Only a Fool Would Venture Here

Facebook Twitter Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn
Perhaps there is nothing so treacherous -- and foolish -- as trying to explain terrorism right after another heart-wrenching and cruel attack. The innocents killed, wounded and traumatized by the coordinated attacks in Paris deserve our full loyalty. The perpetrators deserve our hatred.

But we have fought a War against Terror for decades now with no discernible gains. As we double down, they double down. As we weaken one terrorist group, another bigger, badder one rears its head. It's a deadly game of whack-a-mole in which the moles just seem to get tougher. Maybe trying to understand terrorism is worth doing?

Terrorism today is associated with the Middle East, but it predates its residency there by many years and many miles. The IRA (Irish Republican Army) was the world's most prominent terrorist organization in the 1970s. In the 1950s, the American Ku Klux Klan used terrorism to frighten blacks from demanding equal rights. Terrorism itself was a term coined during the French Revolution, as Robespierre's Reign of Terror suppressed that uprising. And armed revolutionaries trying to overthrow their governments -- in Europe, Africa, Latin America, Asia -- are always labeled terrorists until they win. Years ago, I remember reading a satirical interview with George Washington. The interview was a "what if" assuming Washington's defeat during the American Revolution. The label "terrorist" was then applied even to him.

Terrorism today is two things: it's a type of violence and the intent of that violence. Terrorist violence is against civilian targets -- stabbing innocents on a bus, blowing up synagogues, a shooting rampage at a concert. Any of those could happen however and not be terrorism if they lack an organization and political motives. The second requirement is an intent to terrorize. The desired reactions from terrorist violence are to frighten and intimidate large numbers of people and to incite a massive response from the state.

Terrorism is not the first choice of groups going to war. Obviously, military targets (assuming they exist) against your enemy would be the most effective way to win any war. Destroy their weapons, their armies and prevail. Instead, terrorists act from a position of weakness. They are unable to attack their much more powerful enemy's military. 

Terrorists seek media coverage, world attention and state reactions. That's not to say there should be no reaction, of course, only to remind us that being strategic is important. If we react from emotion rather than tactical advantage, we are following their playbook.

Sometimes terrorism against a nation -- a people -- happens when the nation is doing exactly the right thing. Other times what we do (or are perceived as doing) helps the terrorists recruit. The more we stifle the freedoms and opportunities of others, the easier it is to recruit jobless, hopeless young men to fight us. Economics has a role here. 

An example would be Israel's policies in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Without going into great detail here, Israel treats all Palestinians in those territories as enemies and still as a conquered people. Do I believe that a more liberal Israeli policy toward Palestinians would reduce terrorism in Israel? I do, though not immediately. Are there Israelis who disagree, who insist that they must take a hard line because they are under assault from terrorists? Of course. But it becomes a circle of action and reaction, a trap neither side can escape. 

ISIS itself was originally Al Qaeda in Iraq, a group that did not exist until we overthrew the dictator Saddam Hussein, creating a vacuum for them to fill. We can't reverse that action but I would hope we could learn from it. 

Keep in mind that conventional warfare has killed many millions more than terrorism in our lifetimes. Both are heinous. For Americans though, conventional wars have not been fought on our soil in a very long time, but Americans have been killed by terrorists. 

Don't be unduly frightened or change your lifestyle. If there is to be a military reaction, it should be limited and strategic. I commend the President for his careful deliberation, but I cannot support his actions, particularly rampant drone warfare.

Don't blame 1.5 billion Muslims for a few hundred terrorists. (Did you blame 2  billion Christians for IRA terrorism?) Do stand with the victims and remember that for every western victim of Islamic terrorism there are 10,000 Islamic victims.

Vive le France.


  1. I'm not sure your condemnation of the IRA meets the challenge of defining terrorism. In Ireland, Oliver Cromwell, operating under a mandate from Parliament, defeated most of his opposition and began to import Celtic Protestants from Scotland to establish a portion of Eire which he intended to be safe for Protestantism. This project was expanded under William and Mary--by William of Orange--and it started the awful struggle between the Orange--the six most northern counties--and the Green--the rest of Catholic Ireland. Nobody likes to be thrown out of their own country, after all.
    In 1947-48, a bunch of European Jews--call them Ashkenazi's--who actually converted to Judaism in the 8th Century (are they related to Abraham?)--established, by force, the present state of Israel. The folks who lived there at the time--they called it Palestine--didn't like giving up everything they owned any more than the the Irish in Ireland's six most northern counties liked giving up everything they owned.
    You have adequately defined the downside of terrorism, but how do we decide who is really the victim? I'll offer you this:

    1. Thanks for the comment. Given that the IRA attacked civilian targets, not military ones, for the same purposes, the world called them terrorists. Yes, there were reports of terrorist activity among the early Zionists as well, though I wouldn't call attacking British military terrorism.

  2. The IRA did attack civilian targets, but they considered the civilian targets to be quasi-military, I think, like the KGB might consider a civilian undercover agent. ISIS, for instance do not wear uniforms, so anytime anything happened to one of them, they could claim to be a civilian target. And, as far as the USA was concerned, the IRA was never labeled as a terrorist group. It wouldn't have played well in Boston, in any event. But then there's this:

  3. Love the Irish Rovers! I don't dispute whether the IRA or any similar group had legitimate grievances but only hope to remind readers that terrorism itself has a long history and broad geography.

    We were in Belfast in 1972 and saw that war zine firsthand, including attending the funeral for two boys -- IRA -- blown up by the bomb they were trying to plant in an apartment building. It's a well known incident, probably March of 1972.


Post a Comment

I'm interested in your comments.