of a “mythological conflict��?. This is a well-founded paradigm – in this form of conflict the general population believes:

1) That reasonable dialogue with the enemy is not only pointless but impossible.
2) Should the war be won then everything will be ‘better’.
3) The enemy is completely evil in nature.
4) 'We' are completely good in nature.
5) 'We' are “fighting the good fight��?.
6) The enemy is fighting for purely evil motives.

A good example of a mythological conflict was World War 2. Thinking about this it is quickly obvious that it satisfies all the above conditions. World War 1 also fits these criteria however badly it was handled strategically. Contrast this with Vietnam where the general populace certainly did not believe in the above statements.

Now, mythological conflicts tend to not only be extremely violent (e.g. WW2 – ‘total war’ on the Eastern front & in the Pacific theatre) but also tend to be seen through to the point where one side is nearing or is actually at the point of utter destruction.

Furthermore, in highly polarised asymmetric conflicts such as the current war on terror, the extremity of the asymmetry encourages the faction with the least conventionally perceived offensive capability to consider the conflict in a mythological manner. In this case, because the (I hesitate to use the term) allied powers have an overwhelming visible military advantage, the populations of these nations tend not to view the conflict in this mythological manner.

Unfortunately, for a given conflict history shows that it is the faction that adopts the mythological viewpoint that is most willing to commit every resource to prosecuting the war, i.e. waging total war. This usually leads this faction to greater success than the less committed enemy.

Now we must move on from this theoretical viewpoint to the context of the current war on terror. In this case the Wahhabi fundamentalists most certainly view the conflict from the mythological point of view. This combined with severe disillusionment with their standards of living and firm belief that only in the next life will their existence improve creates an incredibly powerful motivation for conflict. Unfortunately this has been harnessed only too readily by the likes of Bin Laden.

From a tactical point of view the terrorists are fortunate. Following the civil war in Afghanistan and now the insurgency in Iraq, there are a large number of senior terrorists who have a vast amount of operational experience and technical expertise (terrorism is a very Darwinian environment). It would be a very poor use of resources from their point of view for these veteran terrorists to commit suicide attacks themselves as this would rapidly use up their operational and training capability. However, for the reasons mentioned above, they are in the fortunate position of having a seemingly never-ending supply of fanatically committed recruits home they can train, thus sustaining their skill and training resources. As far as an insurgent or guerrilla campaign is concerned this is an almost ideal situation. Operationally, none of their high-value assets are sacrificed (if I may use the term) and the flow of recruits is sustained.

So what can we do to combat this? Several things:

1) Neutralise the high-value assets, i.e. the experienced terrorists who have the technical skills.
2) Neutralise the flow of recruits by drastically improving their standards of living.
3) Silence the fanatics who promote and sustain the mythological viewpoint.
4) Directly attack the fielded forces, i.e. the rudimentally trained terrorist recruits.

These avenues of attack MUST be pursued in a hollistic manner. Removing them one at a time will have minimal effect as they are mutually sustaining.

I have been thinking that I should replace "someone" with "a non-state actor.

I don't think this would be appropriate at the moment. In the 1980s and before, state-sponsored terrorism was rife. Be it in the guise of the RAF, Red Brigades or Baader-Meinhof being covertly sponsored by the KGB in Europe, or the various factions and groups in the Middle East, state sponsored terrorism was everywhere.

To be sure, things have changed. Colonel Quadafi seems to have moderated his fanatical anti-western hatred and even the Bekaa valley is no longer the terrorist safe haven that it once was.

However, there is evidence that state terrorism continues to this day. North Korea is thought to be actively conducting covert insurgency in the south, even though they are barely able to feed their own population. Cuba is also thought to provide a safe haven for whatever communist insurgents remain from the south-American troubles of the 1980s.

Lastly, and probably most controversially, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States in general have provided literally hundreds of millions of oil-derived dollars to promote the very Wahhabist world-views that encourage Salafists to commit acts of terrorism. Wahhabism is practically a national cult there!

It is well known that gulf money first began to fund the jihad against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. This money not only failed to diminish but actually grew after the Soviets had withdrawn, thus funding the plethora of jihad training camps that sprouted up in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This money, coming from private and state sources, vastly outstripped any funding for the jihadists that was funnelled to them from the CIA via the Pakistani intelligence service (the ISI). And it continues to flow. Unfortunately it is thought that elements within the ISI are sympathetic if not outright supportive of the Taliban and by extension Al-Qa’ida.

If this war on terror is to be brought to anything remotely approaching a swift conclusion then the western governments must take a more uncompromising approach with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan: the funding for Wahhabi evangelists around the world must stop and the ISI must be stripped of all such influences. Yes, this will of course cause problems with OPEC and for the largely moderate Pakistani government (and by extension, General Musharaf) but as I’ve stated before, in this sort of conflict the most committed wins. We can not afford to prosecute this war with one hand tied firmly behind our backs. If we do then we risk another Vietnam scenario.

Thoughts & comments welcome...

RyanJuly 19, 2005 6:13 AM

The problem is that people who can think rationally don't have a tendancy to blow themselves up.

Especially with religious fundementalism you have a stance of "us against the rest of the world". I think what also is an issue is simplification.

Take Iraq for example. If anything happens it was always "the insurgents", as if they are all one big fighting team. If anybody took care to portray the news accuratley, they would see that the insurgent "community" in Iraq is as complex as the population (Sunnis, Shia's etc). Just look at the last couple of bombings, the people targeted were Shia's, most probably by Sunni fundementalists.

While I certainly agree with you that it would be better to target the military, this is of course a lot harder than blowing yourself up in a train. What you must not forget is that such killing of innocents incites violence against muslims, which in itself creates more suicide bombers. Killing innocents, however troubling it is can have a "positive" effect in the eyes of fundamentalists.

Thirdly, what I also think is a problem is that the American media only seem to care for the American troops. You have 80% of the news of the suffering of a handful of soldiers, who mostly volunteered to go into the army, with only a few tidbits on the suffering of the Iraqis themselves which vastly outnumbers that of the American Soldiers.

It is this kind of hypocracy that infuriates fundementalists around the world.

Sylvain GalineauJuly 19, 2005 6:15 AM


It's nice to know someone has figured out what the difference between a 'freedom fighter' and a 'terrorist' is.

The former essentially fights for a political cause and will target the political and institutional organizations of his opponents : military, government officials etc. A level of political organization is also necessary here : clear demands, a political program, a leardership/spokesperson etc.

The latter target civilians with the aim of taking out as many as possible, often in the name of an absolutist ideology, be it religious - Al-Qaeda - or political (Red Brigades, Action Directe in 70s Europe). Collateral damage is the primary objective. The more victims, the better. Such groups are more cults than organizations with a clearly defined and articulated goal.

Figuring out which is which is not hard. In some cases, groups will even evolve to be both at different times, or split in parallel branches (i.e. the IRA). Or a more political leadership branch will fund and leverage discrete groups of fanatics as foot soldiers (Al-Qaeda).

And this is why the Professor's analysis quoted prior to this both is both deeply flawed and misleading: by confusing the means with the ends, he ends up implicitly justifying one by confusing it with the other.

How can one infer intent from tactical means ? Can we tell that this sucide bomb here is meant to repel the invader, but that this non-suicide bomb there isn't ?

Yes, suicide bombing occurs in occupied/invaded lands. It also happens in places where there is no invasion, executed by people whose homeland is not threatened.

Maybe suicide bombing is more likely to occur in war zones (guess we needed an academic to figure that one out).

Be it as it may, correlation is not causation. But people looking for a simplistic formula for the latter are bound to notice and magnify the former.

DMJuly 19, 2005 6:44 AM

Sylvain - I think youre missing something from the article - the professor was saying that suicide bombing happens _because_ of occupied/invaded lands, as opposed to _in_ occupied/invaded lands.

If intent is the determining factor, why has the US army (who has no malevolent intent) caused an estimated 100000 casualties, while the "terrorists" (who we are defining to have the intent of causing as many casualties as possible) have caused nowhere near that number.

I dont buy the intent argument.

None of the actors have as their primary goal the casuing of civilian casualties - their short term goals a clear - the US wants to re-make Iraq, while the insurgents want the US out of Iraq.

If accidentally causing 100000 casualties is an acceptable price to pay to achieve the US's goal, why is causing 10000 casualties not an acceptable price for the insurgents?

Sylvain GalineauJuly 19, 2005 7:15 AM


DM, I don't believe I am missing anything. All the Professor is doing is outlining a correlation - more suicide bombings in an invaded war zone - and proposing a simplistic causation, backed by weak counter-examples such as Iran.

Second, your casualty number should not be used as fact. Statistical estimates have been published going this high by extrapolating from small samples. But they included all casualties since the first day of the invasion, including those of bombings, not just those from US military operations. There is no evidence to support the claim that the US military killed 100,000 people in Iraq, but much to suggest this number is way too high, by as much as an order of magnitude. Any such numbers are, unfortunately, highly flawed. So flawed we usually do not even know what their margin of error is

Third, the actions and tactics of the attackers fundamentally contradict you. You are confusing means and end, essentially implying that the latter justifies the former. Their primary goal is to kill as many as possible; that is their MO and their weapon, whether the target is a line of people waiting to enlist or a bus of people of a different confession.

Whether the ultimate goal is power, deterrence, control, fear, is irrelevant. The higher the number, the more media exposure, the more power and influence for them, the better for their group and cause, whatever they claim it to be.

And however sympathetic one might be to their goal - or rather, what we believe to be their goal - that still does not justify the tactics employed. Did the Afghans, the Vietnamese or the Algerians need to resort to extensive bombing campaigns against civilians to expel their invaders ?

Moreover, and given the history of places like Palestine or Northern Ireland, what is more effective in bringing about the desired objective ? Military resistance campaigns as in Vietnam, Algeria or Afghanistan ? Or long-term bombing campaigns as in Palestine and Ireland ? Given the historical record, why would one choose one over the other ?

Lastly, your question can be returned like so : if it is OK for insurgents to kill 100,000 civilians to 'free' Iraq, why aren't we justified in doing so to achieve the same ? As you can see, it is nonsensical.

It Cant Be SolvedJuly 19, 2005 7:28 AM

It just can't be solved until the suicide bomber mentality is reversed. I take issue with the original article since terrorism in general would appear to have only an indirect relationship with occupation or occupation forces, because Bali and 9/11 do not fit that mold very well. These excuses are merely a means to an end, which is religious martyrdom.

I do not want to make this a religious argument but I do find a stark contrast between the fact that Christians are martyred by passively dying at the hands of non-Christians, whereas militant Islamisists are martyred by actively dying in the company of non-Muslims. Terrorism will not stop until terrorism is no longer glorified.

DarkFireJuly 19, 2005 7:34 AM

@Ryan

"The problem is that people who can think rationally don't have a tendancy to blow themselves up."

Unfortunately they do. There is a large body of open source annalysis that supports the concept that most of the experienced central core members of AQ, including those that committed 9/11, were and are well educated (usually graduates). Furthermore, they are often from what I would describe as being middle-calss backgrounds.

AQ has since evolved into keeping these experienced high-value operatives as training staff, and then recruiting the actual suicide bombers from poor, degrading backgrounds.

I don't believe that rationality is the central tenent of their decision to become suicide bombers - rather that because of their circumstances they see no reason to continue living. Combined with the religious indoctrination readily delivered by the extremists and you have an intelligent person who has rationally decided that he or she wishes to go directly to a perceived heaven, and also wishes to make a plotical statement in doing so.

xtJuly 19, 2005 7:42 AM

"Unfortunately they do. There is a large body of open source annalysis [sic] that supports the concept that most of the experienced central core members of AQ, including those that committed 9/11, were and are well educated (usually graduates). Furthermore, they are often from what I would describe as being middle-calss [sic] backgrounds."

Social status has little to do with one's ability to think rationally, and in the modern "educational" system, being a graduate has little to do with it as well. Clearly they are entirely irrational judging from their lack of value for their own lives and susceptibility to terrorist memes.

DarkFireJuly 19, 2005 7:43 AM

For some very extensive research on Suicide Terrorism go to:

http://www.ict.org.il/

Which is a well-respected and (as far as is possible) non-biased Israeli think-tank.

Do a search for "Suicide terrorism" and have a read of the articles...

DarkFireJuly 19, 2005 7:50 AM

@xt

"Social status has little to do with one's ability to think rationally, and in the modern "educational" system, being a graduate has little to do with it as well. Clearly they are entirely irrational judging from their lack of value for their own lives and susceptibility to terrorist memes."

AGreed, social status does not really impact on one's rationality. However, success at higher education implies a degree of intelligence, which in turn infers a mind that it less susceptible to dogma.

Let's not forget that rationality must be considered as part of one's frame of reference. What we might find totally non-sensical could very well be acceptable in another culture. A good example would be the concept of honnourable suicide in Japanese culture. No one wpould doubt the rationality of Shinto monks or most Samurai, and yet they have in the past committed Sepuku to preserve honnour. WOuld we brand them irrational too? It may seem so from within our frame of reference, but within theirs, it would be a most rational thing to do in a given situation.

Perhaps we should not focus too closely on the rationality or otherwise for suicide attacks, but rather on thier root causes.

CKJuly 19, 2005 8:05 AM

Invaded countries sprout quislings and collaborators. Freedom fighters/insurgents/patriots not only attempt to destroy the invaders but also the local collaborators and quislings. Usually the collaborators and quislings are softer targets and lead to greater system disruption. Poles, Czech, Norse, French, Slavs, Greeks all had resistance movements during WW2 that targeted local quislings.
Now Iraq has a resistance movement targeting those in its populace who would collaborate with the invaders.
It is efficient and effective, and since the invaders neither speak the language nor understand the culture nor show any awareness of the local situations; every time the invaders attempt to do a "nice thing" by the invaders standards, they suceed in creating a target rich environment of collaborators for the freedom fighters to attack.
It's only logical.

Joseph OttingerJuly 19, 2005 9:25 AM

@0101:

Incidentally, the Boston Tea Party had "one incident" and no casualties that I know of. The first mates of each ship attested that only the tea was destroyed.

Chung LeongJuly 19, 2005 10:24 AM

"What's the difference?

Partly it's which side you're rooting for, but mostly it's that the pilot defended his planet by attacking the invaders. Terrorism targets innocents, and no one is a hero for killing innocents. Killing people who are invading and occupying your planet -- or country -- can be heroic, as can sacrificing yourself in the process."

It seems you have missed a critical difference, Bruce. The alien invaders in the movie were intent on destroying human civilization. Cities after cities were completely obliterated.

Warren MooreJuly 19, 2005 10:33 AM

Kenneth:

You said "In 1861, the Confederate States of America openly attacked Fort Sumpter in South Carolina, a military target. The United States fought back with military force and occupation, ending years of oppression against the Negro slaves."

Unfortunately, the bloodiest war in the history of the U.S.A.was the result of a mistake due to ignorance.

The secession of South Carolina having dissolved her connection with the government of the United States, the question of the possession of the forts in the harbor and of the military post at the arsenal became at once a question of vital interest to the State. Commissioners, Robert W. Barnwell, James H. Adams and James L. Orr, were elected and sent by the convention of the State to treat with the government at Washington for an amicable settlement of this important question, and other questions growing out of the new relation which South Carolina bore to the Union. Pending the action of the commissioners in Washington, an unfortunate move was made by Maj. Robert Anderson, of the United States army, who commanded the only body of troops stationed in the harbor, which ultimately compelled the return of the commissioners and led to the most serious complications. An understanding had been established between the authorities in Washington and the members of Congress from South Carolina, that the forts would not be attacked, or seized as an act of war, until proper negotiations for their cession to the State had been made and had failed; provided that they were not reinforced, and their military status should remain as it was at the time of this understanding, viz., on December 9, 1860. Anderson was unaware of this fact, and fired on the fort.

So, is this war also the result of ignorance? Only the survivors will know, and only the winners will write the history, according to their perspective.

Sylvain GalineauJuly 19, 2005 10:59 AM


"However, success at higher education implies a degree of intelligence, which in turn infers a mind that it less susceptible to dogma."

As proven by the Unabomber, the myriad of western intellectuals and scientists of all stripes who believed in the superiority of Communism, the thousands of physicians and lawyers who actively supported the Third Reich and its theories, or the Sorbonne-educated Pol Pot etc.

Higher education is no guarantee of ability, reason or strength of mind outside one's field of study. In fact, one's confidence in his ability in one given area can prove very damaging when assumed into unfamiliar fields. And educated people are certainly prone to assuming they are more able outside their field of expertise than they actually are.

Op-ed pages from around the world can testify to that; intellectual and intelligent are not always synonymous.

Sean, LondonJuly 19, 2005 11:26 AM

"There are no lessons for London. There was no invasion. Every victim was an innocent. No one should consider the terrorists heros."

- Agreed that no one should consider the terrorists heros. Their crime was abhorrent.

However, I'd query the innocence of all the victims - let's not forget that we've just returned Blair as PM despite the fact we know he lied about the Iraq war. Rather than censuring this abuse of power and needless prosecution of war and death, the country re-elected him. Anyone casting a vote for Blair effectively endorsed the Iraq war (and all those innocent deaths), despite knowing it was an illegal and unnecessary invasion.

It's time for the electorate to start taking responsibility - if you're going to tolerate the government using your tax money to exert aggression abroad without provocation, you're going to start seeing aggression served upon your own country.

Anyone who voted Labour in our general election should be ashamed of themselves.

The loss of life in London (my home city) was sad and shocking, but not surprising.

DavidJuly 19, 2005 11:49 AM

Talking with terrorists is not the same as giving in to them. It does make sense to open up dialogs with Al Qaeda because it HAS become very powerful and deadly and thus should be addressed. We'd address a cancer and not just ignore what it is trying to do. You have to know your enemy better to fight against it.

Open communications will make any desire for worldwide Sharia rule absurd. Few will support that viewpoint, and those that kill to support that cause will be hunted down, arrested, etc.

But many complaints are legit, like occupation, invasion, installing a new government with a foreign army "watching over" it. What government controls the land and buildings that is the seat of Iraqi government?

By removing major reasons for their cause, peace is more likely. Sure, some nuts will continue, but it will be a smaller matter rather than an escalating matter. Bin Laden's power comes from our making him look like a freedom fighter. If we pull out our troops from these areas -- and perhaps allow a more multi-national or even Middle East-specific set of forces help secure the land -- the main arguments fall apart. Few will like him if he then continues to be a bully of his own people, and that will reduce his power and thus make us safer.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 19, 2005 11:54 AM

"While I certainly agree with you that it would be better to target the military, this is of course a lot harder than blowing yourself up in a train."

You would think, but the Pentagon banned American military personnel stationed in the UK from travelling to London to "ensure their safety and security."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1526681,00.html

The US Administration message to Al Queda seemed to be "blow up a bomb anywhere in the city and we have to stay home". Meanwhile, London did the right and honorable thing by quickly working around the bombing to resume normal business as quickly as possible.

I think Simon Jenkins, former London Times editor, put it best when he wrote:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/theblog/archive/simon-jenkins/washington-hands-alqaeda_4128.html

"The only conceivable purchase the terrorists can get is by sowing fear, a fear which is statistically irrational - Americans are more at risk on the roads round their bases than in the capital. Yet Washington handed Al-Qaeda a free publicity coup on a plate. It incidentally had every front page and every pub bar ranting about cowardly Americans, jeering at the US Marines 'We are not afraid' website, which adds 'We stand with our British brothers and sisters.'"

JoeyJuly 19, 2005 12:15 PM

This article supports the point:

http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2005/07/17/study_cites_seeds_of_terror_in_iraq?mode=PF

interrogations of nearly 300 Saudis captured while trying to sneak into Iraq and case studies of more than three dozen others who blew themselves up in suicide attacks show that most were heeding the calls from clerics and activists to drive infidels out of Arab land, according to a study by Saudi investigator Nawaf Obaid, a US-trained analyst who was commissioned by the Saudi government and given access to Saudi officials and intelligence.

A separate Israeli analysis of 154 foreign fighters compiled by a leading terrorism researcher found that despite the presence of some senior Al Qaeda operatives who are organizing the volunteers, ''the vast majority of [non-Iraqi] Arabs killed in Iraq have never taken part in any terrorist activity prior to their arrival in Iraq."

American intelligence officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, and terrorism specialists paint a similar portrait of the suicide bombers wreaking havoc in Iraq: Prior to the Iraq war, they were not Islamic extremists seeking to attack the United States, as Al Qaeda did four years ago, but are part of a new generation of terrorists responding to calls to defend their fellow Muslims from "crusaders" and "infidels."

BryanJuly 19, 2005 12:29 PM

As I continue reading this thread, I see that too many of you are falling into the comfortable, conventional, and sometimes contradictory lines of thought:

-suicide terrorists are irrational (since you can't reason with them, you better just kill them)
-they are religious fanatics (again, no logical argument would sway them)
-they are poor (maybe we can buy them off?)
-that they lack education (maybe we can teach them better?)

All of these strike me as ways of marginalizing the motives of the terrorists, and all have been seriously challenged by those who've done more research than just a scan of the headlines. They clearly want something, and feel that terrorist acts are the only chance they have of getting it.

If we continue to turn a deaf ear to their motives, we will never understand the true nature of the threat they pose.

pigletJuly 19, 2005 12:36 PM

Davi is right, of course. "I hate to be the one to say it but "arming terrorists" would make America a terrorist nation by your definition, since it has obviously armed a great number of individuals and groups to terrorize governments elsewhere. Osama bin Laden comes to mind as a good example of a terrorist that the US trained and armed." As a matter of fact, the USA post 1945 have used terrorist methods more often, more consequently and (in the short term) more successfully than any other country. They have established, financed and armed terrorist organizations in any country of the world which government wasn't deemed to be pro-US, and which was weak enough to let it happen. Chile, Cuba, Nicaragua, Mozambique, Angola, Afghanistan, you name it. And those governments sufficiently pro-US not to need US-Sponsored "freedom fighters" blowing up trains and factories usually were - or are - the worst dictatorships, including the despotic regimes of Mobutu, Suharto, Saddam Hussein and the House of Saud.

It's hard to look the truth into the eye but there's no alternative.

Ari HeikkinenJuly 19, 2005 12:41 PM

Anyone ever thought they're targeting civilians because military targets are too well secured and attacks on military targets wouldn't cause enough impact?

Terrorists justify attacks the same way as your coalition justifies attacks. I mean, anyone remember dropping those nuclear bombs? They though it was justified even thought they knew lots of innocents (including children) would be killed. And was the one who ordered the attacks labeled murderer or mindless lunatic? Nope. He was considered a hero.

Here's another example: consider some kid would have a birthday party somewhere where lots of kids would attend and your coalitition would get solid intelligence that Bin Laden would also attend. So here they'd have a sure way to knock him out with a missile strike knowing they'd kill all those children at the same time. You really think they wouldn't strike because they'd think killing those children would be wrong? I mean, please.

Ofcourse I personally couldn't justify either, but terrorists will simply justify it being necessary for their cause (just like your coalition will justify anything that they think is necessary for their cause).

pigletJuly 19, 2005 1:21 PM

"However, I'd query the innocence of all the victims - let's not forget that we've just returned Blair as PM despite the fact we know he lied about the Iraq war." Sean, now please, stop that. Of course, the victims, like most victims, were in all likelihood "innocent". This line of reasoning is foolish at best. Terrorists don't target civilians because they believe them to be personally guilty of something. Like soldiers, they don't even necessarily hate their victims. Like soldiers, they attack because they believe that it will have the desired impact. Like soldiers, they believe that killing people is necessary to reach their goals.

Sylvain GalineauJuly 19, 2005 3:32 PM

Assuming exercising one's democratic right to vote would constitute guilt, how would a suicide bomber sitting on a bus know who voted, and for who they voted ?

Ari is onto something though. The fact is that no one can fight the US on a conventional battlefield. Army, Navy, Air Force. Nobody can put up much of a fight against such firepower.

That leaves only unconventional warfare. Which still does not justify the choice of targets. Fighting the US military in one's own country is one thing.

Blowing up random civilians on buses or crashing planes in buildings half a world away is another entirely.

Sean, LondonJuly 19, 2005 3:56 PM

Piglet & Sylvain - I'm not suggesting that the terrorists selected Labour voters or people they believed to be guilty. I'm not even suggesting that they attacked because Blair was elected.

What I am saying is that up until the election, it could be argued that Blair was prosecuting his own phony war. Once the people returned him as PM, knowing what he was up to, those who voted for him knowingly elected him to continue that. At that point they assumed culpability for this country's actions in Iraq, Afghanistan etc. The population of the UK endorsed and voted for war. It could be argued that at this point, civilians took responsibility for the Iraq war.

I'm not talking about individuals on the bus here so much as collective guilt as a country - in the same way you say it's foolish for me to query whether *all* the victims were "innocent", I'd say it's naieve of you to assert they *all* were - the world is not that black and white. We must recognise the consequences of our choices - political and otherwise.

The only way to stop terrorism is to start addressing the cause of terrorism.

Sylvain GalineauJuly 19, 2005 4:10 PM


Sean, 'collective guilt' ? You're joking, right ? Is that your rationale ? Is that a valid, moral rationale ? Since when ? According to whom ? And who appointed those people to judge of the collective guilt of this country or that one ? And to decide the punishment and choose the victims ? In what court ? With what jury ?

Tell you what : since you're on location, why don't you go visit one of the bereaved families and tell them that maybe, just maybe, their loved one was not innocent and had it coming because, ya know, the world is not so 'black and white' and they must accept the consequences of the victim's political choices.

Let us know how that goes.

Never mind that Blair was returned with a much reduced majority, given how much people in Britain approve of the Iraq war. As if any democracy should let a tiny minority of committed murderers tell them how to vote.

Lastly, people are innocent until proven guilty. The burden is on you to prove who was guilty among the victims, and why, without appealing to woolly notions of collective guilt based on little beyond face-value acceptance of the lunatic rantings of medieval thugs bent on killing 'infidels'. How is that for black and white by the way ? Their rationale for killing subtle enough for you ?

RG3July 19, 2005 6:56 PM

@a_nony_mouse

They _are_ out of Saudi Arabia, as of 2003 (see the link provided by Sylvain Galineau on the previous post). So that cannot be bin Laden's (sole) reason.

@Some guy

Try to keep the crass generalisations of political idealogies you disgree with to a minimum, please. It tends to destroy your credibility, which is a shame as you make an excellent point in the first part of your second post. Although the second part of that post misses a vital point that every time the US went out, they went in again nearby.

@Kenneth Ballard

The Borg analogy is slighty off-mark, as the Borg are unprovoked attackers, whereas the suicide bombers can be considered provoked (oil scams, (perceived) puppet rulers, (perceived) invasionary forces). When considering whether the provocation justifies the action, remember that justification is in the eye of the beholder (or rather the actor).

And your US Civil War parallel is in danger of stretching an analogy too far, as well. (1) I'm not intimately familiar with US history, but I doubt that that retaliation led directly to freeing slaves, or that "free the slaves" was the rallying cry (also, see the Warren Moore comment), and (2) I have not heard any evidence for the assertion that Iraq harboured terrorists, and much hot air from people spouting both points of view. Al-Qaeda was almost certainly not there, as their doctrine conflicted with Hussein's, and Hussein had a rather... effective way of dealing with those who disagreed with him in his own country. That doesn't mean he didn't habour terrorists. Just not the ones attacking us.

@Guest

Good point. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and fighting the last battle isn't always the right way to go about winning the next one. I'm not saying giving them what they want would work, or wouldn't have negative consequences (I can think of several it almost certainly would have), but the possibility should be considered carefully.

@TG

Fundamentalists generally (although not exclusively) do want everyone to follow their principles and points of view (http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=fundamentalist). The lengths they are willing to go to acheive this is the important bit - at what point does suicide bombing cease to be cost-effective? It may be effective for eliciting withdrawals of "invasionary" forces, but is unlikely to work when trying to convert a country to your point of view.

@Greyhound

From the aliens' point of view, they were refugees. They just had a rather direct way of gaining asylum. The point is that these things are all down to perspective. Although yitz made a good point related to this.

@0101

Such an argument (that the US was founded by terrorists) would not hold water. They did some horrendous things to the native Americans, but terrorism requires a central governance system, a democratic system allowing the panicking public to place pressure on that system and a speedy news spreading medium to publicise the attacks. The occupying Europeans weren't terrorists, they were invaders (and possibly perpetrators of genocide).

@Jason Rennie

"There were no innocents in the tower" - the idea that individuals are indistiguishable from the nation is used frequently by the US governments (and has been for a long, long time) to inspire patriotism. It's how the US has worked so well as an immigrant nation - the idea instilled in its citizens that they are, above all else, American. [end brief side-track]

@Davi Ottenheimer

RE: FBI definition of terrorism: that would include rebellion by a population to overthrow a(n oppressive) government. Should this be included? I don't think so, although others (including governments...) might disagree. In fact, it would probably include a lot of US foreign policy - war would be a form of terrorism. Bruce's definition is better, especially with the modification he suggested.

@pedant

Cans of worms are our speciality... someone said "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter". There will always be an element of subjectivity in the equation. But the primary role of a government in face of a threat is to defend its people against it. Arguably, the US govt is not doing that (effectively).

@xt

I would be very suspicious of a claim that _anyone_ was entirely rational. Humans are not rational creatures. Education may, however, help and nurture an ability to think rationally. But one thing to consider is that rational processes follow the maxim of "garbage in, garbage out". When fed a well-contructed web of lies, then the most rational mind will not pull the truth out of them - indeed, it is the least likely to.

@Sylvain Galineau

You assume that everyone who disagrees with you is irrational. See above.

And, as for your last post, (1) the terrorists are judge, jury and executioners. The ligitimacy or validity of their verdicts are irrelevant - they carried out the execution anyway. (2) "why don't you go visit...": Mob rule is no measure of justice. That's why we have a justice system. (3) Democracy is rule by majority. Reduced majority is still a majority. (4) I could cite all sorts of things in the US here, but instead, I'll point you to the "judge, jury and executioner" bit.

@piglet

"Terrorists don't target civilians because they believe them to be personally guilty of something" - Are you sure? Because I'm not. I think it very likely that the terrorists view all citizens of a country as complicit. See my point further up this comment.

Sorry for the long comment.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 19, 2005 7:46 PM

@RG3

Very thorough post.

"In fact, it would probably include a lot of US foreign policy - war would be a form of terrorism."

My point exactly. State's can and do engage in terrorist acts, especially through loosely affiliated or officially labelled "non-state" actors. However, some would say that war crimes are to war what terrorism is to peace, as noted below.

"Bruce's definition is better, especially with the modification he suggested."

Bruce's definition has some pretty big loopholes that you did not address. Personally, I find the UN legal definition a bit blunt ("Act of Terrorism = Peacetime Equivalent of War Crime"), but wonder if you see anything wrong with their "Academic Consensus Definition".

In fact I would counter your point (perhaps naively) that a rebellion would still be successful even if it has to abide by the UN definition. Or at least it seems that rebels should never need to engage in the peactime equivalent of war crimes, since those are the means that can never be justified in the end. After all, the Geneva Conventions and concept of war crimes are basically just another way of saying that Genocide, crimes against humanity, and mistreatment of civilians or combatants during war are unnecessary and unjustified.

Alas, yes, I do know that this is probably an academic point as the current US Administration repeatedly shows a ignorance or disregard of Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. As William Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, put it in his letter to the New York Times (June 4, 2005)

"The United States cannot simultaneously claim that it ‘promotes freedom around the world’ while detaining tens of thousands at Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and in Iraq and other locations without charge or trial and allowing those civilian and military officials responsible for orchestrating a systematic policy of torture to escape accountability."

Sylvain GalineauJuly 19, 2005 10:37 PM

@RG3

I didn't realize that a couple of individuals in one online space constituted 'everyone', My mistake. As for your points, they make no sense wrt my argument. Where does mob rule come in the picture ? I am not asking whether they are judge, jury and executioner. It's rather obvious they have appointed themselves to all those roles. But given that no one else put them there, their assignment of collective guilt have no legitimacy whatsoever.

When Israel bulldozes a suicide bomber's family home and blockades his community, many scream 'Collective punishment ! Immoral ! Wrong !'. But somehow, Britons should somehow feel collectively guilty for voting a given prime minister in office, against the alleged wishes of a tiny minority ? You are correct : I believe this to be a completely irrational argument. And I don't care if 'everyone' believes otherwise. Mob rule is no measure of truth either.

Collective guilt is not only morally absurd, there is no jurisprudence anywhere to support it. Well, except maybe in places like Iraq under Hussein. Ask the Kurds or the Marsh Arabs.

@Davi
Tens of thousands detained ? Me thinks Mr Schulz is a bit off in his numbers. Even so, that still does not justify the random killing of civilians or their videotaped beheadings. How do these square with the Geneva Convention by the way ?

As for the UN and its 'legal definitions', I am sure the people of Darfur are grateful for the extended debate about the nature of the slaughter and abuse they were suffering. One wouldn't want to be helped or rescued based on the wrong legal definition. Clearly, this is a civilized, nuanced and much preferable alternative to blunt unilateralism and one has to wonder how such important things could be left aside as academic points.


DarkFireJuly 20, 2005 3:47 AM

@Bryan

[SNIP]
-suicide terrorists are irrational (since you can't reason with them, you better just kill them)
-they are religious fanatics (again, no logical argument would sway them)
-they are poor (maybe we can buy them off?)
-that they lack education (maybe we can teach them better?)
All of these strike me as ways of marginalizing the motives of the terrorists, and all have been seriously challenged by those who've done more research than just a scan of the headlines. They clearly want something, and feel that terrorist acts are the only chance they have of getting it.
[SNIP]

As I previously posted, I believe that most suicide bombers are indeed rational people. We might not understand their motivations from our cultural frame of reference, but from their worldly circumstances the suicide bomber might see this as truly their last and final option for making a statement.

I would say that based on available evidence, apart from the Tamil Tigers who are a secular Marxist (probably Maoist to be more accurate) group, most suicide bombers may well be religious fanatics. However, we must be careful how we define “fanatic��?. The extremist Wahhabi clerics who advocate suicide bombing would not see themselves as fanatical, more likely they see themselves as defenders and advocates of strict compliance with the tenents of their faith. To moderate Muslims and non-Muslims of course they appear to be fanatical. Ayatollah Khomeini for instance – such a hard-liner certainly appeared to be fanatical, whereas King Abdullah of Jordan for example is certainly not fanatical by any means.

The question of poverty as a motivating factor for suicide terrorism is well documented, particularly with regards to the recent change in tactics of the suicide bombers. Take the West Bank for example – the vast majority of the suicide bombers come from the most abject poverty of the refugee camps. Eagerly recruited by promises that the next life will be immeasurably better than this, they feel that they have nothing to die for. As one AQ statement explained, most of them truly do “love death as you [the west] love life��?.

At present the actual suicide terrorists do lack education, again because of the background from which they come. However, the driving forces behind the suicide bombers – the recruiters, technical experts and ideological teachers certainly do not lack education. Most of the core members of AQ came from somewhat affluent backgrounds, most had university degrees and were intellectual to some degree. The only reason for the lack of education in the modern suicide bomber is that the terrorist planners recruit from the impoverished because to actually use the experience d terrorists on missions would very rapidly use up these valuable and skilled personnel. Using them to train and carry out technical tasks preserves their knowledge. This represents a much better and sophisticated use of resources by the terrorists.

Yes, the suicide bombers do want something. Generally the actual person with the bomb strapped to them wants their circumstances to improve. Believing and having been indoctrinated that this is impossible in this life, they see no reason to live. However, they also wish to make a statement with their death, hence the suicide attacks.

Sylvain GalineauJuly 20, 2005 6:45 AM

"Generally the actual person with the bomb strapped to them wants their circumstances to improve. "

Jumping up 20 ft in the air and spreading yourself over a few hundred square feet is a great way to improve one's 'circumstances'.

And how do we know this, 'generally' speaking ?

DarkFireJuly 20, 2005 6:57 AM

@Sylvian:

"Jumping up 20 ft in the air and spreading yourself over a few hundred square feet is a great way to improve one's 'circumstances'"

That's the whole point - from the perspective of the suicide bomber this WILL improve their circumstances. They see no point in continuing their earthly existance and are certain of a better life in heaven or paradise or wherever it is they believe they are going.

There are well analysed interviews with failed suicide bombers who have been caught by the IDF and are currently incarcerated in Israeli prisons. There are fewer but some simmilar cases in Sri Lanka where Tamils have been captured prior to detonating their loads.

Sylvain GalineauJuly 20, 2005 8:37 AM


DarkFire, I was being intentionally sarcastic if that wasn't clear. I have very little interest in rationalizing or 'understanding' self-destructive losers whose only sense of purpose is to flush a random number of others down the toilet with themselves. Their loss is welcome. It's their potential victims I care about.

Note that I accept the analysis of their delusional nonsense to be a necessary part of an overall strategy to counter and maybe deter them in the future. But given how similar their belief system is to those of cult members - never mind the indoctrination process and the familiar panoply of contradictions e.g. leaders who not only never sacrifice themselves but aggregate prestige, power and treasure from the considerable sacrifices of their 'flock' - I have a very limited confidence in a breakthrough in this area. As long as they are people ready, willing and able to do the recruiting, there will be recruits to be found.

RG3July 20, 2005 9:01 AM

@Sylvain Galineau

I did not say, or intend to imply, that suicide bombers were legitimate. That was not the point of Bruce's post, or the ensuing debate. I was taking a pragmatic approach in describing things from the bombers' point of view. Unlike you, I believe that understanding "self-destructive losers" is key to figuring out how to stop them.

DarkFireJuly 20, 2005 9:43 AM

@Sylvain

Ah sorry :) I missed that... I was in "serious discussion mode".

Your analogy with cults is very interesting - the simmilarity is startling. Possibly an avenue of investigation for those attempting to understant the phenomenon?

Cheers, DF.

DMJuly 20, 2005 9:55 AM

Just wanted to note that the Medal of Honor is, in most cases, awarded posthumously (as are the highest honours in most countries), and I would hazard a guess that most of those who have been awarded these medals knew that they were sacrificing their lives.

Sylvain GalineauJuly 20, 2005 12:18 PM


DarkFire, I think it is an interesting avenue of investigation. I also find it interesting that in the case of cult members, we generally assume they need help and very few will suggest society at large to be at fault or otherwise responsible for their choice and its sometimes disastrous consequences.

Yet when the very same kind of gullible or unstable individuals get similarly manipulated, indoctrinated and brainwashed into mass killing, all kinds of people come out with appeals for mea-culpas and other supposedly 'introspective' pseudo-political psycho-babble purporting to understand their belief system; which, disturbingly often, is mostly a thinly veiled excuse to blame their hapless victims for their own death, in the name of the fashionable scapegoats of the day (Bush, Blair, capitalism, 'social injustice', 'imperialism', Halliburton, the tooth fairy, the secret leprechaun world government etc...).

As if the act of killing made the cult's claims worthier of respect. Very odd, and very disturbing.

DudeJuly 20, 2005 12:29 PM

In general, the citations for Medal of Honor recipients (see http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/moh1.htm) indicate the recipients were trying to save the lives of others. Even where the recipients knowingly sacrificed themselves (e.g. jumping on a grenade), it was to save the lives of others in their unit.

It's a bit of a stretch to compare sacrificing yourself in combat to save the lives of friends, to blowing up people who have nothing to do with combat (civilian vs military targets).

Bruce SchneierJuly 20, 2005 1:57 PM

"It's a bit of a stretch to compare sacrificing yourself in combat to save the lives of friends, to blowing up people who have nothing to do with combat (civilian vs military targets)."

Maybe we have different definitions of the word "compare," but I think it's easier to compare things that are very different than it is to compare things that are similar.

And I think it is important to make the comparison in this instance. If we are to have any hope of defending against suicide terrorists, we need to understand how they operate.

QuercusJuly 20, 2005 3:46 PM

"It's a bit of a stretch to compare sacrificing yourself in combat to save the lives of friends, to blowing up people who have nothing to do with combat (civilian vs military targets)"

It depends on what moral question you're thinking about. The morality of targeting civilians is one question, but it's a completely different question to ask whether giving up one's life is moral, or sane.
If one person argues (as is being done here) that anyone who gives up their life is clearly insane ('irrational'), then it's a reasonable response to to ask whether Medal of Honor winners are also insane.

DMJuly 21, 2005 1:15 AM

Dude: Thanks for the link - I took the time to read a bunch of the citations. You are right that saving american lives is frequently mentioned, but what is also frequently mentioned is that they saved american lives by _killing multitudes of the enemy and sacrificing themselves_.

Now I couldnt find any Medal of Honor recipients who took part in, for example, the air raids on Dresden, but its not too hard a stretch to imagine a high honor being awarded to someone who sacrificed themselves to save their compatriots and enable those bombings.

DarkFireJuly 21, 2005 4:33 AM

Sylvain:

[SNIP]
"...mostly a thinly veiled excuse to blame their hapless victims for their own death, in the name of the fashionable scapegoats of the day (Bush, Blair, capitalism, 'social injustice', 'imperialism', Halliburton, the tooth fairy, the secret leprechaun world government etc...)."
[SNIP]

This is particularly true of the communist terrorists of the 1970s and 80s such as Baader-Meinhof, the Red Brigades and the Red Army Faction. I'm sure that as a result of their belief system: considering themselves to be "progressive elements" etc. rather than any form of "terrorists"; they really did believe that any deaths amongst their captives were as a result of them being greedy capitalists, rather than the brutal executions which they truly were.

This is probably also true of the current fanatical Islamist terrorists: I imagine that they consider everyone to be legitimate targets as they are unbelievers, heathens, western barbarians, aggressive colonialists or whatever.

Again the analogy with cults is intriguing. A valuable counter-terrorist psychological strategy may be to capture them, give them counselling etc, then release them back in to a moderate community. This would possibly spread the word amongst the general population that the world-view of the extremists is indeed deeply flawed. And what better an example of this than a re-moderated ex-extremist!

Food for thought certainly...

Ari HeikkinenJuly 21, 2005 1:26 PM

"If we are to have any hope of defending against suicide terrorists, we need to understand how they operate."

I don't think addressing the "how" part will solve anything. It probably lets you come up with some more security measures, but:

- you could implement any number of security measures against terrorism, but the attackers will simply switch to another tactic

- you could try to secure any number of targets, but the attackers will simply switch to another target

You could also spend years thinking about it only to get to the conclusion there's no way to adapt to their tactics. I think the only way to solve the problem is to understand the "why" part and then address that.

Bruce SchneierJuly 21, 2005 1:32 PM

I think we need to understand both how and why. And that we need to address both.

I think that most terrorism can be dealt with at the geoplolitical level, but that there will always be some residual terrorism that has no serious polotical agenda (e.g., the SLA in the 1970s).

Ari HeikkinenJuly 21, 2005 2:09 PM

Well, my point was what is there to do on the "how" part that hasn't been done already? It seems to me most solutions proposed these days are more or less those movie-plot things you keep pointing out (like that missile defence for commercial planes) or things they wanted for some other reason and are now using "terrorism" as an excuse to justify it. At some point it's useful to start looking other ways to solve the problem (I mean, how many billions need to be wasted on security theater and useless defence to realize that?).

Paul OJuly 22, 2005 6:06 AM

I agree that terrorism includes some aspect of non-state actors. And that aspect further highlights why no dialogue would ever prove fruitful with (most) terrorists, who can never validly claim to represent their entire constituency. And as a result, no discussions could ever absolutely conclude: other groups would simply be encouraged to take up violence for their own cause. There are exceptions, such as with the IRA terrorists who had a disciplined structure and a political arm in Sinn Fein.

State actors may act in the cause of war, but they act on behalf of a state constituency. Preferably, they act as democratically elected representatives of their people, but at the least there is a control hierarchy with which discussions may be meaningful. And that is a key difference between the horrors of war and the travesties of terrorism.

pigletJuly 22, 2005 5:19 PM

Several people have referred to "Bruce's definition" of terrorism. What is Bruce's definition? "Terrorism targets innocents"? That's not a clear definition, but anyway, it would include a large part of US (and other countries') foreign policy. Take the economic embargo against Iraq. There is no question that it targeted innocents, and according to UN reports, it killed hundred of thousands of ordinary Iraqis.

Bruce SchneierJuly 22, 2005 5:28 PM

From Beyond Fear: "A terrorist is someone who employs physical or psychological violence against noncombatants in an attempt to coerce, control, or simply change a political situation by causing terror in the general populace."

If I were writing the book today, I would put something in about a terrorist being a non-state actor.

pigletJuly 22, 2005 6:07 PM

Interesting definition. You see, it could still be applied on the Iraqi sanctions regime. "Terrorism" is usually meant to be restricted to non-state actors, but Condi Rice might not agree because it makes it more difficult to accuse a state of organizing terrorism.

Does a military coup (e. g. Pinochet) match the definition? I woud think so, at least in the early stages.

Interesting also that most left-wing armed groups, like the weather-men, BR or RAF, which are conventionally called "terrorist", do not or did not aim at "causing terror in the general populace". In the Italian case, it was actually a part of the state apparatus that invented a terrorist strategy to counter the "red danger" (the Bologna bombing, 1980, etc.). Despite of this, it should be noted that historically, the methods of the "anti-terror" police state were developed and deployed overwhelmingly against leftist militants.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 23, 2005 3:16 AM

@Bruce

"If I were writing the book today, I would put something in about a terrorist being a non-state actor."

Really? Still? I thought you'd have come around on that one by now. If you define "terrorist" a non-state actor only, how do you suggest we label acts of terrorism by state-actors?

Bruce SchneierJuly 23, 2005 7:47 AM

"'If I were writing the book today, I would put something in about a terrorist being a non-state actor.' Really? Still? I thought you'd have come around on that one by now. If you define "terrorist" a non-state actor only, how do you suggest we label acts of terrorism by state-actors?"

The same thing it's always been called: an act of war.

pigletJuly 26, 2005 1:04 AM

"The same thing it's always been called: an act of war."

Isn't "Violence against noncombatants" by state actors defined as war crime?

RogerJuly 26, 2005 3:19 AM

@piglet:
``Isn't "Violence against noncombatants" by state actors defined as war crime?''

Well, actually that's pretty well orthogonal to being a war crime. There exist acts of violenece against non-combatants which are war crimes, and others which are legal in war (and still others which are illegal, but only under national law). Conversely, there are war crimes which do not involve violence against non-combatants, and even a couple which don't involve violence against persons of any kind.

LOAC ("Laws of Armed Conflict") has been picked over by the lawyers for centuries, so it's a complicated subject and "violence against non-combatants" isn't even a rough approximation.

FredJuly 26, 2005 3:33 AM

"it should be noted that historically, the methods of the "anti-terror" police state were developed and deployed overwhelmingly against leftist militants."

That's a rather arse-backwards way of saying that the modern conception of terrorism was developed by the Soviet Empire as an attack on the openness of the West.

It kind of worked too (it did force us to be less liberal, and it did increase discontent) but I bet its one genie they sure wish they could get back in the bottle.

pigletJuly 26, 2005 9:34 PM

"That's a rather arse-backwards way of saying that the modern conception of terrorism was developed by the Soviet Empire as an attack on the openness of the West."

What a nonsense. If you believe that the Soviet Union supported groups like RAF and BR, you should read what socialist leaders had to say about individual anarchist militancy. And if you believe that those small groups of desperate idealists developed "the modern conception of terrorism", oh my, you are dead wrong. Those groups never aimed at "causing terror in the general populace". They were rather naive idealists who believed that the "general populace" would join in their struggle. Very close to the methods of "modern terrorism" was the Italian "strategy of tension" developed by anticommunist forces with close connections to the state machine, which culminated in the 1980 Bologna bombings which killed 85. They are attributed to fascist terrorists but the investigations also implicated Gladio and the secret services. Sadly, but not surprising given the widespread corruption of the Italian justice system (at least at the time), nobody was ever brought to justice for that massacre which predates the london bombings by 25 years.

pigletJuly 26, 2005 10:00 PM

@Roger: I admit that international law "regulating" armed conflict is a complicated matter, but for a state engaged in armed conflict to deliberately target civilians is principally illegal, according to the Hague conventions.

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