Effect Measure

The world has had its fill of religion-inspired terrorists. But exactly who is a “terrorist”? In my book, a terrorist is someone who knowingly kills, maims or creates terror in innocent people for a political purpose. The political purpose might be to change a government (from secular to theocratic, from one economic system to another, from colonial rule to nation state, etc.) or change a policy (stop a war, stop abortion) or to take revenge. Most people only want to employ the term to those who kill, maim or create terror for reasons they disapprove of. I’m not in that camp. If you knowingly pursue policies that kill civilians by dropping a bomb from 15,000 feet (like John McCain) that’s not different from knowingly killing civilians by strapping a bomb to yourself to kill “enemy” policemen and also killing a bunch of innocent civilians along with them. I suppose I’d listen to an argument that a particular act of terrorism was justified, or at least understandable.

But it would still be terrorism. I guess that’s just me:

Comments

  1. #1 llewelly
    October 26, 2008

    Functionally, a terrorist is someone a politician wants you to be afraid of.

  2. #2 Art
    October 26, 2008

    IMHO terror is characterized by the use of violence, or the threat of violence, as a means to inflict fear, dread, in a word: terror upon those not in the direct vicinity of the act.

    This is differentiated from other acts of violence by:
    1) The violent act, or the act referred to during threat, is not the desired focus or goal motivating the act.

    2) The person/s targeted by the act of violence or threat are not the primary audience for the performance. They are actors in a play or object lesson constructed to influence others.

    3) The target of violence or threat is not selected based on their individual or personal traits but by their race, religion, status or other impersonal criteria. Often a combination of being handy targets and having some obvious traits or resemblance to the persons or groups being targeted.

  3. #3 daedalus2u
    October 26, 2008

    I might have a broader definition than Revere, not just violence, but any unprovoked threat of harm or fear where the perpetrator is trying to instill fear and influence behavior and which is directed against non-military targets.

    Extortion at the point of a gun or knife is terrorism. So is dropping bombs on cities until political leaders capitulate. So is threatening to drop bombs on cities until political leaders capitulate. So is implying that bombs may be dropped on cities if political leaders do not capitulate. When a political leader has the capacity to launch a thousand nuclear warheads against a nation, and when that political leader says “all options are on the table”, (which implicitly includes the option of launching a thousand nuclear warheads), that political leader has committed terrorism.

    I would put economic blockades that include food and medicine as terrorist actions. Curfews that prevent people from providing for their families are terrorist actions.

    I would include incitement of others to violence as terrorism also.

    Self-defense is not terrorism when it is directed against an actual threat provided that the response is measured and proportionate to the threat. “Self-defense” that targets non-combatants isn’t self-defense it is terrorism.

    An attack against a military target is not terrorism unless it involves inordinate civilian casualties.

  4. #4 Crudely Wrott
    October 26, 2008

    The terrifying thing about Palin’s response to a direct question is the how she demonstrates a close relation between the rhetorical tactics of christian apologists and campaigning politicians. By this standard, it is she who might be called a terrorist.

    I’m not the only one who finds her a more immediate threat than a Bedouin wearing a bomb.

  5. #5 Art
    October 27, 2008

    “Extortion at the point of a gun or knife is terrorism.”

    No, that is a simple transaction. The message is that ‘I can hurt you but if you comply and hand over your wallet I leave you relatively intact’. There is no symbolic content and thee is no attempt to influence anyone not directly involved.

    As scary and criminal as it may be it isn’t structurally much different than telling a kid to eat their peas if they want desert. Or the cop telling you to stop at red lights or face a fine.

    “So is dropping bombs on cities until political leaders capitulate.”

    That gets more complicated. In military/political terms a city is just a resource center. A source of population, finance and material support for a politicians goals. Reduction of a opponents capability to fight or resist is a legitimate goal of warfare. More on this later.

    Think of it this way. If two armies were facing off and both had large stockpiles of resources necessary to prosecute the war these stockpiles would be legitimate targets. Cause him to run out of resources before you run out of resources and you ‘win’ the war.

    In that model there is no symbolic content. There is no terror. Blowing up one warehouse doesn’t cause the one next to it to hide in fear. The goal is to choke off resources and bombing the city, as a source of resources, is a way to do it. Cutting supply lines, destroying transportation networks of surrounding the city would be other ways of doing the same thing.

    On the other hand if you were to use methods or force sufficient enough to destroy not just the capacity of the city to support the conflict but to gratuitously punish the population, and did it is such a way to make sure it was a symbolic act intended to be seen by other cities, to cause them to panic and make them capitulate that would be terrorism.

    “So is threatening to drop bombs on cities until political leaders capitulate. So is implying that bombs may be dropped on cities if political leaders do not capitulate.”

    That depends on the nature and degree of the force threatened or used. Telling someone that you will weaken their power and grip on power by damaging their power base is a simple transaction. Telling someone that you will ‘wipe them off the map’, assuming you have the means to do it, could be terrorism. It depends on the method. If it is to remove resources it is a simple transaction. If the method used is selected to maximize degradation and suffering, and so fear, then that is terrorism.

    It should be noted that aerial bombing has not been very successful in ‘breaking the will’ of an opponent. Through WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam Afghanistan and Iraq the effect on the morale on a nation of bombing has been to harden their sensibilities, bolster nationalism, and to solidify support of their leaders. In other words terrorism applied as mass bombings doesn’t work.

    What does work is aerial bombing of transportation and communications. And to a lesser extent destruction of material resources and production.

    “When a political leader has the capacity to launch a thousand nuclear warheads against a nation, and when that political leader says “all options are on the table”, (which implicitly includes the option of launching a thousand nuclear warheads), that political leader has committed terrorism.”

    If “a thousand nuclear warheads” is targeted to destroy the resource base then it is not terrorism. As odd as it may seem destroying a population is often less terroristic than less complete destruction. One observer noted that with a large warhead attacking a compact city the percentage of wounded in a city would be quite low.Quite a relief until you note that the few wounded are simply because something like 97% are dead. In this sense 9/11 was not as successful a terror attack as it might have been. Three thousand horribly maimed, suffering and slowly dying on national TV would have had more impact than the close to three thousand who died quickly.

    “I would put economic blockades that include food and medicine as terrorist actions. Curfews that prevent people from providing for their families are terrorist actions.”

    As potentially destructive and ugly as these acts may be they are simply one of many methods of applying pressure. They aren’t symbolic and their goal is not the infliction of irrational fear. Different in degree, but not kind, they are structurally the same as sending a kid to bed without super. They aren’t terrorism.

    “I would include incitement of others to violence as terrorism also.”

    That depends of what the people incited to violence do. If they commit violence in a manner that the violence itself is the goal then they are not committing terrorism. If they are inflicting violence as a symbolic act, to be seen by others not present with the intent or effect that it inflicts fear and dread upon others in a select group or community, then it is terrorism.

    “Self-defense is not terrorism when it is directed against an actual threat provided that the response is measured and proportionate to the threat.”

    Acts of terrorism are committed by a party which sees itself as weak and engaged in an existential conflict. Almost without exception those committing these acts claim to be defending themselves, their community or their group.

    Terrorism is a desperate and extreme act used by those who feel they are justified by their lack of other options and the pressures of their existential crisis. It is offered up as a lesser degree of degradation and suffering to prevent a greater degree of degradation and suffering.

    The perpetrators of 9/11 cite a hundred years of systematic abuse at the hands of the west, millions dead by direct, cultural and economic warfare, and occupation of their holy lands as justification. To them three thousand dead is a much smaller punishment. We invaded Iraq under then assurance that SH had WMDs and that he represented a clear and present danger to the US and our allies. the thousands we maim and kill justified by the potential loss of millions if WMDs were to be used by ‘terrorists’.

    There is no clear dividing line between attacker and defender if one includes a long enough segment of time. The holy crusades were clearly an aggression from the Muslim perspective. But not according to the western powers who had been pushed back by invading Muslim hoards from Constantinople to Vienna and up through Spain into France over the previous century.

    ““Self-defense” that targets non-combatants isn’t self-defense it is terrorism. An attack against a military target is not terrorism unless it involves inordinate civilian casualties.”

    As realized in WW2, re-realized actually as it was understood by powers centuries before, there is no clear dividing line between civilian and soldier. Babies grow up to be soldiers. Armies need large numbers of warm bodies to do their work and replace losses. The cynical term, not entirely without justification, is ‘cannon fodder’. throughout history one side lacking manpower has been the decisive cause of their defeat.

    Some cultural anthropologists have pointed out that the concept of monogamous marriage may have caught on because it allowed a man to father many sons, to get credit for his reproductive prowess and to have a reasonable expectation that he could go off to war and his woman wouldn’t sleep around, much. This allowed states with such a cultural system to have more larger armies and replace losses faster than surrounding states. Which translates into an ability to expand, capture and dominate natural resources.It also means that such a state will be in perpetual need of more resources to keep its rapidly expanding population in resources. It pretty much guarantees that this state will be more warlike and in conflict with surrounding states. Wash, rinse, repeat for a few thousand years and we have our belligerent, aggressive and always growing nation-states we see today where potentially every activity is, or can be, bent to supporting the military.

    Even the poets are put to work composing heroic epics to support the cause.

    In the end it is important to try to narrow our view of what is terrorism and what is not. Applied too loosely, as when any activity inciting fear or forces us to do thing we wouldn’t automatically do is labeled terrorism, it devalues the concept. Having a wheel come off your car at highway speed incites fear. But it isn’t terrorism. The requirement that the car be maintained is a burden inflicted by the fear of having the wheels come off. But it isn’t terrorism.

    Arranging for the wheels to come off the cars of a select subset of a group as theater. Claiming credit, filming the crashes and making sure these tapes are broadcast widely to maximize their effect upon those not in the crash. That would be terrorism.

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