Rolling out the Red Carpet

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Terrorism: Treatment without Diagnosis

Terrorism is beyond reason. While terror can have no reasoned justification, evil always seeks to be plausible. It seeks to clothe itself in the mantle of righteous indignation and presents itself as an evil parody of an apocalyptic 'divine' vengeance. It purports to act on behalf of some oppressed group, to seek redress for some injustice. It appropriates the language for heaven for the works of hell.

If history is a precursor to the future, we will suffer more terrorist attacks in the months and years ahead. The apparent goal of the terrorists is to achieve larger effect in the future. The terrorist target: unwarned, unprotected persons and facilities. When the fanatic sees himself as an actor in a staged performance, death becomes an act of make believe and a theatrical gesture.

9/11 appears to be a major turning point into the future—the end of the brief post-Cold War era, and the beginning of a new Age of Terrorism, perhaps a World War III, albeit a different kind of war than that which we have known. The horrible attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and whatever follows as a result, will change many lives, many organizations, many industries, and many nations. It has changed everything, for everyone.

There are three goals to terrorism. Goal one: to demonstrate that government cannot protect you. Put differently, it is to make people fearful, if not most fearful, of those things which they found in the past to be both safe and ordinary: going to work, going out for recreation, shopping. Goal two: to take terrorist actions, which evoke an extreme response, and the more extreme of that response, the better. Goal three: to use the extreme response as a mechanism for recruitment.

There must be a target, ideally one with tremendous symbolic significance to underscore goal one above. In the case of international terrorism, something highly symbolic like the Twin Towers is important because it will be a national symbol and it will be well understood globally. A small action in an isolated community or in a community that does not receive national press and has no eye-catching appeal to an international audience has little attraction for terrorists. An urban, rather than rural, setting for the terrorist act is likely to be more attractive in meeting the goal.

Because of progress in materials engineering and miniaturization of electronics, explosives and the like, weapons are becoming cheaper, lighter, more rugged, more accurate, easier to use, and more powerful. Meanwhile new communication technologies — from satellite phones to the Internet — allow terrorists and criminal syndicates to marshal their resources and coordinate their actions around the planet. As these trends continue, it's easier for smaller and smaller numbers of people to hurt larger and larger numbers. Despite all the utopian hype, the new gadgets entering our lives are distinctly double-edged swords: We've unleashed technological forces that we don't remotely understand and almost certainly can't control.

Terrorism is unconventional warfare. There are no fronts, no armies, and no battlefields. The solutions therefore should not come from militaries, which are largely designed for fighting other armed forces. The solutions should come from new approaches that address the whole person, not just the political and economic components. This is about individual people, their values and aspirations – and cultures, some of which have not changed much over centuries. Different people and groups require different approaches – one size will not fit all. The new solutions seem complex, sophisticated and necessarily not look like the past. But if we are going to safely make it through this extraordinary, historical transition, we must not do the old things – we must invent new ones.

Why can’t we learn from South Africa, which invoked their truth and reconciliation project so the previously warring factions could get on with living together in harmony through forgiveness and honoring their shared humanity?

The war against terrorism can only be truly won when we also declare war on the roots, which cause such acts of barbarity: injustice, freedom, and discrimination. Terrorism does not arise in a vacuum but has it roots in historical, political, social and cultural dysfunctions so deep, so cruel, so systemic that they create and sustain discontent until it spills over into a desperation that sees no recourse other than wanton destruction against those perceived as responsible for the plight of the terrorists. Unless there is an equally dedicated attack on the causes of terrorism, there will never be victory in the war against terrorism.

Addressing the causes of terrorism is the most difficult issue. At one end it starts with the need for us to be confident in our definition of terrorism — one persons terrorist is another person's freedom fighter; at the other end, it needs to attempt to address all the injustices that exist around the world that lead people to undertake hateful and destructive acts and this includes the even more problematic need to address perceptions of these injustices as well. The atrocities being committed on Kashmiris or Palistinians are causing suicidal bombings. The perpetrators are heroes for their nation but terrorists to the oppressors. At its core the atrocities are proliferating terrorism.

We are faced with dilemmas that, together, form a distinct and clear danger to individual liberty and to most systems of government. This alone should be motivation enough to act to stop terrorists in their tracks whenever and wherever we can. We must somehow focus on and achieve an acceptable system of protection, prevention, preclusion and reaction to the scourge of terrorism…without losing the ideals and precepts by which we navigate the difficult pathway into our future. This cannot be done by committee or by independent activity by many agencies and organizations acting parochially. Instead, some form of centralized and evenly applied approach must be devised and undertaken by appropriate leaders. (

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with the author that "War on Terror" is a mindless exercise. Without diagnosis how can one write a prescription? There must be reasons that prompted the "terrorists" to launch this war. Understand those reasons, may be there are treatments without the guns.