Mostapha writes:

Pardon me if I jump back and forth and appear incoherent, it is for much of the same reasosn A.L. mentioned, thoughts evolving all the time, etc. It’s long too (two parter)
A.L.: Welcome to the club…
zizka brings up a good point of the Palestinian conflict, that it is essentially a land war (if you didn’t mean it that way, then sorry but I think it is). Religion is secondary in the conflict. Religion is just how they draw their “lines on the map.” In Western conflict, nationalism had a bigger part in conflicts because most people in Europe were Christian (or else). So instead of us and them being “Jew” or “Muslim” it was “French” or “English.” Same old fight, just in a new, filthy way.
A.L.: But it is being fought in a fundamentally different way, don’t you think? That’s what’s of interest to me…not that the roots of the issue are old and typical, but that the means aren’t.
I don’t think the WTC was attacked because of the “Jew York” stereotype. That stereotype is much more well known here than out in the M.E. As far as they’re concerned there are Jews all over. The WTC represents a modern Tower of Babel, a symbol of American engineering and technological prowess. Like th Harris article says, these guys live in fantasy land, they went for the major American symbols of might (Pentagon), economic/engineering (WTC) and gov’t (plane in PA headed for the White House?). These guys probably thought if we can take these out, the Americans will be demoraized and cave to our demands. Once we came out swinging, no demands were made.
A.L.: I think you make my case for me when you say “ The WTC represents a modern Tower of Babel, a symbol of American engineering and technological prowess. Like th Harris article says, these guys live in fantasy land, they went for the major American symbols of might (Pentagon), economic/engineering (WTC) and gov’t (plane in PA headed for the White House?)” Don’t you think it’s important that they are fighting a symbolic rather than practical war? They aren’t idiots…

And then he continues:

And now for tangent #3 … Why do they use the methods they currently use? Because they have no better way and nothing to lose. On the Pal side you have a group of people who have been marginalized and lied to by everyone in their region including Arabs. The Israelis make peace concessions like Oslo, but continue to make things worse by expanding settlements. This does a couple things. One, it causes a distrust of the other side, which is a bad thing to perpetuate with peace deals. Two, it “supports” the old European stereotype of the “crooked Jew” in the minds of the Pals. The Israelis sign a treaty, but still build settlements, why WOULD they trust them. To Palestinians, the settlements are akin to the old British colonies, and also a reminder that they were removed from their old homes by these same people years before. They see these offerings the way the Native Americans saw and treaties with the U.S. in the 19th century.
A.L.: I agree with almost everything you say, except that the tactics they are choosing dig them into a deeper hole, and I believe that ultimately they have done and will do worse than they would have done with nonviolent resistance or even a true guerilla war. As I said, they aren’t stupid, so why are they making choices that take them so far from their stated goals? That the $64 million question/
Since these people have so little to lose there is not much we can do. All Israel can do is kill them and they taunt Israel by killing themselves and their enemies in a way that would make Samson jealous.
A.L.: Again, I think you’re supporting me when you say they “taunt Israel”. Think about it. Do they want to get a state or taunt Israel?
I believe that they should be given something to lose. Start a gradual pullout of settlements and self rule over a small portion. Put a pullout and expansion of Pal border timeline on paper. Explicitly write the necessity of self policing and that allowing or harboring terrorist will result in the old status quo. Once the people have something to lose, they will defend it. Think of it this way, in elementary school, when everyone was being loud and throwing paper airplanes it was good fun. But once the teacher said “If I see another paper airplane or spitball, everyone loses recess.” There might be another spitball or airplane, but once the teacher takes away recess there’s a whupping coming from the rest of the class. The people who have spent the last few decades suffering and waiting for land aren’t going to let ideologues ruin it after all they’ve been through. It’s not the 70s anymore, the mainstream Arab world has finally (begrudgingly) acknowledged the existence of Israel. Peer pressure is an amazing thing.
A.L.: I don’t disagree, but as I’ve said a bazillion times here, it takes the survival of a vocal moderate group to make something like this work, and unless there is someone there on the Palestinian side, it won’t happen. But that’s another issue.
One last thing, Sharon can’t (or shouldn’t) expect peace before signing a treaty. Historically, the fighting stopped after the peace accords were signed, not before.
Sorry this was so long winded, hope you all enjoy it at the very least.
A.L.: No, was great…that’s why I’ve moved it up.
— Mostafa Sabet


Here are a few comments. First, from ziska:

I’m coming in in the middle, but I went back to the beginning and read most of what preceded. My comments:
I think lumping together Muslim terrorism, Indian ethnic violence, and European and American street crime is highly erroneous.
Osama Bin Laden did have a rational purpose. He wanted to drive the US out of Saudi Arabia and with it the Saudi regime, presumably replacing the Saud ruler with himself or someone of his own choosing.
A.L.: My issue isn’t with his ultimate goals, but the basis in reality and in the connection between goals and means
In the Middle East, our support for corrupt authoritarian oil regimes has produced wealthy societies without any avenues for the exercise of citizenship, and to a degree (esp. Saudi) without access to Western knowledge. So whatever discontent there is will probably be in a traditional (anti-Western) form, there being no Western alternative.
A.L.But why is it anti-Western, as opposed to anti-House of Saud? Why is that the default condition?
Palestinian terrorism is rational in the sense that there is a goal, Palestine. They have a better chance of reaching that goal than the IRA or the Basque separatists, I think. Terrorism is used because the alternative is to cease to exist as a force. Weapon of the weak, etc.
A.L. There are other means to fight asymmetrical wars; guerilla warfare, wars aimed at infrastructure, etc. The Palestinian model seems based on what would look the most dramatic on TV.
This was not a war of al-Qaeda vs. the US, with al-Q trying to defeat the US. The goal was to change US foreign policy and to stir up trouble.
Both the 9/11 terrorists and Palestinian terrorists are well funded by oil money which comes as “free money” to be dispensed at will (unlike earnings which have to be reinvested and managed). We don’t see Indonesian or Bangla Deshi terrorism because the funding isn’t there.
A.L.: I agree that the presence of oil money is a part of the equation. But I think iot is more in the social impacts than in the ‘expense’ issue. Actually, I’m amazed that 9/11 cost as much as it was claimed to. I could make Los Angeles hard to live in for about $300,000.
I basically don’t think terrorism is a powerful analytic concept, partly because it privileges state violence. Most “sub-states” think of themselves as “pre-states”.
See blogged comment above.
For example, even by your definitions some of the US-sponsored violence in Central America ca. 1980 was terrorist. Civilians were murdered in bulk for purposes of intimidation, in part by un-uniformed private police forces working outside the law (though winked at by the legal forces). Yet I don’t think you would want to count that as terrorism, because being insurgent (and perhaps futility) is really part of the definition.
Yup, I’d agree that state-sponsored or militia-sponsored violence in Central and Latin America walks close to and over the line of terrorism. It’s something I’m trying to talk about a bit in the wrapup.
So anyway, I would deal with the present case as a specific thing rather than a new state of the world order.
My source for some of the above is The Hidden Truth, Dasquie & Brisard, which is a better book than the Corn, Cave, and Silverstein reviews would have you think.
— zizka


Ziska writes:

I basically don’t think terrorism is a powerful analytic concept, partly because it privileges state violence. Most “sub-states” think of themselves as “pre-states”.

Hmm. This raises an interesting question. While there is more to it than just this, I intend to privilege state violence…that’s part of how I differentiate taxes and extortion, for example. If you don’t, what violence do you exclude from legitimacy?


As a first post on the new site…check out Corsair the Rational Pirate for a picture that is worth a couple of thousand words.
The Islamists stone them to death and don’t let them drive. We elect them to the Senate and give them Gatling guns.
Our women are why I am convinced we will ultimately win whatever wars we fight.
From the LA Times this morning:

“My emotion today is anger,” Carden said Friday as she began her move into the rebuilt offices. She’s a tiny woman of 53 whose silver hair and demure business suits belie the grit that has made her a survivor of 30 years in the Army bureaucracy and one hellish morning of smoke and flames.


We’re up and seem to be running. Please bookmark this URL and modify your links as you have time. I’ll put up a redirect on the old site, but it’ll be neater that way.
FWIW, the server you’re loading from is in the Netherlands, and yes, the women are really beautiful here!!


But today he covers the whole “sex in the cathedral” thing brilliantly.
One of the (many) reasons I’ll never run for office is that my private life has been faaaar too entertaining. I’m all for fun in whatever nondamaging ways people can manage to have it.
But I’m also for a sense of decency, consideration, and tolerance because we all have to live together. There’s a reason bedrooms have doors.
Bringing your taste for sexual exhibitionism into my church (it actually isn’t my church, but you get the point) isn’t a test of my tolerance, it’s a display of your lack of tolerance.
Go read Lileks; he says it much better.


Reality is keeping me away from blogging a bit right now, but I’m working on a wrapup on terrorism in my spare time and will try and get it posted.
One thing I have been doing is installing the gun safe in the new house (wow, lots of work!) and it occurs to me that this is a good time to wave at my fellow shooters and ask “Do you have your guns safely stored?” – i.e. where your too-young-to-responsibly-handle-guns children and casual burglars can’t get to them? If not, why not?

PART 4 (a short one, more later)

OK, let’s recap, with an eye to responding to some themes in the comments.
First, let’s assume for the sake of discussion that there is a form of violence which we call ‘terrorism’, which is different on one end, from crime, and on the other, from open warfare, which maintaining some of the features of each.
The three key distinguishing features would be: violence against civilian targets with the intent to damage morale and effect political change; violence not targeted at either political leaders, combatants, or the resources necessary to lead or conduct war or economic life. The targets … trains, airliners, Olympic athletes, airports, cafes, schools, and symbolic buildings … are selected for their maximal dramatic impact, rather than for their substantive impact.
It would be like attacking Los Angeles by blowing up Universal Studios rather than the California Aqueduct.
This is ultimately a philosophy of self-liberating action – of praxis. In this philosophy, the actor finds the meaning of his or her life in the liberating acts that they do. Sound familiar? I’ll quote (for the 3rd time) Berlin:

The values to which they attached the highest importance were such values as integrity, sincerity, readiness to sacrifice one’s life to some inner light, dedication to an ideal for which it is worth sacrificing all that one is, for which it is worth both living and dying. You would have found that they were not primarily interested in knowledge, or in the advancement of science, not interested in political power, not interested in happiness, not interested, above all, in adjustment to life, in finding your place in society, in living at peace with your government, even loyalty to your king, or your republic. You would have found common sense, moderation, was very far from their thoughts. You would have found that they believed in the necessity of fighting for your beliefs to the last breath in your body, and you would have found that they believed in the value of martyrdom as such, no matter what the martyrdom was for. You would have found that they believed that minorities were more holy than majorities, that failure was nobler than success, which had something shoddy and vulgar about it. The very notion of idealism, not in its philosophical sense, but in the ordinary sense in which we use it, that is to say the state of mind of a man who is willing to sacrifice a great deal for principles or some conviction, who is not prepared to sell out, who is prepared to go to the stake for something which he believes, because he believes in it – this attitude was relatively new. What people admired was wholeheartedness, sincerity, purity of soul, the ability and readiness to dedicate yourself to your ideal, no matter what it was.
No matter what it was: that is the important thing.

I’ve suggested above that there is a philosophical basis for this violence, and I’ll go further, and say that to defeat it, you have to understand and manage it’s philosophical underpinnings, because one of the key features of this kind of violence is that it is both hard to capture the managers, and relatively easy to recruit the agents.
Now here, I’ll confess a bias. I’m basically a philosophical kind of guy, although that will come as a surprise to my friends in physical space, who know me as the guy who goes “Beer!! More Beer!!” a lot (not too much Sam Adams any more, though), and so there is the problem at a psychologist has in imputing psychological interpretations to every event.
But I’ll restate the above more seriously. It is easy to grow terrorists in this climate. Easiest right now in the Middle East, but I’ll suggest that other parts of the world are not all that far behind. We can work had to capture them, build layers of security into our lives, accept some level of tragedy or loss, or we can figure out how to stop growing them.
Now this isn’t a call to roll over and play dead, nor to simply give in to the current crop of political demands. In fact, it’s an argument that as soon as we did give in to the current crop of demands, a whole new set would come up, because if I am right, it is the act of warring against the West and modernity that matters, not any specific goals.