Saturday, July 07, 2007

Terrorism doesn't work

Via Bruce Schneier, we find a convincing and well researched paper by Max Abrahms that concludes, based in empirical evidence, that terrorism does not work.

This study analyzes the political plights of twenty-eight terrorist groups -- the complete list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) as designated by the U.S. Department of State since 2001. The data yield two unexpected findings. First, the groups accomplished their forty-two policy objectives only 7 percent of the time. Second, although the groups achieved certain types of policy objectives more than others, the key variable for terrorist success was a tactical one: target selection. Groups whose attacks on civilian targets outnumbered attacks on military targets systematically failed to achieve their policy objectives, regardless of their nature.[emphasis mine]

Unlike people like Alan Dershowitz who think terrorism is successful, Abrahms actually studied the outcomes of many (often obscure) terrorist groups actions. His conclusions are based on empirical evidence rather than anecdotal observation. Even then, it is borne out by the observations of various documentary research into the subject, such as "The Power of Nightmares".

So why do I bring this up? The recent foiled attacks on London and the botched attack on Glasgow Airport are being touted, once again, by the fearmongers and reactionaries on the right as some kind of warning sign of culture war or proof that Islam itself is evil.

The reality is something completely different. These guys, like the "Toronto 17" or the JFK plotters, are ineffectual idiots. This so-called plot has been rightly ridiculed from many quarters, espcially by those who know security. This plot had no chance of doing anything beyond lighting cars on fire. Indeed, as Schneier points out, it actually shows that security at Glasgow worked perfectly - no one was hurt, there was no panic and the damage was contained.

It also lays bare the myth that suicide bombings are inherent to Islam, as the bombers fit the typical profile of a suicide bomber - middle class men, social isolated and politically motivated to fight against an occupation. This was the case in Japan at the end of WWII, in Sri Lanka in the 80's onward (modern suicide bombing was invented by the Tamil Tigers, a Marxist liberation movement) and Chechnya in the 90s.

In the UK case, we have two Iraqi doctors, socially isolated, quite possibly with dead or injured relatives in Iraq lashing out against a government and a people they see as the occupiers of their homeland. This does not excuse their behaviour or their intent, but merely explains it better than "teh muslims r evil" that we hear from the right-wing authoritarian set. Indeed, director of the Chicago Project on suicide terrorism and expert on suicide bombers Robert Pape (who ironically to the above, thinks terrorism is successful) points out that:

95% of suicide attacks in recent times have the same specific strategic goal: to cause an occupying state to withdraw forces from a disputed territory. Pape found the targeted countries were ones were the government was democratic and public opinion played a role in determining policy. Other characteristics Pape found were a difference in religion between the attackers.[5] and the occupiers and grassroots support for the attacks.[6] Characteristics thought to be correlated to suicide bombing and bombers Pape found lacking included: Islam, especially the influence of Salafi Islam;[7] brutality and cruelty of the occupiers;[8] competition among militant groups; and poverty, immaturity, poor education, past history of suicide attempts, or social maladjustment of the attackers.[9]

This is the motivation for attacks by Palestinians, Chechens and even the 9-11 hijackers - one of Bin Laden's demands prior to 9-11 was the removal of US forces from Saudi Arabia.

In other words, terrorism is ineffective, especially attacks on ciovilians, and our response to it must take that into consideration. Most of the so-called terrorists themselves since 9-11 have been politically motivated idiots, not the maniacal religious zealots that the right would have us believe. Almost to a person and a plot, these people were incapable of carrying out the plots they intended.

Suicide bombing and terrorism are not an indictment of Islam, but an indictment of military occupations.

Remember that when someone tries to tell you this is a problem with Islam, or that we need to give up more of our rights to stay safe. They are lying to you. They are being useful idiots of the terrorists themselves.

More important, though, the London bombs failed because open, Western societies are more resilient than we sometimes think they are.

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