Fundamentalism and terrorists

April 4, 2007

I find it interesting that in the past 20 years there has been a surge of fundamentalist religious groups that advocate terrorism. I will define religious fundamentalism as the act of interpreting God’s will in an absolute fashion. There is no room for debate if you speak with a fundamentalist. Since religious fundamentalists see things in black and white, they can make some of the deadliest terrorists.

But even terrorist groups that claim to be acting with God’s approval have a history of changing their beliefs and practices to help the organization function more effectively.  A very notable example of this is Sheik Ahmed Yassin’s change of position on the possibility of using women in suicide bomber attacks. Yassin, the leader of the Hamas, at first claimed that any man who allowed a woman to be a suicide bomber violated islamic law. But later, since it was easier to get women past israili security checkpoints, Yassin claimed a women could participate in the armed struggle after she had “fulfilled her demographic role”. Of course he never claimed that God changed his mind on the issue. The Hamas simply chose to change their interpretation of the Koran because it better suited their organization at the time. I hope it is not the case that the religious fundamentalist terrorist groups are not capable of seeing their hypocrisy. There is nothing more dangerous than a group of terrorists with an ideology that can change to legitimize any action they wish to take.

We can fight terror without guns

April 4, 2007

At first glance, it may seem impossible to fight violent terrorists with peaceful methods. With a deeper look, it seems that some peaceful tactics could be very effective. In an earlier post I addressed some of the things that motivate terrorists. According to Richardson, the top three are Revenge, Reaction, and Reknown. To sum up, terrorists use violence to exact revenge on a foe that has harmed them in the past, to get a reaction of fear or anger or submission, and to become known to the world (or national) community. While it may not be possible for peaceful tactics to stop specfic terrorist attacks in the short run, I believe it is possible to do so in the long run. A terrorist group seeks all three R’s, but they only have control over one of these directly: Revenge. A terrorist group can get revenge without action from a second party, but they cannot get a reaction or become reknown without an action from a nation or community or the news.

I think if nations that have been the victims of multiple terrorist attacks cannot effectively find and crush the terrorists that are responsible (because they come from abroad or operate in a cell structure), then that nation could seek to end the violence by preventing the media from giving the terrorists a reaction. Without widespread fear and panic the terrorist attack will become less significant and less reknown. When a terrorist group does not have a national audience they will likely get less recruits and less support. With less support, the arsenals of the group will decrease. This is mere speculation, but I think it is fair to say that we are entering an era where the media coverage of terrorist attacks, and speeches from the president and secretary of defense, increase the fear of citizens, which thus fullfills the terrorists goals of reaction and reknown. Bush gave an especially large reaction to Al-Qaeda by declaring a “War on Terror”. I think it is too ambitious to assume we can crush a terrorist movement with as much foreign support as Al-Qaeda has with exclusively military force.

Recent terrorist attacks in Iraq

March 20, 2007

Recently, the New York Times reported that insurgents in Iraq detonated at least two bombs containing deadly chlorine gas. Dozens of civilians were injured in the attacks, but most attacks in Iraq of this nature are directed toward U.S. or Iraqi military. I find this interesting because I think that many Americans may assume that attacks directed towards military personel should be considered terrorist acts. Richardson, the author of What Terrorists Want claims that if violent action is taken against a soldier it should be considered guerilla warfare, not terrorism. I am inclined to agree with her. I think that it is important to distinguish between warfare and terrorism because terrorists generally have a different type of culture than those who would only target other military. Perhaps if some insurgents were not considered enemy combatants, but rather enemy military, then peaceful negotiations could ensue. If some groups of insurgents would be given that status and respect, they would definitely be more inclined to negotiate. If some combatants are not technically terrorists, then it would be acceptable to negotiate with them.

Terrorist Alerts Levels?

March 9, 2007

There are five terrorist alert levels in the United States. They range from green to red, with red being the most severe. These days you hear a lot about terrorists and alert levels. But what is really the purpose of having 5 different alert levels?How does society benefit from these levels? I don’t see a reason to need to label a situation with an “alert level”. It is essentially a fancy term that means nothing. Anybody with half a brain knows that the situation is dire when a disaster like 9/11 happens. It doesn’t help people to hear that the “alert level” has been raised.

There is no reason to have an alert level other than to scare people. I went to the government website to research what a change in each level means and what it is supposed to tell to the public. Every level is basically the same: They all say to listen for further instructions. When you put it all together, the alert levels just cause fear and do not increase awareness. I don’t know if the alert levels are simply excess beauracracy, or perhaps the machinations of presidents who need to influence the public. Alert levels certainly aren’t helping to catch Al-Qaeda.

Iranian Weapons In Iraq

February 22, 2007

Recently, the United States Military released an intelligence report concerning the emergence of what appeared to be Iranian made armor piercing bombs in Iraq. The Iraqi insurgents have been using this type of bomb to destroy heavily armored vehicles such as humvees and tanks. There is still a question of whether the Iranian government supported the delivery and supply of these arms or not. Bombings have been happening almost daily in Iraq, and there is little sign that the insurgents will either surrender or be controlled by military forces. Now, President Bush is asking for congress to give him more troops so that he can reinforce those that are already in Iraq. I am not questioning that decision, but rather warning that we should be more careful when reacting in any way to terrorist acts. According to Richardson in her book “What Terroists Want”, terrorists are very much interested in getting a public reaction to what they do. Bush should consider any act he makes with the troops in Iraq to be seen as a reaction from terrorism. It is possible that increasig troops in Iraq is sending an encouraging message to terrorists there. On the other hand, it is possible that depriving the terrorists from any sort of public reaction could weaken their resolve. The decision rests with the president.

Misapplication of the term terrorism

February 15, 2007

Since this blog is primarily concerned with terrorism, I thought this would be an appropriate time to talk about the various misapplications of the term “terrorism”. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, various people in the media and elsewhere have been using the term “terrorism” too freely. It seems that these days anyone or anything that people don’t like can be labeled negatively by using the word terrorism. “Cyber terrorism” does not exist. “Terrorism of the airways” does not exist. The word terrorism has been dumbed down so that it is now accepted to mean just about anything bad or negative.

I think this is a bad thing for America and the rest of the world. Overuse and misapplication of the word terrorism can prevent people from distinguishing between real terrorist attacks and other violent incidents. For example, Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against the kurds in northern Iraq was not terrorism by defenition. The attacks were murder. But, Saddam wasn’t trying to influence another country’s politcal structure or foreign policy. Terrorism has to have political goals in order to be considered terrorism. Terrorist groups (including Al-Qaeda) are generally concerned with the three R’s: Revenge, Reknown, and Reaction.

We need to avoid mislabeling just any attack as a terrorist action. Terrorists are NOT motivated for the same reasons that the common killer is. If we want to understand and defeat terrorists then we need to realize that they have to be dealt with in a different way than psychopathic killers.

More on what motivates terrorists next time…

Liberlism (part 2)

February 14, 2007

Continuing on from my last post, liberal thought can be one of the most important tools used to fight terrorists today. Richardson writes that one of the prerequisites of being considered a terrorist organiztion is that the group must have a political agenda. Al-qaeda certainly has a political agenda (to destroy the influence of America’s westernization) but they also have a religious agenda. If we continue to treat the Al-Qaeda as another country, we will not likely successfully counter any of their efforts. However, taking into account all of their political, cultural, and religious agendas will certainly be able to make some progress.

At this time, it seems that America is mostly focusing on Al-Queda’s political agenda. We need to start focusing on the fact that as long as they continue to recieve support from the muslim community, finding them will be nearly impossible. As a nation, we need to put aside our pride and start evaluating where our cultural and religious differnces are with the communities in other countries that host Al-Qaeda. We simply do not have the ability to crush Al-Qaeda without taking out their support. It is not an option to blast our way into these communities because we are already dealing with an extremely unpopular war. It seems that the best option is to develop better relations with those countries. Some of the political means we can use to establish better relations at this point are economic. I am sure that Afghanistan and Iran would love to be able to tap into some of our trade markets. Our nation should have three main political goals at this point: to establish better relations with Al-Qaeda friendly countries, to establish better relations with other countries in the United Nations and the middle east, and to increase our economic advantage relative to other nations.

The importance of liberalism

February 8, 2007

In light of the second chapter of Richardson’s book, I want to discuss what I believe both she and I mean when we use the word “liberal”. Many people have a bias when it comes to the use of the word liberal because they automatically associate it with a political party. According to Wikipedia, the origin of the term liberal came from the latin word “liberalis”, meaning “appropriate for free men”. In academic establishments today, liberal studies are intended to provide the student with a broad base of knowledge ranging from science to math to the arts. It seems that a student who has a diverse outlook on things is more likely to be better suited to deal with the complex issues that face us in society today. So when I say that I believe liberalism will help us combat terrorism, I use it as an apolitical expression.

Liberal thought is the only effective method for analytical thinking when one is dealing with a societal problem that is tied up in many political and cultural complications. I don’t feel this is a bold statement; we are living in the information age. Now that people from different cultures are in constant contact, we have to learn how to deal with problems that arise from cultural and societal differences. Nineteenth century philosopher John Stuart Mill brings up a very important point about liberal thought in his essay, “On Liberty”. He writes that it is foolish to be so bold as to assume we can understand others without any serious effort to look at things from their perspective.

Isn’t that what the current administration has done? Terrorism is undoubtedly a complex problem without an easy solution. But rather than examine our enemy and what motivates them, President Bush has hurled the U.S. into conflict with various foreign nations head on by declaring that other countries are either with us or against us in the war on terror.

More on why counter terrorism requires liberal thinking next time…

War on Terror (part 2)

February 5, 2007

Another important point that Richardson brings up in her book “What Terroriosts Want” is that it is essential to understand what the goal of terrorists is. It depends from group to group, but the most important thing to remember is that they cannot overpower their enemy with force. According to her, an act is only a terroist act if it violently targets noncombatants.

Al-Queda is an extremely radical terrorist group because they call for the complete upheaval of our government and culture. They are a fundamentalist group. Despite the fact that they have no problem harming innocents for their cause, they have boundaries and loyalty. This is where we can learn what their weaknesses are. They display loyalty to their religion, and even though it is fundamentalist, there are huge changes going on around the world that are countering the fundamentalist movement. I think within my lifetime we will begin to see groups steering away from fundamentalism as nations learn to put aside their differences and accept different cultures. Nations will have to work together to solve problems such as global warming…very soon. I think perhaps fundamentalist groups will be viewed more negatively within a few decades. We shall see if Al-Queda continues to recieve support from various communities in the future.

War on Terror

February 4, 2007

After reading the first chapter of the book “What Terrorists Want” by Louise Richardson, I find myself re-evaluating the U.S. administrations stance on terrorism. I do not think that our current administration is taking the appropriate steps to prevent terrorism. Richardson brings up the point that it is foolish to think that terrorism can be prevented if we don’t work on understanding our enemy. The shining path terrorist movement was only effectively countered when steps were taken to discover what motivated them, and how they operated. It took a sixty person intelligence team months to learn how to counter effectively, but they were eventually able to do so.

This administration has declared a war on terrorism, before we even understood our enemy. I don’t think that a war will achieve anything. We have heightened national security and continued the blind search for Osama Bin Laden. However, when considering the little we actually do know abouyt the Al-Queda terrorist network, it seems that the capture of Osama would do little to end the violence. Perhaps a “war on terror” and an invasion of Iraq is not what we should do to counter terrorism. Increased cooperation and support from other nations in the middle east would attack Al-Queda at its roots: the community support which protects it. At this time, less violence and better foreign relations will help us garner the necessary support to combat Al-Queda in a more effective way.