Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Friday, September 16, 2005

Terrorism Q&A

What is terrorism?
Terrorism is generally considered to be a weapon for use by the weak against the strong.

Hitler reserved the word, Terroristen, to refer to Communists and partisans of the Resistance. In his essay Who Are the Global Terrorists, Noam Chomsky mentions the "straightforward" proposal for definition of terrorism from the US Army: the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature...through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear. {US Army Operational Concept for Terrorism Counteraction_ (TRADOC Pamphlet No. 525-37), 1984.}

What is state-sponsored terrorism?
The term state-sponsored terrorism seems to have been coined by Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State, George Schultz, to refer to the Soviet Union and its support in the eyes of Washington for every revolutionary group or Marxist leader from the African National Congress to Libya to the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. It was all part of the Evil Empire rhetoric.

Terrorism is often misused to describe age-old war and aggression as well as repression by the state.

How effective is terrorism?
Terrorism in a uniquely powerful weapon, more insidious and deadly than victory on the battlefield. It is likely to become more and more significant as the possibility of revolutionary transformation of many societies becomes more and more remote.

When did the terrorist tradition start?
Modern terrorism can be traced back to 19th-century Russia and the nihilist group known as "The People's Will". This group organized the assassination of Czar Alexander II. The People's Will eventually failed because of police penetration of their security.

Today's Mujahedeen Mujahedin-e-Khalq, a revolutionary organization of Iranian exiles and a darling of Paul Wolfowitz, is suggestive of something comparable to The People's Will.

How do revolutionaries use terrorism?
Revolutionaries use violence against specific individuals and symbolically over a long period to expose the ineffectiveness of the authorities to suppress it. Their expectation is that public fury at the incompetence of the authorities will to turn to their advantage. This discription seems to be the tactic of choice of the Iraqi insurgency: to destablize the post-war government and to discredit the United States.

Have there been cases of government agents who carry out terrorism in order to blame revolutionary groups?
Yes. The most famous example is that of Russian police operative Sergei Degaev, who murdered his boss, the head of St. Petersburg police, in 1883. Many double agents have been responsible for the planning of spectacular acts of terrorism.

Does terrorism work to raise public awareness for certain causes?
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was known for chosing carefully limited targets for spectacular and sensational acts of terrorism in order to raise the issue of a Palestinian homeland. Whatever the bloodshed, the issue was always brought to the forefront of world public opinion.

Is more care and preparation required for symbolic terrorism than for, say, an assassination?
Symbolic terrorism requires very careful management because it must driven to a big and compelling spectacle, as we saw on 9-11.

Is terrorism mindless violence?
Certainly not. Terrorism is a subtle and complex weapon.

Is the same type of terrorism used everywhere?
The type of terrorism depends on the society targeted. US movie audiences are known to be thrilled and awed by disaster flicks, like The Towering Inferno or Independence Day. This may have inspired 9-11. During the Algerian War, nationalist terrorists used throat-cutting because it symbolized animal slaughter; this is a final act of humiliation in a Muslim society. China used the self-abasing confession. The IRA used hunger strikes accompanied by feces smeared walls. When the strikes were countered by forced-feeding, this produced double horror in the eyes of the British public.

Could 9-11 have been prevented?
No. US security was focused on profiles and people with a prior criminal record. And they banked on a recognizable pattern of behavior. In any case, there were no profiles for wealthy businessmen or Saudi dilettante pilots as terrorists.

Could there be another spectacular act of terrorism in the United States?
A single symbolic act by a suicide squad with no record of deviance is nearly impossible to prevent. Such acts of terrorism will continue to occur if only to remind the authorities that there is no way to guard every area at risk in a modern Western society. The best that can be done is to make such symbolic acts more difficult to carry out.

What about the Patriot Act?
A comprehensive, detailed database with a record for every American citizen and foreign tourist (while omitting an unrecorded substratum of illegal immigrants)is years away but it seems that US authorites are determined to build one. But such a database only records profiles and patterns. The lone assassin or suicide squad would still be able to breach security to commit a symbolic act of terrorism. In the meantime, its provisions will likely be used by the current Administration against their political adversaries--another form of terrorism adapted for a specific social context, if you will.

To reduce the threat of terrorism to near nil would require the sacrifice of civil liberties to the point of being intolerable for our society. At the end of the day, terrorism is something we have to live with. But a moral foreign policy would help.

Are there taboos when talking about terrorism?
Apparently discussing Israeli terrorism is a taboo. It began in 1937 as retaliation against 15 years of violent antagonism against them by Arabs. It became focused on Britain as well in 1939, after publication of The White Paper, which represented the definitive British thinking on the Palestine question: not only to limit Jewish immigration but to ask the permission of the Arabs.

Irgun Zvai Leumi was the most militant of the Jewish self-defense groups. It targeted the British with terrorist outrage in order to provoke a reaction. Few know that Irgun terrorist squads were dispatched to Europe after WWII. They bombed the British Embassy in Rome in 1946. In Palestine, Irgun blew up the King David Hotel, assassinated the UN Secretary-General's special representative, Count Folke von Bernadotte, and conducted murders and violence on a daily basis. In the end, Britain conceded a Jewish state to "responsible" Jewish leaders. But Irgun was not abolished. It joined the Knesset as the Herut Party. Irgun terrorist Menachem Begin became Prime Minister in the 1980's.

It is possible to read accounts of Irgun atrocities in the 1940's and simply by changing the names and places to describe Palestinian tactics.

So what is the primary aim behind George W. Bush's War on Terror?
Given the history of the 70's and 80's, evidence points to preventing pressure on the State of Israel by its historic enemies, especially Syria and Iraq. President Bush seems to have accepted the notion of Eretz Israel--the historic kingdom given by God to the Jews--as outlined by Zionist militant and revisionist Vladimir Jabotinsky in the 1930's. There is no question that Ariel Sharon intends to annex the West Bank.

I would also add that the Israeli policy of colonization (better known in the media as settlements) is anything but peaceful. Each armed and fortified settlement is part of an ever-widening defensive encirclement of Arab land. Palestinians will see their land continue to disappear under concrete and tarmac.

As long as the Palestinians are without credible strategy and leaders able to make their case to the world, and especially the Americans, they will continue to play the terrorism game. Bush's refusal to condemn Sharon's declared intention to expand the settlements this week and his handshake with Sharon agreeing to suspend the Road Map are calamities with a price to be paid in the future.

Why is Michel Ledeen a widely-regarded expert on terrorism but not Nur al-Cubicle?
Because he is a Republican operative with connections to Israel and to CNN who is deployed by the right wing to make us think that he knows something. Nur just reads books and blogs.

Can terrorism be outlawed?
Only when the meek inherit the earth.

Update: A bizarre take on terrorism.

What is the opinion of Russian President Vladimir Putin on terrorism?
As 19th century Russia is the birthplace of modern terrorism, you have to wonder where Mr. Putin's is reading his history with this statement at the recent UN General Assembly: Terrorism is the ideological successor to Nazism.

[A personal interpretation with borrowing of the thoughts of Andrew Wheatcroft, author of The World Atlas of Revolutions, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1983. Also see Wheatcroft's Infidels : A History of the Conflict Between Christendom and Islam]


Blogger markfromireland said...

Ooooooooooh Nur you have excelled yourself.

Kudos kudos kudos.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Oh, thank you mark_from_ireland. Praise from you makes me beam!!

8:09 PM  
Blogger Sphinx said...

I like that, especially Michael Ledeen and 'Only when the meek inherit the earth'. But I wonder how important Eretz Israel is to Bush personally. It requires an imagination, however perverse, to believe in something like that.

3:03 AM  
Blogger markfromireland said...

Unfortunately sphinx there's a fair amount of evidence that Bush is indeed a dominionist.

5:20 AM  
Blogger Traveller said...


9:14 AM  

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