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Terrorism as a Failed Political Theory - Flourish and Blotts

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November 14th, 2015

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10:01 pm - Terrorism as a Failed Political Theory
After the most recent attacks, in Beirut and Paris...as well as elsewhere, I find myself again trying to fathom the ideas behind these events. We call them Terrorism, which is as good a term as any, but that is, I believe, an over-simplification.

We tend to assume that a terrorist attack has two possible motives.

The first might be to simply call attention to a situation that the attacker considers intolerable. That idea presumes that other avenues and alternatives have been explored and attempted without success.

The second would seem to be that the attack will cause those victimized to reconsider or alter their position on that intolerable situation.

The funny, although I don't mean humorous, thing is that terrorism has never really worked, and in today's world, cannot possibly work.

There have been terrorist attacks, or at least terrorist actions, throughout history. Centuries ago the idea worked to a degree, but only because it could be done without upsetting others. Innumerable cycles of oppression were conjured up by despots, formulated to keep the people under control. One of the most famous, although most people don't really know that history, is that of Vlad the Impaler. He ruled an area in Eastern Europe through pure terror, and as his nickname implies, his favorite means of maintaining control was to (literally) impale those who didn't toe the line. Various accounts suggest the total number of victims was in the hundreds of thousands.

He also had a wonderful sense of humor. He once gathered a large group of homeless people together, served them a great meal in a large hall, and promised them they would never go hungry again. He then locked the doors and burned the building to the ground.

Now, on a purely "local" level, folks like Vlad could pretty much rule using terror, and maybe a periodic sweep through the countryside, launching small scale "terror attacks" helped keep people from revolting. Today, however, too many things have changed. Let's look at 9-11 as a classic example.

According to Bin Laden, the sad state of affairs in Palestine was the motivation behind the 9-11 attacks. As a starting point I think we should admit that Palestine is indeed a mess, and there can be little argument that the Palestinians are suffering. However, it's likely that any solution for them will involve the US becoming their advocate. We've seen a little of that lately, and, in fact, a lot of other countries and people have become increasingly estranged from Israel due to the actions Netanyahu has taken that inflame the situation.

But...the 9-11 attacks were a complete failure if they were supposed to mobilize the US in the battle for Palestinian rights. In fact, the US paid almost no attention to that situation. Instead, Bin Laden became Public Enemy #1, and Islam was painted as the ultimate demonic religion, a practice that has continued almost unabated as additional terrorist attacks have been unleashed around the world. In short, it's just like the US war in Vietnam, where after years of failure, our leaders finally figured out that you really can't win hearts and minds using bombs and bullets.

Now, in addition to that problem, the reality is that despots simply can't operate in a vacuum any more. The global economy, the freedom of people to travel, and the inter-dependence of economies ensures that almost every country or region can't have their own little terrorist fiefdom without the rest of the world both knowing and being affected. This is especially true in the oil-producing regions such as the middle east.

So...the real question becomes "What's the real objective?"

If ISIS/ISIL wants to establish a "caliphate" they're going to need to enslave the people of the region, and there are simply too many players, too many different religious sects, and too many refugees to believe that can be done. Whatever they do spills across borders, which earns them new enemies. Even their own religion is severely fractured, and we've seen ever since the invasion of Iraq that those sects will fight each other for the right to define Islam their own way. ISIS isn't any different.

In addition, the world is more conscious of the plight of people, and the more ISIS pushes, the more likely the rest of the world will simply say ENOUGH! A serious coalition of Turkey, some other middle-eastern states, and some western allies will prevail though not without a cost in human lives.

So...the short story is that Terrorism will always fail, unless your real goal is simply to inflict pain and suffering upon others. You will not gain allies, nor support for any cause through terrorist acts. You will, however, gain enemies. You may or may not believe that dying for your cause brings you rewards in the afterlife, a proposition cannot be proven or disproven, but you are ensuring you'll have the opportunity to find out first hand much quicker.

In the 1960's one side of the civil rights battle resorted to terrorist attacks, bombing and killing to support their position. The other side focused upon non-violent actions. 50 years later, we know which side "won" that battle. That is not to say the whole problem is solved, but it does suggest, yet again, that terrorist attacks will ultimately fail in any long-term goal.

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