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Whatever our politics, we can hopefully unite around the idea that intentional murder of innocent civilians is not a legitimate method of self-defence or resistance or protest.
Terrorism in general, and suicide bombing in particular are NOT confined to the Middle East, and are practiced by many different political groups. The "champion" suicide bombers are the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, whose struggle has nothing to do with Islam or Israel or the Middle East.
In a New York Times article, Robert Pape examines some myths and facts about suicide attacks, which Pape attributes to dissident groups that want to form an independent state.
Allowing the least militant forces to build a state doesn't make any sense in the case of Al-Qaeda, as Muslims already have many states of their own, and Al-Qaeda are by definition the most militant faction and can never be "least militant." What he is recommending regarding domestic security is exactly what the terrorists want to achieve: a state where everyone is suspect, armed guards check endless lines of people at airports and police checkpoints cause hour long traffic jams. That is not a solution for dealing with terror, but a way of ensuring that accommodation to terror becomes a way of life.
Terror is similar to piracy in its time, in the sense that it is a new kind of international threat that nations didn't know how to vanquish at first. Terrorist acts are carried out by only a small hard core group. This makes it difficult to isolate and catch the perpetrators, who are not visible, unlike a national army for example, and who can be easily replaced by new recruits. One bomb speaks very loudly.
The small group of terrorists who carry out the attacks however, could not survive without a pyramid of support from a much wider circle. The terrorists are supported by a "political" group that has spokespersons and collects funds, ostensibly for legitimate purposes. A much large group of apologists explains that the terror is very unfortunate, but really the people have no choice. A huge propaganda network builds support for terrorists as "national heros" and often they get legitimation from religious authorities as well. Countries support the terrorists openly or clandestinely, harbor terrorists, and supply them with arms and training. The USSR, East Germany and Czechoslovakia used to be the leaders in this field of endeavor, under the heading of supporting "national liberation movements."
While the small group of terrorists who carry out the attacks is not particularly vulnerable, the much larger pyramid of politicians, organizers, governments, publicists and educators are vulnerable to pressure by the international community. Terror could not exist without the support of these people, and they would not give their support if they understood that they would meet certain and severe punishment as well as universal condemnation.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to get universal agreement on meaningful action for eradication of terror, despite UN declarations and fine communiques read at the conclusion of summit meetings. "Terror" should mean any violent act that targets civilians or threatens groups of civilians to gain political or other ends. But governments and NGOs seem to define "terror" as whatever actions of their opposition do not please them. Innocent or justifiable acts such as Palestinian children throwing rocksl, or combatting of Islamic Jihad terrorists, have been labelled "terror" when it is convenient for someone to do so. Conversely, partisans seek "exemptions" from the definition of terror for suicide attacks in supermarkets or for Israeli settlers who kill Palestinians harvesting olives. This failure to agree on the definition of terror, is not an accident, for people are reluctant to give up these barbaric methods. A recent poll shows that 75% of Palestinians support suicide bombings like the one in the Haifa restaurant that killed Arabs as well as Jews.
Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations stated, "[A]cts of terrorism, abhorred and rejected by all of you, defile and damage even the most legitimate cause." Suicide bombing and other acts of terror have been condemned by leaders of all faiths, by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. But a minority of governments, and numerous Non-Government organizations, including some of those supposedly dedicated to "non-violence" refuse to speak out against terror, and lend tacit or open support to terror groups. Murder of innocent people is not compatible with any philosophy of non-violence or any peace aims. Terror is not a concern of Americans, or Israelis or Russians or Western countries only, for terror has killed in every part of the globe, including the Congo, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Italy, Ireland, Egypt, Japan and Germany. We will not vanquish terror until vanquishing terror becomes a universal moral imperative instead of a political slogan.
September 22, 2003 OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
Dying to Kill Us
CHICAGO - Suicide terrorism has been on the rise around the world for two decades, but there is
However, this presumed connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism is
I have spent a year compiling a database of every suicide bombing and attack around the globe from
Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist campaigns have in common is a specific secular and
Three general patterns in the data support my conclusions. First, nearly all suicide terrorist
Second, liberal democracies are uniquely vulnerable to suicide terrorists. The United States,
Third, suicide terrorist campaigns are directed toward a strategic objective. From Lebanon to Israel
Most worrisome, my research shows that the raw number of suicide attacks is climbing at an alarming
And in terms of casualties, suicide attacks are far and way the most efficient form of terrorism.
How should democracies respond? In the past, they have tended to react with heavy military
Yet this doesn't work either: one likely reason suicide terrorism has been rising so rapidly in
When one considers the strategic logic of suicide terrorism, it becomes clear that America's war on
Unfortunately, negotiating concessions with the terrorists is also not a solution. The current
In the end, the best approach for the states under fire is probably to focus on their own domestic
For the United States, especially in light of its growing occupation of the Persian Gulf, it is
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