July 26, 2005
Combating Terrorism, Part II, or: Why Do They Still Hate Us?
In a recent New York Times op-ed piece (free registration required), Olivier Roy questions the nature of the relationship between Islamic terrorism and the Israel/Palestine conflict; after all, many of the splashiest Islamic terrorist acts of the past few years have taken place either on the periphery of the parts of the Islamic world that have traditionally drawn Western attention (e.g. Afghanistan, Chechnya), places that haven’t been part of the Muslim world for several centuries (Spain), or places which only recently have experienced an influx of Muslims (England, the U.S.)
The Americans went to Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11, not before. Mohamed Atta and the other pilots were not driven by Iraq or Afghanistan. Were they then driven by the plight of the Palestinians? It seems unlikely. After all, the attack was plotted well before the second intifada began in September 2000, at a time of relative optimism in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Another motivating factor, we are told, was the presence of "infidel" troops in Islam's holy lands. Yes, Osama Bin Laden was reported to be upset when the Saudi royal family allowed Western troops into the kingdom before the Persian Gulf war. But Mr. bin Laden was by that time a veteran fighter committed to global jihad…From the beginning, Al Qaeda's fighters were global jihadists, and their favored battlegrounds have been outside the Middle East: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya and Kashmir. For them, every conflict is simply a part of the Western encroachment on the Muslim ummah, the worldwide community of believers.
In a nod to Fareed Zakaria’s similarly titled 2001 Newsweek article (Why They Hate Us: The Roots of Islamic Rage, And What We Can Do About It), Roy suggests that a primary motivation for Islamic terrorism is, on one hand, a religiously motivated, if lethally misguided, desire to promote global jihad. But to a certain extent, it’s also about respect, and the Israel/Palestine conflict and the presence of U.S. troops in the Muslim world are but convenient excuses made by people who are often not in a position to be directly affected:
...if the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine are at the core of the radicalization, why are there virtually no Afghans, Iraqis or Palestinians among the terrorists? Rather, the bombers are mostly from the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Egypt and Pakistan - or they are Western-born converts to Islam. Why would a Pakistani or a Spaniard be more angry than an Afghan about American troops in Afghanistan? It is precisely because they do not care about Afghanistan as such, but see the United States involvement there as part of a global phenomenon of cultural domination.
At first blush, it seems odd that people living in, or even born into, relative privilege would feel strongly enough about the suffering of people to whom they have such a tenuous connection to kill, or even to die, in the pursuit of an ill-defined something that tends to cause greater suffering in the short term for those the terrorists purport to be trying to help (but then maybe that’s just my US-born, hippie pacifist/activist side talking). But both Roy and Zakaria, who are decently enough placed to have a grip on this phenomenon, suggest that analogous to the serial killer who grew up a social outcast who delighted in torturing animals, terrorist impulses are rooted in a sort of deep-seated cultural inferiority complex:
What was true for the first generation of Al Qaeda is also relevant for the present generation: even if these young men are from Middle Eastern or South Asian families, they are for the most part Westernized Muslims living or even born in Europe who turn to radical Islam. Moreover, converts are to be found in almost every Qaeda cell: they did not turn fundamentalist because of Iraq, but because they felt excluded from Western society…"Born again" or converts, they are rebels looking for a cause.
But my question has been: what is it about these particular sociocultural/theological subsets that induces their members to murder innocent people, sometimes their own countrymen, rather than do anything constructive? Many other people(s) have suffered just as badly, or even worse, at the hands (and guns) of Western countries (Latin American indigenous peoples spring to mind) and yet they do not turn to violence:
It is also interesting to note that none of the Islamic terrorists captured so far had been active in any legitimate antiwar movements or even in organized political support for the people they claim to be fighting for. They don't distribute leaflets or collect money for hospitals and schools. They do not have a rational strategy to push for the interests of the Iraqi or Palestinian people.
So short of a big group hug for the Peoples of the Book, how can this sentiment be combated, to use another military metaphor?
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I would differ with Roy on a point, there are different circles of activities and motivation. Those that have passed into nihilist opposition have gone well beyond the logic of a particular "wrong" to right, into a generalised quasi messianic view of what they perceive as "oppression."
I would note, however your statement, which you have made before in re other peoples not using violence is rather simplistic to say the least.
One need only look to the Tamil rebels for an analagous situ, and the Latin American Amerinds were crushed and quasi assimilated centuries before a modern motivating ideology that might generate such arose. They are, in short, utterly irrelevant. Nevertheless, the Bolivian troubles, and the somewhat irrational opposition to any and all government policy - the emergence of mob rule in a sense - suggests that you shouldn't be drawing lessons there.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 27, 2005 11:24 AM
But is the Tamil situation really analogous? I'm no expert, but my understanding (based on rusty experience with asylum cases) is that there is little, if any, religious element to the LTTE.
Latin America is a much more mixed bag on many fronts, and I am well aware that the previous statement was an oversimplification - one could write books on the subject. Feel free to suggest alternate frameworks if the urge strikes you.
Posted by: Eva Luna at July 27, 2005 12:31 PM
Although I am the type that almost obnoxiously regards religiosity as an overrated concern in suicide bombings, I do note that in some narrow senses different religions may be a small but significant part in the absence of suicide bombers in Latin America versus Middle East.
In Catholic Christianity (and others) the ban on suicide is probably stronger and more explicit. Secondly, despite the history of Crusades and such, the concept of martyrdom has usually been associated with offering no violent resistance and not going out of one's way to get killed (even Jesus is shown trying to get out of the crucifixion at the last minute). I do not believe even the old militant church ever canonized as martyr anyone who went down fighting.
So the mystical aura of martyrdom woudl be harder to associate in Latin America with a self-inflicted death especially while killing the enemy.
The IRA hunger strikes may undermine this, but they were seen as persons already sentenced to unjust punishment and also engaged in nonviolent resistance, and still the Catholic clergy typically roundly condemned the practice.
All that being said, and offered with a measure of hesitation, I am closer to The Lounsbury in looking more for specific political circumstances and ideological factors.
Posted by: matthew hogan at July 27, 2005 01:32 PM
It seems quite clear why there are "virtually no Afghans, Iraqis, or Palestinians among the terrorists" as the article says (and I assume he's talking of terrorists bombing Western targets). Simply put, those peoples have more pressing and direct concerns in their homelands.
Posted by: zurn at July 27, 2005 02:39 PM
First, in re the Tamils, of course there's a bloody religious element. They're a different fucking religion for fuck's sake. The ethnic identity is intimately tied up in the religious identity (as is the linguistic aspect of course), just because the Tamil Tigers have a Commie athiest facade doesn't mean the ethno-religious aspect is not there. Any more than Great Russian Orthdox sited nationalism was not present in ostensibly athiest Soviet policy in Central Asia.
Re Latin America, again 300 fucking years difference, bloody hell this is a dumb fucking analogy.
Re the religious difference, I recall in my bloody lifetime Muslims claiming suicide operations and even suicides by Muslims was impossible because Islam so strongly sanctions against suicide (intehar). And they meant it. In only the past 10 years that has changed.
Politics and ideology, politics and ideology dressed up in pseudo-religious clothing. Once it got a religious imprimature (via the Palestinian situ) the concept took on a new life through the ugliest of "unintended consequences."
In re the old Catholic Church and fighting martyrs, are you kidding? They bloody well did. Look up the Spanish sainting of people fighting in the Reconquista against the Muslims.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 27, 2005 03:03 PM
A further thought to share and flesh out, stemming from a convesation at Zenpundit
In this post:
Extremist Positions in Islamism
there is an interesting link to a discussion of apocalyptic millenarianism among what we might call the radical wing of radical Islamism, what the author calls Mahdism, which I have some reservations on, but still.
It is intriguing. Further Zen Mark has this comment following a small diatribe of mine which I find useful:
Apocalyptic millenarianism seems to have a great deal of utility for extreme fundamentalists of all stripes from Mahdists to Mormons to modern new age cults.
It unmoors sect leadership even from their doctrinal constraints; leadership becomes highly personalized and psychologically transcendant. Group solidarity is then tightly reinforced by a siege mentality and reiterations of impending doom and salvation.
There is the problem.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 27, 2005 03:13 PM
You know, my dear Mr. Lounsbury, you don't have to be so bloody rude. I was trying to have a civilized exchange of ideas; maybe you could try the same.
And I certainly understand the overlap between religion and ethnicity (I live it, to pardon the expression, for chrissakes), but in several of the cases mentioned, the terrorists and the victims of terrorist attacks practice ostensibly the same religion.
Posted by: Eva Luna at July 27, 2005 03:56 PM
Imminentizing the Eschaton
Doctrinal restraints indeed. The End of the World definitely relases one, or a group, from concerns about long term consequences. The only things that matter are the immediate and the imminent.
I've run into people who aren't concerned about the long term effects of this or that policy because they genuinely believe that the Rapture will prevent them or their descendants from having to live with the (worldly) consequences of their actions.
Posted by: Simon W. Moon at July 27, 2005 05:13 PM
That and the virgin harem in the afterlife. I mean, who can think straight with that kind of incentive? Especially in a sexually repressed culture.
Have I gone too far?
Posted by: zurn at July 27, 2005 05:46 PM
I am what I am, as Popeye said. Polite is not one of those things.
As for the overlap between victim and attacker, one can always rationalise away. No real mystery there. Collateral damage or Takfir, declaration the victims were backsliders who had slipped into apostasy. This works best under the millenarian model.
On the angle of sexual repression, I have a long post on something related to this. It's a potential angle, but I think perhaps not as much as one might think.
Simon hits the nail on the head, the End of Times mind frame releases one from a lot of constraints; it makes the actions of the IndoPak and Somali Brit bombers far more understandable I should think.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 28, 2005 06:26 AM
Actually, as noted, I am far closer to the view that the specific religion is really irrelevant to the motivating factors. In fact, even lower down the scale of causative factors, lower that politics or ideology, is simple tactical resources. Suicide bombings "took off" in Lebanon (in the Middle East) as the poor-man's smart bomb, faced with adversaries like the US and Israel that were too difficult to take on in field warfare. And they were initiated by a female of the secular Christian Syrian Social Nationalist Party.
What I do note is that the vocabulary of a religion, of its views of heroism and sacrifice, might affect how readily the braoder society embraces or accepts the tactic. In theory, Islam should be the least conducive to suicide bombings we see because of prohibitions on suicide and the killing of innocents among the enemy.
Political messianism (which usually includes apocalyptic rhetoric) combined with a minimal choice of tools and a well-equipped adversary explains most.
(Re: Spain -- now out of curiosity I will try to find out if the Recoquista heroes were canonized specifically as "martyrs". Although one dead martyred ancient St., St. James, was rechristened a killer -- Matamoros, the Moor Slayer).
Posted by: matthew hogan at July 28, 2005 09:34 AM
A good illustration of how suicide bombing takes on different meanings in contexts is to consider the ending of the popular film Independence Day, about an alien invasion of earth. The hero -- all-American Randy Quaid -- redeems himself by a classic suicide bomb operation and it is not dwelled upon that the result is the deaths of countless alien women and children. Indeed, in secualr military terminology the phrase "he volunteered for a suicide mission" has an undertone of admiration.
When one views that alot of these terrorists view us as roughly the same as space aliens out to apocalyptically exterminate them it becomes clearer.
Alot of parallels, except gender and sexuality, between the Manson family and al Qaeda people -- each come from all classes and combine a semi-sincere social criticism and idealism, with raw racism, megalomania, and bloodthirsty mystical sadism.
Posted by: matthew hogan at July 28, 2005 09:55 AM
Makes a lot of sense; there are probably a lot of reasons suicide bombers do what they do (but most likely a few dominant ones). What would be most interesting is how they are indoctrinated or encouraged into doing it. I can't remember ever hearing of a suicide bomber acting on his own.
Regarding suicide missions, those are a little different of course: we assume the volunteer doesn't want to die, and has made the ultimate self-sacrifice, but still wouldn't mind living at the end of it. A person on such a mission doesn't deliberately kill themselves, they simply take a mission so risky it's unlikely they'll survive. (And in ID4, the extermination is real and imminent...) But the bombers seeing the West as aliens is a pretty good analogy.
Posted by: zurn at July 28, 2005 12:42 PM
Well, as mentioned by the Lounsbury, suicide is forbidden in clear and concise terms. There seems no apparent justification, and the fact that women and childrem feature as the victims as well. I was just reading through an article on suicide bombing, and something attracted my attention..Virtually all of the suicide bombers, past and present have belonged to the mainstream Sunni sect, as far as Muslim suicide-bombers are concerned, with whom the media and the West in general are perpetually fascinated in a macabre manner.
I was once talking to a Muslim friend of mine and he told me to rid myself of all hatred I held towards suicide bombers, the Israelis, etc. and to imagine a scenario, where I was living peacefully with my family, on my own land. I farmed for a living off my own land and even though times were hard, my family and I still managed to get along without complaining so much. Then along came a strange force, which seized my land, demolished my house and killed my children, who, in protest of the action, were throwing stones at the bulldozer. I'd had enough and when I asked him what link this deeply psychologically disturbing scenario had with reality, one word of his was enough...Palestine. The suicide bombers of Iraq, Pakistan et al are a different story altogether and have no connection to the scenario mentioned here, although they possess a leviathan of pent-up hatred which drives them through their dastardly deeds. In fact, reviewing the situation in Pakistan, it can be seen that most suicide bombings were carried out by Sunni or rather Wahhabi extremists, and were executed at places of worship and destined to kill as many Shi'ite worshippers, who they declare to be apostates, on what authority I have no clue.
Posted by: AEDisillusioned at August 1, 2005 01:17 AM