Liberty Increases Security

From the Scientific American essay “Murdercide: Science unravels the myth of suicide bombers“:

Another method [of reducing terrorism], says Princeton University economist Alan B. Krueger, is to increase the civil liberties of the countries that breed terrorist groups. In an analysis of State Department data on terrorism, Krueger discovered that “countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which have spawned relatively many terrorists, are economically well off yet lacking in civil liberties. Poor countries with a tradition of protecting civil liberties are unlikely to spawn suicide terrorists. Evidently, the freedom to assemble and protest peacefully without interference from the government goes a long way to providing an alternative to terrorism.” Let freedom ring.

This seems obvious to me.

Found on John Quarterman’s blog.

Posted on January 18, 2006 at 1:33 PM52 Comments


Mike Sherwood January 18, 2006 2:03 PM

Improving the quality of life for these people does seem kinda obvious. After all, that is the answer to the “what have you got to lose?” question.

What does it take to do that? It’s not in the governments’ best interests to grant/recognize the rights of their people. Our country is currently moving towards fewer civil rights. Are there any governments who have a different tendency? The government is in the business of repression. A good government is one that strikes the right balance between repressing those who have it coming (ie, murderers) and not repressing people who say “The government is in the business of repression.”

Using Saudi Arabia and Bahrain as examples, how many of the suicide terrorists they generate commit acts against their own countries? If they have a significant portion of the population that hates the US, there’s no real incentive to make changes that will have a positive effect on the US. These countries can fail to do something that would help us and still claim to be neutral or allies.

Our current approach of be-democratic-or-we’ll-blow-you-up isn’t a way to introduce civil liberties in these countries. The people we call terrorists are called freedom fighters in other countries. Terrorism is a public relations issue, not something that can be blown up.

McGavin January 18, 2006 2:06 PM

Isn’t this our plan in Iraq? To spread freedom in order to win the “war on terror”?

This is fine, of course, except that in a single commodity economy (like we have in the Middle East), the thugs that control the commodity will control the economy and the country.

Therefore, oil rich Middle Eastern countries will not stop being breeding grounds for terrorists until they suffer from their loss of oil and develop a diverse economy. They depend on oil more than we (U.S.) do.

t3knomanser January 18, 2006 2:07 PM

One would hope that it was obvious, but unfortunately, it’s not. Having family in Iran, I’ve been shouting that very concept from the tree-tops every time the idea of another invasion is brought up.

Governments are bad- the best of them just happen to be less bad than a world with no government. So we need to reign in our own government, and we need to carefully reign in other governments- this is a situation where blowing things up gets us nowhere.

Hritz January 18, 2006 2:20 PM

I think Krueger needed more space to make his argument. He did not draw a strong causal relationship between oppression at home and committing acts in the U.S. The implication is that the U.S. is perceived by the perpetrators as disenfranchising them, but that’s not stated clearly. For whatever reason, the aggression is not directed at their local government (in his example Saudi Arabia).

Tyler Farrer January 18, 2006 2:22 PM

How is Krueger defining “civil liberties”? Or better, which civil liberties does he see as beneficial. I do see a ‘freedom to assemble’ as a liberty that would steal a terrorists thunder, but the ‘right to bear arms’? In some cases, terrorists are counting on that one. Should we be expected to extend to everyone, whether they be a U.S. citizen or not, the rights promised under the Bill of Rights as long as they live in this country?

I think we ought to be encouraged by the effort that Iraqi’s and Afghan’s are making to establish a more democratic government for themselves, but I think it suicide for this government to hand out free passes to others not willing to walk the gauntlet to become a citizen.

I think it’s ironic that terrorists too, are flocking to countries with greater liberties, and abusing them for evil purposes. So, there need to be limits. Somehow, my liberties should end where yours begin. Negotiating the difference between what’s mine and yours is the hard part.

Davi Ottenheimer January 18, 2006 2:51 PM

@ McGavin

You’ve touched upon a fine point, discussed at some length recently by the Economist:

The curse of oil – The paradox of plenty

“But a study by Mr Subramanian suggests that the Gulf’s oil has rotted democratic institutions. Rachel Bronson of the Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank in New York, points as evidence to life before oil. When the Saudi ruling family needed tax revenues, it consulted the merchant classes in Jeddah, so there was some mild democratic participation. The arrival of vast oil wealth, she argues, wiped out the power of the merchants, and made it easier for the royal family to quash democracy.”

I wrote about this from a different angle related to markets and privacy “”

It’s fine to say we should “increase the civil liberties of the countries that breed terrorist groups”, as long as we realize there is no magic formula and most attempts are based in a complex mix of political and economic motivations. Bush’s Administration, for example, believed that dismantling Iraq’s infrastructure and starting a free-market experiment there would magically result in civil liberties. Unfortunately, Rumsfeld seriously and critically underestimated the resources necessary to secure a marketplace in order to allow the market to function, let alone generate wealth, liberties, etc.

Jason McCullough January 18, 2006 2:54 PM

Bruce, I wouldn’t take this too seriously. To quote a friend of mine: “The source of this study is the extremely ideological Foreign Policy Research Institute, a think tank that can claim among its membership (and editor of its monthly magazine) the right-wing neo-conservative Zionist Daniel “crush the infidel” Pipes. It’s a pro-war institute that is using this study to push the idea that trying to fix the causes of terrorism is not the answer: smashing terrorists (and the civilians that they live among) with guns and bombs is.”

Alex Krupp January 18, 2006 3:02 PM

So then why are there so many terrorists in the US? Abortion clinic bombings, Kaczynski, McVeigh, some of the 9/11 bombers spent significant time in the US. Not to mention government spying on its own people, locking people up indefinitely without trial, and killing civilians in other countries.

Cheburashka January 18, 2006 3:10 PM

This is a chicken-and-the-egg problem.

Those countries have few civil liberties because of the same traditions from which terrorism springs.

Gavin January 18, 2006 3:16 PM

How do the authors of this study explain the four bombers who attacked London on 7/7 last year? They were all British-born, well integrated citizens of one a free country, and yet they abandoned their families (including wives and children) to commit acts of terror.

Pat Cahalan January 18, 2006 3:26 PM

@ Alex

I don’t consider abortion clinic bombings to be terrorism (there also isn’t really that many of them per year) although I suppose one could debate that. However, abortion clinic bombers certainly believe the unborn’s civil liberties are being violated.

In simplistic terms, Kaczynski believed that “The Man” was keeping everyone down (“The Man”, in his case, was technology). McVeigh didn’t publish a manifesto, but his sister testified that he was incensed at the ATF siege of the Branch Dividian compound, so it could easily be argued that both of them believed their liberties were being encroached upon.

The 9/11 terrorists may have been in the US for some time, but they were certainly motivated for the most part by conditions elsewhere, not here.

David January 18, 2006 3:52 PM

One way to increase such liberties is to ensure reliable, open communications for all. This can be done by beefing up support for the Internet, cell phones, TV, radio, books, magazines and other avenues for sharing information.

The more typical Muslims worldwide learn about the actual goals of Al Qaeda, the less they’ll be impressed. But when they get poor information, they suffer from delusional goals.

You can reduce the population growth through increased education and economic opportunity, or you can sterilize people against their will.

Current US strategies for terrorism seem to follow unworkable “sterilize” approach that actually makes the problem worse and only trades one set of tryants for another. That’s too bad.

TG January 18, 2006 4:02 PM

See NATAN SHARANSKY’s book “The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror,”. His ideas support the same thinking. This is supposedly the basis of Busch policies.

Don January 18, 2006 4:06 PM

“So then why are there so many terrorists in the US?”

Exactly what US are you living in? Despite fairly easy access to destructive materials and ease of momement I haven’t seen any incidents anywhere near me, in the nation’s capital, since 9/11. There have been a few disturbed individuals in small planes or tractors, none of whom had any actual capacity to cause harm.

Alan De Smet January 18, 2006 4:21 PM

To those suggesting that the hypothesis fails because it can’t explain every single terrorist attack ever, you’re asking a bit much. Accurately explaining a big chunk of terrorism would be useful.

As for the article, “murdercide?” Taking a look at words like regicide, infanticide, genocide, fratricide, I’m pretty sure “cide” means “to kill” or something similar. So “murdercide” is redundant and smacks of an attempt to change opinions by changing the language.

As to the argument itself, it’s reasonably compelling. However, I’d be curious to see the correlation between the size of a country’s middle class and the rate of terrorism. Iraq didn’t actually generate many terrorists prior to our invasion. It was a very oppressive government but had a pretty healthy middle class. China is moderately oppressive, but the middle class is growing. Saudi Arabia is moderately oppressive, but has a very serious imbalance in the distribution of wealth. (Both my hypothesis and the articles are shot to hell by North Korea, which is impoversed and completely unfree.)

Silly “murdercide” aside, some interesting points. I suppose the core argument is that you’re more likely to generate terrorists if people feel they have nothing to lose. That could be lack of political power or simply financial power. That seems a really compelling argument (again, ignoring North Korea).

Pat Cahalan January 18, 2006 4:41 PM

@ Alan

“murdercide” smacks of “I want to invent a cool word and get people talking about my article”, to me anyway.

Remember that Iraq is an odd case, because post-invasion terrorist (or insurgency, or whatever you want to call it) activities are colored by the fact that you have two groups of people involved -> Iraqis who may or may be pursuing an intra-societal agenda, and foreign operatives, who can have all sorts of other agendas going on. There is at least a non-trivial amount of evidence that some of the terrorist activity is being initiated by foreigners.

North Korea is impoverished and as far as we know completely unfree, but we (western media-informed people) don’t have any clue what internal terrorist activity looks like in North Korea, since we don’t have an intelligence base there.

Plus, the paper says that free countries are less likely to spawn terrorism, but it may very well be that completely totalitarian regimes are likewise less likely to spawn terrorism, and the countries in-between are the most likely.

Andrew January 18, 2006 5:00 PM

Interesting how terrorists tend to ‘come from’ places with lower levels of civil liberty, but tend to attack places with higher levels of civil liberty. So, to prevent terrorism from affecting you, you should: 1) Attempt to increace the civil liberties of other countries, 2) Attempt to decrease the civil liberties of your own country.

Too bad I’d rather live with terror than oppression.

Dima January 18, 2006 5:11 PM

Don, exactly what disturbed individuals in small planes in (or around) the nation’s capital are you taling about? And what does lead you to believe that there’s an ease of movement for “individuals in small planes” in and arount Washington, DC?

billswift January 18, 2006 5:18 PM

Scheuer, Michael (Anonymous). Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror.

Scheuer is a former CIA analyst specializing in Islam. He points out that the terrorists attack the US because the US supports the repressive regimes in those countries. Get rid of the US support and those countries’ governments would fall.

Alen January 18, 2006 5:22 PM

Isn’t everybody ignoring the rather large glaring white elephant in the room?

Terrorism it strikes me, is born of religion, and religious conviction. The class status or liberties of the people involved are inconsequential next to religion.

People who believe that this life is nothing, that a better one awaits them, are more likely to do something extreme in this one…

Wanna stop terrorism? Stop religion…

Pat Cahalan January 18, 2006 5:37 PM

Actually, Alen, there’s plenty of studies out there that show that religion has very little to do with terrorism in general.

Browse around on this blog and you can find plenty of citations.

Frank Herbert Fan January 18, 2006 6:07 PM

Isn’t this a fairly well-known tool of oppressive governments? Redirect energies that would otherwise be spent overthrowing the government to external targets, by various mechanisms as espousing the evil things that the targets do and blaming your low standard (of whatever variety) of living on that target. I can think of two examples off the top of my head: Jews in Nazi Germany, and US support for the Israeli Conspiracy in Iran. I’m sure there are other examples not related to Israelites.

To say that there is no complicity in this arrangement by, say, the Saudi government is to ignore the number of Saudi government officials that have been connected with various “terror” causes.

Interestingly, this very notion is the one that Frank Herbert used in Dune to have the Fremen take over the human universe. I realize that is a work of fiction, but it is the same basic reasoning.

With money, of course, comes the ability to act on one’s desires. The ability to purchase firearms, explosives and airplane tickets, obtain knowledge of tactics, and run covert smuggling operations are all dependent on money. Even the ability to discover that there IS a state of being that is unlike one’s current existence requires education (ie money).

So, a society already pushing toward intolerance that gains wealth will produce zealots. Poor societies with many freedoms have no reason to fight, and no means to fight either.

Roy Owens January 18, 2006 7:33 PM

Does oppression foment terrorism? Obviously not.

Think of the most oppressed group of people on the planet, oppressed the most and oppressed for the longest time, with absolutely no hope of escape. These would be the lowest of the castes in India, who have no rights at all, who cannot own anything, who catch and eat rats and snakes for a living, and whose offspring cannot escape the caste they were born into, yea unto the umpteenth generation — despite (largely failed) legislative efforts to undo the system.

In the last thousand years, how many of these people have turned terrorist?

Obviously, oppression is not a sufficient condition for terrorism. Neither is it a necessary condition, as we know from the skyjackers of September 11th.

Tank January 18, 2006 10:12 PM

Quote: “This seems obvious to me.”

Well feel free to forward it to then and we’ll see if that fixes the problem. After all if it is just a coincidence that a country with strict adherence to sharia law ALSO has relatively few civil liberties then it could be that all they need to do is find out the two are unrelated and fix one of them.

Seriously was the whole Taliban phenomenon too hard to figure out for you too ? Some big mystery there as to why strict fundamentalist societies are always so low on the civil liberties ladder ?

Davi Ottenheimer January 19, 2006 12:01 AM

“Terrorism it strikes me, is born of religion, and religious conviction.”

Well, I wasn’t going to touch this but I can’t help but point out that the definition of terrorism is usually related to the desire to affect political change through violent means directed at non-combatants. So no, terrorism is not from religion, it is from people being disenfrancished from political change to the point where they resort to violence, and from being disadvantaged in combat to the point where they attack non-combatants. The only link to religion is actually based on fundamentalism, which is about intolerance for other worldviews and also not unique to religion.

“Wanna stop terrorism? Stop religion…”

No, no, no, that actually might foment terrorism since religion is often a means for people to be connected and work together to have (or belong to) a group with honest intentions and positive influence. In fact, you might say that moderate religious leaders are often the ones who provide a viable alternative base (the MLK v. Malcom X phenomenon). Ghandi’s satyagraha is the usual example of a moderate and non-fundamentalist religious foundation for non-violent resistance (although some do argue that it was the extreme violence that made his vision a viable alternative).

Davi Ottenheimer January 19, 2006 12:08 AM

“strict fundamentalist societies are always so low on the civil liberties ladder”

fundamentalist != liberties

That’s an easy one. But now try explaining support for fundamentalists by external states who oppose fundamentalism in general but turn a blind eye in order to achieve a specific geopolitical objective in spite of the welfare of the people terrorised by the subnational militant fundamentalist groups.

NickFortune January 19, 2006 3:36 AM

‘Isn’t this our plan in Iraq? To spread freedom in order to win the “war on terror”?’

Somehow I have a picture a soldier in a town square with a bullhorn shouting “freedom is mandatory! Anyone found not being free will be punished!”

Clive Robinson January 19, 2006 3:39 AM

@Pat Cahalan

“The 9/11 terrorists may have been in the US for some time, but they were certainly motivated for the most part by conditions elsewhere, not here.”

That may not be true.

There is a gathering body of evidence that shows that something like 75% of non-domestic born terorists actually become that way whilst in an institute of higher education in a more liberal country.

The current argument is that in the liberal country they lack the personal support network that they have in their own country, where their “political thinking” has by and large been done for them weather they like it or not (nail that sticks up issue).

When in the more liberal country they tend to associate with those of their own culture/faith/country etc in the same age range as themselves.

They then develop “group think” which causes excesive reaction to events that concern others of their culture/faith/country. As with most group think it quickly devolves down based on who can be the most outrageous in outlook.

They are then fairly easily spotted by people who have very definate political ageders (usually based around personal power). These people then supply the missing “ideological lead” that was missing in the groups lives. Also due to the nature of their upbringing they very readily accept this.

It the person with the political agender can supply resourcess and tailord indoctrination materials, they can then asses the suitability of the group and its members for various types of activities.

If “direct action” is one of the agenders, and the group and it’s members are not considerd suitable for “greater things” they can quite quickly be issolated and brought up to a state of rediness for “direct action”. The issolation does not have to be physical just in outlook and belife.

If however members of the group are considered suitable for other activities such as recruting, supply chain, communications etc they can be fairly easily be co-ordinated into these activities.

The question then becomes how do you stop this sort of thing happening?

Stamping on the people with the political agender is not likley to work there are just to many of them and they are so geographically dispersed that you probably could not find more than a few percent of them.

Preventing the students comming into the country will work but as a measure it’s short commings far out weigh it’s advantages, pluss it gives more fuel to those with the political agender.

Setting up support groups to give the students the social/direction asspect they need will stop them starting their own adhock groups and networks. However this is a very difficult task, and has often resulted in the group becomming infiltrated with the result that you end up with a “legitamized group” with very undesirable outlook or splinter groups (In the UK the Islington Mosque was an example).

Whatever you end up doing it will either have major risks or significant downsides unless very very carefully managed.

Ultamatly the solution is for the countries with a “totaliterian” political and social system, to lose them. This is not a process that can be “Parachuted in” behind military action, as has been seen with Iraq. It also has other issues, Iran for instance was starting to develop a more moderat aproach to the “west” and it’s political and social views, unfortunatly attacking their nearest neighbour even though they where enimies had the very predictable effect that it caused the moderates to be ousted, and set the process back 20 or 40 years…

Tank January 19, 2006 4:16 AM

@ Davi Ottenheimer at January 19, 2006 12:08 AM
“That’s an easy one. But now try explaining support for fundamentalists by external states who oppose fundamentalism in general but turn a blind eye in order to achieve a specific geopolitical objective in spite of the welfare of the people terrorised by the subnational militant fundamentalist groups.”

Why ?
Apart from the fact that this should be obvious it is unrelated to the matter of states generating the majority of suicide bombers having any interest in reversing policies of civil rights.

You could certainly suggest that the US has an interest in keeping the Sauds in power. Take a few moments out to do that if you like so we can get it out of the way and get back to the subject at hand.

That subject being that should the Sauds seek to increase civil liberties they would be deposed, killed and replaced with someone who would reinstate them.

This is not because there is some political thinktank who really really likes these policies, it’s because this is what the entire society is based on. There is no government decision or legal ruling even in criminal courts which contradicts the religious text on which their society is based.

This is what the public wants. So unless the idea is a little more foreign-instigated regime change and creation of another chaos-based “flypaper strategy” is appropriate then it’s a little pointless.

Kees Huyser January 19, 2006 6:04 AM

@ Andrew
“So, to prevent terrorism from affecting you, you should:
1) Attempt to increace the civil liberties of other countries,
2) Attempt to decrease the civil liberties of your own country.”

Isn’t that what the USA govt. is doing? 🙂

Sky-Ho January 19, 2006 11:49 AM

Isn’t improving civil liberties what bin Laden has been saying all along?

Am I the only person that actually pays attention to what bin Laden says? Sheesh!

Davi Ottenheimer January 19, 2006 12:21 PM

I suppose we could pick any country out of the news, but I thought this was a particularly good example of tension around civil liberties and terror:

“The Nepalese authorities say they have arrested scores of opposition leaders and activists ahead of planned pro-democracy demonstrations on Friday. All telephone services in the capital, Kathmandu, were cut off for a time, and mobile phones are still not working.”

I seem to remember Maoist opposition movements actually starting back around the late 80s, though the article suggests more than 12,000 people have died from the conflict just in the past ten years. So the next question is whether increasing liberties would reduce the Maoist’s terrorist attacks. Based on the changes attempted by the King in late 1990, I’d say that it’s not such a simple equation.

Obscure Guru January 19, 2006 3:09 PM

@ Roy Owens

“In the last thousand years, how many of these people [under-castes] have turned terrorist?”

Probably significantly more than are commonly known about in the west. The scope of their activities are probably limited by their lack of resources. On reading your post, I immediately thought of the amazing and tragic story of Phoolan Devi aka “the Bandit Queen.” Devi was an under-caste who became a sort of Indian Robin Hood, took a trip through prison, ended up in politics and was then assasinated – right at the point in her life when she had begun to work “within the system.”

piglet January 19, 2006 4:40 PM

According to the definition adopted by the USA and most other governments, yes, they would definitely be on the list of terrorist organizations, and the “international community” would declare its solidarity with Britain.

Futility January 20, 2006 12:31 PM

@ Davi Ottenheimer

“… the definition of terrorism is usually related to the desire to affect political change through violent means directed at non-combatants. So no, terrorism is not from religion, it is from people being disenfrancished from political change to the point where they resort to violence, and from being disadvantaged in combat to the point where they attack non-combatants. …”

Davi, this definition of terrorism fails to grasp the very essence of what terrorism is about: power. Using the definition stated above, Bin Laden and the suicide bombers in Irak appear to be freedom fighters that only resort to violence against non-combatants because they don’t have any other choice. But this could not be farer from the truth and gives these cowards a completely undeserved merit. What the individuals behind the attacks really want is power.
(Telling somebody to blow himself up and this guy actually does it, IS power! But, of course, they even want more.) The sole purpose of their blabla about oppression, hypocrisy of the west, etc is to attract more followers. The perfidy of this approach is that some of their claims contain some truth which ensures a steady supply of easily-deceived victims that can be convinced to blow themselves up for a supposingly higher good. Religion comes in handy here, because in any “holy” book one can find a line that can be used to justify whatever atrocities these people want to commit. You are right, religion (better fundamentalism) is not a root cause for terrorism, but it’s something that can be easily exploited by terrorists.

@Pat Cahalan:

“I don’t consider abortion clinic bombings to be terrorism (there also isn’t really that many of them per year) although I suppose one could debate that. However, abortion clinic bombers certainly believe the unborn’s civil liberties are being violated.”

This statement also gives abortion clinic bombers an undeserved merit. These abominable individuals accept that innocent by-standers are harmed (which could even be a rape-victim and her unborn child. How the abortion clinic bombers reconcile this with the violated civil liberties of the unborn is beyond me!) Here again, the ultimate objective of the bombers is power. They want to impose their point of view on others by any means that they deem necessary. Regardless of, if one personally thinks that abortion is wrong or not, abortion clinic bombers are properly labeled terrorists. Especially, in the US where other means of public debate and politic influence are (still) available.

Pat Cahalan January 20, 2006 5:57 PM

@ Futility

This statement also gives abortion clinic bombers an undeserved merit.

I’m assuming you’re talking about my statement, “abortion clinic bombers certainly believe the unborn’s civil liberties are being violated.”

Note, I don’t say anything about whether or not abortion clinic bombers are totally cracked in the head to believe this… 🙂

Regardless of how twisted or illogical their thought processes are, this is still a true statement -> they believe they’re protecting the civil liberties of the unborn.

I don’t label abortion clinic bombers to be “terrorists” because their motivation is specific enough to demand a single class of target (to defend against abortion clinic bombers, make abortion clinics harder to bomb.) One of the difficulties of defending against terrorists is that you don’t know what they’re going to attack, or how. If you were to label them terrorists, though, you could still say that they fit the profile that is the topic of this thread (less liberty = more terrorism), because of the “less liberty” aspect.

Any way you slice it, though, that’s a semantic argument and only slightly related to this thread.

Ari Heikkinen January 21, 2006 12:48 AM

Not only libery increases security, but it also increases innovation of which everyone benefits.

notepad January 21, 2006 3:42 AM

This is complete rubbish – if one does not address the complicity of Israeli Mossad’s involvement in terrorist activities and the Mossad’s historical record of framing Muslims as a threat, one will NEVER really understand the problem.

And don’t start crying anti-semitic – doing so only stifles reason and facts.

Remember the code of the Mossad – “we shall wage war by deception.”

Terrorism? no, make that Zionism.


J.D. Abolins January 22, 2006 10:41 AM

Some aspects of the extremeism remind me of separate observations made by Orlando Figes and Adam B. Ulam, in their separate books on the Russian Revolution. The autocratic system in Tsarist Russia, along with harsh measures for the suggestion of even modest reforms, made it easy for for social philosophy to move towards extremism. If one would get sent to the Peter & Paul prison or to Siberia for suggesting a minor reform, why not go to call for terror and extremism.

Another factor was that the intellectual isolation in Russian that did not allow for ideas and views to be readily discussed, examined, or debated. So while many European countires could go through debates about Marxism, socialism, etc. with relative little trouble, this was not possible in Russia.

Another parallel I see in the history of the Russian Revolution and to some of the present day extremism is how the most oppressed groups did not become revolutionaries. The peasants did not become revolutionaries and were often at odds with the revolutionary ideas.

Perhaps, the oppressive conditions don’t make the most afflicted become extremists or terrorists but give others in the society ample examples of suffering to fester when they are at more of a liberty to pick up grievances. A dark-side to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where one can get above the basic scrabbling to survive and reach the level of thinking about grievances of others?

Davi Ottenheimer January 22, 2006 3:56 PM

@ Futility

“the very essence of what terrorism is about: power”

Odd, you don’t think political change is about power? I think you actually agree with the common definition since you don’t provide an alternative definition, just a single word.

If you define the “essence of terrorism” as “power” how do you distinguish it from a democratic election, for example? Isn’t that about doing things “to attract more followers” and gain power? Seems desireable to me that we distinguish democracy from terrorism.

Anyway, here’s the CIA’s attempt to clarify:

“The Intelligence Community is guided by the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the US Code, Section 2656f(d):

—The term ‘terrorism’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.”

Davi Ottenheimer January 22, 2006 4:09 PM

@ notepad

“Mossad’s historical record of framing Muslims as a threat”

Trolling? I don’t see how that makes any sense, or is relevant here. When two sides are in conflict, each sees the other as a threat and themselves as vulnerable. That’s the nature of any conflict. Are you suggesting that Israel would not be threatened by its neighbors if they didn’t collect intelligence information? Funny. Just because you close your eyes doesn’t mean you won’t run into something.

“the code of the Mossad – ‘we shall wage war by deception.'”

Speaking of facts, where did you find this so called “code”? Usually when people refer to intelligence code they mean actual ciphers, not some odd slogan or team logo.

“‘Mossad’ has been appointed by the State of Israel to collect information, analyze intelligence and perform special covert operations beyond its borders.”

How is that different the mission of any other intellgence agency?

Futility January 27, 2006 12:42 PM

@ Davi Ottenheimer:

Of course, I did not want to imply that the urge for power is the only defining quality of a terrorist. Furthermore, the examples I gave should have made it clear that this pathological urge for power is not to be confused with the desire for power that drives, among other motifs, candidates in a democratic election.
I wanted to point out that the definition you gave left a lot to be desired and made Bin Laden look like a freedom-fighter that actually fights for a good cause (which I am sure you did not want to say). I am aware of the difficulty to accurately define terrorism (since often the definition itself is driven by hidden political motives) and the CIA definition you provided is slightly better.

Davi Ottenheimer January 28, 2006 4:53 PM

“I wanted to point out that the definition you gave left a lot to be desired and made Bin Laden look like a freedom-fighter that actually fights for a good cause”

Wha? How? That’s a pretty big jump in logic to assert.

First of all I do not see how my comments and the definition by the CIA are mutually exclusive. And you did not mention why theirs gives you the kind of clarity you desire, so perhaps it is just because I put CIA next to it?

Second, your point calls out the issue of pejorative terms clouded by doublespeak, which is the nature of the problem with defining people as terrorists. Do freedom-fighters ever actually fight for freedom? Is a good cause really all good, and do you judge it by the means, desired ends or a mix?

For example the US was happy to publically describe certain anti-freedom militants “freedom-fighters” as long as they were serving a political objective (e.g. the UNITA, Contras, Mujahadeen). Thus many argue that as long as the terrorists are agents of a nation, they are not defined by the CIA as terrorists. Perhaps that’s what you mean by saying we risk defining Osama as a freedom-fighter — he actually was, until he fell out of grace with his sponsor states, according to the CIA.

As Voltaire once said:

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets”

You can define murder or you can define murder, if you know what I mean. And if you try to use a simple definition in complex political circles, how can you avoid someone saying it leaves a lot to be desired?

Futility January 30, 2006 11:51 AM

@David Ottenheimer:

“Wha? How? That’s a pretty big jump in logic to assert.”

Well, in my first post I was refering to your statement:
“(terrorism) is from people being disenfrancished from political change to the point where they resort to violence, and from being disadvantaged in combat to the point where they attack non-combatants. …”. This does sound that terrorists only resort to violence out of desperation since they do not have any other means to promote their political goals, no big jump in logic is required here. I also clearly said that I do not think that you believe Bin Laden is a freedom-fighter. I wanted to highlight that such statements perpetuate the wrong notion that terrorists act out of despair (a notion that terrorists regularly use to their advantage) and clouds their real motive, the acquisition of power by any means necessary (which clearly separates them from people that want power in a democratic system). I am fully aware of the difficulty to incorporate this into a rigorous definition of terrorism. The CIA definition is better since it refrains from this kind of ‘unconsciously apologetic’ qualifications not because it is labeled ‘CIA’. But still, even this definition might not be completely devoid of political hidden motives given the sad tendency of the CIA to turn a blind eye to right-wing political violence (Orlando Bosch comes to mind, for example), or its actual application to a concrete example.

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