Friday, June 23, 2006

Experts and the Inevitability of Terrorism

"We live in a world where [terrorism] is inevitable," Keith Weston, the former head of the counterterrorism unit of London's metropolitan police force, said during a disaster management conference held recently. Though he seems to think otherwise (he did say this, after all), Weston, who is now regarded as a so-called counterterrorism "expert," certainly isn't breaking new ground here. In fact, this statement is no more informative than if a baseball analyst, say, were to tell us that swinging a bat will always be inevitable in baseball.

How can an alleged expert (beware of anyone who calls himself an expert, by the way; there are so many of them out there that if I were Bin Laden I would have moved to the Moon by now), confuse a technique with geography? Of course terrorism is inevitable, as are dropping bombs or firing bullets in war. When Israel fires missiles into Gaza, some people on the ground are bound to feel terrorized. Is that inevitable? Yes; violence terrorizes. As long as there are asymmetrical conflicts, people to be swayed, governments to be intimidated, and political ends to be achieved, terrorism will continue to be resorted to, no matter what shape or form it takes. As a technique, it is but one of the multiple heads of the hydra, one among the many means by which humans can visit ills upon their brethren. Uppercuts, karate kicks and head butts are inevitable, too. Methods and techniques are nothing more than intellectual concepts transformed into action to achieve an end. They always have been and always will be with us. That is the reason, by the way, why Bush's "War on Terrorism" is such a misnomer—one simply cannot wage war on a technique (what do you shoot at? where? what with?).

Conversely, there is absolutely nothing inevitable about where terrorism will occur, and this is what really matters—even more so when the same expert claims to have been shocked by how Toronto was ill-prepared for and vulnerable to a terrorist attack. Put "inevitable," "vulnerable," and "Toronto" in the same sentence, are we'll soon all be hiding under our beds.

To make matters a little more simple (and I wish the "experts" could read this): the technique of terrorism is inevitable; it is part of the multi-pronged arsenal we have at our disposal. However, there is nothing teleological about the method of terrorism, as if it were some type of cancer that will only stop proliferating after it has enveloped the entire planet. Where terrorism occurs is predicated on the actions of states (its alliances, real or imagined, troop deployments, as well as political rhetoric) and specific circumstances. There was nothing inevitable about the London bombings, which for obvious reasons must have left an indelible, albeit judgment-clouding, impression on Weston. And Torontonians need not worry: a terrorist attack in the metropolis is anything but inevitable. It'll depend on how our government, our intellectuals, the media and the public choose to play the game.

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