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Coming to Grips with Terrorism


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.
However, Pape's classification of causes doesn't fit all suicide attacks. Osama Bin Laden was not trying to secede from the United States, for example, but rather to expel the US from Saudia, and expel the Jews from Israel.

He concludes:
In the end, the best approach for the states under fire is probably to focus on their own domestic
security while doing what they can to see that the least militant forces on the terrorists' side
build a viable state on their own.

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.

Ami Isseroff


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
great confusion as to why. Since many such attacks - including, of course, those of Sept. 11, 2001 -
have been perpetrated by Muslim terrorists professing religious motives, it might seem obvious that
Islamic fundamentalism is the central cause. This presumption has fueled the belief that future
9/11's can be avoided only by a wholesale transformation of Muslim societies, which in turn was a
core reason for broad public support of the invasion of Iraq.

However, this presumed connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism is
wrongheaded, and it may be encouraging domestic and foreign policies that are likely to worsen
America's situation.

I have spent a year compiling a database of every suicide bombing and attack around the globe from
1980 to 2001 - 188 in all. It includes any attack in which at least one terrorist killed himself or
herself while attempting to kill others, although I excluded attacks authorized by a national
government, such as those by North Korea against the South. The data show that there is little
connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any religion for that matter. In
fact, the leading instigator of suicide attacks is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist
group whose members are from Hindu families but who are adamantly opposed to religion (they have
have committed 75 of the 188 incidents).

Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist campaigns have in common is a specific secular and
strategic goal: to compel liberal democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the
terrorists consider to be their homeland. Religion is rarely the root cause, although it is often
used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting and in other efforts in service of the
broader strategic objective.

Three general patterns in the data support my conclusions. First, nearly all suicide terrorist
attacks occur as part of organized campaigns, not as isolated or random incidents. Of the 188
separate attacks in the period I studied, 179 could have their roots traced to large, coherent
political or military campaigns.

Second, liberal democracies are uniquely vulnerable to suicide terrorists. The United States,
France, India, Israel, Russia, Sri Lanka and Turkey have been the targets of almost every suicide
attack of the past two decades, and each country has been a democracy at the time of the incidents.

Third, suicide terrorist campaigns are directed toward a strategic objective. From Lebanon to Israel
to Sri Lanka to Kashmir to Chechnya, the sponsors of every campaign have been terrorist groups
trying to establish or maintain political self-determination by compelling a democratic power to
withdraw from the territories they claim. Even Al Qaeda fits this pattern: although Saudi Arabia is
not under American military occupation per se, the initial major objective of Osama bin Laden was
the expulsion of American troops from the Persian Gulf.

Most worrisome, my research shows that the raw number of suicide attacks is climbing at an alarming
rate, even while the rates of other types of terrorism actually declined. The worldwide annual total
of terrorist incidents has fallen almost in half; there were 348 attacks in 2001 as opposed to 666
incidents in 1987. Yet the number of attacks in which the terrorists intend to kill themselves along
with their victims has grown from an average of 3 per year in the 1980's, to 10 per year in the
1990's, to more than 25 in both 2000 and 2001.

And in terms of casualties, suicide attacks are far and way the most efficient form of terrorism.
From 1980 to 2001, suicide attacks accounted for only 3 percent of terrorist incidents, but caused
almost half of total deaths due to terrorism - even if one excludes as an aberration the unusually
large number of fatalities on 9/11.

How should democracies respond? In the past, they have tended to react with heavy military
offensives, only to find that this tends to incite more attacks and to stir public sympathy for the
terrorists without hampering their networks (this has clearly been the case in the West Bank and
Chechnya). In their frustration, some terrorized countries have then changed tacks, making
concessions to political causes supported by terrorists.

Yet this doesn't work either: one likely reason suicide terrorism has been rising so rapidly in
recent years is that terrorist groups have learned that the strategy pays off. Suicide terrorists
were thought to compel American and French military forces to abandon Lebanon in 1983, Israeli
forces to leave most of Lebanon in 1985, Israeli forces to quit the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in
1994 and 1995, and the Turkish government to grant measures of autonomy to the Kurds in the late
1990's. In all but the case of Turkey, the terrorists' political cause made far greater political
gains after they resorted to suicide operations.

When one considers the strategic logic of suicide terrorism, it becomes clear that America's war on
terrorism is heading in the wrong direction. The close association between foreign military
occupations and the growth of suicide terrorist movements shows the folly of any strategy centering
on conquering countries that sponsor terrorism or in trying to transform their political systems. At
most, occupying countries will disrupt terrorist operations in the short term. But over time it will
simply increase the number of terrorists coming at us.

Unfortunately, negotiating concessions with the terrorists is also not a solution. The current
failure of that approach in Israel is an all-too-common pattern. Concessions are usually incremental
and deliberately staggered - thus they fail to satisfy the nationalist aspirations of the suicide
terrorists, yet encourage terrorist leaders to see their enemies as vulnerable to coercion.

In the end, the best approach for the states under fire is probably to focus on their own domestic
security while doing what they can to see that the least militant forces on the terrorists' side
build a viable state on their own. Israel, for example, would be well advised to abandon the
territory it holds on the West Bank but to go ahead with building the immense wall, 20 feet high and
20 feet wide, to physically separate it from the Palestinian population. This would create real
security for Israel and leave the West Bank for a true Palestinian state.

For the United States, especially in light of its growing occupation of the Persian Gulf, it is
crucial to immediately step up border and immigration controls. In the medium term, Washington
should abandon its visions of empire and allow the United Nations to take over the political and
economic institutions in Iraq. And in the long run, America must move toward energy independence,
reducing the need for troops in the Persian Gulf. Even if our intentions in Iraq are good, our
presence there will continue to help terrorist groups recruit more people willing to blow themselves
up in the war against America.

Robert A. Pape teaches political science at the University of Chicago.

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000080.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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