Sunday, 22 November 2015

Terrorism and Responding to It

Terrorists have dominated certain discussions for a long time, but they really only became a big thing following 9/11 for Americans. This is important as places like New Zealand tend to follow the leader (and the US is the leader here) and the US exports a lot of cultural output. Now, I'm not saying that I don't like the likes of Person of Interest but what I am saying is that the result of this is that Western discourse resembles very closely US discourse. That matters because somehow no-one wants to talk about Americans supporting violence during the Troubles: the US has long had an aversion to anything that you can't clearly demarcate, and talking about the Troubles would mean having to fit things into boxes that are uncomfortable (hey, everyone has this problem... Americans are hardly unique here). What's the point? One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter: terrorism is almost the exact opposite of simple.

To consider complexity let's use a case study. I'm sure anyone who happens to read this will be aware of the recent terrorist attacks on Paris. Some of you have probably wondered why ISIL might try and do that. The theory I personally subscribe to on that matter is that it was aimed to engender a negative response towards (Muslim?) refugees and towards Muslims more generally. The reason for this is that both of these points make the crap that ISIL and groups with their mentality peddle true. As such, ISIL's only really upset by renewed commitments to attack them and their like by the international community when the resulting attacks don't end up with significant collateral: the existence of the collateral, of anti-refugee and Islamophobic policies are ISIL's versions of proof. Now, if you look around what do you notice? ISIL's theories about how mankind will react are completely true: terrorists aren't crazed, they're smart, they're clever and they're very often capable enough to leverage those attributes to achieve what they want.

Hold on... aren't terrorist acts meant to cause change to avoid more carnage? To scare people into desired policy changes? Well, yeah, they are. How often do you see that working though? Not very. Terrorists know this but they also know that they're playing a long game. What will really achieve change is if they can make their ideas and support ubiquitous so that other means can be achieved. That an explosion is made all the more effective by creating a real expectation that there are millions of others out there willing to make sure that tomorrow there's another. In other words, these more layered and seemingly conspirational ideas are entirely compatible with the surface reading of terrorist behaviour and ideology.

What I am trying to say is that there are two correct responses to the Paris Attack(s). One, don't enact policies that oppress Muslims and/or decrease political compassion to the plight of refugees*. If you do so? Well, then the terrorists (the bogeymen) win because you simply fulfil the narratives they sell. Two, attack and engage terrorism. Strangely enough Al Qaeda wanted an invasion of Afghanistan* but Osama bin Laden was completely wrong about what happened as a result of those invasions. Instead of another Vietnam causing the collapse of a superpower, bin Laden became the head of a snake that it was difficult to relay commands to. Attacks on groups like ISIL need to be conducted carefully because of the risk of collateral (and all collateral is a propaganda victory... hearts and minds and all that jazz), but they do actually work in suppressing the effectiveness of terrorist groups.

What I am saying is that terrorists are people to. They are just as likely to act rationally upon irrational assumptions about the world as anyone else. They aren't NPCs spawned by the computer but rather they arise out of the conditions of the world. What I am saying is that confronting terrorism only works if you're cruel enough to deny yourself the emotional response. What I am saying is that any thinking human being should look at the political response to the likes of Paris and shake their head.

*However, I am convinced by arguments by the likes of Gwynne Dyer who argue that it was possible to convince (or bribe) the Taliban to hand bin Laden over. This would have been better: the snake's head would've been in hand and the resultant instability in Afghanistan which helped create a breeding ground for terrorism would've been avoided. The downside is that this wouldn't be grabbing the bull by the horns, what works better may not make the most political sense.

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