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|dirty little secrets about terrorism article|
|09/18/01 at 11:59:54|
|Bismillah and salam,|
Dirty little secrets about terrorism
THE ALMOST universal Western reaction to the terror attack on the
States has been anger, revulsion and a desire to make sure it never
U.S. President George W. Bush has declared "war on terrorism." The
NATO countries, including Canada, have given at least formal blessing
In Washington, government officials and politicians are emphasizing
country's steely resolve, their determination not to buckle and their
those who planned these attacks will face a stern and unforgiving
But history demonstrates two dirty little secrets about terrorism,
neither of which
governments are anxious to admit.
The first is that terrorism is almost impossible to prevent ? unless
causes are seriously and systematically addressed.
The second is that, quite often, terrorists get what they want.
"We can do things that will help lessen the possibility of a terrorist
eliminate it we can't," says historian Hal Klepak, a professor of war
Kingston's Royal Military College. "To talk of a war against terrorism
The terrorists who hijacked four airliners "apparently did it with
says Thomas Homer-Dixon, director of the University of Toronto's
Centre for the
Study of Peace and Conflict.
"What are we going to do, strip-search everyone boarding an airplane
to see if
they're carrying X-acto knives?"
"There are an infinite number of terrorist targets," adds Jim Hanson,
executive director of the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies and
brigadier general. "You guard one target and these guys will pick
another one. In
a free, democratic society, there's not much you can do about it."
We tend to think of terrorism as a new phenomenon. It is not. Terror
is an old
strategy in warfare ? from the medieval European practice of placing
of captured enemies on pikes to the savage raids against women and
that characterized the French-English frontier wars of 18th-century
Terror is cheap. It's easier to kill civilians than soldiers. And, if
by doing so, the
enemy is sufficiently frightened, he may end up doing what the
Throughout much of history, terror was the tool of the state. In
France, the instrument of terror was the guillotine; in revolutionary
Russia, it was
the firing squad.
But in modern times, as Klepak points out, terror became the
instrument of the weak. From the Serbian and
Macedonian terrorists, whose campaigns against Austro-Hungary and
Turkey helped plunge Europe into World
War I, to the Jewish extremists who battled the British in pre-1948
Palestine, terrorists have used fear to counteract
the far stronger military might of their adversaries.
And quite often, the terrorists appear to have succeeded. France quit
Algeria in 1962 after waging a vicious and
ultimately unwinnable war against the terrorist National Liberation
In 1946, Jewish terrorists agitating for their own state in
British-occupied Palestine blew up Jerusalem's King David
Hotel, killing 91. Two years later, an independent Israel was
"There were a lot of innocent British women and children killed
there," says Hanson.
"But in the end, it worked; the British left."
Some, like UofT international relations professor Wesley Wark,
vehemently deny that terror ever succeeds. Wark
says Jewish terror attacks, for instance, had nothing to do with
Britain quitting Palestine and the subsequent
establishment of Israel.
"Anyone who says that doesn't know anything about the Middle East," he
snaps. "I do not believe any terrorist
campaign has ever achieved its political goals."
Others disagree. "Israel was born in terror," says Klepak. "It knows
what terror is; it was active in creating it. I don't
mean this as an insult. It is simply what happened."
What does seem indisputable, however, is that definitions of what
constitutes terror and terrorism change with the
In British-occupied Palestine, Menachim Begin ? then a leader of the
underground Irgun organization, which blew
up the King David Hotel ? was treated as a terrorist. A few decades
later, Begin was prime minister of Israel and
accorded the greatest respect by his former enemies.
Ditto for another Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir. In the
1940s, he also was a terrorist, a leader of the Stern
Gang that took responsibility for selective assassinations of British
and U.N. officials.
So, too, Yassar Arafat. Israel's government may not like the
Palestinian leader these days, but it does deal with him
and with a Palestinian Liberation Organization it once denounced as a
gang of terrorists.
Certainly, changing definitions of terror are not confined to the
Middle East. In the 1950s, Jomo Kenyatta spent time
in jail for his role as a leader of the terrorist Mau Mau movement
fighting the British occupation of Kenya. A few
years later, Britain left Kenya and Kenyatta became the new country's
first prime minister.
In South Africa, Nelson Mandela was branded a terrorist until 1990,
when the white-supremacist government
realized it had no choice but to deal with him. Now, at home and
abroad, Mandela is treated as the embodiment of
The list goes on. The U.S. State Department branded the Kosovo
Liberation Army as a terrorist organization ?
until 1999. That's when it enlisted the ethnic Albanian nationalist
organization's help in NATO's brief war against
Ironically, Osama bin Laden ? treated as the main suspect in the
attack on the U.S. ? was, just a few years ago,
feted as a freedom fighter by U.S. ally Saudi Arabia for his role in
driving the Soviet Union from Afghanistan.
In those days, only the Soviets referred to the Afghan resistance
(including bin Laden and his friends in the Taliban,
which now rules most of the country) as terrorists.
In those days, the West treated such claims as Soviet propaganda.
So, other than the fact that times change, what is the lesson from all
of this? To Homer-Dixon, it is that a military
response alone is not sufficient.
"You can't do anything with such people (terrorists) except isolate
them," he says. "But the circumstances which
give rise to their appeal can be addressed. Like the refugee camps
outside Afghanistan: They produce the
environment in which these things breed."
Klepak agrees. Like Homer-Dixon, he has nothing against the U.S.
hunting down and killing those responsible for
the latest terror attacks ? as long it doesn't overreact. And he
agrees that North American governments should do
what they can to make air travel more secure.
But once that's done, Klepak says, the grievances that inspire such
hatred of the U.S. and the West have to be
"Terrorism is bred when you have people in despair, people with
nothing to lose, people with no other way to fight
"Sure, plenty may be bonkers. But plenty are not. Plenty are
brutalized by living in these (refugee) camps and
watching their mothers die in a bombing raid and by watching
hopelessness. What they feel is abject injustice.
"If you think you can fight these kinds of people with conventional
weapons, you're crazy."
Wark says he thinks the Bush government is smart enough to realize
this (others are less sanguine) and needs to
undertake a diplomatic, political and propaganda campaign to convince
the Islamic world that the U.S. is not the
Homer-Dixon says the international economic system must be reformed to
remove what he calls "the
fundamentally inequitable structural impediments to development.
"We are implicated in this," he says. "What's the first thing we do
with a financial crisis? We rush in to ensure that
the banks and the bondholders are all right. Once we've dealt with
that, we don't care."
He points out that in the 1998 Asian economic crisis, the Western
world bailed out the banks ? and then left
countries like Indonesia in the lurch.
"Or look at Mexico. We solved the Mexican financial crisis (of 1995).
But for the average Mexican, there's been no
improvement; alh of the economic growth has gone to the wealthy. For
most people, things are worse."
To Klepak, the answer is a global conference ? rather like the 1815
Congress of Vienna ? in which the big nations
use their muscle to ensure that the breeding grounds of terrorism are
Such a conference, he says, might force Israel, the Palestinians and
other Middle East nations to cut a deal.
"It may be necessary to discipline Israel and the Arab nations," he
says. "It may be necessary to say to Israel, `You
couldn't hold all of that territory (the occupied territories) in 60
B.C. and you can't hold it all now.'"
The alternative, says Klepak, is to invite more terror against the
West. The attacks on Washington and New York,
while devastating, were relatively primitive ? involving the old
terrorist standbys: hijacking, suicide attack and
The next one, he warns, could involve a poison or nerve gas such as
that used in the 1995 Tokyo subway attack.
Or it could involve biological agents. Either of these, he says, would
make the collapse of the World Trade Center
seem a picnic.
"We've got to be serious about this. We can't take too many more
attacks like this. We certainly can't take attacks
involving chemical or biological warfare.
"It may sound awful to say this, but maybe we should treat what
happened as a wake-up call. We must get it right
.... We must cut off the desperation at the root.
"If we don't, we are ferociously vulnerable."
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