August 26, 2005
Economist - a fine arty on Jihadis as Anarchists
A bit late I admit, but I get my Economist a week late, and very much prefer the print edition to online reading. Being primative.
I very much enjoyed this as this is something that I have been making as a point in several conversations online, in regards to the neglected similarities to the radical anararchist movement of the end of the 19th century in Europe and the Americas.
The article has some fine points:
What prompts the leap from idealistic thought to violent action is largely a matter for conjecture. Every religion and almost every philosophy has drawn adherents ready to shed blood, their own included, and in the face of tyranny, poverty and exploitation, a willingness to resort to force is not hard to understand. Both anarchism and jihadism, though, have incorporated bloodshed into their ideologies, or at least some of their zealots have. And both have been ready to justify the killing not just of soldiers, policemen and other agents of the state, but also of civilians.
An excellent observation, as despite the pious posturing regarding how hard it is to understand the takfiri jihadi lunatics, I would say in fact they are trivially easy to understand at one level. The only hard part is figuring out what mixture tips someone from being merely worked up over a millenarian idea to being willing to whack people over it.
Some further notes from the arty
The heads roll
For anarchists, the crucial theory was that developed in Italy, where in 1876 Errico Malatesta put it thus: “The insurrectionary deed, destined to affirm socialist principles by acts, is the most efficacious means of propaganda.” This theory of “propaganda by deed” was cheerfully promoted by another great anarchist thinker, Peter Kropotkin, a Russian prince who became the toast of radical-chic circles in Europe and America. Whether the theory truly tipped non-violent musers into killers, or whether it merely gave a pretext to psychopaths, simpletons and romantics to commit murders, is unclear. The murders, however, are not in doubt. In deadly sequence, anarchists claimed the lives of President Sadi Carnot of France (1894), Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, the prime minister of Spain (1897), Empress Elizabeth of Austria (1898), King Umberto of Italy (1900), President William McKinley of the United States (1901) and José Canalejas y Méndez, another Spanish prime minister (1912).
And as the article notes
The anarchists, too, were happy to resort to more indiscriminate acts of terror. “A pound of dynamite is worth a bushel of bullets,” said August Spies, the editor of an anarchist newspaper in Chicago, in 1886. His readers evidently agreed. A bomb thrown soon afterwards was to kill seven policemen breaking up a strikers' gathering in the city's Haymarket Square.
France, too, had its dynamitards. One of their bombs blew up the Restaurant Véry in Paris in 1892. Another, some months later, which was destined for a mining company's offices, killed six policemen and set off a flurry of wild rumours: acid had been placed in the city's water supply, it was said, churches had been mined and anarchists lurked round every corner. A year later a young anarchist, unable to earn enough to feed himself, his lover and his daughter, decided to take his own life—and at the same time make a protest. Ready to bomb but unwilling to kill, he packed some nails and a small charge of explosive into a saucepan and lobbed it from the public gallery into the Chamber of Deputies. Though it caused no deaths, he was executed—and then avenged with another bomb, this one in the Terminus café at the Gare St-Lazare which killed one customer and injured 19. The perpetrator of this outrage, designed to “waken the masses”, regretted only that it had not claimed more victims.
Last part sound familiar? Substitute some rhetoric here and there.
Actually in many ways the free floating ennui rather resembles the anti-globo retards as well.
Taking that a bit further,
The vast majority of anarchists, like the vast majority of Islamists, were not violent, and some of those who once believed in bloodshed, notably Kropotkin, were to turn against it in time. But those who relished indiscriminate violence used an argument with striking similarities to that used by Mr bin Laden. Thus Emile Henry, who had left the bomb in the café at the Gare St-Lazare, was to justify his act by saying that those in the café were all “satisfied with the established order, all the accomplices and employees of Property and the State...There are no innocent bourgeois.” For his part, Mr bin Laden, in his “Letter to America” of November 2002, justifies the “aggression against civilians for crimes they did not commit” with a slightly more sophisticated variant. They deserved to die, he said, because, as American citizens, they had chosen “their government by way of their own free will, a choice which stems from their agreement to its policies.”
Such sentiments recall the characters of Conrad's “The Secret Agent” and Fyodor Dostoevsky's “Devils”. Inspired by 19th-century anarchist intellectuals and events, they describe men of almost autistic lack of empathy and contorted moral sense. For Conrad's protagonist, nicknamed the Professor, the world's moralitywas artificial, corrupt and blasphemous. The way of even the most justifiable revolutions is prepared by personal impulses disguised into creeds. The Professor's indignation found in itself a final cause that absolved him from the sin of turning to destruction as the agent of his ambition. To destroy public faith in legality was the imperfect formula of his pedantic fanaticism; but the subconscious conviction that the framework of an established social order cannot be effectually shattered except by some form of collective or individual violence was precise and correct. He was a moral agent—that was settled in his mind. By exercising his agency with ruthless defiance he procured for himself the appearances of power and personal prestige. That was undeniable to his vengeful bitterness. It pacified its unrest; and in their own way the most ardent of revolutionaries are perhaps doing no more but seeking for peace in common with the rest of mankind—the peace of soothed vanity, of satisfied appetites, or perhaps of appeased conscience.
Anarchists like the Professor, a quiet man who went round with a bomb in his pocket that he could detonate with the squeeze of a rubber ball should he be arrested, were difficult to detect and impossible to deter. So why did their wave of terror pass? Not, it seems, because of the measures taken to deter them. ......
But in truth the wave did not entirely pass; it merely changed. The anarchist terrorists of 1880-1910 were replaced by other terrorists—Fenians, Serb nationalists (one killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and thus sparked the first world war), Bolsheviks, Dashnaks (revolutionary Armenians), Poles, Macedonians, Hindu nationalists (among them the killers of Mahatma Gandhi), fascists, Zionists, Maoists, Guevarists, Black Panthers, Red Brigades, Red Army Fractions, Palestinians and even al-Qaeda's jihadists. Few of these shared the anarchists' explicit aims; all borrowed at least some of their tactics and ideas.
A useful article to put perspective on the problem.
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Also ironic, I think, is that, in the end, the anarchist international turned out to be only a nuisance. In late 19th century, there were talks about how the "civilized nations" must take the common stand against this new stateless threat, but the whole thing became moot in April, 1914.
I guess there's a curious historical parallel there also--I guess Eva Luna may know this better than I, but how much of an anarchist organization was the Black Hand? Gavril Princip never struck me as a Serb name particularly so his description as a "Serb nationalist" seemed strange. But whatever Black Hand was or what/who Princip was, Austro-Hungarians held Serbia responsible for the terrorist deed and started the war.
Posted by: kao_hsien_chih at August 26, 2005 04:49 PM
This article comes within a series of recent pieces concerned with the effectiveness and inherent desirability of legal moves, largely in the UK, designed to protect against terrorism. I don’t know that I’ve made up my mind on this issue, yet, but this article, and the others (including an earlier one about French anti-terror laws, and the anarchism-jihadism leader in this issue) certainly hasn’t helped.
Unusually for the Economist, the argument is weakly made and unconvincing. First, regarding the efficacy of strict anti-terror legislation, the point is made in the piece quoted above that Spain, which employed the harshest measures against anarchist terror, was also one of the continual victims, while Britain and Switzerland, which were essentially anarchist refuges, escaped unscathed. And yet, to answer this argument on its own intellectually unsatisfying terms (as the Economist shies away from inserting an explicit causal explanation here), the Kaiser’s roundup and expulsion of anarchists mentioned here would seem to correlate just as easily to Germany’s safety from further attacks. Also, serious repressive legislation in the United States did not begin until after the Haymarket bombing – which was the last significant act of anarchist terror in the US.
In an article concerning French anti-terror laws, the author details how surveillance, detention, and expulsion is much easier for French authorities than in the UK, and is frequently used. And yet the author cannot bring himself to make the connection, spelled out in several cautionary pieces on mooted British anti-terror legislation, between these powers and restricted civil freedoms in practice. Nor is it at all clear that these laws have not helped protect France from terrorist attacks. France’s approach to anti-terror legislation is exactly what the Economist warns about, and yet France is not exactly an intellectually repressive state, nor is it wracked with terror.
The Economist is against trading civil liberties for security on principle. That may be a theoretically admirable stance, but the magazine is having an awful hard time proving that, in practice, hardcore anti-terror legislation is ineffective or restricts society’s freedom at large.
And regarding the Black Hand, it was indeed a Serbian nationalist organisation. And it was responsible, with funding, planning, and assistance in crossing borders from Serbia, for the assassination of the Archduke. When it realised that it had bitten off more than it could chew, Serbia bent over backwards to respond to an Austrian demands concerning an investigation, but it was too late – like Russia today, Austria was far too concerned about the breakup of its empire to settle for half measures, and wanted war more than it wanted a trial.
Posted by: hasenauer at August 30, 2005 08:26 AM
I am aware of the domestic UK connexion, however that was of distant second importance to me as I have tried not to lose our focus here at 'Aqoul, which is the MENA region and not Europe, US or elsewhere.
That aside, I am broadly sympathetic to The Economist's broad points. I am not sure that France is a particularly liberal state, to take the French example noted in the comment, and its approach in the longer run strikes me as having little to recommend. Regardless, the issue of what kind of laws and responses to take in liberal societies to partially domestically based terror, while important, requires an entirely different commentary and perhaps rather more data to discuss as the recitition makes the essential point it is hard to see where causation lies.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 30, 2005 08:56 AM